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The Portland Streetcar

A streetcar, trolley, or trolley car (in North America) or tram, or tramcar (in Europe and Australia) is a railborne vehicle, lighter than a train, designed for the transport of passengers (and/or, very occasionally, freight) within, close to, or between villages, towns and/or cities.

A streetcar differs from other forms of rail-based transport in that the tracks are partly or wholly laid in streets, which are shared to a greater or lesser extent with other road traffic. Many streetcar systems lack platforms, which enables virtually complete integration with other forms of transport and pedestrians making simultaneous use of the streets.

Streetcar systems were common throughout the industrialized world in the early 20th century. Although they disappeared from many cities in mid-century, in recent years they have made a comeback. Many newer light rail systems share features with streetcars, although a distinction is usually drawn between them, especially if the line has significant off-street running.


The terms "tram" and "tramway" were originally Scots and Northern English words for the type of truck used in coal mines and the tracks on which they ran — probably derived from a North Sea Germanic word of unknown origin meaning the "beam or shaft of a barrow or sledge", also "a barrow" or container body.

Although "tram" and "tramway" have been adopted by many languages, they are not used universally in English, North Americans preferring "trolley", "trolley car" or "streetcar". The term "streetcar" is first recorded in 1860, and is a North American usage, as is "trolley," which is believed to derive from the "troller," a four wheeled device that was dragged along dual overhead wires by a cable that connected the troller to the top of the car and collected electrical power from the overhead wire, sometimes simply strung, sometimes on a catenary. The trolley pole, which supplanted the troller early-on, is fitted to the top of the car and is spring-loaded in order to keep the trolley wheel, at the upper of the pole, firmly in contact with the overhead wire. The terms trolley pole and trolley wheel both derive from the troller.

Modern trolleys often do not use a trolley wheel: either they have a metal shoe with a carbon insert or they dispense with the trolley pole completely and have instead a pantograph. Other streetcars are sometimes called trolleys, even though strictly this may be incorrect: cable cars, for example, or conduit cars that draw power from an underground supply.

Tourist buses made to look like streetcars are also sometimes called trolleys; see tourist trolley. Likewise, open, low-speed segmented vehicles on rubber tires, generally used to ferry tourists short distances, can be called trams, particularly in the U.S.; a famous example is the tram on the Universal Studios tour.

Electric buses, which still overwhelmingly use twin trolley poles (one for live current, one for return) are called trolleybuses, trackless trolleys (particularly in the USA), or sometimes also trolleys.


Appearing in the first half of the 19th century, trams were at first pulled by horses.

The first trams, known as streetcars or horsecars in North America, were built in the United States and developed from city stagecoach lines and omnibus lines that picked up and dropped off passengers on a regular route and without the need to be pre-hired. These first lines operated in Baltimore, Maryland in 1828, in 1832 on the New York and Harlem Railroad in New York City, and in 1834 in New Orleans, Louisiana. At first the rails protruded above street level, causing accidents and major trouble for pedestrians. They were supplanted in 1852 by grooved rails or girder rails, invented by Alphonse Loubat. The first tram in France was inaugurated in 1853 for the upcoming World's Fair, where a test line was presented along the Cours de la Reine, in the 8th arrondissement.

These trams were an animal railway, usually using horses and sometimes mules to haul the cars, usually two as a team. Rarely other animals were tried, including humans in emergencies. One of the advantages over earlier forms of transit was the low rolling resistance of metal wheels on steel rails, allowing the animals to haul a greater load for a given effort. Problems included the fact that any given animal could only work so many hours on a given day, had to be housed, groomed, fed and cared for day in and day out, and produced prodigious amounts of manure, which the streetcar company was charged with disposing of. Since a typical horse pulled a car for perhaps a dozen miles a day and worked for four or five hours, many systems needed ten or more horses in stable for each horsecar. Electric trams largely replaced animal power in the late 19th and early 20th century. New York City had closed its last horsecar line in 1914. The last regular mule drawn streetcar in the U.S.A., in Sulphur Rock, Arkansas closed in 1926. However during World War II some old horse cars were temporarily returned to service to help conserve fuel. A mule-powered line in Celaya, Mexico operated until 1956. Horse-drawn trams still operate in Douglas, Isle of Man. There is also a small line operated on Main Street at DisneyWorld, outside of Orlando Florida.

The tram developed after that in numerous cities of Europe (London, Berlin, Paris, etc.). Faster and more comfortable than the omnibus, trams had a high cost of operation because they were pulled by horses. That is why mechanical drives were rapidly developed, with steam power in 1873, and electrical after 1881, when Siemens AG presented the electric drive at the International Electricity Exhibition in Paris.

The convenience and economy of electricity resulted in its rapid adoption once the technical problems of production and transmission of electricity were solved.

The first prototype of the electric tram was developed by Russian engineer Fyodor Pirotsky. He modified a horse tramway car to be powered by electricity instead of horses. The invention was tested in 1880 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

The world's first electric tram line opened in Lichterfelde near Berlin, Germany, in 1881. It was built by Werner von Siemens. (see Berlin Straßenbahn).

Steam trams[]

The first form of mechanical trams were operated using mobile steam engines. Generally, there were two types of steam trams. The first and most common had a small steam locomotive at the head of a line of one or more carriages, similar to a small train. Systems with such steam trams included Christchurch, New Zealand, Sydney, Australia and other provincial city systems in New South Wales.

The other style of steam tram had the steam engine mounted in the body of the tram. The most notable system to adopt such trams was in Paris. French designed steam trams also operated in Rockhampton, in the Australian state of Queensland between 1909 and 1939. Stockholm also had a steam tramline at the island of Södermalm between 1887 and 1901. A major drawback on this style of tram was the limited space for the engine, meaning these trams were usually underpowered.

Cable pulled cars[]

Main article: Cable car (railway)

The next type of tram was the cable car, which sought to reduce labor costs and the hardship on animals. Cable cars are pulled along a rail track by a continuously moving cable running at a constant speed on which individual cars stop and start by releasing and gripping this cable as required. The power to move the cable is provided at a site away from the actual operation. The first cable car line in the United States was tested in San Francisco, California in 1873. The second city to operate cable trams was Dunedin in New Zealand in 1881. Dunedin's cable trams ceased operation in 1957.

Cable cars suffered from high infrastructure costs, since a vast and expensive system of cables, pulleys, stationary engines and vault structures between the rails had to be provided. They also require strength and skill to operate, to avoid obstructions and other cable cars. The cable had to be dropped at particular locations and the cars coast, for example when crossing another cable line. Breaks and frays in the cable, which occurred frequently, required the complete cessation of services over a cable route, while the cable was repaired. After the development of electrically-powered trams, the more costly cable car systems declined rapidly.

Cable cars were especially useful in hilly cities, partially explaining their survival in San Francisco, though the most extensive cable system in the U.S. was in Chicago, a much flatter city. The largest cable system in the world which operated in the flat city of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia had, at its peak, 592 trams running on 74 kilometres of track.

The San Francisco cable cars, though significantly reduced in number, continue to perform a regular transportation function, in addition to being a tourist attraction. Single lines also survive on hilly parts of Wellington, New Zealand and Hong Kong.

Other power sources[]

In some parts of the United Kingdom, other forms of power were used to power the tram. Hastings and some other small tramways, for example Stockholm in Sweden, used Petrol driven trams and Lytham St Annes used gas powered trams. Paris successfully operated trams that were powered by compressed air.

Electric trams (trolley cars)[]

Multiple functioning experimental electric trams were exhibited at the 1884 World Cotton Centennial World's Fair in New Orleans, Louisiana; however they were deemed as not yet adequately perfected to replace the Lamm fireless engines then propelling the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar in that city.

Electric-powered trams (trolley cars, so called for the trolley pole used to gather power from an unshielded overhead wire), were first successfully tested in service in Richmond, Virginia in 1888, in an installation by Frank J. Sprague. There were earlier commercial installations of electric streetcars, including one in Berlin, as early as 1881 by Werner von Siemens and the company that still bears his name, and also one in Saint Petersburg, Russia, invented and tested by Fiodor A. Pirotskiy in 1880. Another was by John Joseph Wright, brother of the famous mining entrepreneur Whitaker Wright, in Toronto in 1883. The earlier installations, however, proved difficult and/or unreliable. Siemens' line, for example, provided power through a live rail and a return rail, like a model train setup, limiting the voltage that could be used, and providing unwanted excitement to people and animals crossing the tracks. Siemens later designed his own method of current collection, this time from an overhead wire, called the bow collector. Once this had been developed his cars became equal to, if not better than, any of Sprague's cars. The first electric interurban line connecting St. Catharines and Thorold, Ontario was deployed in 1887, and was considered quite successful at the time. While this line proved quite versatile as one of the earliest fully functional electric streetcar installations, it still required horse-drawn support while climbing the Niagara Escarpment and for two months of the winter when hydroelectricity was not available. This line continued service in its original form well into the 1950s.

Since Sprague's installation was the first to prove successful in all conditions, he is credited with being the inventor of the trolley car. Two rare but significant alternatives were conduit current collection, which was widely used in London, Washington, D.C. and New York City], and the Dolter Stud Collection method, used in Wolverhampton and Hastings, UK.

Attempts to use on-board batteries as a source of electrical power were made in the 1880s and 1890s, with unsuccessful trials conducted in (among other places) Bendigo and Adelaide in Australia.

A very famous Welsh example of a tram system was usually known as the Mumbles Train, or more formally as the Swansea and Mumbles Railway. Originally built as the Oystermouth Railway in 1804, on March 25 1807 it became the first passenger-carrying railway in the world. Converted to an overhead cable-supplied system it operated electric cars from March 2, 1929 until its closure on January 5, 1960. These were the largest tram cars built for use in Britain and could each seat 106 passengers.

Another early tram system operated from 1886 until 1930 in Appleton, Wisconsin, and is notable for being powered by the world's first hydroelectric power station, which began operating on September 30, 1882 as the Appleton Edison Electric Company.

Golden Age[]

Trams experienced a rapid expansion at the start of the 20th century until the period between the two world wars. There was a rapid increase in the number of lines and increase in the number of riders: indeed, it became the primary mode of urban transportation. Horse-drawn transport virtually disappeared in all European, American and Indian cities by 1910. Buses were still in a development phase at this time, gaining in mechanical reliability, but remaining behind compared to the benefits offered by trams; the automobile was still reserved for the well-to-do.

Disappearance from many cities[]

The advent of personal motor vehicles and the improvements in motorized buses caused the rapid disappearance of the tram from most western and Asian countries by the end of the 1950s. Continuing technical improvements in buses made them more reliable, and a serious competitor to trams because they did not require the construction of costly infrastructure. [1]

In many cases postwar buses were cited as providing a smoother ride and a faster journey than the older, prewar trams. For example, the tram network survived in Budapest but for a considerable period of time bus fares were higher to recognize the superior quality of the buses. However, many riders protested against the replacement of streetcars arguing that buses weren't as smooth, efficient and polluted the air. In fact, in the United States there was a conspiracy in which General Motors used National City Lines Bus Company to buy up streetcar systems, dismantle them and replace them with buses so as to make public transit so inconvenient that people would buy more cars. General Motors was convicted, but sentenced very lightly.

Governments thus put investment principally into bus networks. Indeed, infrastructure for roads and highways meant for the automobile were perceived as a mark of progress. The priority given to roads is illustrated in the proposal of French president Georges Pompidou who declared in 1971 that "the city must adapt to the car".

Tram networks were no longer maintained or modernized, a state of affairs that served to discredit them in the eyes of the public. Old lines, considered archaic, were then bit by bit replaced by buses.

Tram networks disappeared almost completely from North America, Brazil, France, the UK, India, and altogether from Ireland, Turkey, Spain and South Africa. On the other hand, they were generally retained or modernized in most communist countries, as well as Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, and Japan. In France and the UK, only the networks in Lille, Saint-Etienne, Marseille, and Blackpool survive from this period, but they are each reduced to a single line. Most Australian tram networks disappeared by 1973, with the exception of the extensive system in Melbourne and the Glenelg line in Adelaide. There are also many tourist Tram lines in operations across the Australasia region including Bendigo and Ballarat.

Return to grace[]

The priority given to personal vehicles and notably to the automobile led to a loss in quality of life, particularly in large cities where smog, traffic congestion, sound pollution and parking became problematic. Acknowledging this, some authorities saw fit to redefine their transport policies. The bus had shown its limits on account of its low capacity and its difficult coexistence with automobile traffic, which made it slow both on the road and commercially. Rapid transit required a heavy investment and presented problems in terms of subterranean spaces that required constant security. For rapid transit, the investment was mainly in underground construction, which made it impossible in some cities (with underground water reserves, archaeological remains, etc.). Metro construction thus was not a universal panacea.

The advantages of the tram thus became more visible. At the end of the 1970s, some governments studied, and then built new tram lines. In France, Nantes and Grenoble lead the way in terms of the modern tram, and new systems were inaugurated in 1985 and 1988. In 1994 Strasbourg opened a system with novel British-built trams, specified by the city, with the goal of breaking with the archaic conceptual image that was held by the public.

The public, who realized with each installation of tram lines their benefits in urban flexibility and redistribution and the reduction in downtown automobile traffic, encouraged numerous city governments to so equip their streets. Many cities already equipped with trams have extended their lines and built new ones.

A great example of this shift in ideology is the city of Munich, which began replacing its tram network with a metro a few years before the 1972 Summer Olympics. When the metro network was finished in the 1990s the city began to tear out the tram network (which had become rather old and decrepit), but now faced opposition from many citizens who enjoyed the enhanced mobility of the mixed network -- the metro lines deviate from the tram lines to a significant degree. New rolling stock was purchased and the system was modernized, and a new line was proposed in 2003.

In Melbourne, Australia, the already extensive tramway system continues to be extended. In 2004 the Mount Albert line was extended several kilometres to Box Hill, whilst in 2005 the Burwood East line was extended several kilometres to South Vermont.

Technical developments[]

Later, cable cars were attached to a moving cable underneath the road. The cable would be pulled by a steam engine at a powerhouse. The Monongahela and Duquesne Inclines in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, have some of the appearance of trams, but are more accurately funiculars. Modern trams generally use overhead electric cables, from which they draw current through a pantograph, a bow collector (less commonly) or the now-rare trolley pole (the former is most common and used on most new tram designs). The first operational electric street railway was started in Scranton, Pennsylvania, but the first large-scale electric street railway system was built in Richmond, Virginia in January 1888. By 1890 over 100 such systems had been begun or were planned.

There are other methods of powering electric trams, sometimes preferred for aesthetic reasons since poles and overhead wires are not required. The old tram systems in London, Manhattan (New York City), and Washington D.C. used live rails, like those on third-rail electrified railways, but in a conduit underneath the road, from which they drew power through a plough. It was called Conduit current collection. Washington's was the last of these to close, in 1962. Today, no commercial tramway uses this system. More recently, a modern equivalent to the old stud systems has been developed which allows for the safe installation of a third rail on city streets, which is known as surface current collection or ground-level power supply; the main example of this is the new tramway in Bordeaux.

In narrow situations double-track tram lines sometimes reduce to single track, or, to avoid switches, have the tracks interlaced, e.g. in the Leidsestraat in Amsterdam on three short stretches (see map detail); this is known as interlaced or gauntlet track.

Traditionally trams had high floors, requiring passengers to climb several steps in order to board, but since the 1990s this design has been largely replaced by low-floor trams, or occasionally by high-floor trams with level boarding platforms, as in Manchester's Metrolink and some parts of Cologne's network, which allow passengers in wheelchairs or with perambulators to access vehicles more easily. In some jurisdictions this has even been made mandatory since the 1990s, for example by the HMRI in Britain and the Disability discrimination act in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries.


Tram-train operation uses vehicles such as the Flexity Link and Regio-Citadis which are suited for use on urban tram lines, but also meet the necessary indication, power, and resistance requirements to be certified for operation on main line railways. This allows passengers to travel from suburban areas into city-centre destinations without having to change from a train to a tram when they arrive at the central station.

It has been primarily developed in Germanic countries, in particular Germany and Switzerland. Karlsruhe is a notable pioneer of the tram-train. This system may have been brought into service in the Paris area in 2005.

Cargo trams[]

Goods have been carried on rail vehicles through the streets, particularly near docks and steelworks, since the 19th century, and some Belgian vicinale routes were used to haul timber. At the turn of the 21st century, a new interest has arisen in using urban tramway systems to transport goods. The motivation now is to reduce air pollution, traffic congestion and damage to road surfaces in city centres. Dresden has a regular CarGoTram service, run by the world's longest tram trainsets (59.4 m), carrying car parts across the city centre to its Volkswagen factory. Vienna and Zürich use trams as mobile recycling depots. Amsterdam commissioned a feasibility study into goods trams in November 2005. Kislovodsk had a freight-only tram system comprising one line which was used exclusively to deliver bottled Narzan mineral water to the railway station.

Pros and cons of tram systems[]

Tram tracks can be hazardous to cyclists


All transit service involves a tradeoff between speed and frequency of stops. Services that stop frequently have lower overall speed, and are therefore less attractive for longer trips. Metros, light rail, monorail, and Bus Rapid Transit are all forms of rapid transit — which generally signifies high speed and widely-spaced stops. Trams are a form of local transit, making frequent stops. Thus, the most meaningful comparison of advantages and disadvantages is with other forms of local transit, primarily the local bus.

  • The greatest advantage of modern trams is social rather than technical. In most countries, trams don't suffer from the image problem that plagues buses. On the contrary — most people associate trams with a positive image. Unlike buses, trams tend to be popular with a wider spectrum of the public, including better-off people who often shun buses. This high level of customer acceptance means higher ridership and bigger public support for investment in new tram infrastructure.
  • Multiple entrances means trams are faster to load than buses, which tend to have a single entrance. This, combined with swifter acceleration and braking, means that trams can maintain higher overall speeds than buses (assuming there is no traffic congestion.)
  • Trams can adapt to the number of passengers by adding additional cars during rush hour (as well as removing excess cars during off-peak hours). No additional driver is then required for the trip in comparison to buses.
  • In general, trams provide a higher capacity service than buses.
  • Unlike buses, but like trolleybuses, (electric) trams give off no exhaust emissions at point of use. Compared to motorbuses the noise pollution emitted by trams is generally perceived to be less disturbing.
  • Rights-of-way for trams are narrower than for buses. This saves valuable space in cities with high population densities and/or narrow streets.
  • Because they are rail-bound, trams command more respect from other road users than buses do, when operating on-road. In heavy traffic conditions, rogue drivers are less likely to hold up trams, for example by blocking intersections or parking on the road. This often leads to fewer delays. As a rule, especially in European cities and Melbourne, trams always have priority.
  • Passenger comfort is normally superior to buses because of controlled acceleration and braking and curve easement. Rail transport such as used by trams provides a smoother ride than road use by buses.


File:Tram accident.jpg

Tram accident in Amsterdam

  • The initial cost is higher than for buses, hence the usual preference for the latter in smaller cities
  • When operated in mixed traffic, trams are more likely to be delayed by disruptions in their lane. Buses, by contrast, can easily maneuver around obstacles. Opinions differ about whether deference that drivers show to trams — a cultural issue that varies by country — is sufficient to counteract this disadvantage.
  • Tram tracks can be dangerous for cyclists. This and problems with parked cars are avoided by building tracks and platforms in the middle of the road. Cyclists can avoid this by always riding across and never along tramways, as bikes, particularly those with narrow tires, may get their wheels caught in the track grooves. It is also possible to close the grooves of the tracks on critical sections by rubber profiles. Those profiles are pressed down by the wheelflanges of the passing tram but cannot by lowered by the weight of a cyclist.
  • Tram infrastructure occupies urban space above ground and requires modifications to traffic flow.
  • Steel wheel trams can be noisier than rubber-wheeled trolleybuses, especially when cornering.
  • Tram drivers can control the switches ahead of them. This caused a major derailment in Geneva, Switzerland. A Wikinews article on the derailment

Regional variations[]


Main article: Trams in Europe

Template:Sync Template:Cleanup

Western Europe[]

The German-speaking countries, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland (where the word for tramway is "Straßenbahn", although "Tram" is also used) are notable for their large numbers of extensive tram systems, although even in these countries, many systems were closed after the Second World War. In divided Berlin, for example, the West Berlin tramway was closed in 1967 in favour of the city's metro and bus systems, while the tram system in East Berlin was retained. Today, Berlin enjoys one of the largest tram systems in Germany, but it is confined almost entirely to the eastern part of the city.

In the Benelux countries, tram networks exist in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Antwerp, Ghent and Brussels, and are gradually being extended. Additionaly, there are museum tramlines in Arnhem (Open Air Museum) and Katwijk (narrow gauge museum).

In Italy, Milan boasts one of the largest and most interesting tramway systems in Europe. The network reached its peak in the 1940s, with 310 km of tracks. Despite subsequent retrenchment and extensive metro construction, there are still 170 km of tramway today, supporting about 20 tram lines and covering virtually the entire city. In addition to several kinds of modern trams, ATM, the city's mass-transit authority, runs the most numerous and efficient Peter Witt fleet in the world. Over 150 of these reliable street cars, out of 250 rebuilt around 1990, operate daily on the streets of Milan. The original fleet of 502 was built between the late 1920s and the early 1930s. 11 Peter Witts from the Milan fleet, repainted in their original liveries, are currently operated on San Francisco's heavily crowded F-line. In addition to Milan, tram ways exist in other Italian cities including Rome, Turin, Naples, Florence, Palermo and others.

A rapidly growing number of France's major cities boast new tram or light rail networks, including Paris, Lyon, Marseille and Nantes. Recently the tram has seen a huge revival in France.

In the UK, tram systems were widely dismantled in the 1950s, only Blackpool's survived (see Blackpool tramway). However in recent years new light rail lines have been opened (for example the Croydon Tramlink, Manchester Metrolink, Sheffield Supertram and Nottingham Express Transit), with several others under consideration and extensions planned for many existing systems. The Light Rail Transit Association campaigns for the opening of new systems.

File:Göteborg spårvagn.jpg

Gothenburg's popular trams travel the wide streets (the one shown here is a vintage tram, in the far back a more modern version is visible)

The city of Gothenburg, Sweden, has the most extensive network in Scandinavia (190 km on a total track length of 80 km; see Gothenburg tram), followed by the Norwegian capital Oslo. Within the inner city of Helsinki in Finland, trams have established a position as the main form of public transport.

In Spain modern tram networks have been opened in Barcelona (Trambaix and Trambesòs), Valencia, Bilbao, Alicante and Parla.

In Portugal trams were very usual between the end of the 19th century and 1960s, especially in the capital Lisbon, where the trams covered all the city. Since then, they have been replaced by modern buses and nowadays only five routes still operate (only in the historic downtown).

The Greek capital Athens opened a modern tramline in time for the 2004 Summer Olympics reintroducing the tram into the city after 41 years of absence. Plans are to be build three more lines.

In Dublin, Ireland a new tram system opened in 2004. The Luas has two unconnected on-street lines.

Trondheim, Norway has the worlds most northern tramline.

Central and Eastern Europe[]

All countries of the former Soviet Bloc, excluding Lithuania and Moldova, have extensive tram infrastructures. The Czech ČKD Tatra was, until the mid-1990s, the biggest producer of trams in the world. The Hungarian Ganz factory was also a notable manufacturer of trams.

The busiest traditional city tram line in the world is in Budapest, Hungary, where 50-meter long trains run at 60 to 90 second intervals at peak time and are usually packed with people.

In many cities of Russia and Ukraine, as well as in Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, tramways are facing difficulties. Some tramway systems have suffered extensive closures of vital parts of their networks (Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev) and some are facing threats of closures (Nizhniy Novgorod, Tver) or even total abandonment (Voronezh, Tbilisi). Nevertheless, Saint Petersburg's tramway network still is the largest in the world. Template:See also

North America[]

Note that in North America, especially the United States, trams are generally known as streetcars or trolleys, while the term tram is more likely to be understood as a tourist trolley, an aerial tramway, or a people-mover.

Many North American cities abandoned their streetcar systems in the mid-twentieth century, due to the popularity of the automobile and government policies favoring it. In fact, there was a conspiracy to shut down city tram systems by automobile, oil and tyre interests, as they wanted cities to move to buses, which the companies profited from. In fact, the city of Detroit, which once had a population bordering two million people in 1950, never implemented any type of subway or elevated rail service, unusual for a city that size. It seems the city did not want to ruffle the feathers of the big automotive corporations that were headquartered in the area. The city today now has half the population it did five decades ago. The struggling depression era streetcar companies were bought up by outside interests in many U.S. cities, who, twenty years later, gutted most North American streetcars and interurbans. (see General Motors streetcar conspiracy). However, traditional systems survived in Boston (MBTA Green Line), Newark, New Orleans, Philadelphia (Subway-Surface Lines), Pittsburgh, San Francisco (F Market line), and Toronto (Toronto Streetcar System). This survival was aided by the introduction of the modern PCC car in the 1940s and 1950s in all these cities except New Orleans. New light rail systems have since opened in many other cities, starting with the ground-breaking system in Edmonton , and now including Baltimore, Buffalo, Calgary, Dallas (DART), Denver, Edmonton, Houston, Jersey City-Hoboken, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Ottawa, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, St Louis, Salt Lake City, San Jose, and Vancouver. Additionally, all the surviving PCC operators have replaced their PCC cars with light rail vehicles, although restored vintage PCC cars are still in regular operation on Boston's MBTA Red line Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line, and on San Francisco's F Market line, a line popular among tourists. This line recently underwent an expansion to the Fisherman's Wharf area and a second line along the Embarcadero to the east is in the planning stages.

Another trend originating in North America is the introduction of newly built heritage streetcar lines using original or replica historic equipment, a trend which is now spreading elsewhere in the world. Examples in North America include San Pedro, Little Rock, Dallas, Denver, Memphis, Tampa, Seattle, Charlotte, North Carolina, the new Canal Street line in New Orleans, and the reintroduction of the historic Girard Street line in Philadelphia.


File:Hong kong tram.jpg

Hong Kong Double decker Tram

Asia has had relatively few tram systems, with the notable exception of Japan.

Many Japanese cities have tram systems. Among them are Sapporo and Hakodate in Hokkaidō; Tokyo, Kamakura, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima on Honshū; Matsuyama and Kochi on Shikoku; and Nagasaki, Kumamoto, and Kagoshima on Kyūshū. Some extend into neighboring communities.

Hong Kong still possesses the Hong Kong Tramway, a traditional British Isles-style double-decker tramway with street running, along the north shore of Hong Kong Island. More recently the KCRC Light Rail system has opened in the north west New Territories. Despite its name, the Peak Tram is actually a funicular railway.

The Philippines once had a tram network in Manila, but it was destroyed during World War II. The system has been replaced with the LRT and MRT.

In India, Kolkata (Calcutta) has a tram network. Chennai (Madras), Kanpur and Mumbai (Bombay) were the other three which had a network but were dismantled.

Seoul, Korea had trams up into the 1960s. Some of their cars were acquired second-hand from the Los Angeles system.

Pyongyang, North Korea has an extensive tram system that first opened in 1991. It is now 50km in length running mainly ČKD/Tatra vehicles with some other trams originally from Zürich.

In Vietnam, tram networks were once running in Hanoi and Saigon until 1954. Bangkok trams were also dismantled after WW2.

In Malaysia, trams were introduced in Penang in 1906. Thirty years later, in 1936, trams were replaced by bus and the tram lines were dismantled.

The only cities in mainland China with a tram network are the seaside resort of Dalian in Liaoning province, which as of 2003 had three working lines, Anshan in Liaoning and Changchun in Jilin province. The last trams ran in Shanghai in the mid-1960s.


File:JettyRd Glenelg.jpg

A heritage H-Class model (foreground) and modern Flexity tram (background) in Glenelg, Adelaide

Template:Mainarticle In Australasia, trams are used extensively only in Melbourne, and to a lesser extent, Adelaide, all other major cities having largely dismantled their networks by the 1970s. Christchurch has subsequently opened a new tourist tramway in the centre of the city.

A distinctive feature of many Australasian trams was the early use of a lowered central section between bogies (wheel-sets). This was intended to make passenger access easier, by reducing the number of steps required to reach the inside of the vehicle. It is believed that the design first originated in Christchurch, as early as the first decade of the 20th century. Cars with this design feature were frequently referred to as "drop-centres".

List of major Australian Tram Systems

  • Trams in Brisbane (closed)
  • Trams in Melbourne
  • Adelaide Tram
  • Trams in Perth (closed)
  • Trams in Sydney (closed)

Other city's which have had trams include Bendigo and Ballarat. In Tasmania, Launceston operates a lesser known tramway museum.

Tram museums also operated in many cities following the closure of their networks. Major museums include the Brisbane Tramway Museum and the Sydney Tramway Museum.

List of major New Zealand Tram Systems

  • Wellington tramway system (closed)
  • Dunedin cable tramway system (closed)

Other cities in New Zealand include Auckland and Christchurch have operating heritage lines and museums.


Tram systems were and are less prevalent in Africa.


However, in Egypt both Cairo and Alexandria have historic and still existent tram systems. Tunis has a modern tram system.

In Cairo, the urban tramway network is now defunct, but the express tramway linking it with Heliopolis is still in operation, as is the relatively new tram system in the satellite town of Helwan 25km to the south.

In Alexandria, both the urban tramway network and the express tramway system serving the eastern suburbs are still in operation. The urban system operates yellow cars, including some acquired second-hand from Copenhagen, on largely street track. The express tramway operates 3-car trains of blue cars, including some double-deck cars, on largely reserved track. There are also trams that serve on the urban tram lines and the express tram lines at the same time.

South Africa[]

Public transport in South Africa commenced for the first time in Cape Town in May 1801 when a weekly wagon service from Cape Town to Simon's Town was announced. Round about 1838 the Cape's first horse-drawn omnibus, based on George Shilbeer's omnibus, was introduced. In September 1862 the Cape Town and Green Point Tramway Company was formed and on 1 April 1863 it began operating. Both single-deck and double-deck horse drawn trams were used. In 1896 the power station at Toll Gate Cape Town, with two stacks supplied by Milliken Brothers of New York, was completed and the old horse sheds were remodelled. Cape Town's electric tram system initially consisted of ten cars made in Philadelphia, USA. On 6 August 1896 Lady Sivewright, wife of Sir James Sivewright opened the new system. At Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1897 there were thirty-two electric trams on Cape Town's roads serving the city and its suburbs over about twenty-three miles of track. The new power station at Toll Gate was proving inadequate to meet demands and additions were called for.

Tram services also existed in Johannesburg (where the suburban railway to Boksburg, opened in 1890, was also called the Rand Tram), Pretoria and Durban but were replaced by petrol, diesel and trolley bus systems by the early 1960s.

Streetcars in North America[]



In Canada, most cities once had a streetcar system, but today Toronto's TTC is the only traditional operator of streetcars, and maintains the most extensive system in The Americas (in terms of total track length, number of cars, and ridership). New light rail systems are operated in Edmonton, Alberta and Calgary, Alberta, and Ottawa. Nelson BC, a small town to the north of Spokane, has rebuilt and runs a restored tram that once originally ran in that city.

The first lines built in the U.S. (and indeed the world) were in 1832 from downtown New York City to Harlem by the New York and Harlem Railroad, and in 1834 in New Orleans.

Most U.S. streetcar systems were removed by the 1950s as a result of the popularity of the automobile and government policies in favour of it.

Surviving systems[]

Not all streetcars systems were removed; the San Francisco cable cars and New Orleans' streetcars are the most famous examples in the United States. More conventional streetcar operations survived complete abandonment in Boston, Newark, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco in the U.S., together with Toronto in Canada. The Newark, Philadelphia, and Boston systems ran into subways downtown, while the Pittsburgh and San Francisco systems had tunnels under large hills that had no acceptable road alternatives for bus replacements. The New Orleans line had extensive running on private reservations in the center of St. Charles Avenue. The only system without these alternatives to street-running to survive was Toronto's. All of these systems have received new equipment. Some of these cities have also rehabilitated lines, and Newark, New Orleans, and San Francisco have added trackage in recent years. In Philadelphia, a former trolley line that was "bustituted" recently resumed trolley service using rebuilt historic cars. In Toronto, the city has added two new lines in recent years, and is actively upgrading its other lines. Further expansion is planned in combination with the city's plans for the rejuvenation of its waterfront.

More recently a number of cities in North America have built new light rail systems, some of which operate partially in the right-of-way of city streets. Other new systems are genuine tramways, such as in New Orleans and San Francisco, although the term "streetcar" is the only name used by the residents there. The pioneering light rail system in Edmonton, Alberta, which substantially utilised European technology, does not use street running, and tunneling in the central area accounted for much of the expense of the system. It was soon followed by installations in San Diego, California and Calgary, Alberta that used similar vehicles but which avoided the expense of tunnels by using partial street running instead. (see Edmonton Transit System, San Diego Trolley, C-Train).

In 2000, Kenosha, Wisconsin became the first city in North America to open a modern streetcar system since the heyday of the PCC streetcar, followed in 2001 by Portland, Oregon, the latter of which already boasted a successful light rail system. The Kenosha system is a downtown circulator also serving government offices, the upscale HarborPark recreational/cultural/residential district, and public bus and Metra rail service. The Portland Streetcar serves as a downtown circulator between the central city core, the trendy Pearl District and Northwest Portland, Portland State University, and a new mixed-use development along the Willamette River shoreline. Running entirely on streets, it complements MAX light rail, which also runs along streets in central Portland, but which covers longer distance along routes segregated from vehicular traffic.

Heritage streetcar systems[]

File:Train Oberbozen.jpg

An historic tram from 1907 still running in Oberbozen, South Tyrol, Italy.

Heritage streetcar systems are used in public transit service, combining light rail efficiency with America's nostalgia interests. Proponents claim that using a simple, reliable form of transit from 50 or 100 years ago can bring history to life for 21st century Americans. Systems are operating successfully in over 20 U.S. cities, and are in planning or construction stages in 40 more. Heritage systems currently operate in Little Rock, Arkansas, Memphis, Tennessee, Dallas, Texas, Tampa, Florida, Kenosha, Wisconsin, and New Orleans are among the larger.

In the Canadian province of British Columbia, Vancouver has the heritage streetcar system that will be expanded to cover the south downtown area, and in Nelson the restored Streetcar 23 runs along the lakeside.

Over 50 years after the Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire opened on Broadway, the revival of streetcar operations in New Orleans is credited by many to the worldwide fame gained by the streetcars made by the Perley A. Thomas Car Works. These cars were operating on the system's Desire route in the 1947 play and later movie of the same name. Some of the original cars have been carefully restored locally and continue to operate in 2006.

Model Trams[]

Models of trams are popular in HO scale and sometimes in 1:50 scale. They typically are powered and will accept plastic figures inside. Common manufacturers are Roco and Lima (models) with many custom models being made as well. The German firm Hödl specializes in trams in 1:87 scale.

A number of OO scale 1:76 scale tram models, especially kits, are made in the UK.

There are some Russian tram models available in 1:48 scale

Trams in literature[]

One of the earliest literary references to trams occurs on the second page of Henry James's novel The Europeans:

From time to time a strange vehicle drew near to the place where they stood - such a vehicle as the lady at the window, in spite of a considerable acquaintance with human inventions, had never seen before: a huge, low, omnibus, painted in brilliant colours, and decorated apparently with jingling bells, attached to a species of groove in the pavement, through which it was dragged, with a great deal of rumbling, bouncing, and scratching, by a couple of remarkably small horses.

Published in 1978, the novel is set in the 1840s, though horse trams were not in fact introduced in Boston till the 1850s. Note how the tram's efficiency surprises the "European" visitor; how two "remarkably small" horses sufficed to draw the "huge" tramcar.

In the last chapter of Günter Grass's Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum), the novel's hero Oskar Matzerath, along with his friend Gottfried von Vittlar, steal a tram late at night from outside the Unterath depot on the northern edge of Düsseldorf.

It is a surreal journey. Gottfried von Vittlar drives the tram through the night, south to Flingern and Haniel and then east to the suburb of Gerresheim. Meanwhile, inside, Oskar tries to rescue the half-blind Victor Weluhn, a character who had escaped from the siege of the Polish Post Office in Gdansk at the beginning of the book and the war, from his two green-hatted would-be executioners. Oskar deposits his briefcase, which contains Sister Dorotea's severed ring finger in a preserving jar, on the dashboard "where professional motorman put their lunchboxes". They leave the tram at the terminus, and the executioners tie Weluhn to a tree in Vittlar's mother's garden and prepare to machine-gun him. But Oskar drums, Victor sings, and together they conjure up the Polish cavalry, who spirit both victim and executioners away. Oskar askes Vittlar to take his briefcase in the tram to the police HQ in the Fürstenwall, which he does.

The latter part of this route is today served by tram no. 703 terminating at Gerresheim Stadtbahn station ("by the glassworks" as Grass notes).

[Reference: The chapter Die letzte Straßenbahn oder Anbetung eines Weckglases (The last tram or Adoration of a Preserving Jar). See page 584 of the 1959 Büchergilde Gutenberg German edition and page 571 of the 1961 Secker & Warburg edition, translated into English by Ralph Manheim]

Trams in Popular Culture[]

  • The Rev W Awdry made a small Y6 tram called Toby the Tram Engine which starred in a series of books called The Railway Series along with his faithful coach, Henrietta.
  • A Streetcar Named Desire (play)
  • A Streetcar Named Desire (film)
  • "The Trolley Song" in Meet Me in St. Louis (film) received an Academy Award.
  • The 1944 World Series was also known as the "Streetcar Series".
  • Malcolm (film) - an Australian film about a tram enthusiast who uses his inventions to pull of a bank heist.
  • In Akira Kurosawa's film Dodesukaden a mentally ill boy pretends to be a tram conductor.

Types of trams[]

  • Birney
  • Citadis
  • Combino
  • Double decker tram
  • Eurotram
  • Horsecar

  • PCC
  • Sirio
  • Tatra T3
  • Ultra Low Floor
  • ZET 2200
  • Tramway Français Standard

See also[]

  • EuskoTran
  • Ground level power supply
  • General Motors streetcar conspiracy
  • List of light-rail transit systems
  • List of town tramway (urban tramway, streetcar) systems
  • List of transport museums
  • Peter Witt streetcar
  • Rubber-tyred trams
  • Soviet Tramcars LM-49 and MTV-82

  • Streetcar suburb
  • Tram controls
  • Tram spotter
  • Tram stop
  • Tramway track
  • Tram traffic light (cs:Signály pro tramvaje)
  • Tourist trolley
  • Underground railway
  • Air brake (rail)

External links[]