History of trams
Tram, streetcar or trolley systems were common throughout the industrialized world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but they disappeared from many cities in the mid-20th century. In recent years, they have made a comeback. Many newer light rail systems share features with (or utilize) trams, although a distinction is often drawn between the two, especially if the line has significant off-street running.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Horse-drawn tramways
- 3 Girder rail
- 4 Gas trams
- 5 Steam
- 6 Cable-hauled
- 7 Hybrid funicular electric
- 8 Horses to electric power
- 9 Electric trams
- 10 Other power sources
- 11 Disappearance from many cities
- 12 Modern resurgence
- 13 The status of the tram systems in the country's history (number indicates the number of cities with trams)
- 14 Technical developments
- 15 See also
- 16 References
The first tram was on the Swansea and Mumbles Railway in south Wales, United Kingdom. Horse-drawn at first, it was later powered by steam and electricity. In 1804, the Mumbles Railway Act was passed by the British Parliament, and the first tram (similar to streetcars in the US some 30 years later) was established and started operating in 1807.
The first streetcars, also known as horsecars in North America, were built in the United States and developed from city stagecoach and omnibus lines that picked up and dropped off passengers on a regular route without the need to be pre-hired. These trams were an animal railway, usually using horses and sometimes mules to haul the cars, usually two as a team. Occasionally other animals were put to use, or humans in emergencies. The first streetcar line, developed by Irish-American John Stephenson, was the Fourth Avenue Line of the New York and Harlem Railroad, which began operation in 1832 along Bowery and Fourth Avenue in New York City. A streetcar line was established in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1835, which is the oldest continuously operating street railway system in the world according to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
In 1883, Magnus Volk constructed the Volk's Electric Railway, a 2-ft gauge system along the eastern seafront in Brighton, England. This 2 km (1.2 mi) line was re-gauged to 2 ft 9 in (0.84 m) in 1884 and remains in service to this day as the oldest operating electric tramway in the world.
The first electric street tramway in Britain, the Blackpool Tramway, was opened on 29 September 1885 using conduit collection along Blackpool Promenade. After 1962, this remained the only first-generation operational tramway in the UK — it is still open.
Electric trams run in Budapest since 1887, and this first line has now grown to be the busiest tram line of Europe, with the tram cars following each other at an interval of 60 seconds at rush hour. Bucharest and Belgrade ran a regular service from 1894.
The very first passenger tram (streetcar) was the Swansea and Mumbles Railway, in Wales, UK. The Mumbles Railway Act was passed by the British Parliament in 1804, and this first horse-drawn passenger tramway (which acted like streetcars in the US some 30 years later) started operating in 1807. It was worked by steam from 1877, and then, from 1929, by very large (106-seater) electric tramcars, until closure in 1960.
The modern Tramlink in south London follows the route of the even older 1803 Surrey Iron Railway, a horsedrawn freight tramway sanctioned by Parliament in 1801, between Mitcham and Croydon. This gives Tramlink a claim to be one of the world's oldest tramways. (Tramway Path beside Mitcham tram stop had its name long before Tramlink was built). The Surrey Iron Railway was engineered by William Jessop, who had invented L-section iron rails in 1790, as an improvement on the wooden-railed wagonways which had been used in mines for centuries. These fish-bellied iron rails were manufactured by his assistant Benjamin Outram and it has been suggested that the word "Tramway" is a contraction of Outram's surname ("Outram Way"), but the term is much older and probably comes from the Low German word "traam" which means a "beam". (The first recorded surface-running horse-drawn wagonway was the 2-mile Wollaton Wagonway built in 1603-4 to carry coal from mines at Strelley down to the River Trent at Wollaton, near Nottingham, England).
The first streetcar in America, developed by John Stephenson, began service in the year 1832. This, the New York and Harlem Railroad's Fourth Avenue Line ran along the Bowery and Fourth Avenue in New York City. These streetcars, also known as horsecars in North America, were 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 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. It was followed in 1835 by New Orleans, Louisiana, which is the oldest continuously operating street railway system in the world, according to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. 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 opened in 1839 between Montbrison and Montrond, on the streets inside the towns, and on the roadside outside town. It had permission for steam traction, but was entirely run with horse traction. In 1848, it was closed down after repeated economic failure. The first street trams in Britain were built in 1860 in Birkenhead by the eccentric American entrepreneur George Train, who later introduced street trams to London. If Africa's first tram service in Alexandria started on 8 January 1863.
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 1917. The last regular mule-drawn streetcar in the U.S., 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.
The last example of a horse-drawn tram to be withdrawn from public service in the UK took passengers from Fintona railway station to Fintona Junction one mile away on the main Omagh to Enniskillen railway in Northern Ireland. The tram made its last journey on 30 September 1957 when the Omagh to Enniskillen line closed. The "van" now lies at the Ulster Transport Museum, but a silhouette of the old horse tram is still displayed on the signs at the entrance to the village.
Horse-drawn trams still operate on the 1876-built Douglas Bay Horse Tramway in the Isle of Man, and at the 1894 Victor Harbor Horse Drawn Tram, in Adelaide, South Australia. New horse-drawn systems have been established at the Hokkaidō Museum in Japan and also in Disneyland.
The tram developed in numerous cities of Europe (some of the most extensive systems were found in Berlin, Budapest, Birmingham, Leningrad, Lisbon, London, Manchester, Paris). 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 1879 Berlin Trade Fair, where Siemens AG presented the first electric railway in which the power was supplied through the rails.
At first the rails protruded above street level, causing accidents and problems for pedestrians. They were supplanted in 1852 by grooved rails or girder rails, invented by Alphonse Loubat. Loubat, inspired by Stephenson, built the first tramline in Paris, France. The 2 km (1.2 mi) line was inaugurated on 21 November 1853, in connection with the 1855 World Fair, running on a trial basis from Place de la Concorde to Pont de Sèvres and later to the village of Boulogne. The Toronto streetcar system is one of the few in North America still operating in the classic style on street trackage shared with car traffic, where streetcars stop on demand at frequent stops like buses rather than having fixed stations. Known as Red Rockets because of their colour, they have been operating since the mid-19th century – horsecar service started in 1856 and electric service in 1892.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries a number of systems in various parts of the world employed trams powered by gas, naphtha gas or coal gas in particular. Gas trams are known to have operated between Alphington and Clifton Hill in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, Australia (1886–1888); in Berlin and Dresden, Germany; in Estonia (1920s–1930); between Jelenia Góra, Cieplice, and Sobieszów in Poland (from 1897); and in the UK at Lytham St Annes, Neath (1896–1920), and Trafford Park, Manchester (1897–1908).
On 29 December 1886 the Melbourne newspaper The Argus reprinted a report from the San Francisco Bulletin that Mr Noble had demonstrated a new 'motor car' for tramways 'with success'. The tramcar 'exactly similar in size, shape, and capacity to a cable grip car' had the 'motive power' of gas 'with which the reservoir is to be charged once a day at power stations by means of a rubber hose'. The car also carried an electricity generator for 'lighting up the tram and also for driving the engine on steep grades and effecting a start'.
Comparatively little has been published about gas trams. However, research on the subject was carried out for an article in the October 2011 edition of "The Times", the historical journal of the Australian Association of Timetable Collectors, now the Australian Timetable Association.
A tram system powered by compressed natural gas was due to open in Malaysia in 2012, but as of June 2016[update] there was no evidence of anything having happened; news about the project appears to have dried up.
The first mechanical trams were powered by steam. Generally, there were two types of steam tram. The first and most common had a small steam locomotive (called a tram engine in the UK) 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; other city systems in New South Wales; Munich, Germany (from August 1883 on), British India (Pakistan) (from 1885) and the Dublin & Blessington Steam Tramway in Ireland. Steam tramways also were used on the suburban tramway lines around Milan and Padua; the last Gamba de Legn ("Peg-Leg") tramway ran on the Milan-Magenta-Castano Primo route in late 1958.
Tram engines usually had modifications to make them suitable for street running in residential areas. The wheels, and other moving parts of the machinery, were usually enclosed for safety reasons and to make the engines quieter. Measures were often taken to prevent the engines from emitting visible smoke or steam. Usually the engines used coke rather than coal as fuel to avoid emitting smoke; condensers or superheating were used to avoid emitting visible steam.
The other style of steam tram had the steam engine in the body of the tram, referred to as a tram engine or steam dummy. 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, Sweden, had a steam tram line at the island of Södermalm between 1887 and 1901.
A major drawback of this style of tram was the limited space for the engine, so that these trams were usually underpowered.
The next motive system for trams was the cable car, which was pulled along a fixed track by a moving steel cable. The power to move the cable was normally provided at a "powerhouse" site a distance away from the actual vehicle.
The first practical cable car line was tested in San Francisco, in 1873. Part of its success is attributed to the development of an effective and reliable cable grip mechanism, to grab and release the moving cable without damage. The second city to operate cable trams was Dunedin in New Zealand, from 1881 to 1957. From 1885 to 1940, the city of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia operated one of the largest cable systems in the world, at its peak running 592 trams on 75 kilometres (47 mi) of track. There were also two isolated cable lines in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia; the North Sydney line from 1886 to 1900, and the King Street line from 1892 to 1905.
New York City developed at least seven cable car lines.[when?] A line in Washington DC ran to Georgetown (where some of the underground cable vaults can still be seen today). Los Angeles also had several cable car lines, including the Second Street Cable Railroad, which operated from 1885 to 1889, and the Temple Street Cable Railway, which operated from 1886 to 1898. The most extensive cable system in the US was in Chicago between 1882 and 1906.[when?]
In Dresden, Germany, in 1901 an elevated suspended cable car following the Eugen Langen one-railed floating tram system started operating. Cable cars operated on Highgate Hill in North London and Kennington to Brixton Hill In South London.[when?] They also worked around "Upper Douglas" in the Isle of Man from 1897 to 1929 (cable car 72/73 is the sole survivor of the fleet).
Cable cars suffered from high infrastructure costs, since an expensive system of cables, pulleys, stationary engines and lengthy underground vault structures beneath the rails had to be provided. They also required physical strength and skill to operate, and alert operators to avoid obstructions and other cable cars. The cable had to be disconnected ("dropped") at designated locations to allow the cars to coast by inertia, for example when crossing another cable line. The cable would then have to be "picked up" to resume progress, the whole operation requiring precise timing to avoid damage to the cable and the grip mechanism.
Breaks and frays in the cable, which occurred frequently, required the complete cessation of services over a cable route while the cable was repaired. Due to overall wear, the entire length of cable (typically several kilometres) would have to be replaced on a regular schedule. After the development of reliable electrically powered trams, the costly high-maintenance cable car systems were rapidly replaced in most locations.
Cable cars remained especially effective in hilly cities, since their nondriven wheels would not lose traction as they climbed or descended a steep hill. The moving cable would physically pull the car up the hill at a steady pace, unlike a low-powered steam or horse-drawn car. Cable cars do have wheel brakes and track brakes, but the cable also helps restrain the car to going downhill at a constant speed. Performance in steep terrain partially explains the survival of cable cars in San Francisco. However, the extensive cable car system of Chicago operated over a large relatively flat area.
The San Francisco cable cars, though significantly reduced in number, continue to perform a regular transportation function, in addition to being a well-known tourist attraction. A single cable line also survives in Wellington, New Zealand (rebuilt in 1979 as a funicular but still called the "Wellington Cable Car"). A third system, actually two separate cable lines with a shared power station in the middle, operates from the Welsh town of Llandudno up to the top of the Great Orme hill in North Wales, UK.
Hybrid funicular electric
The Opicina Tramway in Trieste operates a hybrid funicular electric system. Conventional electric trams are operated in street running and on reserved track for most of their route. However, on one steep segment of track, they are assisted by cable tractors, which push the trams uphill and act as brakes for the downhill run. For safety, the cable tractors are always deployed on the downhill side of the tram vehicle.
Horses to electric power
As many city streets were not paved at that time, normal carriages pulled by horses were often hindered by wet, muddy, or snowy conditions. One of the advantages of the horsecar tram over earlier forms of transit was the low rolling resistance of metal wheels on steel rails, allowing animals to haul a greater load for a given effort even in poor weather conditions. Problems included the fact that each animal could only work so many hours per 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 had to dispose 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 for each horsecar. Electric trams largely replaced animal power and other forms of motive power including cable and steam, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. New York City closed its last horsecar line in 1917. The last regular mule-drawn streetcar in the U.S., in Sulphur Rock, Arkansas, closed in 1926. 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 as tourist attractions, including along the promenade in Douglas, Isle of Man. There is also a small line on Main Street at Disney World, outside Orlando, Florida. A horse-drawn service 1300m long operates every 40 minutes at Victor Harbor, South Australia daily, with 20-minute services during tourist seasons, between the mainland and Granite Island across a 630m causeway. It uses double deck trams, and Clydesdale horses, and runs year round.
Trams subsequently developed in numerous cities. 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 electricity after 1879 Berlin Trade Fair, where Siemens AG presented the first electric railway in which the power was supplied through the rails. Siemens AG continued developing and testing electric trams and eventually on 16 May 1881, Werner von Siemens opened the world's first electric tram line in Lichterfelde near Berlin, Germany.
The convenience and economy of electricity resulted in its rapid adoption once the technical problems of production and transmission of electricity were solved. As early as 1834, Thomas Davenport, a Vermont blacksmith, had invented a battery-powered electric motor which he later patented. The following year he used it to operate a small model electric car on a short section of track four feet in diameter. The first prototype of the electric tram was developed by Ukrainian and Russian engineer Fyodor Pirotsky, who modified a horse tram to be powered by electricity. The invention was tested in 1880 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. In 1881, Werner von Siemens opened the world's first electric tram line in Lichterfelde near Berlin, Germany. For some time the German word for tram was simply "die Elektrische".
Parallel developments were occurring during the same period in the United States, where Frank J. Sprague and others contributed to inventions, including a system for collecting electricity from overhead wires. A spring-loaded trolley pole, invented in the US in 1885 by Charles Van Depoele, used a wheel to travel along the wire. Frank Sprague improved the designs, and in late 1887 and early 1888, using this trolley system, Sprague installed the first successful large electric street railway system, the Richmond Union Passenger Railway in Richmond, Virginia. By 1889, over a hundred electric railways incorporating Sprague's equipment had been begun or planned on several continents.
Sidney Howe Short designed and produced the first electric motor that operated a streetcar without gears. The motor had its armature direct-connected to the streetcar's axle for the driving force. Short pioneered "use of a conduit system of concealed feed" thereby eliminating the necessity of overhead wire, trolley poles and a trolley for street cars and railways. While at the University of Denver he conducted important experiments which established that multiple unit powered cars were a better way to operate trains and trolleys.
In Japan, the Kyoto Electric railroad was the first tram system, starting operation in 1895. By 1932, the network had grown to 82 railway companies in 65 cities, with a total network length of 1,479 km (919 mi). By the 1960s the tram had generally died out in Japan.
As for Ireland, from 1898 a tram service was in operation in Cork City but was discontinued in 1931 owing to the increased popularity of buses. There have been campaigns for the introduction of a service similar to the Luas in Dublin. but so far there has been little support for the idea, as the Dublin Bus service is extremely popular.
The world's first electric tram line operated in Sestroretsk near Saint Petersburg, Russia, invented and tested by Fyodor Pirotsky in 1880. The next line opened in Lichterfelde near Berlin, Germany, in 1881. It was built by Werner von Siemens (see Berlin Straßenbahn) who contacted Pirotsky. In Britain, Volk's electric railway was opened in 1883 in Brighton (see Volk's Electric Railway). Also in 1883, Mödling and Hinterbrühl Tram was opened near Vienna in Austria. It was the first tram and railway in the world in regular service that was run with electricity served by an overhead line with pantograph current collectors.
Multiple functioning experimental electric trams were exhibited at the 1884 World Cotton Centennial World's Fair in New Orleans, Louisiana, but they were not deemed good enough to replace the Lamm fireless engines then propelling the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar in that city.
In the US, electric trams (trolley cars) were first successfully tested in service in Richmond, Virginia, in 1888, in the Richmond Union Passenger Railway built by Frank J. Sprague. Another was by John Joseph Wright, brother of the famous mining entrepreneur Whitaker Wright, in Toronto in 1883. The first commercial installation of an electric streetcar in the United States was built in 1884 in Cleveland, Ohio and operated for a period of one year by the East Cleveland Street Railway Company. Earlier installations proved difficult or unreliable. Siemens’ line, for example, provided power through a live rail and a return rail, like a model train, limiting the voltage that could be used, and providing electric shocks to people and animals crossing the tracks. Siemens later designed his own version of overhead current collection, called the bow collector, and Thorold, Ontario, opened 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 required horse-drawn support while climbing the Niagara Escarpment and for two months of the winter when hydroelectricity was not available. It continued in service in its original form into the 1950s.
Previously, other systems were larger. The tram system of Saint Petersburg, than Leningrad, at its summit in 1986 had 1022 km of lines and 2200 streetcars. In 2001 there were 700 km of lines on 285 km of trails. Berlin tram in 1929 had 634 km of trails, in 1948 there were 479.5 km, today there are only 189 km. However, the Berlin system is expanding again, after the West Berlin system had been shut down entirely in 1967.
Since Sprague's installation was the first in the US to prove successful in all conditions, he is credited in the US with being the inventor of the trolley car; the Europeans might disagree, however (see Tram, History section). He later developed multiple unit control, first demonstrated in Chicago in 1897, allowing multiple cars to be coupled together and operated by a single motorman. This gave birth to the modern subway train.
Two rare but significant alternatives were conduit current collection, which was widely used in London, Washington, D.C. and New York City, and the surface contact collection method, used in Wolverhampton (the Lorain system), Torquay and Hastings in the UK (the Dolter stud system), and currently in Bordeaux, France (the ground-level power supply system).
Attempts to use batteries as a source of electricity were made from the 1880s and 1890s, with unsuccessful trials conducted in among other places Bendigo and Adelaide in Australia, and for about 14 years as The Hague accutram of HTM in the Netherlands.
A Welsh example of a tram was usually known as the Mumbles Train, or more formally as the Swansea and Mumbles Railway. Built as the Oystermouth Railway in 1804, on 25 March 1807 it became the first passenger-carrying railway in the world. Converted to an overhead wire system it operated electric cars from 2 March 1929 until its closure on 5 January 1960. These were the largest tram cars built for use in Britain and seated 106 passengers.
The world's first hydroelectric powered tram system was the Giant's Causeway Tramway which originally ran from Portrush to Bushmills in Northern Ireland. At its opening in 1883 it was hailed as "the first long electric tramway in the world". 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 30 September 1882 as the Appleton Edison Electric Company.
There is one particular hazard associated with trams powered from a trolley off an overhead line. Since the tram relies on contact with the rails for the current return path, a problem arises if the tram is derailed or (more usually) if it halts on a section of track that has been particularly heavily sanded by a previous tram, and the tram loses electrical contact with the rails. In this event, the underframe of the tram, by virtue of a circuit path through ancillary loads (such as saloon lighting), is live at the full supply voltage, typically 600 volts. In British terminology such a tram was said to be ‘grounded’—not to be confused with the US English use of the term, which means the exact opposite. Any person stepping off the tram completed the earth return circuit and could receive a nasty electric shock. In such an event the driver was required to jump off the tram (avoiding simultaneous contact with the tram and the ground) and pull down the trolley before allowing passengers off the tram. Unless derailed, the tram could usually be recovered by running water down the running rails from a point higher than the tram. The water providing a conducting bridge between the tram and the rails.
In the 2000s, two companies introduced catenary-free designs. Alstom's Citadis line uses a third rail, and Bombardier's PRIMOVE LRV is charged by contactless induction plates embedded in the trackway.
Other power sources
In some places, other forms of power were used to power the tram. Hastings and some other tramways, for example Stockholms Spårvägar in Sweden and some lines in Karachi, used petrol trams. Paris operated trams that were powered by compressed air using the Mekarski system.
Although Portland, Victoria promotes its tourist tram as being a cable car it actually operates using a hidden diesel motor. The tram, which runs on a circular route around the town of Portland, uses dummies and salons formerly used on the extensive Melbourne cable tramway system and now beautifully restored.
In March 2015, China South Rail Corporation (CSR) demonstrated the world's first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle tramcar at an assembly facility in Qingdao. The chief engineer of the CSR subsidiary CSR Sifang Co Ltd., Liang Jianying, said that the company is studying how to reduce the running costs of the tram.
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 (for example the first major UK city to completely abandon its trams was Manchester by January 1949). Continuing technical and reliability improvements in buses made them a serious competitor to trams because they did not require the construction of costly infrastructure.  However, the demise of the streetcar came when lines were torn out of the major cities by "bus manufacturing or oil marketing companies for the specific purpose of replacing rail service with buses."
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 or efficient and polluted the air. In the United States, there have been allegations that the Great American streetcar scandal was responsible for the replacement of trains with buses, but critics of this theory point to evidence that larger economic forces were driving conversion before General Motors' actions and outside of its reach. Certainly the oldest system of all, the Swansea and Mumbles Railway of 1807, was purchased by The South Wales Transport Company (which operated a large motor bus fleet in the area) and despite vociferous local opposition, closed down in 1960.
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 gradually replaced by buses.
Tram networks disappeared almost completely from France, the UK, and altogether from Ireland, Denmark, Spain, as well as being completely removed from cities such as Sydney, which had one of the largest networks in the world with route length 291 mi (468 km) and Brisbane. The vast majority of tram networks also disappeared in North America, but American cities Boston, Philadelphia, Newark, San Francisco, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Canadian Toronto and Mexico City still retained trams. This situation occurred in Italy and Netherlands, too. There are preserved system in Milan, Rome, Naples, Turin, Ritten and between Trieste and Opicina, and in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. On the other hand, tram systems were generally retained or modernized in most communist countries, as well as Switzerland, West Germany, Austria, Belgium, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Japan etc. though cuts and closures of entire systems also happened there as the example of Hamburg shows. In France, only the networks in Lille, Saint-Étienne and Marseille, survive from this period, but they all suffered significant reduction from their original size. In Great Britain, only the Blackpool Tramway kept running, with an extensive system which includes some street running in Blackpool, and a long stretch of segregated track to nearby Fleetwood.
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. 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 once again 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. The first UK modern street-operating light rail system opened in Manchester in 1992 with Italian built vehicles. 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 renaissance of light rail in North America began in 1978 when the Canadian city of Edmonton, Alberta adopted the German Siemens-Duewag U2 system, followed three years later by Calgary, Alberta and San Diego, California. Britain began replacing its run-down local railways with light rail in the 1980s, starting with the Tyne and Wear Metro in Tyneside and followed by the Docklands Light Railway in London. The trend to light rail in the United Kingdom was firmly established with the success of the Manchester Metrolink system and Sheffield Supertram in 1992, followed by Midland Metro in Birmingham in 1999, and Tramlink in London in 2000.
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.
It was the Olympic games of 2004 that prompted the redevelopment of trams as part of the Athens Mass Transit System. The tramways in Athens are among the most modern in the world, integrated with the revived Athens Metro system, as well as the buses, trolleybuses and suburban trains.
In Melbourne, Australia, the already extensive tramway system continues to be extended. In 2004 the Mont Albert line was extended several kilometres to Box Hill, whilst in 2005 the Burwood East line was extended several kilometres to Vermont South. In Sydney, trams returned in the form of light rail with the opening of the Inner West Light Rail line in 1997, which has seen extensions and now covers 7.2 mi (11.6 km).
In Scotland, Edinburgh relaunched its tram network on 31 May 2014 after delayed development which began in 2008. Edinburgh previously had an extensive tram network which began closure in the 1950s. The new network is significantly smaller, 8.7 miles, compared to the previous tram network, 47.25 miles.
Systems such as tram-trains are bringing rail based transit to areas that never had it and would not otherwise have gotten it. The Karlsruhe model was one of the first in the modern era and provided one seat rides where several connections would have been necessary before, increasing ridership by significant amounts upon opening of service compared to prior bus or local train routes.
The status of the tram systems in the country's history (number indicates the number of cities with trams)
Networks about 1921 or 1929 (in Golden Age of trams)
- Not introduced - Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates...
- Human - Kenya (1)...
- Horse drawn - Albania (1), Barbados (1), Dominican Republic (3), Fiji (1), Iran (1), Libya (1), Madagascar (1), Nigeria (1), Sierra Leone (1), Zimbabwe (1)...
- Steam system - Democratic Republic of Congo (1), Eritrea (1), Ghana (1), Iraq (1), Suriname (1), Tanzania (1)...
- Diesel or Petrol (gasoline) - Pakistan (1), Haiti(1)...
- Electric - Algeria, Australia (about 22 [depending on definition of difference between tram lines and rail lines]), Armenia (1), Austria (16), Azerbaijan (3), Colombia (3), Costa Rica (1), Czechoslovakia (21), Brazil, Belarus (4), Belgium (21), Canada, China (8), Denmark (4), Ecuador (2), Egypt, Estonia (2), France (96), Finland (3), Georgia (1), Germany, Honduras (1), Hong Kong (1), Hungary (8), India (7), Indonesia (2), Ireland (11), Isle of Man (4), Italy (about 90), Jamaica (1), Japan (66), Kazakhistan (1), Latvia (4), Lebanon (1), Kazakhstan, Malaysia (1), Mexico (about 20), Mocrocco, Mozambique (1), Myanmar (2), Netherlands (about 35), New Zealand (6 North Island, 4 South Island), Norway (3), North Korea (1), Philippines (1), Portugal (5), Poland (27), Singapore (1), South Korea (2), Spain, Sri Lanka (1), Sudan (1), Syria (2), Sweden (13), Switzerland (28), Thailand (2), Tunisia (1), Turkey (2), Ukraine, United Kingdom (about 190), United States, Ukraine, Uzbekistan (1), Vietnam (2)
Networks in about 1977 (in a period when many cities abandoned trams):
- Closed completely in many countries like – Albania, Barbados, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Greece, Iran, Ireland, Lithuiana, Libya, Madagascar, Malayzia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Nigeria, North Korea, Sierra Leone, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Vietnam, Zimbabwe ..
- Almost closed with the exception of one or two (maximum three cities), such as – Australia (2), Canada (1), China (3), Estonia (1), Finland (1), France (3), India (1), Mexico (2), Netherlands (3), Sweden (3), United Kingdom (1)
- Systems closed except for a few exceptions - Italy (6), United States (7)
- Some systems closed, some remains – Armenia (1), Austria (7), Azerbaijan, Belarus (4), Belgium (5), Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia (10), East Germany (20), Egypt (2), Hungaria (4), Isle of Man (3), Japan (20), Kazakhistan (5), Latvia (3), Norway (2), Poland (15), Portugal (3), Russia, Switzerland (7), Ukraine, West Germany (31)
Networks now (2016):
- Closed completely in many countries like – Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Georgia, Guyana, Indonesia, Jamaica, Malta, Lebanon, Lithuiana, Panama, Paraguay, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Syria, Thailand, Trinidad, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam...
- Closed almost except one or two towns like – Croatia (2), Estonia (1), Finland (1), Greece (1), India (1), Ireland (1), Mexico (2)...
- Previously closed but later returned as heritage system – Netherlands [Aruba] (1), Chile (1), New Zealand, Peru (1), South Africa (1)....
- Previously closed but later reinstated as modern systems – Algeria (3), Argentina, Colombia (1), Ethiopia (1), Morocco (2), Myanmar (1), North Korea (2), Philippines (1), Singapore, Tunisia (1), Turkey (10)...
- Introduced at the site where never before - Dubai (1), Israel (1), Taiwan (Mid-2016) (1)
- Projected returns / or new systems - Australia (Canberra from 2019, Darwin (proposed), in Newcastle construction since 2017 and commissioning in 2019, Paramatta, Sunshine Coast (proposed), Perth, Hobart), Belgium (Lutych in 2022), Denmark (Aarhus in May 2017 and Odense in 2020), Luxembourg (2017, full completion in 2021), Sweden (Lund from 2019), Switzerland (from 2021 Lausanne), USA (from 2017 Detroit streetcar)...
- Some systems closed, some remain, some reinstated, some new – Australia (4), Austria (7), Czech Republic (7), Brazil, Belarus (4), Belgium (6), Canada (5), China (9), Egypt (2), France(28), Germany (about between 50 and 60), Hungaria (4), Isle of Man (3), Italy (13), Japan (19), Latvia (3), Kazakhstan (3), Netherlands (3), Norway (3), Philippines (1), Portugal (4), Poland (15), Russia, Spain, Slovakia (3), Sweden, Switzerland (7), Ukraine (22), United Kingdom (10), United Arab Emirates (1), United States (35)...
Modern trams generally use overhead electric contact wires, from which they draw current through a pantograph, a bow collector (less commonly) or the now-rare trolley pole (the pantograph is most common and used on new tram designs). 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. There is a UK example of interlaced track on the Tramlink, just west of Mitcham Station, where the formation is narrowed by an old landslip causing an obstruction. (See photo in Tramlink entry).
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.
Historically, the rail gauge has had considerable variations, with narrow gauge common in many early systems. However, most light rail systems are now standard gauge. An important advantage of standard gauge is that standard railway maintenance equipment can be used on it, rather than custom-built machinery. Using standard gauge also allows light rail vehicles to be delivered and relocated conveniently using freight railways and locomotives. Another factor favoring standard gauge is that low-floor vehicles are becoming popular, and there is generally insufficient space for wheelchairs to move between the wheels in a narrow gauge layout. Standard gauge also enables - at least in theory - a larger choice of manufacturers and thus lower procurement costs for new vehicles. However, other factors such as electrification or loading gauge for which there is more variation may require costly custom built units regardless.
Recent technical developments
The revival of tram networks, particularly in France and Spain, has brought about a number of technical developments both in the traction systems and in the styling of the cars.
APS third rail
A ground-level power supply system known as Ground-level power supply or APS is an updated version of the original stud type system. APS uses a third rail placed between the running rails, divided electrically into eight-metre powered segments with three metre neutral sections between. Each tram has two power collection skates, next to which are antennas that send radio signals to energize the power rail segments as the tram passes over them. Older systems required mechanical switching systems which were susceptible to environmental problems. At any one time no more than two consecutive segments under the tram should actually be live. Wireless and solid state switching remove the mechanical problem.
The Eurotram series was developed by Socimi of Italy. It is used by Strasbourg, Milan, and Porto. The Eurotram has a modern design that makes it look almost as much like a train as a tram, and has large windows along its entire length.
The Citadis tram, flagship of the French manufacturer Alstom, enjoys an innovative design combining lighter bogies with a modular concept for carriages providing more choices in the types of windows and the number of cars and doors. The recent Citadis-Dualis, intended to run at up to 100 km/h (62 mph), is suitable for stop spacings ranging from 500 m (1,600 ft) to 5 km (3.1 mi). Dualis is a strictly modular partial low-floor car, with all doors in the low-floor sections.
A Rubber-tyred "tram" is a trolleybus which is guided by a fixed rail on the ground and uses overhead cables like a conventional tram. This can allow the vehicles to match the capacity of conventional trams and cope with gradients up to 13% due to the rubber tyres. There are two systems which use this technology: the Guided Light Transit (GLT) and Translohr. The GLT "trams" are legally considered buses as they have steering wheels and can leave the fixed rail when requirements dictate e.g. when journeying to a depot while a Translohr "tram" cannot operate without a guidance rail and are generally not considered buses.
Pivoting bogies in 100% low-floor
Most low-floor trams carry the mechanical penalty of requiring bogies to be fixed and unable to pivot. This creates undue wear on the tracks and wheels and reduces the speed at which a tram can drive through a curve. Some manufacturers such as Citadis deal with the issue by introducing partially high floor trams. Others try to overcome all shortcomings, and in 2009 the some such as the Škoda 15 T was developed with pivoting bogies at the ends and with jacobs bogies between the articulations, but this solution proved expensive.
A Eurotram in Milan, Italy
A Citadis tram in Dublin, Ireland
100% low-floor Škoda 15 T's pivoting bogie
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