The Horse-drawn tram (Horsecar), an early form of public rail transport, developed out of industrial haulage routes that had long been in existence, and from the omnibus routes that first ran on public streets in the 1820s, using the newly improved iron or steel rail or 'tramway'. These were local versions of the stagecoach lines and picked up and dropped off passengers on a regular route, without the need to be pre-hired. Horsecars on tramlines were an improvement over the omnibus, as the low rolling resistance of metal wheels on iron or steel rails (usually grooved from 1852 on) allowed the animals to haul a greater load for a given effort than the omnibus and gave a smoother ride. The horse-drawn streetcar combined the low cost, flexibility, and safety of animal power with the efficiency, smoothness, and all-weather capability of a rail right-of-way.
The first tram services in the world were started by the Swansea and Mumbles Railway in Wales, using specially designed carriages on an existing tramline built for horse-drawn freight dandies. Fare-paying passengers were carried on a line between Oystermouth, Mumbles and Swansea Docks from 1807. The Gloucester and Cheltenham Tramroad (1809) carried passengers although its main purpose was freight.
In spite of its early start, it took many years for horse-drawn streetcars to become widely acceptable across Britain; the American George Francis Train first introduced them to Birkenhead in 1860 but was jailed for "breaking and injuring" the highway when he next tried to lay the first tram tracks on the roads of London. An 1870 Act of Parliament overcame these legal obstacles by defining responsibilities and for the next three decades many local tramway companies were founded, using horse-drawn carriages, until replaced by cable, steam or electric traction. Many companies adopted a design of a partly enclosed double-decker carriage hauled by two horses. The last horse-drawn tram was retired from London in 1915. Horses continued to be used for light shunting well into the 20th century. The last horse used for shunting on British Railways was retired on 21 February 1967 in Newmarket, Suffolk.
United States of America
In the United States the very first streetcar appeared on November 26, 1832, on the New York and Harlem Railroad in New York City. The cars were designed by John Stephenson of New Rochelle, New York and constructed at his company in New York City. The earliest streetcars used horses and sometimes mules, usually two as a team, to haul the cars. Rarely, other animals were tried, including humans in emergency circumstances. By the mid-1880s, there were 415 street railway companies in the USA operating over 6,000 miles of track and carrying 188 million passengers per year using horsecars. By 1890 New Yorkers took 297 horsecar rides per capita per year. The average street car horse had a life expectancy of about two years.
In 1861, Toronto Street Railway horsecars replaced horse driven omnibuses as a public transit mode in Toronto. Starting in 1892, electric streetcars emerged in Toronto and by 1894 the TSR stopped operating horsecars in Toronto.
The first horse-drawn rail cars on the continent of Europe were operated from 1828 by the České Budějovice - Linz railway. Europe saw a proliferation of horsecar use for new tram services from the mid-1860s, with many towns building new networks.
Tropical plantations (for products such as henequen and bananas) made extensive use of animal-powered trams for both passengers and freight, often employing the Decauville narrow-gauge portable track system. In some cases these systems were very extensive and evolved into interurban tram networks (as in the Yucatan, which sported over 3,000 kilometers of such lines). Surviving examples may be found in both the Yucatan and Brazil.
Problems with horsecars 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 storing and then disposing of. Since a typical horse pulled a streetcar for about a dozen miles a day and worked for four or five hours, many systems needed ten or more horses in stable for each horsecar.
Horsecars were largely replaced by electric-powered streetcars following the invention by Frank J. Sprague of an overhead trolley system on streetcars for collecting electricity from overhead wires. His spring-loaded trolley pole used a wheel to travel along the wire. In late 1887 and early 1888, using his trolley system, Sprague installed the first successful large electric street railway system in Richmond, Virginia. Long a transportation obstacle, the hills of Richmond included grades of over 10%, and were an excellent proving ground for acceptance of the new technology in other cities. Within a year, the economy of electric power had replaced more costly horsecars in many cities. By 1889, 110 electric railways incorporating Sprague's equipment had been begun or planned on several continents.
Many large metropolitan lines lasted well into the early twentieth century. New York City had a regular horsecar service on the Bleecker Street Line until its closure in 1917. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania had its Sarah Street line drawn by horses until 1923. The last regular mule-drawn cars in the US ran in Sulphur Rock, Arkansas until 1926 and were commemorated by a U.S. postage stamp issued in 1983. Toronto's horse-drawn streetcar operations ended in 1891. In other countries animal-powered tram services often continued well into the 20th century; the last mule tram service in Mexico City ended in 1932, and a mule tram in Celaya, Mexico survived until 1954.
A few original horsecar lines have survived or have been revived as tourist attractions, and in recent years several replica horsecar lines have been built. Below is a list of locations around the world with operational horsecars that are open to the public.
- Cable car (railway)
- Carville (San Francisco)
- Dandy waggon
- List of horse-drawn railways
- Omaha Horse Railway
- Rail transport in Walt Disney Parks and Resorts
- Slate waggon
- Trolley (horse-drawn)
- Middleton, William D. (1967). The Time of the Trolley, pp. 13 and 424. Milwaukee: Kalmbach Publishing. ISBN 0-89024-013-2.
- Mike Filey (1996). "From Horse Power to Horsepower: Toronto: 1890-1930" (PDF). Dundurn Press. p. 74. ISBN 9781554881734. Retrieved 2014-02-17.
- Allen Morrison. "The Tramways of Yucatán - Part 4". Retrieved 2008-12-23.
- "E.F.S. - The Decauville Section". Retrieved 2008-12-23.
- "New York Loses its Last Horse Car" New York Times; Friday, July 29, 1917. Page 12 (Cable Car Lines in New York and New Jersey)
- "Sulphur Rock Street Car; Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture". Retrieved 2008-12-23.
- Allen Morrison. "The Indomitable Tramways of Celaya". Retrieved 2008-12-22.
- "Ardenwood Historic Farm – official website". East Bay Regional Park District. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
- "Döbeln Tramway – official website (in German)". Traditionsverein "Döbelner Pferdebahn e.V.". Retrieved August 26, 2016.
- "Douglas Bay Horse Tramway – official website". Isle of Man Heritage Railways. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
- "Ghora Tram: Historic Horse Tram Returns to Gangapur!". Indian Railways Fan Club. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
- "Historical Village of Hokkaido – official website (in Japanese)". Historical Village of Hokkaido Foundation. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
- "Horse-Drawn Streetcars (Disneyland Park (Paris)) – official website". Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
- "Koiwai Farm – official website". Koiwai Farm Ltd. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
- "Main Street Vehicles (Disneyland) – official website". Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
- "Main Street Vehicles (Magic Kingdom) – official website". Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
- "Pferdeeisenbahn (Kerschbaum) – official website (in German)". Verein Freunde der Pferdeeisenbahn. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
- "Spiekeroog (in German)". Inselbahn.de. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
- "Victor Harbor Horse Drawn Tram – official website". Victor Harbor Horse Drawn Tram. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
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