History of street cars and trolleys in north america

BCER Interurbans & Streetcars

Streetcar strikes rank among the deadliest armed conflicts in American labor union history. Louis Streetcar Strike of "the fiercest struggle ever waged by the organized toilers" [20] up to that point, with a total casualty count of 14 dead and about wounded. The San Francisco Streetcar Strike of saw 30 killed and about injured. The New Orleans streetcar strike was one of the last of its kind. The rise of private automobile ownership took the edge off its impact, as an article in the Chicago Tribune observed as early as The Great Depression of the s led to the closure of many streetcar lines in North America.

The onset of World War II held off the closure of some streetcar lines as civilians used them to commute to war related factory jobs during a time when rubber tires and gasoline were rationed. After the war automobile use continued to rise and was assisted in the s and s by the passage of the Trans-Canada Highway Act of and growth of provincial highways in Canada as well as the Federal Aid Highway Act of in the United States.

Declining ridership and traffic jam crowding of city streets by streetcars were often cited as reasons to shut down remaining lines. During the same time all streetcar systems in Central America were scrapped as well. The survival of the lines that made it past the s was aided by the introduction of the successful PCC streetcar Presidents' Conference Committee car in the s and s in all these cities except New Orleans. City buses were seen as more economical and flexible: a bus could carry a number of people similar to that in a streetcar without tracks and associated infrastructure.

Many transit operators removed some streetcar tracks but kept the electric infrastructure so as to run electrified trackless trolley buses.

Streets to suburbia

Many such systems lasted only as long as the first generation of equipment, but several survive to the present. The abandonment of city streetcar systems in the mid-twentieth century led to accusations of conspiracy which held that a union of automobile, oil, and tire manufacturers shut down the streetcar systems in order to further the use of buses and automobiles. While it is true that General Motors , Firestone Tire , Standard Oil of California , Phillips Petroleum , and some other companies funded holding companies that purchased about 30 more of the hundreds of transit systems across North America, their real goal was to sell their products — buses, tires, and fuel — to those transit systems as they converted from streetcars to buses.

During the time the holding companies owned an interest in American transit systems, more than cities converted to buses. The holding companies only owned an interest in the transit systems of less than fifty of those cities.

They were also indicted, but acquitted of conspiring to monopolize the ownership of these companies. The former verdict was upheld on appeal in The systems described in the paragraphs above and below are genuine streetcars or tramways, with smaller vehicles and mixed-traffic street running i. However, a greater number of North American cities have built light rail systems in recent decades, some of which operate partially in the right-of-way of city streets, but which mostly operate in exclusive rights-of-way.

Federal Transit Administration to describe new streetcar transformations which were taking place in Europe and being planned in North America. The pioneering "modern" North American light rail system, Edmonton Light Rail Transit , was started in Edmonton in and became operational on April 22, [29] — it used mostly European technology, did not use street running, and operated in tunnels in the downtown area which accounted for much of the high expense of building that system.

It was soon followed by light rail systems in San Diego and Calgary in that used similar vehicles but which avoided the expense of tunnels by using surface alignments and, on a few sections, even partial street running, in reserved lanes restricted to transit vehicles only. The development of light rail systems in North America then proliferated widely after , mostly in the United States, but also in Canada and Mexico. Including streetcars, light rail systems are operating successfully in over 30 U. New public transit streetcar services also returned, at least in the United States, around the same time as the emergence of the new light rail transit.

Prior to , the new streetcar systems that opened in North America for public transit were so-called heritage streetcar systems, alternatively known as "vintage trolley" or "historic trolley" lines. While Detroit and Seattle were the first cities to open heritage lines in and , their heritage lines ultimately closed in and , respectively.

The first heritage system to be successful was Dallas' M-line which opened in These heritage systems were followed in the s by new heritage streetcar lines in Kenosha, Tampa, and Little Rock, and the restoration of a defunct streetcar line using heritage streetcars in Philadelphia SEPTA Route 15 in Other cities in both the United States and Canada opened new heritage streetcar lines that operated only on weekends or seasonally, primarily as tourist services, and so didn't provide true "public transit" service.

Truly modern streetcar systems arose in the United States, starting in , in Portland, Oregon. These systems were completely new in every way, operating on new track built specifically for them, and operating with "modern" streetcar vehicles rather than the "heritage" vehicles used in places like Dallas, Memphis and San Francisco.

In , the Mineta Transportation Institute released a peer-reviewed research report [30] which used key informant interviews to examine the experiences on modern-era streetcars operating in Little Rock, Memphis, Portland, Seattle, and Tampa. The research revealed that in these cities, the primary purpose of the streetcar was to serve as a development tool in all cities examined , a second objective was to serve as a tourism-promoting amenity in Little Rock and Tampa , and transportation objectives were largely afterthoughts with the notable exception of Portland, and to a lesser degree, Seattle.

Not all streetcar systems were removed after World War II.

Streetcars, A History

The San Francisco cable car system and New Orleans' streetcars are the most famous examples of the survival of a "legacy" streetcar system in the United States to the present day. In addition to New Orleans' streetcars, Toronto's conventional electric streetcar system also avoided abandonment, as did portions of the streetcar systems in San Francisco, Boston, Newark , Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland , [31] as well as Mexico City.

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 St. Charles Avenue line in New Orleans runs down the park-like "neutral ground" in the centre of St. Charles Avenue, while the surviving Xochimilco line in Mexico City, the interurban lines in Cleveland, and almost all of the above-ground portions of the Boston system had similar rights-of-way, and, thus, are generally treated as "light rail" lines in modern contexts rather than as "streetcar" lines.

Welcome to the U.S. Streetcar Systems Page!

The only system to survive without using these alternatives to street running was Toronto's. New Orleans' streetcar system also continues to operate a few surviving Perley Thomas cars along with replica cars. All of the other legacy systems have received new equipment and most have upgraded to modern light rail vehicles, though Toronto's CLRV vehicles are still largely based on the PCC design. Some of these cities have also rehabilitated lines, and Newark, New Orleans, and San Francisco have added trackage and new lines in recent years; San Francisco also restored a streetcar line with heritage service in see Heritage streetcar systems section, below.

In Canada, most cities once had a streetcar system, but today the Toronto Transit Commission TTC is the only traditional operator of streetcars, and maintains the Western Hemisphere's most extensive system in terms of track length, number of cars, and ridership. The city has added two new streetcar lines in recent years Spadina in , and Harbourfront in , and is upgrading its other lines. Its traditional fleet of CLRVs and ALRVs are being replaced with Bombardier Flexity low-floor models, and expansion is planned in combination with the city's plans for the rejuvenation of its waterfront.

The table below lists the surviving first-generation "legacy" streetcars in those nine North American cities:. Newly built systems using modern streetcars have so far only opened in cities in the United States, and are summarized in the table below listed in order of opening :. In addition, the CityLynx Gold Line , which opened in Charlotte, North Carolina , in using replica-vintage streetcars see table of heritage streetcar systems, below , is planned to be converted to modern streetcars in In , Portland, Oregon, which already had a successful light rail system MAX , became the first city in the North America in more than 50 years to open a new streetcar system served by modern vehicles, [85] [86] with the opening of the Portland Streetcar.

It uses low-floor cars built in the Czech Republic, but the system's first U. Running almost entirely on streets and without any separation from other traffic on most sections, it complements the MAX light rail system, which covers much longer distances and serves as a regional, higher-capacity rail system for the metropolitan area.

The MAX system also runs along streets in central Portland, but is separated from traffic other than buses even in those areas, via reserved light-rail-only lanes. Construction of a second streetcar line, to the city's east side, began in , [88] and the new line opened in September The new Portland system and several of the new heritage streetcar systems have been intended, in part, as a way of influencing property development in the corridors served, in such a way as to increase density while attracting residents interested in relatively car-free living.

The second "second-generation" streetcar system opened in North America was in , in Seattle , [92] where the city's transportation department led the project to construct the South Lake Union Streetcar , but contracted with local transit authority King County Metro to operate the service. Connecting the neighborhood south of Lake Union with the transit core of downtown Seattle, it operates every 15 minutes and is served by three low-floor streetcars of the same type as some of those in Portland.

Construction of an extension that will connect the two lines [94] is set to begin in early A new rail line which opened in Tacoma, Washington in , Tacoma Link , is sometimes referred to as a streetcar line because of its short length and use of single vehicles rather than trains of the same type as the low-floor streetcars used in Portland. However, the line is separated from other traffic over most of its length, making it a light rail line, which is what its operator Sound Transit considers it to be.

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Some 70 U. In the s, one factor in this was lack of funding support for streetcar development from the Federal Transit Administration FTA under the Bush Administration. The following table lists the new modern streetcar systems that are currently under construction:. The systems listed above will use modern streetcars. For new heritage streetcar systems that are under construction, see relevant section below.

In addition to the streetcar systems currently under construction, a number of additional streetcar systems are in the planning stages in the United States. Examples of cities with streetcar systems in the active planning stages include Los Angeles , [] Minneapolis , [] New York City , [] Sacramento , [] and Saint Paul. Heritage streetcar systems are sometimes used in public transit service, combining light rail efficiency with tourist's nostalgia interests.

Proponents claim that using a simple, reliable form of transit from 50 or years ago can bring history to life for 21st century visitors. Prior to , the new streetcar systems that opened in North America had been heritage lines, alternatively known as vintage trolley or ' historic' trolley lines. Several cities built new heritage streetcar lines, starting from the s onward. Other heritage systems operate daily, running throughout the entire day, year-round, thus providing true public transit service.


New heritage streetcar systems providing daily, year-round service included ones opened in Seattle the Waterfront Streetcar — opened in , but closed in , Galveston , but service suspended in after Hurricane Ike , Dallas McKinney Avenue Transit Authority , Memphis and Kenosha, Wisconsin Other new heritage streetcar lines have opened in Tampa in and Little Rock in All of these were newly constructed systems, but all have been served by historic streetcars or replicas of historic streetcars.

The El Paso Streetcar is a new heritage system that opened in November , using six restored PCC streetcars that have survived from the city's previous streetcar system, [] which closed in , [] but serving a new route. The following two tables list all of the currently operating heritage streetcar systems offering regular public transit service:.

The following table lists primarily tourist-oriented heritage streetcar systems i. Unlike a heritage system, a streetcar museum may offer little or no transport service.