This site provides an
overview of U.S. (and Canadian) streetcar operations-both Vintage Trolley (a.k.a. Heritage Trolley)
and Modern Streetcar. Visit the impressive variety of systems now
in operation and learn about proposals for new systems.
Each page links to local websites and new information is being
added continuously, so check back regularly. Contributions are
is a Streetcar?
to local public transportation using electric vehicles that run on
rails. Streetcars (called "Tramways" in Europe and many other
parts of the world) are generally designed to provide short-trip urban circulation,
and the vehicles and infrastructure are optimized accordingly. The streetcar
alignment can be located in shared traffic lanes or on a segregated
right-of-way if one is available. Vehicles typically consist of a single
unit, ranging from restored heritage cars to modern multi-section
designs from Europe and Japan.
Streetcars are part of
the ongoing renaissance which is bringing new life to American (and the
centers; as more and more Americans return to the city, the need for new
urban transportation solutions grows ever more important. Transportation
is the key to creating great public places- and cities across the
country are taking a new look at an old idea, the city streetcar.
Whether the streetcar is heritage or modern,
the goal of helping build livable communities remains the same.
Vintage Trolley vehicles bring their own unique aspects
to the table, providing an authentic historic trolley experience that mixes
urban transportation with visitor entertainment. The ratio of this
mixture varies widely; on some systems the vintage trolleys really are
providing a full-fledged transportation function, the vehicles just
happen to have an historic theme!
are Cities Building Streetcar Systems Again?
Streetcar projects are typically driven by the
need to rejuvenate the urban public space. The coming of the streetcar
really changes the face of the city; the streetcar provides attractive short-trip urban
circulation and becomes a formative component in reshaping the public
space. A streetcar is a proven
way to attract "choice" riders (riders who have ready access
to a car and are not transit dependent), a significant advantage
over rubber-tired alternatives. By connecting together key activity
centers, parking and other forms of transit with convenient service
levels, the streetcar becomes the key to creating a vibrant cityscape that
is attractive to all. Visitors and residents alike can see and do
more within a given district when a convenient streetcar service links
many of their destinations together. Stops are spaced relatively close
together, and the streetcar thus becomes a "pedestrian
accelerator", facilitating trips that are part walking, part
In addition to their mobility
benefits, streetcars have an
excellent track record of being a catalyst for positive urban change
when integrated with land use policy and greater coordination of all
transport modes. The
nature of the rail infrastructure implies permanence- it's going to be there
as a community resource for the long run. This can be a key ingredient
communities maximize public/private investment. The streetcar is also highly visible, has an easily understood route, and the
quiet, pollution-free electric vehicles blend in well with the community.
Streetcar systems are
also much less expensive to build and operate than conventional rail
systems. Infrastructure is simpler, consistent with the lower
speeds and circulator function. Because it is easily integrated into the built urban
environment, streetcars cost significantly less per mile than higher capacity,
longer-distance Light Rail systems. Both have their roles to play in the
public transit arena of course, and some cities are using a streetcar as a precursor to a new
Light Rail system, offering a low-cost
"demonstrator" line that can later be extended or incorporated into a
Accompanying the growing
interest in streetcar systems, the marketplace now has many choices in
new streetcar vehicles. Whether a replica "heritage" car from
companies such as Gomaco
or a "modern" car from
Streetcar, vehicles are readily available. Entire fleets of replica heritage cars have also been produced in-house; the New Orleans RTA partnered with suppliers
and built 23 of its own cars in 2002. Other cities, such
as Philadelphia, opted for a total rebuild of vintage PCC type
streetcars, stripping them to a shell and applying new equipment to create what is essentially a new car. Costs for
a replica car currently begin around $900,000 for an air conditioned
double-truck vehicle (using rebuilt vintage running gear and modern control
equipment). A typical diesel transit bus costs about half as much, but has a shorter service
life (17 years vs. 25 for trolley / streetcar / LRV). A modern
light rail vehicle or modern streetcar costs between $3.5 and $4.5M.
Check the Replica
Trolley Cars page for a complete roster of all replica heritage cars built to
date, with facts and figures (including cost) on each.
replica heritage car Capacity: 88 passengers;
seated, 44 standing
Vehicles: Heritage or Modern?
New streetcar vehicles can be
purchased in either "Modern" or "Heritage" form.
Modern and Heritage streetcars both utilize essentially the same
infrastructure; the tracks and overhead wire are easily integrated into the built urban environment using relatively
low-impact construction techniques. Both Heritage and Modern cars can be
air conditioned, and both can provide a comfortable ride given the short
trip times involved.
There are differences in the vehicles to be sure;
when designed together with a simple boarding platform, Modern Streetcars provide level boarding, and of
course they offer the ultra-modern appearance and performance one would
expect from today's technology. Some
cities (such as Portland) have operated both Heritage and Modern cars on the same
route. There are also significant differences in vehicle cost
and complexity, a modern replica car selling from about $900,000
and a modern articulated streetcar at between $3.5 - 4.5M (the vehicle is also
larger, see sidebar). It should also be noted that the technology gap is narrowing,
with replica heritage cars becoming increasingly modern
"under the hood".
At the beginning of the US Streetcar revolution, the replica
also provided a Buy America-compliant solution for US agencies. In 2010,
a lot has changed; almost all of the major world suppliers are preparing (or are already
able) to provide Modern Streetcar vehicles that will meet Buy America.
In Canada, Toronto is in the process of buying
more than 200 new 100% low-floor streetcars from Bombardier to
completely re-equip their fleet. Also, United
Streetcar has now introduced a US-manufactured version of the
Inekon streetcar. The APTA Streetcar Subcommittee is helping to
develop guidelines for the introduction of Modern Streetcar vehicles in
North America, check out the ModernStreetcar.org
website for more details.
In the final analysis, a host of local factors will play into the
decision of which vehicle type should be used, but both can provide
effective urban circulation that is attractive to riders and helps
promote livable cities. Click
here for a presentation given at the 2007 APTA Rail Transit Conference
exploring this topic further (1.9M pdf file).
For a sampling of European tramway
systems and vehicles, check out these excellent photo websites: