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A tram (or tramway, trolley, streetcar) is a light-rail vehicle for public transport. Trams are distinguished from other forms of light rail in that they travel along tracks laid down in the right-of-way of city streets. Another distinguishing factor is the short length of the vehicle, which usually consists of a standalone car or three at most. A special type is the cable car.

Tram systems are common throughout Europe and were common throughout the Western world in the early 20th century. In Canada most cities once had a streetcar system, but today Toronto's TTC is the only operator of streetcars.

In Australia trams are only extensively used in Melbourne, all other major cities having dismantled their networks in the mid 20th century (Sydney does have a new light rail line, Adelaide has a tram line originating from the city centre, terminating at Glenelg).

In the United Kingdom, tram systems were widely dismantled in the 1950s, and after the closure of Glasgow's network in 1962, only Blackpool's survived, although a cable-operated line continued to operate up the Great Orme in Llandudno. However in recent years new light rail lines have been opened in Manchester, Sheffield, the West Midlands, Croydon and Nottingham, with a system in Leeds under construction and several others under consideration.

Table of contents
1 History
2 See also
3 External Links


The name "tram" is from Low German traam, meaning the "beam (of a wheelbarrow)", although some sources claim that it is derived from the name of engineer Benjamin Outram.

The trams were first used in the first half of the 19th century, early trams being pulled along by horses. In 1807 the first passenger tram started to operate, on a tramroad or railway mainly used for freight along the perimeter of Swansea Bay (UK).


, Spain]] The first tram in France was opened in 1853 as part of the World's Fair. The tram quickly developed in major European cities like London, Berlin, and Paris. They were faster and more comfortable than omnibuses, which ran on the regular streets, but were more expensive than animal transport. This is why mechanical improvements in trams developed so quickly - steam power for trams was invented in 1873 and electric in 1881, presented by Siemens at the Exposition of Electricity in Paris and Berlin. The first electric tram opened in Hungary at Budapest in 1887.

Recently the tram has seen a huge revival with many experiments like on tires as in Nancy or hidden wires as in Bordeaux as the municipalities find it a quick fix to the traffic problems.

Later trams

Later trams, known as cable cars, attached to a moving cable underneath the road. The cable would be pulled by a steam engine at a powerhouse. Railed vehicles pulled by cable up the hills at steep incline, such as Hong Kong's Victoria Peak Tram, and Monongahela and Duquesne Inclines in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, are also called trams, but are more accurately funiculars. Modern trams generally use overhead electric cables, from which they draw current through a pantograph or a trolley pole. The modern street railway was made possible by the inventions of Frank Sprague, who installed the first large-scale electric street railway in Richmond, Virginia in 1887. By 1890 over a hundred such sytems had been begun or were planned.

There are also double-decker trams, see Hong Kong Tramways.

Double track tram lines are sometimes at narrow passages single track, or, to avoid switches, have the tracks intertwined, e.g. in the Leidsestraat in Amsterdam on three short stretches (see map detail).

United States

The term tram does not have the same usage in the United States of America as in most of the world. In the U.S. a "tram" is more likely to describe a small tourist bus in the form of a mock-streetcar or an aerial tramway, such as those used in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Roosevelt Island, New York City. The word is also used to describe people movers in many places.

In the US, an animal-powered tram would be characterized as a horsecar, an electrically powered one as a trolley, either as a streetcar and a modern version as a light rail vehicle (LRV). A US system is called a light rail transit (LRT) line if it is at least partially on a reserved right-of-way. The term light rail is sometimes used generically to describe any trolley line except heritage railways.

The first lines built in the United States were in 1832 from New York City to Harlem and in 1834 in New Orleans.

Most US trams were removed by the 1950s. Among the reasons, the US firm of General Motors formed a separate subsidiary named "National City Lines", whose business mission was to buy out tram/streetcar operations all around the US and replace the trams with fleets of buses. Not all trams were removed; the San Francisco cable cars are the most famous example of trams in the United States. More conventional tram/streetcar operations survived complete abandonment in Boston, Newark, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, New Orleans, and San Francisco. 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.

More recently a number of American cities have built new light rail systems which operate partially in the right-of-way of city streets. These systems could be called trams by Europeans and Australians but are generally not known by that name within the US.

See also

External Links