Welcome to the Trams Stop Here! blog, new-and-improved successor to the trolley-obsessed website I launched way back in 1998. Climb aboard as I discuss topics from the world of light rail transit and its historical predecessors — known variously as trolleys, streetcars or trams, based on where in the Anglosphere you grew up.
I am an American, and I grew up in Rochester, N.Y., where they were called trolleys or streetcars (hardcore geeks understand the subtleties of this, but for most laypeople the terms should be considered synonymous) — although of course the last of them disappeared from my hometown long before I was born. For better or worse, that is where the obsession began, nurtured by stories my mother and grandparents told me of trolley days in The Flower City.
Tram or tramcar (for the vehicles) and tramway (for the line or system) is what the British call them; as an Anglophile, I picked that nomenclature up early. But the linguistic preference differs, even within the English-speaking world.
In Australia and New Zealand, they’re universally called trams. In Canada, cheek-by-jowl with the USA, the preference varied. In Toronto — plenty of English heritage but plenty close to Buffalo, too — they still have ’em, and they’re almost invariably called streetcars. In Halifax, they were called trams, probably in keeping with that town’s strong British roots. That was also mostly the case in Montreal, where the French term, le tram(way), clearly owed its origins to British English and therefore straddled the city’s linguistic divide with ease. It didn’t hurt that the transit company for many years was called Montreal Tramways, either.
Even in the United States there were some anomalies, however. Colorado’s Denver Tramway Corporation maintained that name for years after the system converted from trolleys to buses. Sadly, though, the term tramway has been adopted in America for all sorts of ridiculous non-trolley things, from overhead cable cars to theme park trains. Don’t get me started.
Starting with Edmonton (1978) and San Diego (1981), North America slowly began to embrace an updated incarnation of the trolleys it once knew: Sleek, modern vehicles running on, over and under the streets, and along private rights-of-way. Transit marketers generally knew better than to call them trolleys (though San Diego did), which evoked memories that were pleasantly nostalgic at best, dowdy — and slow — at worst. The new name (actually coined in 1972, according to some sources) was Light Rail Transit. Of course, in the handful of North American cities which never abandoned their trolley systems the old terms never quite died away, even as the systems were modernized.
Recognizing them to be the unmistakeable descendants of those ponderous old arks which survived in regular service only in Blackpool, the British have shown a clear preference for calling their light rail vehicles trams, whatever the marketing departments might prefer them to say. Manchester’s modern Metrolink cars (see my snazzy banner atop the page) are known as trams to residents; In Sheffield, the system and its cars are called Supertrams; and Croydon Tramlink returned modern trams to greater London in 2000 with its first LRV numbered 2530, symbolically taking the torch from 2529, the highest-numbered car on the old London tram network, closed in 1952.
Ah, I’ve begun to ramble. This is the world you’re about to enter; you’ve been warned.
Oh, and who am I? A journalist by trade who has studied urban transit as a hobby since 1984, and for a period academically as well. Hopefully this blog will reflect the best of both strains. Given my nationality and interests, North American and UK systems will feature prominently, though not exclusively.
The usual legal bit: Any opinions expressed herein are entirely my own and in no way represent the views of any other individuals or organizations.