Thursday, July 05, 2007


Electric-powered trams were first successfully experienced in service in Richmond, Virginia, in 1888, in the Richmond Union Passenger Railway built by Frank J. Sprague. There were earlier saleable installations of electric streetcars, including one in Berlin, as early as 1881 by Werner von Siemens and the company that still bears his name, and also one in Saint Petersburg, Russia, made-up and tested by Fyodor Pirotsky in 1880. Another was by John Joseph Wright, brother of the celebrated mining entrepreneur Whitaker Wright, in Toronto in 1883.The earlier installations, however, proved difficult and/or variable. Siemens' line, for example, provided power through a live rail and a return rail, like a model train setup, limiting the voltage that could be used, and providing unwanted stimulation to people and animals crossing the tracks. Siemens later planned his own method of current collection, this time from an overhead wire, called the bow collector.
Once this had been developed his cars became equal to, if not superior than, any of Sprague's cars. The first electric interurban line connecting St. Catherine’s and Thorold, Ontario was operated in 1887, and was measured quite successful at the time. While this line proved quite versatile as one of the earliest fully functional electric streetcar installations, it still required horse-drawn carry while hiking the Niagara Escarpment and for two months of the winter when hydroelectricity was not available. This line continuous service in its original form well into the 1950s.


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