Streetcars in North America

Well, what cities have streetcars? I’m talking about urban light-rail vehicles, including elevated tracks but preferably on streets.
Years ago I saw an item in a newspaper that said that only San Francisco, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Boston, and Shaker Heights, Ohio (near Cleveland) still have street-level rail vehicles. I had also wondered about Cincinnati, St. Louis and El Paso. (and yes, I know about the New York subways and the Chicago elevated trains.)

They have a trolley in Memphis that goes up and down a downtown street (I believe it’s called Main St.) It’s nice for the people who live and work downtown, but other than that it’s pretty much useless.

Thanks just the same, Tatertot. :slight_smile: Well, I can at least add Memphis to the list of N. Am. cities with streetcars…

San Diego has a trolley system that has been in place for about 10 or 15 years. It’s not much use for commuting, but it’s kind of a fun way to get to the baseball stadium or down to the Tijuana border.

San Diego has a cool red trolley that makes a quick trip to Tiajuana

Scooped because a manager walked into my cubicle. Curses, foiled again.

Philadelphia commuters rely heavily on the South Eastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) streetcars to get around town.

Though we call them trolleys.

West Philadelphia is laced with street-level trolley lines which actually share the roads with cars. These lines are vital in connecting this neighborhood with SEPTA’s sub/el system.

Additionally, SEPTA’s Suburban Division (formerly the Red Arrow Line) operates trolley lines to Media, Pa. and Sharon Hill, Pa.

The Media terminal is most picturesque. A quaint old town (county seat of Delaware County, Pa.) with a “streetcar” line smack dab in the middle of Main Street.
And no, I’m not a train buff or tourism bureau hack… the trolley was the only way to get where I wanted to get when I wanted to get there when I was young. Some drivers still let my boy ring the crossing bell – as they let me when I was a lad.

Seattle has a trolley that runs along the waterfront. Its kinda worthless and expensive so we leave it for the toursists. But there it is! it only makes 6 stops or something along a mile route!

An aside here: Los Angeles, which used to have 1100 miles of trolley line operated by the Pacific Electric system (see Cecil’s More of the Straight Dope for details), has in recent years opened three Metro Rail Lines:
The Metro Blue Line, running from Downtown LA to Downtown Long Beach, pretty much the same route as the last PE line, that “gave up the ghost in 1961.”
The Red Line, a downtown subway that runs from Union Station (heavy rail) just east of downtown and across Alameda Street from historic Olvera Street, to Hollywood & Vine in the West (next year it’ll extend into the San Fernando Valley).
The Green Line, which runs “crosstown” from Redondo Beach in the west (Star Trek fans may recognize TRW, where one episode was shot) to Norwalk in the east, near the Orange County Line and I-605.

Add San Jose, California to the list. They have a very good lightrail system.

The cities with light rail are:

Baltimore, MD
Boston, MA*
Buffalo, NY
Cleveland, OH*
Dallas, TX
Denver, CO
Fort Worth, TX
Galveston, TX
Los Angeles, CA
Memphis, TN
Newark, NJ*
New Orleans, LA*
Philadelphia, PA*
Pittsburgh, PA*
Portland, OR
Sacramento, CA
Saint Louis, MO
San Diego, CA
San Francisco, CA*
San Jose, CA
Seattle, WA

Salt Lake City has built a light rail line that will be up and running by the end of this year. Seattle is in the final planning stages for a real (intended for daily commuting and not just a moving tourist attraction) light rail line in addition to the aforementioned Waterfront line. And I’m fairly sure Minneapolis/St. Paul is (are?) also in the final planning stages for a light rail system.

The ones I put asterisks next to are the systems that survive from the pre-WWII streetcar days. The other systems were built in the 1980s or later. I think Galveston and Memphis’ are mainly short “tourist” lines. New Orleans has a single streetcar line, but it goes out into the neighborhoods and it’s used as a daily means of transport by people who live in New Orleans (New Orleanians?).

Since the thread is about North America, add Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver to the list, and next year Ottawa.

What’s the difference between a light rail system and a streetcar? Because San Francisco has both (the cable cars, of course, and the green-and-yellow light rail, for those of you in the area), and I have to admit, I have no idea what’s different about them. Except, of course, tourists never line up to ride the N-Judah <g>.

Also, what makes SF’s cable cars different from the rest? I’ve always heard that they’re the last cable car system operating in the world, but this list seems to indicate otherwise.


Montreal had a streetcar way back when, but it was removed several years before the construction of the metro.

Hey, John B.

Actually, New Orleans currently has two streetcar lines. Besides the St. Charles Streetcar Line (billed as “The Oldest Continually Operated Street Railway System in the World” - circa 1835) we also have the Riverfront Line. As you mention, the St. Charles line is used every day by residents and tourists alike to get around town. The Riverfront line was added in 1989 and appeals primarily to tourists.

Best of all, construction is underway, even as we speak, for the re-establishment of the Canal Street Line. The original Canal Street Line was dismanteled back in 1966.

For the record, there is nothing finer than a ride on the St. Charles line. The purr of the electric motor; the chug of the air brakes; the scent of o-zone; and the sway of the 70-some-odd-year-old car as it passes through what is arguably the most beautiful inner-city real estate you will find in this nation.

It’s a bargain at a buck, twenty-five.

And New Orleanian is correct. Just don’t say New Or-LEENS.

St. Louis has light rail, but NOT street-level streetcars. Light rail tracks are generally 8-10 feet above street level.

Add ORLANDO to the list of cities with planned and/or under-construction light rail. And AFAIK, Kansas City is still tossing around the idea.

Toronto has streetcars. Avoid them in the summer!

Why should I care about posterity? What’s posterity ever done for me?

  • Groucho Marx

The Shaker Heights rail in the OP is the southerly eastern terminus of larger network of light rail that runs downtown, then back out to a northerly eastern terminus as well as south and west to the airport. The section of tracks that runs through Shaker happens to be above ground on a boulevard median strip. As it nears Cleveland proper, it dives into a trench creatred for it. The other arms are either trenches or elevated earthen embankments and do not follow specific streets. (Cleveland has recently added a light rail line from the parking lots across from the lakefront airport (where auto races and the air show are held) past the Rock and Roll Museum, Science Center, football stadium, around a curve through the Flats (yuppie bar district) and over toward the baseball field/basketball arena. I don’t think there is a direct connection between the two lines and they are talking about another line that will run from the downtown main square to the theatre district.

What ever happened to the light rail that had a barn on Washington Blvd near Grand Circus? It did not (originally) look to be part of the Mugger Mover, but I don’t get downtown any more when I visit, so I don’t know whether it actually became the Mugger Mover service shed, or not.


Mexico City has limited light rail service, called the “tren ligero”.

“Give the Governor harrumph!”

The San Francisco cable cars are towed along by a cable running 18" below the street surface; the cars use a huge clamping device–a “grip”–that is operated with a long lever and extends from the gripman’s nook down through the slot in the street to where it clamps onto the cable. The cables, in turn–there are three of them, California, Powell-Mason, and Hyde–are powered by one of two huge electric motors (about 740 hp) in the central powerhouse. They use no other power source, unlike the PCC or Metro streetcars, which run on metal wheels and get electric power from a single overhead line, or the “trolley coaches,” which are buses with tires, that use a pair of overhead lines in each direction, for power. It’s not the same thing as a funicular counterbalance line, like Los Angeles’ Angels Flight, or the cable cars used in mountainous areas, which both are suspended and receive power from their cables. The SF cable cars are unique in the world. :slight_smile: