The New International Encyclopædia/Street Railway

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STREET RAILWAY. A railway laid upon the public streets of a city or a town, and intended principally for the transportation of passengers. The street railway had its origin in the early tramways of Great Britain (see Railways), and such roads are still denominated tramways in all European countries. The street railway for passenger traffic is however, distinctly an American development, and the modern passenger tramways of Europe owe their inception to the United States. A street railway was operated in New York City in 1831-32, on which a horse car, much like an old English stage coach in construction, ran from Prince Street on the Bowery to Yorkville and Harlem, following for some distance the route now occupied by the Fourth Avenue Railway, which still operates under the original charter granted in 1831. The road was known as the New York and Harlem Railroad, and it continued in operation as a horse-car line until 1837, when it was temporarily changed to a steam-car line. In 1845 the operation of the horse cars on the railway line was resumed, and it remained the only horse-car line in New York until 1852, when charters were granted for the Second, Third, Sixth, and Eighth Avenue lines. Street railways were first built in Boston, Mass., in 1856, Philadelphia, Pa., had its first line in 1857. The street railway was introduced into England in 1860 through the efforts of George Francis Train, the first line being started in Birkenhead opposite Liverpool. Roads were laid in Liverpool in 1868, in London in 1869-71, and afterwards in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Dublin. A recent authority (Dumont, Automobiles sur rails, 1898) says that the first horse tramway in France was built in 1856 on a line extending from Paris to Saint-Cloud, and was called the ‘American’ railway; but that the first horse-car line in Paris itself was not built until 1875. Street railway enterprises began to be taken up by the South American countries in 1866.

The street railway rail of 1832 was a wrought-iron bar about 5 inches wide, with a groove from 1¾ inches to 2¼ inches wide and from 1 inch to 1½ inches deep, for the wheel flange. The wide and deep groove in this rail gave trouble by catching the wheel tires of ordinary vehicles and wrenching them. To remedy this fault the step rail was adopted. This consisted of a flat bar having a flat surface from 3 inches to 5 inches wide flanked by a ridge or tread about 1 inch high and 1¾ inches wide. This form of rail came into extensive use, especially in America. Another form of step rail had the tread in the centre flanked by a flat surface on each side. The next development was a return to the grooved rail, but with the groove wedge-shaped and narrow. These early forms of rails were simply iron bars spiked to the tops of longitudinal timbers. This timber was replaced by metal longitudinals, chairs, and supports of various sorts as experience suggested improvements, until finally the attempt of trying to maintain the tread or wearing surface of the rail separate from the supporting body was abandoned and the modern girder rail was originated. The girder rail consists of a base and web like the ordinary T-rail for railways, but has a wide grooved head. With the advent of the girder rail the former difficulty of insecure and uneven joints was largely decreased and at the same time a rail was developed which gave the necessary stiffness for carrying the rapidly increasing weights of cars which were made possible by the development of mechanical propulsion. The construction of modern street railway tracks is more fully described in the article on Electric Railways.

The success of the first street railways established, inventors and engineers turned their attention to devising means of mechanical propulsion. These various methods fall into seven classes as follows: Traction by steam motors, by compressed air, by gas motors, by carbonic acid engines, by ammonia engines, by cables, and by electricity. Steam, gas, compressed air, and vapor motors have been employed in comparatively isolated instances and under special conditions, although they have been the subject of considerable experimentation and are to be met with occasionally in Europe and to a less extent in the United States. The only systems of mechanical propulsion which have attained extended use in America (leaving elevated railways out of account) are cable power and electric motors. The development of electric propulsion for street cars is described in the article on Electric Railways.

Cable Railways for city passenger service had their origin in San Francisco, and it was at first thought that the system was only applicable to straight lines with heavy grades in favorable climates, but this view was changed when cable traction was established in Chicago on level lines with sharp and difficult curves and was operated despite snow and other climatic disadvantages. As a result an enormous impetus was given to the construction of cable railways in America and such lines were built in a score or more of American cities. In 1886 the Tenth Avenue and 125th Street cable road was put in operation in New York City, and several years later this was followed by the Third Avenue line, 12 miles long, and the Broadway and Lexington Avenue lines. In 1891 there were 70 cable street railway lines in operation in the United States, with an aggregate mileage of 577½ miles. The new construction and extension of the next two or three years increased this total to about 700 miles, which marked the height of the cable railway in America. Since that time the mileage has steadily decreased under the competition of electric traction, until in 1900 there were but 300 miles of cable railway in operation in the United States.

In construction the cable railway consists of a standard street railway track having an underground conduit between the rails. In this conduit there runs an endless wire rope cable guided by suitable pulleys. A slot at the top of the conduit permits a grip projecting downward from the bottom of the car to enter the conduit. This grip is provided at its lower end with jaws which can be so operated from the platforms of the car as to grasp and unloose the cable at will. Generally in modern practice duplicate cables are installed in the conduit, the purpose of which is to have a second cable ready for operation in case of breakage or other accident. Movement is given to the cable by means of a revolving drum around which the cable is wrapped, these drums being operated by powerful steam engines installed in power houses located at intervals along the line. Generally speaking, it is not desirable to operate a greater length of cable than 25,000 feet, but cables as long as 39,000 feet have been successfully operated. The prevalence of curves is perhaps the most important factor determining the length of cable which can be operated. As a general rule it is found that a right angle curve puts a strain upon the cable plant equal to that entailed upon it by 1000 feet of straight road. It may be assumed that from 40 per cent. to 60 per cent. of the power used in operating a cable railway is consumed in operating the cable itself. The size of cable most generally used is 1¼ inches, and the material favored is crucible steel. The life of street railway cables averages about fourteen months, giving from 70,000 to 80,000 miles of service, but there are records of cables having given 144,000 miles of service. In a few cases, of which the New York and Brooklyn Bridge is notable, the cable is not inclosed in a conduit, but is carried on pulleys above ground or on an elevated structure.

NIE 1905 Street Railway - modes over time.jpg

In respect to street railway transportation generally the most notable facts are the enormous growth of street railways in mileage and capital invested, and the predominant position held by electric traction for street railway operation. Both of these facts are graphically illustrated in the accompanying diagrams, compiled by the Street Railway Journal. In the ten years between 1890 and 1900 the street railway mileage of the United States more than doubled; the mileage of cable railways decreased about one-half; the mileage of horse railways decreased from over 6000 miles to 370 miles; and the mileage of electric railways increased from about 2000 miles to over 19,000 miles. A similar course of development has been recorded in the tramway systems of England and Continental Europe, although the totals do not reach the aggregates recorded for the United States. For a condensed statement of the development of electric railways in the countries outside of the United States and Canada, see Electric Railways.

NIE 1905 Street Railway - miles of track over time.jpg

Bibliography. Outside of the electric railway field (see Electric Railways) there are no books of much value relating to street railways. There is, however, a large volume of periodical literature of high class available. Among the sources of information of this class the following may be consulted with advantage: Reports of the American Street Railway Association (Chicago); Volumes of the Street Railway Journal (New York), and the Engineering News (New York); Street Railway Investments (New York).