Transportation Deployment Casebook/2020/Delaware Streetcar

Qualitative AnalysisEdit

Description of ModeEdit

Electric streetcars (or ‘tramways’) are a form of public transportation running on (rail) tracks, historically, owned and operated by railway companies.[1] These companies provided track and integrated the transportation system with an electric system. Forms of the electric system have included use of storage battery attached to individual streetcars or electricity from generators was passed through overhead wires to motors in streetcars. Though the latter electric system is usually used in describing electric streetcar systems. Such streetcar systems aided local populations to travel efficient within Delaware as well as interstate travel between Delaware and its neighbouring states. When these urban systems are especially densely populated electric streetcar systems can provide a source for short trips that can serve well in growing economies and job markets.[2]

Before the ModeEdit

Even prior to the development of electric streetcars, there were methods for mass transportation service for people to travel between dense cities and new neighbouring regions which were acquired by adjacent states or states sharing those same dense cities. Since the 1830s, cities similar to Philadelphia and New York City has employed omnibuses operated by horse-power. Soon after, horse-drawn streetcars were adopted as they helped with the transportation of goods for local industries. These streetcars also helped to connect passengers between business within cities and their homes away from cities. Limitations of omnibuses were mainly resolved by the horse-drawn streetcar system. Horse-drawn streetcars were able to operate on track laid out in streets with flanged wheels. These streetcars could operate more smoothly and provide improvements with larger passenger capacities and higher speeds. In mid 1800s, Wilmington (one of Delaware’s major cities) though did not have sufficiently large populations to serve like neighbouring cities Philadelphia (which were large), it was nevertheless influenced by such neighbouring cities where horse-drawn streetcars are required to adopt such systems. Due to financial difficulties around the beginning of the American Civil War (in 1861) Wilmington’s first horse-drawn streetcar systems were delayed to 1864. Wilmington City Railway Company operated this streetcar system. Wilmington City Railway Company along with the company following it, such as the Front and Union Street Railway company, was limited in the size of area which it could serve and limited with its finances to expand the networks for the streetcar system. With Wilmington’s population growing in its city and neighbourhoods, limitations of the horse-drawn streetcar systems were being realised as the need for better public transportation systems grew 1880. Such streetcar systems were affected by the limitations of animal power and created issues of animal waste to manage around the city.[3]

Introduction of the ModeEdit

During the 1860s, in other cities alternatives to the horse-drawn streetcar system were being considered in other cities. For example, in Chicago, individual streetcars powered by steam engines individually were being tested and did not derive favourable public response. There were issues with the emissions of smoke and noise pollution as well as sparks from engines disturbed local populations and passengers. After a successful first exhibition of an electric streetcar in the Exposition of Railway Appliances in Chicago, 1883, lead to the widespread adoption of the electrical system integrated with the streetcar systems of many railway companies.[4] While the technology of the electrified streetcar systems had not been developed, the management department of Wilmington City Railway Company had intentions of modernising their systems with overhead electrical wires. There was an experiment with a 1.5-long electric line connecting the intersection of Market and 10th Streets and Riverview Cemetery. However, there were some objections to and reservations against the new system with a new technology working electricity (unfamiliar and mysterious during those times) that would have disrupted the existing transportation system. Wilmington’s first electric streetcar system was operated in 1888. As reliability of the services increased popularity of its use increased too with larger volumes of weekday traffic. The experiment was considered a success and led to the acceptance (of the Wilmington City Railway Company) of the electrical streetcar system and expansion of its networks.[5]

Early Market DevelopmentsEdit

After the success of the electric streetcar systems were realised, the original market for public transportation expanded as passenger demands increased with growing populations and the development of Wilmington. New electric streetcar systems and larger networks were created to meet those demands: such as the Gordon Heights Railway Company which provided feeder lines along the Delaware River. Existing companies such as the Front and Union Street Railway Company quickly adopted the new system. By 1892, the market for horse-car services had discontinued. Benefits from larger capacities and increases in streetcar speeds compared to the previous system, resulting in decreases in cost per passenger and travel times, expanded the economies of scale. Hence, the electric streetcar system can be viewed as a magic bullet [6] which improved the streetcar systems already established with better technology. The supply of electrical power to the new streetcar systems involved the collaboration of many railway companies with power stations. Associated with the electric streetcar systems were networks of utility services such as for gas and electricity. It was rare for railway companies to not also be involved in the provision of electrical light and power. Desires to increase the use of streetcar systems required railway companies to increase the demand of their transportation systems with the development of external facilities. For example, to increase demand for their system, Gordon Heights Railway Company helped construct an amusement park along the Delaware River.[7]

Role of Policies in the Birthing PhaseEdit

The 1890s could be described as the birthing phase of the electrical streetcars system. Observing the extent of competition between railway companies, it would be evident that laissez-faire economic policies were prevalent amongst electrical streetcar systems. There was consolidation of electric streetcar companies in most cities in North America. In 1891, Wilmington City Railway Company bought smaller companies like the Front and Union Street Railway Company which resulted in a reduction of competition. The stock of Wilmington City Railway Company was owned by financiers in Wilmington and then later by private bankers, Clark and the Company of Philadelphia in 1897. Clark’s purchases of many streetcar lines in the neighbouring states of Chester and Pennsylvania, and connecting them to cities of Wilmington and Chester to construct an electric streetcar system monopolising a large metropolitan region in the Mid-Atlantic states.[8] Policies present at the time had little government intervention on the economics of the streetcar system. Many owners of the street railway companies obtained many rights from contracts with city governments to running powerful monopolies. In these contracts, many businessmen could obtain large investments for providing constant fares and maintenance of quality of pavement adjacent to the railway track.[9] By 1899 a major player in the economic game of the electric streetcar system in Delaware was the Wilmington and Chester Traction Company formed by Riggs, a financier from Pennsylvania.[10]

Growth of the ModeEdit

The period of growth of the electric streetcar system can be divided into 2 decades: 1900s, 1910s. In the first decade where Riggs had insufficient funds to expand his company. In 1903, another railway company of Riggs, the Interstate Railways Company, suffered from financial problems and limited in its ability to expand due to strikes. Later by the time of the economic depression (1907) forced the company into bankruptcy. With the reorganisation of the company’s subsidiaries and the leasing of the area properties of Wilmington and Chester a new company was made, the Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction Company in 1910. The new company was able to soon achieve success from obtaining larger amounts of capital which enabled the company to improve both the employee wages and the quality of its tracks. As the company grew its monopoly, it could consolidate smaller companies, develop its own tracks and remove redundant tracks. As the company’s power grew, the company was able to modernise old electric streetcar lines, for example the New Castle-Delaware City. During WW1, despite having been imposed with rising costs for labour and equipment, the Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction Company had to increase fares. During the war, many other railway companies had difficulties with running monopolies and competing with others.[11] However, by the after the war, in the 1920s, many railway companies consolidated while the Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction Company saw success.[12]

Mature Phase of the ModeEdit

During the periods of birthing and growth, automobiles had been developed and allowed for its mass production (at reduced costs). This challenged the well-established electric streetcar systems as a new competitor. During the early 1920s, independent bus lines also entered the competition, threatening the Wilmington & Philadelphia Traction Company. The company responded with one-man cars to counter the congestion of cars arriving from the automobile industry. The company in 1925 also developed the Delaware Bus Company, a bus subsidiary, to further counter the competition of a line within Delaware from Wilmington to Newark. The subsidiary was able to consolidate many of Delaware’s independent bus lines. The traction company also obtained profits from selling electric power (mainly) but suffered the decline of the electric streetcar system. By 1927, the Traction company renamed itself to the Delaware Electric Power Company and later the Delaware Coach Company after the New Deal Legislation, disassociating itself with electrical utilities. The company’s electric streetcar system, nevertheless, was still not achieving any success and was slowly being replaced by bus services and later trackless trolleys. The overhead wires became ‘lock-in’ features of the fading electric streetcar system which came to use for trackless trolleys later in the 1950s.[13] After WW2, urban transportation system use decreased as populations shifted more into suburbs instead of cities. Delaware Coach Company attempted to attract passengers with promotional offers and novel bus features. Eventually, the company came under the ownership of the American Transportation Enterprises (ATE) in 1956 where attempts were being to achieve a system of trackless trolleys and buses to replace the previous electric streetcar system. After the creation of Delaware Authority for Regional Transit (DART) to replaced the coach company for the operation of the bus system. DART has since then developed into a transit system, still in operation, for Delaware.[14]

Quantitative AnalysisEdit

Fig. 1a Evolution of total miles of track of electric streetcars systems in Delaware over range of the data
Fig. 1b Evolution of total miles of track of electric streetcars systems in Delaware over the range of the modelled logistic function

The best fitted logistic curve to the miles reported of electric streetcar systems in Delaware yielded the following:

  • Predicted system size: K = 329 (miles)
  • Inflexion point: to = 1923.115 (year)
  • Logistic growth rate: b = 0.123757 (year-1)
  • S(t)= K/(1+e^(-b(t-t_0)) ) (miles)
  • t-statistic: -9.37
  • RSQ: 0.668

Accuracy of Model and Interpretation of ResultsEdit

Overall trends of the (electric) miles reported are captured by the modelling a logistic curve. However, phases of local growths and declines during the growth phase are not captured. Analysing when these local phenomena occur and their duration is highly dependent on policies and events prevalent at the time. This is further discussed in the growth of the mode. Considering the between 1888 and 1920 from the qualitative analysis, the system was undergoing its growth. In that light, the trend obtained in fig. 1a is appropriate given the limitations of the range of years (between 1894 to 1920) for which the data was obtained (from the McGraw Electric Railway Manual) and assuming a logistic function for the range of data obtained is inappropriate – explaining the negative sign of the t-statistic. The regression analysis from the model assumed was able to capture the general phase(s) (of birth, growth and/or maturity) in which the given data lies, refer to fig. 1b.

Issues with miles not being reported by railway companies in Delaware for all years near the turn of the century may also have affected occurrences of local declines. These local declines may give the impression of local growths when, in fact, the evolution of total miles is following the trajectory of the actual evolution of miles. Attempts to produce the actual trajectory with assumptions of the track length for some year is equivalent to the previous year (until track lengths are reported again) would not be able to estimate the growths or declines associated with policy changes. For example, assuming the track length of the railway line owned by Wilmington & Chester Traction Company (reporting its mile track in 1904 with 71 miles) is constant from 1904 to 1908 (since in 1909 the track length decreases to 33) may incorrectly predict the extent and year of occurrence of decline of total track length.

The given range of data obtained and analysed is not sufficiently large to predict any of the parameters of the inflexion point, the value of saturation, or points of growth and birth. The limited range of years from when the data was obtained prohibits the illustrations of values near the birth or saturation. However, from the logistic function obtained, estimations can be made of the start and end of the different phases:

  • Birth: 1865 - 1890
  • Growth: 1890 - 1920
  • Maturity: 1920 - 1950
  • Saturation: 1950 - 1970


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  2. "streetcar | Facts, History, & Development", Encyclopedia Britannica, 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 01- Apr- 2020].
  3. "Delaware Coach Company records, 1814-1973, bulk 1940-1966",, 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 01- Apr- 2020].
  4. "Delaware Coach Company records, 1814-1973, bulk 1940-1966",, 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 01- Apr- 2020].
  5. "Delaware Coach Company records, 1814-1973, bulk 1940-1966",, 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 01- Apr- 2020].
  6. W. L. Garrison, and D. M. Levinson. The Transportation Experience. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 142, 143.
  7. "Delaware Coach Company records, 1814-1973, bulk 1940-1966",, 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 01- Apr- 2020].
  8. "Delaware Coach Company records, 1814-1973, bulk 1940-1966",, 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 01- Apr- 2020].
  9. J. Stromberg, "The real story behind the demise of America's once-mighty streetcars", Vox, 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 01- Apr- 2020].
  10. W. L. Garrison, and D. M. Levinson. The Transportation Experience. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 142, 143.
  11. J. Stromberg, "The real story behind the demise of America's once-mighty streetcars", Vox, 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 01- Apr- 2020].
  12. "Delaware Coach Company records, 1814-1973, bulk 1940-1966",, 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 01- Apr- 2020].
  13. "Delaware Coach Company records, 1814-1973, bulk 1940-1966",, 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 01- Apr- 2020].
  14. "Delaware Coach Company records, 1814-1973, bulk 1940-1966",, 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 01- Apr- 2020].