Transportation Deployment Casebook/2020/Georgia Streetcar

Georgia StreetcarsEdit


Over the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the streetcar (more popularly known as the trolley), provided great opportunities resulting in the expansion and creation of social geography and new economic possibilities. Streetcars progressed through a number of fuel methods (such as horse-drawn, steam, gas and electric), before becoming what is known today as modern ‘light rail’. The traditional streetcar routes often had a strong influence on the arrangement of suburban development during this time. Streetcars served a variety of services in addition to its primary function of transportation such as delivery and freight transport.

The networks of streetcar lines throughout cities were called tramways, in some cities they shared the street with pedestrians, horses and later on automobiles, while in some other or certain parts of cities they had their own right of way.

The introduction of the streetcar in Georgia were delayed until after the Civil War had ended. Unlike more northern and Midwest states which were the home of many commercial and industrial cities, Georgia was primarily rural and relied on agriculture as the primary driver of their economy. The first streetcar line in Georgia only became operational in January 1868, consisting of seven miles of mule-drawn passenger lines and an additional one-and-a-half miles for a steam locomotive (freight track).[1]

The streetcar came with additional benefits other than that of transportation. New roads and re-paving as well as other infrastructure improvements also came along with the growth of streetcar systems. Streetcar companies also developed recreational areas for locals as well as additional tourism spots as a means to generate traffic and increase ridership for their transit business.

Unfortunately there were also some negative aspects to the expansion of streetcar routes. The same way the lines allowed for the creation of suburbs and economic growth, it also brought more division. In the 19th century, people were forced to live in close proximity to people of different races and incomes, however the rise of suburbs, communities became more divided by race and wealth.

The traditional streetcar left as quickly as it came. In Atlanta, Georgia, the original streetcars were eventually upgraded. They were made electric and refashioned to have rubber wheels so to function without tracks. These were also eventually replaced by buses, with the tracks paved over to make way for the popular automobile.

Technological CharacteristicsEdit

The streetcar, also known as a tram or trolley, was a vehicle running on tracks that were laid in the streets. The tracks used for running of streetcars were composed of cast iron strap rails, with the idea that the steel wheels running on the steel rails would reduce friction. The result of this reduced friction was that two horses were able to haul a much larger vehicle with the capacity to carry twice the number of passengers that was previously possible (up to 50).[2] Steel rails also provided a much more comfortable ride for occupants, with smaller tram wheels allowing the tram floor to be closer to the road, allowing for an easier entrance and exit of the vehicle.

Unlike locomotives, streetcars usually operated in single units (cars). Early versions of the streetcar were either drawn by horses or mules, some also operated on power provided by storage batters, however these were very expensive and inefficient. Bells were often hung on the harnesses of the horses or mules drawing the car as a method of notifying customers of the impending arrival of the streetcar.[1] The invention of the generator led to the application of transmitted by, allowing overhead and electrified wires to power streetcar lines.[3] This development led to the introduction of the electric streetcar, which took over the use of steam-powered cars and was later replaced by gas or petrol engine streetcars. Traditional streetcars (before they were made trackless) featured cast iron wheels, often had cloth padded interior walls and doors located at the rear of the car. They often had to capacity to carry approximately 40 passengers.[1]

Main AdvantagesEdit

In the early nineteenth century many American cities were known as ‘walking cities’, with most residents working and shopping close by to where they lived. The introduction of electric streetcar systems in the late 1800s and its development into the early to mid 1900s allowed for the expansion of cities. New suburbs were created, and known as ‘trolley suburbs’ and were very popular among the white city residents. New streetcar lines also turned outlying and previously more ‘rural’ areas into new and more populated neighborhoods. Real estate developers would often invest in streetcar lines in order to promote new suburban communities. The trolley systems made it much easier to travel greater distances, allowing people to live further away from city centres and still able to work, shop and socialize in other parts of a town. This new-found connectivity within and between cities allowed shoppers to find produce and meat from regional farms as well as fruits and vegetables from all places across the country.

Main MarketsEdit

The streetcar found a new market in the middle-class workers as they began to live and expand into new types of communities, suburbs. This allowed people to enjoy the quieter and more pastoral surroundings on the outskirts of cities, while still being able to commute into the city centres for work and shopping. These suburbs were only made possible by the new modes of transport such as streetcars and other railroads. This way of life became more popular as many people were eager to leave the city and get away from poor immigrants and migrants, and also since many believed that more quiet and less-congested areas were better areas to start families. With fees being charged to customers based on the distance of their trip, many transport companies, investment banks and high net worth individuals were eager to take advantage of the idea of mass transportation.

Other Transport ModesEdit

Previous Transport ModesEdit

Prior to the streetcar was the omnibus. Omnibuses were introduced to America in the early 1800s, initially they were horse drawn, but by the mid nineteenth century the first steam-powered buses were introduced.[4] Followed by the omnibus was the cable car. Invented by Andrew Hallidie, it was first introduced in San Francisco in 1873. The car war drawn by seemingly endless cables that ran in a slot between the car rails and passing over a steam-driven shaft located in a powerhouse.[3] The system was well-suited for areas with steep hills and was most extensively used in Seattle and San Francisco. They also operated more smoothly than earlier electric cars, but had a drawback of only being able to operate at a constant speed. Another major disadvantage was that the breaking or jamming of the cable would tie up all the cars using the line. In 1900 most cable trackage and horsecar lines were beginning to be replaced by electric cars. The replacement rate of horsecars in the United States was particularly rapid from 1902 to 1917.

Prior to the widespread use of electric streetcars, steam dummy engines and horse or mule drawn streetcars were predominantly used. They were often criticized for being dirty and dangerous. Dummy engines were usually not permitted on city streets due to their high levels of noise and pollution. Accidents resulting in disfigurement and/or pedestrian deaths caused by startled horses or out-of-control cars were unfortunately common in busy American streets during the late nineteenth century. Horses and mules leading cars were estimated to produce an average of 10.5 pounds of manure a day,[1] only contributing further to the already dirty streets. Horse-drawn cars over time came to be viewed as overly cramped and slow, with speeds normally only reaching an average of five to six miles per hour. The capital and operational costs for horse-drawn cars were quite high due to the expenses related to food and stabling, large trolley lines also required large numbers of horses or mules to maintain operations. The constant stopping and starting of the cars, especially once loaded were also quite hard on the animals, meaning that each animal would only work a few hours a day. The cost of maintaining a horse or mule, in combination with its lower efficiency meant that its replacement by motorization was inevitable.


Many transit companies recognized the flaws and limitations of using a technology that was reliant on animals and committed to finding cheaper, and cleaner, alternatives to horse-drawn carts. This was realized to be particularly important during the “Great Epizootic” which was a large outbreak of equine influenza in 1872. Over the duration of the epidemic, between 175 and 200 horses a day were killed in some cities.[1] This drastically effected and sometimes even eliminated services in affected areas. This ordeal proved to be a major driving force for the development of newer mechanical systems for streetcar operation.

In the early nineteenth century, innovators from all over the world, including Hungary the Netherland as well as the United States began considering the concept of battery-powered vehicles. However it wasn’t until later in the century when French and English inventors built the first practical versions of an electric car/ [4] These battery-powered vehicles, though not reliant on animals for operation, had a more limited range, not being able to travel far before recharging, rendering them very inefficient. Other limitations of the battery was the underdeveloped electric grid in most cities and also the lack of charging station. After the implementation of some battery-powered streetcars, diminishing returns were observed quickly. Many engineers identified the range and energy per unit weight of batteries in comparison with gasoline engines as a key weakness in the very early 1900s.[5]

Evolving Markets and Future PossibilitiesEdit

Although in the early 1900s the streetcar systems helped to fill America’s transport needs, in the next few decades the limitations of the system in combination with government and corporate policies and consumer choice of the bus and car eventually made the trolleys obsolete. Buses had already began replacing trolley systems in the 1910s. They were often considered more modern and comfortable compared to the trolleys. They also made more sense from a business perspective as they were more flexible and cheaper to run. By 1937, more than 50 per cent of the American cities that had previously had public transit systems were then served by bus systems alone.[6] The automobile also began to take over, initially being used for recreational travel by the rich it slowly began to be used more commonly as a means for travel to work and shopping.[5] Although the use of streetcars began to slowly decline after the Great Depression, primarily due to the popularity of the automobile, it’s principle concepts have become more popular in modern society as public transport becomes increasingly popular, taking form as light rail systems.

Streetcar InventionEdit

A Combination of ExpertiseEdit

The idea of electric batteries as a source of locomotive power began in the 1820s and 1830s. However, it was not until the success of the first electric generator (between 1860 and 1870) that significant steps were made in implementing electric railroad systems. The German inventor, Ernst Werner von Seimens, is often regarded as being the first to build a commercial electric railroad prototype in 1881, however the system had a major design flaw, often shocking bystanders and animals with the power running through the rails. British inventor, Leo Daft also came up with the idea of a tractor-based streetcar model which was used in some American cities during the late 1880s. This was followed by the development of overhead electric wire lines developed by the Belgian-born inventor Charles J. Van Depoele. However, engineer Frank J. Sprague is generally credited with the development and expansion of the modern electric streetcar in the United States and abroad. Sprague’s work focused on the conversion of the New York’s transit system from steam power to electric. His experiments resulted in designs for spring-mounted, two gear-drive motor, independent truck frames. These “wheelbarrow fashion” mounts would later revolutionize the streetcar industry.[1]

The electric car was a technically feasible idea, however economically it was quite impractical due to the costs associated with the generation of electricity, as well as its transmission and storage.[5] It wasn’t until the electric grid was developed by Edison and others, that electricity could be properly applied to the streetcar.

Effect of OperationEdit

Despite the initial popularity of horse-drawn streetcars, there were efforts to improve upon the low speeds, uncomfortable ride, high costs and dirtiness that came with it. Many transit companies transitioned to using mules rather than horses for streetcar service as they were generally cheaper to purchase and feed, and were only marginally weaker.[1]

The use of steam-powered streetcars after their implementation was also limited as some cities prohibited the use of steam engines on city streets. This ultimately led to the establishment of an electrified streetcar system. Atlanta businessman Joel Hurt was the first to do this in Georgia. He was determined to find a solution to the lack of direct access to the eastern edges of the city and was intrigued by Sprague’s success with electric traction. Operation of this first electrified line in Atlanta began in August 1889, with three cars maintaining a regular 30-minute round trip schedule. Quickly after Hurt’s success, additional electric streetcar companies were established throughout Georgia.[1] The integration of many companies into one assisted in the progression to newer and better technologies, however it also allowed for a more uniform system with a better network and greater connectivity.

The popularity of the streetcar systems also created demand for much greater carrying capacity of the cars. This was solved by the tine four-wheeled cars with wooden frames being replaced by heavy eight-wheeled cars with steel bodies.

Market DevelopmentEdit

Early Market Development and NichesEdit

Up until the 1890s, many of Georgia’s larger and mid-sized cities were home to multiple lines built by different transit companies, with smaller towns having nothing more than a few horses or mules and a couple of second-hand passenger cars. Sprague’s success with the electric streetcar in 1888 led to an explosion in the use of electrified track. Prior to his triumph only 86 miles of track in the United States were electrified. By the turn of the century, more than 22,000 miles were powered by electricity.[1] This rapid deployment of electric railways between 1895 and 1915 led to a sharp cost advantage over previous systems. Cost savings of the cable car over horse cars are estimated to be about 20 per cent.[5] Car size and service frequency also developed and adjusted to the markets they supplied and streetcars quickly won over cable car markets, with the exception of their use in hilly terrain.

There was an introduction of rural and intercity electric railway services during a short period starting in the late nineteenth century through to WWI. These services, commonly known as interurbans, were heavier and faster electric-powered lines. They were often operated as an extension of city public transit services into outlying areas. They served the niche but growing market of people moving away from city centres. The system proposed a cheaper alternative for riders than major railroad companies. This was due to the fact that larger railroad companies were moving towards more profitable long-haul passenger and freight services over commuter services.

Functional EnhancementEdit

Not long after Joel Hurt’s establishment of the first electrified streetcar line in Atlanta, he began moving to consolidate many of the cities larger transit systems under his control. Most of these companies were older and were financially unable (or unwilling) to invest in the substantial infrastructure required for electric traction. By doing this Hurt began to serve Atlanta’s pre-existing market for the streetcar, however his moves to convert all the lines to electrification aimed to serve them better, making trips faster, safer and more reliable.



Like most utility enterprises in the nineteenth and early twentieth century such as gas lighting and canals, the streetcar systems were financed entirely by private corporations.[1]

In the late 1800s there was a strong desire to shift away from the reliance in horses and other animals for both personal and mass transport for a variety of reasons. One of the main motives was the high cost associate with the ongoing food and stable costs as well as their short working lives and hours (especially with streetcars). The high risk of disease from close interaction with the animals was also a strong driver. Due to this the shift from animals and their feed to fossil fuels as an energy source became more justified and widely embraced.

The rise in rail-like services and streetcars pushed other services to the side. Public policy then ensured that streetcar systems were given charters and were franchised by the cities, so as to guide safety, service and fare prices. The city governments imposed a flat fare policy to most streetcar systems which was usually about five cents. Although this fare restriction was not an issue early on and the public took advantage of this increasingly low cost, after World War I when there was a major inflation in prices, the city governments prohibited any fare increases. This became a much larger issue when transit worker unions began demanding better working conditions and higher wages.[5] These labour problems led to a huge number of strikes over the years all over the country, one strike in Pittsburgh in 1954 lasted 56 days.

Streetcar LifecyleEdit

Birthing and GrowthEdit

The growth and development of streetcar systems in cities across North America was strongly related to the extensive technological and socioeconomic changes brought by the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century.[1] With the assistance of railroads and canals, this booming industrialization yielded exceptional population growth. This also resulted in a lot of displacement as people ventured from the country into crowded towns in search for employment.

Possession of a streetcar line became essential for growing towns, and often led to the development of new ones. Larger systems also eventually extended their own systems further into the suburbs.[3][7] In Atlanta, Georgia (1902) the city allowed for the merging of all street railroad, electric light and steam power utilities under the control of one company, Georgia Railway and Electric Company. This was a common event in cities all across America, and boosted the growth of the streetcar system, often resulting in redundant lines being abandoned while more profitable ones were upgraded and double-tracked to make for more efficient services.[1]

Maturity and DeclineEdit

Growth of the system slowed down and allowed for some maturing as many streetcar enterprises found themselves in financial complications during and after WWI due to an increase in wages and material costs. They also suffered due to the “lock-in” policies implemented by many governments, forcing them to adhere to a fixed fare set by municipal franchises and preventing them from adapting to the mode changing market and competitive conditions. This franchise agreement also meant that although the high construction costs were often subsidized by the states, any line extensions were not financially feasible for the owning companies. This meant that streetcar companies were often locked into using expensive and often failing lines. These same franchise agreements also placed heavy tax burdens on the rail transit sector, something that was not placed on bus companies. By the time fare raises were permitted the use of the automobile had taken off, along with more bus systems.

In 1900 Georgia only had 80 registered motor vehicles, but by 1905 there were 780, any by 1910 the number had spiked to 4,490.[1] This also led to the unexpected challenge of unlicensed taxi operators, known as ‘jitneys’ which took over city streets and competed with the streetcars for passenger fares.

Unprofitable lines in towns all across Georgia such as Gainesville and Albany had been completely discontinued as early as 1920, with bus services being introduce in most towns and cities by the 1930s.

Increased operating expenses, decreased fare revenues, popularity of the automobile and poor transport policy led to the demise of the streetcar system. Transport policies were often part of larger policies such as public service, economic recovery and urban planning, perhaps allowing for policy issues to arise, with the solution (such as removing fare restrictions) coming too late. The division between the public and private sector in addition to the high number of companies operating separately possibly led to a system with little uniformity and poor planning.

Although the bus and automobile took over the need for the streetcar system, most modern societies are returning to this concept as road congestion and mass commutes to city centres increase through the system of light rail. However, rather than suburbs being built around streetcar systems, there is more of a need to bring better transport systems and rail lines to the already existing suburbs and towns.

Model AnalysisEdit

Model OutlineEdit

Transport modes, like most forms of technological advancement follow a trend of birthing, growth, maturity, and sometimes, decline. This lifecycle allows for the modelling and prediction of how a technology may behave or advance over time. The streetcars systems located in Georgia were tracked and recorded from 1894 to 1920, with a logistic function applied to model the predicted lifecycle of the transport mode.

Defining the ModelEdit

A three parameter logistic function was used to calculate the model using the equation below;



  •   is the status measure (e.g. miles of track)
  •   is time (years)
  •   is the inflection time (year in which   is achieved
  •   is the saturation status level
  •   is a coefficient

Due to the restricted timeframe that the data used was available for, meaning that not all aspects of the lifecycle were measured/predicted for each system (e.g. steam, gas, electricity etc.), the values for   and   had to be estimated using a process of Ordinary Least Squares Regression. A single variable linear regression system using the following formula was used to estimate the relevant coefficients;



  •   year

Model AnalysisEdit

Four different streetcar systems were found to be used int Georgia between 1894 and 1920, being the horse or mule-drawn, steam-powered, electric and gas/petrol engine powered streetcar. Although battery powered was another method used in some systems, they were not found in this area in this timeframe. The overall analysis was split up between these four systems, however, only the electric system (as well as overall) showed a clear trend for birth, growth and maturity. The graph displaying the measured and predicted track mileage for all streetcar systems in total, and the estimated parameters can be seen in figure 1 and table 1.

Figure 1
Variable Description Value
  Estimated Saturation 550
  Coefficient 0.1388
  Inflection Time 1901

Table 1: Overall System Parameters

The overall mileage for all system shows a clear trend illustrating the growth and maturity phases of the lifecycle. However, the study period does not extend early or late enough in time to show an obvious birthing or decline stage.

Electric System The graph showing the actual (measured) miles and the predicted miles, as well as the parameters used for the model can be seen in figure 2 and table 2 below, respectively.

Figure 2
Variable Description Value
  Estimated Saturation 550
  Coefficient 0.1424
  Inflection Time 1902

Table 2: Electric System Parameters

The model shows the birthing stage to be in the first stage of the time period, possibly beginning prior to the dates analysed. The growth stage is then shown to be approximately from 1894-1902 when the rate of increase is increasing, while maturity is assumed to be after the point of inflection (1902) where the rate of increase begins to decrease. The electric system shows a clear S-curve and exhibits the clear growth and maturity of the system, however it probably does not extend far enough to see an obvious decline.

Gas System The graph showing the actual (measured) miles and the predicted miles, as well as the parameters used for the model can be seen in figure 3 and table 3 below, respectively.

Figure 3
Variable Description Value
  Estimated Saturation 1000
  Coefficient 0.3289
  Inflection Time 1915

Table 3: Gas System Parameters

The model for the gas system does not reflect the same S-curve shape as the electric system. The actual birthing phase can be seen to begin from about 1911 and the growth starting in 1915. This system was developed later than the other systems in Georgia and during the time frame studied, does not appear to have a stage of maturity. The accuracy of this model is analysed below.

Steam System The graph showing the actual (measured) miles and the predicted miles, as well as the parameters used for the model can be seen in figure 4 and table 4 below, respectively.

Figure 4
Variable Description Value
  Estimated Saturation 70
  Coefficient -0.0596
  Inflection Time 1865.6

Table 4: Steam System Parameters

The model for the steam system also does not reflect the same S-curve shape as the electric system, nor the growth of the gas system. The trend shown for this system is a decline for the whole period studied. Although the total number of miles for streetcars was increasing, the steam system was slowly being replaced by more modern systems, which accounts for this decline shown. The accuracy of this model is also analysed below.

Horse-drawn System The graph showing the actual (measured) miles and the predicted miles, as well as the parameters used for the model can be seen in figure 5 and table 5 below.

Figure 5
Variable Description Value
  Estimated Saturation 100,000
  Coefficient -0.0888
  Inflection Time 1798

Table 5: Horse-drawn System Parameters

The model for the horse or mule-drawn system reflects the same decline trend as the steam system unlike the gas or electric system. Although the total number of miles for streetcars was increasing, the horse-drawn system, like the steam system, was slowly being replaced by more modern systems, which accounts for this decline shown. The accuracy of this model is also analysed below.

Model AccuracyEdit

The actual data as well as the predicted models for each system seem to give a somewhat accurate idea of the trend for each of them. The most accurate is most likely the electric system as it covers an appropriate timeframe for the system, displaying the birthing, growth and maturity of the system. The model for the gas/petrol system also clearly shows the birthing and growth trend, however it does not show any other stage of the lifecycle as it was only introduce towards the end of the period of study. The least accurate models are those for the horse-drawn and steam-powered systems. It is difficult to model for these systems as they were introduced before the study period and were slowly being replaced by other systems at a varying rate. The inaccuracy of the horse-drawn model can especially be seen through the K value or 100,000. Although this value for the parameter produces the best fit model for the data through trial and error and regression analysis, it is highly unlikely, or even impossible, that there was anywhere close to 100,000 miles of horse-drawn track for streetcars in Georgia.

Other possible reasons for inaccuracy in the model involve the data source. Some years had missing data which required interpolation, and whilst collected from a reputable source, there also seemed to be some discrepancies in the data for each company over the years which could affect the accuracy of the model. The regression results for the system models are seen in table 6.

System R Square Standar Error t Stat (b) P-value (b)
Combined 0.91338 0.3336 15.9083 2.998E-14
Electric 0.8763 0.4111 13.0384 2.2E-12
Gas 0.6545 0.7190 3.6411 0.0083
Steam 0.5652 0.2720 -4.8372 0.000132
Horse-drawn 0.7689 0.2090 -7.0653 3.839E-06

Table 6: Regression Results

The R Squared value determines the fitness of the model, with a higher value suggesting that a higher percentage of the points fall on the regression line, and a value of 1 being ideal. The models for combined data, electrical and gas systems all have a reasonably high t-stat value (over 2) suggesting the variable is more statistically significant at the 95% confidence level. The electric (and total) system also have a much smaller P-value than the other systems, indicating that the estimated coefficients are more accurate and reliable.


  1. a b c d e f g h i j k l m Sullivan, P., Tankersley, M., Reed, M., Gale, S. and Hammock, M.. "Historic Streetcar Systems in Georgia". Georgia Department of Transportation. Retrieved 2020-03-29. 
  2. Votolato, G.. "Transport Design: A Travel History". Raktion Books. Retrieved 2020-03-29. 
  3. a b c Britannica. "Facts, History, & Development". Britannica Technology. Retrieved 2020-03-28. 
  4. a b "TThe History Of The Electric Car". Articles. Retrieved 2020-03-29. 
  5. a b c d e Garrison, W. and Levinson, D., 2014. "The Transportation Experience". Oxford University Press, USA. Retrieved 2020-03-25. 
  6. 2020. "A Streetcar City". National Museum of American History. Retrieved 2020-03-28. 
  7. 1894, 1897-1914, 1917-1920. "McGraw Electric Railway Manual". New York: McGraw Publishing Company. Retrieved 2020-03-15.