Transportation Deployment Casebook/2021/Indiana Streetcar

Qualitative AnalysisEdit

1. Streetcars in the U.SEdit


The streetcars (North American English for the European word tram) refers to a rail vehicle that runs on tramway track public urban streets.[1] The streetcars are generally operated in single unites and usually driven by electric motor.

Technological CharacteristicsEdit

The main technological characteristics involved in the mode of transport is the use of electricity. The idea moving vehicles by the transmission of electrical current had existed since the 1840s but was unable to achieve due to the lack of practical technique to generate sufficient electrical power.[2] The early streetcar pioneer Frank Sprague (1857-1934) made significant advances to the streetcar technology, where his system demonstrated operational reliability and financial feasibility when it was put to the test along 12 miles of track for the union Passenger Railway in Richmond, Virginia, in 1888.[2]


Prior to the birth of the electric streetcars, the omnibuses and horsecars were adopted as the main urban transportation, where the animals can only work certain number of hours and carry small number of passengers per day and per trip. As the rapid development of the streetcars, the mode of transportation had spread across the U.S. The electric streetcars accommodated heavier passenger loads compared to predecessors, which hugely reduced passenger’s transportation cost per mile. The lowered fares and more comfortable ride had stimulated greater transit use by wider segments of society.[2]

2. Prior to the StreetcarsEdit

Other models and limitationsEdit

Omnibuses and horsecars were adopted as the main urban transportation before the birth of the streetcars. The horse-drawn omnibus lines started to operate along the city streets from the 1820s to the 1880s in North American. Such mode of transportation was designed with two wooden benches along the sides, which held the sitting passengers facing each other, which provided a much more comfortable ride compared with the omnibuses.

However, the limitation of the horsecars is obvious due to the fact that the given animals could only work a certain number of hours in a given day. The horses needed to be housed, groomed, fed and cared for day in and day out, where prodigious amounts of manure were produced, leading to a high cost for storing and disposing and dirtiness of the streets. Furthermore, the horses can sometimes be out of control, leading to possible serious traffic accidents. As such, a cost-efficient and convenient alternate source of transportation is desired.

Evolving marketsEdit

The evolving of markets is due to the unsatisfactory experience of the passengers’ demand over transportation. As numerous companies had operated the service of horsecars, where many of them only owns a single line, passengers would generally experience inconvenience transferring and paid multiple fares. With the invention of new electric technology, mergers were generated with large companies swallowing up smaller enterprises, monopolizing service in urban areas, and employing corporate business forms in order to raise capital needed for investment in electricity infrastructure.[2]

3. Invention of the StreetcarEdit

As a result of the unsatisfactory experience of horsecars for both the passengers and companies, new designed technology for transportation is desired. The first mechanical trams powered by steam were then invented and were used on the suburban tramway lines. Such steam streetcars were designed to have the steam engine in the body, referred to as steam dummy in the US. However, the limitation was shortly found due to its slow motion, loud noise and unpleasant pollution produced by the combustion of fuel. The inventors then had taken several measures to prevent the engines from emitting visible smoke and steam, including the replacement of coke rather than coal as well as the utilisation of condensers or superheating to avoid visible steam emission. Although they did partly solve the pollution problem, the major drawback of such mode of tram was the limited space for the engine and the general underpowered of these streetcars.

The design of the streetcars then shifted to the use of cable, where the streetcars were to be pulled along a fixed track by a moving steel cable. The cable movement was normally provided at a "powerhouse" site a distance away from the actual vehicle.[3] The first practical cable car was tested in San Francisco in 1873, where part of its success was attributed to the development of the effective and reliable cable grip mechanism to both grab and release the moving cable without damage.[4] Such cable cars were able to run at a higher speed and did not have the issue of producing pollution and noise. The cable cars were installed in many cities in the U.S. and had achieved approximately 800km of cable tramway spread over 16 cities by the 1890s [3]. However, due to the expensive costs for the necessary cables systems, stationary engines, pulleys and lengthy underground vault structures beneath the rail, the cable cars suffered from its high infrastructure costs. The cable cars also require people with highly trained operation skills and alert operators to avoid obstructions and other cable cars. Due to the inventible damage of the cable during breaks and frays, the entire length of cable (typically several metres) would have to be replaced on a regular schedule .[5]

Based on the technological expertise of electric motor and means of electric conduction through overhead lines, the electric streetcar line was first invented by Ukrainian engineer Fyodor Pirotsky in 1875.[6]

The invention of electric streetcars was rapidly adopted due to the convenience and economy of electricity once the technical problems of production and transmission of electricity were solved. After the development of reliable electrically powered trams, the costly high-maintenance cable car systems were rapidly replaced in most locations.[5]

4. Early Market DevelopmentEdit

The American was called the walking city due to the dominant by foot mode for the journey to work. The federal government started promoting transport infrastructures since the beginning of the 1840s. As the State of Indiana experience much higher levels of growth well before other cities and has played as a national leader in the railroad industry in the US, the first world’s union station was opened in the Wholesale District on September 20, 1853 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Moreover, the first electricity streetcar railway in Indiana was opened in South Bend on 30 August,1888, namely the Lafayette Street Railway. Up until the 1890s, many of Indiana’s larger and mis-sized cities were to have multiple lines built by different transit companies and the streetcar systems were operated in Indianapolis, Richmond, Kokomo, etc.

The new technology of electric streetcars has brought mergers of large companies swallowing up smaller enterprises, monopolizing service in urban areas, and employing corporate business forms in order to raise capital needed for investment in electricity infrastructure

5. Birthing PhaseEdit


The federal government started promoting transport infrastructures since the beginning of the 1840s.[7] The policy was closely associated with the rapid growth of transportation demand during the birthing phase of the streetcars. The policy of franchises was brought on from the period of horsecars and was later innovated into the birthing phase of the electric streetcars, where the franchise gave a given company a monopoly of operation on particular streets.[8] The continued use of franchises was essential for street railways, as companies had to impinge on public rights-of-way to lay track in the street to operate horsecars, and later, cable cars and electric streetcars.[8] During the period of 1880s and 1890s, the transit industry identified the necessity of reorganisation to raise the essential financial resources and to provide the best possible service to the urban public, where a single monopolistic transit firm in a city or urban area became the standard practice for transit in the U.S at this time.[8]

Locked-in PolicyEdit

The policy of 5-cent fare was borrowed from the period of horsecars into the electric streetcar system. In order to exchange for a perpetual franchise (999-year franchise), the companies were agreed on the policy of 5-cent fare in the birthing phase. Typically, a private company ran lines under a franchise were awarded by the municipality which outlined the public roads on which the company could build rails and operate routes, along with other stipulations.[8] The policy was then embedded in the franchise, where the companies and operators were ‘locked-in’ with the 5-cent policy.

6. Growth PhaseEdit

The first electricity streetcar railway in Indiana was opened in South Bend on 30 August,1888, namely the Lafayette Street Railway. The electric streetcar in Indiana experience much higher levels of growth well before other cities where Indiana has played as a national leader in the railroad industry in the US. The period from 1902 up until the late 1910s was a period of tremendous growth in electric streetcars replacing horse-drawn cars in the US. The streetcar ridership generally peaked in the 1920s, with 11,000 to 17,000 miles of streetcar tracks in cities from coast to coast.[9]

7. Mature Phase and DeclineEdit

Constraints to changing MarketsEdit

A steady decline began after WWI, stimulated largely by the invention of the automobile.[10] During the period of WWI, streetcar enterprises encountered financial difficulties due to the rose of wage and materials costs.[11] The companies were squeezed by the fixed fares set almost universally by the municipal franchises. The ‘lock-in’ policies implemented by the government also contributed to the decline of the mode, where the companies are forced to adhere a fixed fare set by municipal franchises. Such policies resulted in the financial infeasibility of companies to conduct any line expansions, resulting in the locked adoption of expensive and often failing lines. Even the government action permitted fare raises later, but by then the use of automobiles had spread, and many cities shifted to motor-bus systems of public transportation.[11]


As a result of the spread use of automobiles, many cities shifted to motor-bus systems of public transportation, where the streetcar operators were started to feel the pressure. The direct operating expenses of the bus were slightly greater than the streetcars; however, the heavy expenses of both maintenance and track construction ultimately rendered streetcars uneconomical.[11] The U.S streetcars began to be steadily declined by automobile and buses in the 1930s, where such trend accelerated during the ‘40s and ‘50s.


The re-invention of the streetcar system could focus on the transportation of a certain region. With the modern technology, the streetcars can provide larger capacity, higher speed, and more comforting experience. As the operation of light rail does not include greenhouse gas emission and provide better riding experience, the streetcars, or light rails nowadays, are usually preferable than the transportation mode of buses.

Quantitative AnalysisEdit

1. Model EstimationEdit

A three-parameter logistic function is used to generate and analyse the model:

S(t)=(K/([1+e^(-b(t-t_0 ) )]))


  • S(t) is the status measure (eg. Miles of track)
  • t is the time (years)
  • t_0 is the inflection time (year in which 1/2 K is achieved)
  • K is the saturation status level
  • b is a coefficient

As the number of miles is known from the data, as is the year, where K is unknow in this case. A number of regressions, with various trials for K were done by n simply estimating the coefficients c and b in a model of the form:



  • Y=Ln(Miles/(K-Miles))
  • X=year

2. Data UsedEdit

By identifying data from the McGraw Electric Railway Manual, the number of miles and the associating year is obtained and listed in the table below:

Table 1: Length of tracks (miles) in Indiana
Year Track Length (miles)
1903 424.5
1904 568.94
1905 690.08
1906 759.28
1907 818.38
1908 915.66
1909 919.97
1910 972.03
1911 1056.82
1912 1009.17
1913 1000.88
1914 1063.54
1917 1060.03
1918 1173.6
1919 1137.5
1920 1177.95

Using the model estimation equations, and the series of conducted regressions, values for t_i, S_max and b were estimated as below:

Table 2: Curve Parameters
S_max 2000
b 0.077307875
t_i 1913.223255

3. Model AnalysisEdit

Streetcar system in Indiana

According to the obtained figure above, the electric streetcar system was continued growing through the period of 1903 to 1911. A sudden minor drop was observed at the end of 1911, where the rate of growth is decelerating but the overall miles of track is still growing.

The growth phase was around 1903 and before as the State of Indiana experience much higher levels of growth well before other cities and has played as a national leader in the railroad industry in the US. The S-curve has a general close to linear growth before 1914, and a descending growth up until 1920. This might be due to the period of WWI, where inflation and decline of the streetcars occurred.


  1. "tram-definition". The Free Dictionary. Retrieved 19 February 2018
  2. a b c d Young, Jay. "Infrastructure: Mass Transit in 19th- and 20th-Century Urban America." Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History.  March 02, 2015. Oxford University Press. Date of access 28 Mar. 2021, <>
  3. a b Hilton, George W. The Cable Car in America. Berkeley, CA: Howell NorthBooks. (1971).
  4. "Dunedin Cable Car". Retrieved 2 January 2021
  5. a b Erskine Hazard, Observations upon Rail-roads, The Franklin Journal and American Mechanics' Magazine, Vol. III, No. 4 (April 1827); page 275.
  6. Pyrgidis.C.N, Railway Transportation Systems: Design, Construction and Operation. CRC Press, 2016. P. 156
  7. Benjamin, Sovacool. “Early modes of transport in the United States: Lessons for modern energy policymakers.” Taylor & Francis Online, 03 Mar. 2017,
  8. a b c d SMERK, G. (1986). Urban Mass Transportation: From Private to Public to Privatization. Transportation Journal, 26(1), 83-91. Retrieved March 28, 2021, from
  9. Bell, Rhonda. “How Cities Are Embracing Streetcars Once Again.” Metro, 22 Mar, 2017,
  10. Glass, James. “A lesson in Indy’s transportation history: ‘We have come full circle’.” IndyStar, 03 Feb, 2019,
  11. a b c Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Streetcar". Encyclopedia Britannica, 29 Oct. 2018, Accessed 28 March 2021.