Transportation Deployment Casebook/2021/Missouri

Streetcars in the United StatesEdit


A streetcar (also known as tram or trolley) is a rail vehicle that runs along the track in public  streets, it was used as a local transportation for passengers to commute within a city or town. Over the course of history, the motive power of streetcars has evolved from horse-drawn, steam, cable-hauled, gas and electric. The electric streetcars replaced vehicles relied on animal power in the late 19th and early 20th century. However, the number of streetcars began to decline and were replaced by buses in 1920s since buses are allowed to route freely while streetcars have fixed routes by tracks[1].

Technological CharacteristicsEdit

The technological characteristics of a streetcar differs according to their motive power. Animal-drawn streetcars use horses or mules (usually a pair) to pull the carriage. On the other hand, the electric streetcar was powered by electricity from an overhead wire while a trolley pole was used to draw electricity to the overhead wire. All types of streetcar have metal wheels to run along the steel rails laid on the street[2].

Main AdvantagesEdit

Most residents went to shop and work very close to where they live in the early 19th century. Accesses to another town or city were extremely limited due to long travel time by foot. Streetcars were invented and introduced to serve as a development tool to expand all cities, allowing residents to travel greater distances[3]. Workers and developers were able to reach distant suburbs that were previously not developed and seek for opportunities to create a new neighbourhood suitable for living. The connection between each town and city was improved since trading and communication is much easier and faster. Electric streetcars also improved residents’ access to public locations within the town, raising efficiency by reducing travel time.

Main MarketsEdit

The main market of the streetcar belongs to the workers who live far away from their working place and residents in the town. Many people chose to live outside the city to avoid noise, and potentially owning a bigger but cheaper land to improve quality of life. Therefore, they travel to the city to work in the morning and back home in the evening by streetcars. Residents in the town can use streetcars for urgent circumstances, since it is faster compare to travel by foot. Streetcars also provide access for visiting tourists to most public place in town.

Transport before StreetcarsEdit

Previous Transport Modes and their LimitationsEdit

Horse-drawn omnibus was one of the earliest modes of transport before the electric streetcar. New York City is the first city to open an omnibus service in the United States in 1827. The horse-drawn omnibus allowed a greater number of passengers (around 20 passengers) to ride in a single vehicle, improving efficiency and profit at the same time[4]. The limitations of this mode of transport were the high costs of operating and maintenance fee for the horses or mules, this include the stable, food, grooming and sometimes medication. Other limitations were the amount of energy required by horses or mules to pull the carriage, and the susceptibility of horses and mules to disease. Horses can only work for 4 to 5 hours in a day, streetcar owners usually own up to 10 horses and mules to keep up with the large demand. Horses and mules can produced around 10.5 pounds of manure in a single day[5] and the streetcar is responsible to dispose them. Customers also claimed that the fares were expensive considering it as a public transport. Therefore, majority of passengers in Philadelphia belong to the middle classes and above[4].This mode of transport was later improved by adding rails on the street and steel wheel on the carriage. It was later named ‘horse-drawn tram’ and was introduced in 1832 in New York[6]. The horse-drawn tram no longer runs on the cobblestones, so the friction between the wheels and the ground was greatly reduced. As a result, there was a significant increase in the efficiency of horses’ power. Furthermore, the passengers were much more comfortable with the ride since the tracks were smoother compare to cobblestones[6].

Cable car was introduced by Andrew Hallidie in San Francisco in 1873 after omnibus[7]. Drivers were able to operate the cable cars smoothly, but it was only able to operate at a constant speed. Another disadvantage was that the the cable can tie up all the cars if it was jammed or broken. The invention of steam engine in 1870 removed horses and mules from vehicles, a locomotive was driven on the same tracks used by the horse-drawn trams. However, steam trams were very noisy and polluting, so they were not popular in cities even with the ground-breaking technology[8]. In the late 19th century, electric cars began to replace most cable car and horse-drawn car lines.

Evolving MarketsEdit

Streetcar has significantly improved the transport system in United States in the early 19th century. However, while transport system evolves constantly, so does its market needs. By 1910s, buses had started to replace streetcars and by 1937, more than 50% of the cities in United States were served solely by bus systems[9]. Eventually, automobiles became popular in 1920s. They were initially only used by the rich and upper class, then it slowly started to be used as a way for travel to work and shopping. Popularity of the automobile was the one of the main reason that leads to the decline in usage of streetcar. Most streetcar companies closed their services while the rest of the streetcars were being modified into a more modern transport system called the 'light rail'.

Invention of the StreetcarEdit

Evolution of DesignsEdit

The first major improvement occurred with the invention of steam engine, which effectively removed animal power from vehicles and made it the first mechanical streetcar. Countries in Europe such as England, Germany, Belgium and France tried to commercialised steam-powered streetcars , however, the steam-powered streetcars were too slow, loud and created too much pollution. The steam engines were then improved and modified to make them more ideal and suitable operating in residential areas. All moving parts of the streetcar including wheels were enclosed to ensure safety and quieter engine. Condensers and superheating were used to minimized visible steam and fuel method had been changed from coal to coke to prevent smoke. By 1870s, steam engines were being used in the United States in many rural regions but began to decline around the 1890s to the 1900s, being replaced by electric streetcars[10]. The second major improvement in technology was the cable-hauled streetcars. The first cable-hauled streetcar was tested in San Francisco, in 1873, it was successful compare to the previous models because a cable grip mechanism to grab and release the moving cable was developed[10]. Compare to the steam engine, the noise and pollution produced were much insignificant and it was able to run on a higher speed. On the other hand, the drawbacks of cable cars were the high infrastructure costs. Cables, stationary engines, pulleys, and underground vault structures below the rails were all very costly to the company. Moreover, the operators needed physical strength and specific skill to operate the cable cars[10].

The streetcars have been powered by electricity since the late 19th century. Frank Sprague plays a big role in evolution of design of streetcar by inventing technologies such as the inverted type of dynamo in the 1870s, the overhead electric wires in approximately 1880 and regenerative braking in 1886. The inverted type of dynamo became a basic principle of all series-parallel controllers used on direct current railway motors. The overhead electric wires transmit electricity to electric streetcar, making it possible for the streetcar to be powered by electricity. Regenerative braking is type of motor that allows large vehicles to maintain constant speed under different loads. This invention was quickly became popular and was used in most electric vehicles[11]. The design of the electric streetcar was completed by Charles Joseph Van Depoele. He invented a device called the trolley pole in 1885 to extract current from the overhead wires. Frank Sprague

later took Charles Joseph Van Depoele's original idea and design of the trolley pole and modified it.

Market DevelopmentEdit

Early Market Development and Niche Markets in MissouriEdit

When electric streetcars were introduced to the market, some passengers still stick to their usual transport system such as horse-drawn cars. Companies adjusted the size of car and service frequency and time to suit the markets, thus streetcars quickly won over cable car markets. By the 1830s, St. Louis (city) had expanded in size, making it extremely inconvenient for residents to walk throughout the town[12]. Within the larger cities in Missouri, streetcars have significantly improved travel time and experiences for workers who live far from the central core but needed to travel to work every day[13]. Later, electric streetcars were proven to be far cheaper than horses-drawn car, this means the costs of travel could be lower, quickly made the electric streetcar accepted and favored by the community. Streetcars also transformed main streets in town into commercial zones. Existing shops, businesses, restaurants and saloon owners hoped to increase business through convenience for many potential customers, while it also increases the chance residents investing and opening new shops in town. These famous streets in Missouri include the Grand, Jefferson, and Gravois street[13]. In 1880, residents were interested in the industries nearby the survey area, along Gravois Road and only as far south as Arsenal[13]. This result in more job opportunities. Overall, the electric streetcar satisfied people's need to transport within large cities, and also enhanced economic by creating more opportunities for trading and businesses. Missouri had streetcars in 27 of their cities in total. Two of the major systems in Missouri were the St. Louis Kansas City Railway & Light Co. and the United Railways Co. of St. Louis, each responsible for average of 250 and 450 miles per year from 1910 to 1920.

Birthing PhaseEdit


American Public Transportation Association, formerly known as American Street Railway Association (1882-1905), was established by the public and private sector organizations who were interested in the public transport industry. It has worked with cities on policies associating to the streetcars since then. Every year, large amount of funds were invested into the public transport system. As a result, almost all public transport systems are owned by private companies. Without any exception, the streetcar systems were financed solely by private corporations as well. This mode of transport dominant the market as soon as it was introduced to the community. Most public policies in growth phase were related to the sudden and sharp growth of streetcar in the cities. Policies for transport system changed over time, but one policy that still remained effective was the use of franchise. Putting a limit on the franchise of streetcars can avoid unnecessary competition, which allows the streetcar system to cover more areas and to ensure protection on the income for the streetcar companies[14].

Locked-in PoliciesEdit

The government made a policy that stated all passengers who use the streetcar systems will be charged at a flat fare of five cent[15].

Growth PhaseEdit

Role of Public Sector in GrowthEdit

Streetcars had dominant the market as the chief mode of transport when the government imposed a 5-cent flat rate fare for all services. When this policy was created, 5 cents was enough for streetcars to operate and even made profit.

Role of Private Sector in GrowthEdit

Developers and real estate speculators contributed a significantly in growth of the streetcar system. Developers would invest in different streetcar operations and then construct new lines of streetcars into their land. Their aim was to develop the rural areas to attract potential land buyers who were interested in living outside the. By the late 19th century, some American preferred to live in semi-rural place, away from the pollution, noise and activities of the crowded city, but still close enough to maintain a sense of community. Suburbanization became a trend in American history[13]. Electric power companies were also interested with the streetcar business as they saw potential opportunities to provide electricity to the new living area.

Policy issuesEdit

The flat rate 5-cent fare was locked for the operators indefinitely, even after the inflation and raise in wages occurred. The costs of streetcars operation was too high, operators were unable to make profit anymore and some were forced to terminate their services due to bankruptcy.

Mature and Decline PhaseEdit


Streetcar was the chief mode of transport in the United States in the early 1900s, covering up to 45,000 miles by 1917[16]. However, the growth of streetcar began to slow down due to the decrease in interest from the private investors. With the mandated 5-cents flat rate nickel fares, numerous strikes and growing competition from automobiles, streetcar struggles to operate in the market. The arrival of automobiles were one of the many reasons that lead to the decline of the streetcar in United States. Since automobile and streetcar shares the same road, it is unavoidable that the automobiles would be driving on streetcar tracks. Ultimately, streetcars could not function and operate smoothly anymore due to crowded use of tracks and inability to keep up with the schedules[17]. Moreover, even though the automobiles drive on the tracks designed for streetcars, they were not required to keep the road and pavement around the tracks in good condition. Eventually, the streetcar companies were the only one responsible for the costs of maintenance. Since the 1920s, streetcar companies began to declare bankruptcy, even when they were still the dominant mode of transportation in their cities. High costs and the low fares forced them to cut back on service, hence indirectly pushing people to the increasingly affordable automobile[18]. In 1900, Missouri only had 180 registered automobiles, but by 1910 and 1920 the number had increased sharply to 12,010 and 266,748[19]. This also result in the unexpected competition with unlicensed taxi operators, which took over the streets and competed with potentially better mobility and speed.

Limitations to Market ChangeEdit

By 1920, most of the streetcar companies were struggling financially. The ‘locked-in’ five cent fare made it impossible for any improvement or adaptation for this mode of transport. The streetcar companies failed to negotiate for a better fares during the growth phase, resulting in inability to keep up with inflation and increase of wages.

Opportunities to 're-invent' the ModeEdit

After the streetcar disappeared from the road, Portland, Oregon became the first city that open a new streetcar system in North America in more than 50 years[20]. The modern streetcar is commonly known as 'light rail', with higher speed, capacity and stability. Light rails offers a more comfortable experience and higher passenger capacities compare to buses, and it does not emit gas, steam or smoke, which is ideal for dense residential areas. These advantages have helped light rail favored by residents from around the world. However, constructing a new light rail can take years or planning and construction time. The construction of the railway would affect a city's traffic and economic significantly as well. On the other hand, the idea of rubber-tyred tram has been discussed in the past to overcome these difficulties that light rails exhibits. A rubber-tyred tram uses rubber wheels to run on the street. Since rubber-tyred tram do not require tracks to function, the construction costs and time needed would be much cheaper and shorter. Furthermore, the maintenance costs would be lower as well with the absence of tracks[21].

Quantitative Analysis of Missouri Streetcar SystemEdit


The table below shows the total length of tracks (in miles) of the streetcar system from the year 1894 to 1920 in Missouri, United States. The information was extracted from McGraw Electric Railway Manual.

All of the urban areas in Missouri that have streetcars and all of the streetcar systems in each urban area were identified to obtain the total length of track for the State of Missouri for each year. This data can be seen in table 1 below:

Year Length of Tracks (Miles)
1894 503.008
1897 593.6
1898 660.31
1899 703.81
1900 726.75
1901 792.45
1902 787.89
1903 787.89
1904 818.98
1905 899.475
1906 960.066
1907 1110.84
1908 1114.48
1909 1105.27
1910 1134.91
1911 1124.61
1912 1009.37
1913 1090.259
1914 1187.97
1917 1084.425
1918 1087.541
1919 1113.742
1920 1104.965

Table 1: Length of tracks (miles) in the State of Missouri

Model AnalysisEdit

The data is used to estimate a three-parameter logistic function to obtain a curve that best fits the data. This lifecycle model of the streetcar system can be characterised using the following three-parameter logistic equation:

S(t) = Smax/[1+exp(-b(t-ti)]


  • S(t) is the status measure (tracks laid)
  • t is time,
  • ti is the inflection time, (i.e. Year that reaches 50% of maximum length of track)
  • Smax is saturation status level (i.e. Maximum length of track)
  • b is a coefficient

After performing a series of regressions, values for ti, Smax and b are shown in table 2 below:

Variable Value
Smax 1200
b 0.133
ti 1895.42

Table 2: S Curve parameters

Using the values from table 2, the logistic function equation was applied to produce a curve of best fit (Figure 1). This model compares the predicted length of tracks with the actual length of tracks. The model can be fit for different saturation status levels, but the drawback is only one of these saturation levels will best fit the data.

Model AccuracyEdit

The actual length of tracks recorded were all different from the predicted length of tracks, however, they both follows similar trend of the growth and maturity phases of the lifecycle. Accuracy of the model could be easily affected by the lack of data since the study period does not extend early or late enough in time. Therefore, this graph is unable to show an obvious birthing and decline stage of the streetcar system in Missouri.


  4. a b,a%20fare%20of%20ten%20cents
  5. Sullivan, P., Tankersley, M., Reed, M., Gale, S. and Hammock, M.. "Historic Streetcar Systems in Georgia". Georgia Department of Transportation.
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  18. Stromberg, Joseph (2015-05-07). "The real story behind the demise of America's once-mighty streetcars".