Transportation Deployment Casebook/2021/Nevada Streetcar


A streetcar is a single-unit vehicle that uses an electric motor to travel along a metal track that has been pre-paved on the street.[1]

Technical characteristicsEdit

This mode of transportation employs cables suspended above the tracks to transmit electricity to the vehicles via trolley poles, which in turn drive the vehicles via on-board electric motors. The streetcar tracks and overhead cables are critical components of the system.

Main advantagesEdit

Previously, vehicles on the track were usually pulled by horses, or by steam engines. Horse-drawn vehicles did not run at a consistent speed and were expensive to feed and costly to operate. Steam-hauled vehicles produced high levels of noise and air pollution.

Streetcars are a faster way of transportation, and their large passenger capacity has effectively increased transportation efficiency, which has facilitated the expansion of urban centers and suburban areas. At the same time, the construction of streetcars also promotes the resurfacing of streets and the improvement of supporting infrastructure, which contributes to the economic development along the route.

Main MarketsEdit

In the early 1900s, the cost of trams was reduced by electric traction, and more workers chose them as a means of commuting. In 1904, Nevada had its first streetcar line, which ran from Reno to Sparks and was primarily used by commuters, shoppers, and tourists.[2]

Early periodEdit

The streetcar system was a symbol of a city's growth and the most outstanding mode of transportation in American cities in the early twentieth century. [2] Nevada's first streetcar line opened on Thanksgiving Day, 1904. In fact, the United States has one of the best and most extensive tram networks in the world. [3]

Other models and their limitationsEdit

Before the birth of the streetcar, urban transportation was mainly omnibus. Omnibus was used in two stages. The first stage was before the middle of the 19th century, relying on horses to pull the vehicles. The second stage was from the mid-19th century to the end of the 19th century, when steam engines and batteries gradually appeared to pull the vehicles, replacing some of the horse-drawn vehicles.

Both of these traction methods have a number of limitations. First, the horse has a large number of uncontrollable factors, often due to the horse is frightened and the vehicle out of control resulting in traffic accidents. Secondly, relying on horses to provide traction is less efficient and the large amount of feed fed to the horses results in higher operating costs. In addition, horse manure further contributes to the dirtiness of the streets. Many of these factors inevitably led to a desire to find a more reliable source of power. However, steam engines were also unpopular on city streets. Steam engines make a lot of noise and are still environmentally polluting. Although battery traction does not have the problems mentioned above, its biggest limitation is that the vehicle has a limited range and is therefore extremely inefficient.

The invention of the streetcarEdit

As previously stated, there was an urgent need for more reliable transportation methods as demand for transportation increased. People began to turn to electricity after gradually abandoning their reliance on horses and internal combustion engines as power sources. This technique was not widely used in the market due to the high cost of batteries and their extremely low mileage, but cable cars were widely used in the United States. The cable car is primarily powered by electricity, which eliminates noise and pollution issues, and its reliance on ropes and pulleys eliminates the disadvantage of insufficient battery range. In fact, many of the later trams were converted from cable car lines.

The streetcar scheme was formally presented to designers with the invention of overhead lines and spring-loaded trolley poles. The streetcar is propelled by a spring-loaded trolley pole attached to the vehicle's top and in constant contact with overhead lines, which supplies electricity to an electric motor that drives the vehicle. The streetcar became the most suitable mode of urban transportation for development at the time due to its high speed and large passenger capacity.

Market development and market nicheEdit

Nevada had its first streetcar line in 1904. Initially, it was marketed as a commuter line. The line connected Reno and Sparks and was used primarily by commuters, with subsequent additions by shoppers and leisure visitors. Subsequent expansions have connected the line to the University of Nevada, located north of downtown. The line was operated by the Nevada Transit Co. (purchased by the Reno Traction Co. in 1906). In 1908, the Nevada Interurban Railway Co. opened another streetcar line that connected to the spa resorts on the south side of the city, providing intercity service to city residents.

The Lifecycle of Streetcar in NevadaEdit

Birthing phaseEdit

Nevada's streetcar project was completed in 1904 and was officially opened on Thanksgiving Day. The line connected Reno's railroad station to Sparks and was originally only 3 miles in length. This line has been the most popular line, carrying 80% of the tram's passenger traffic. Before the streetcar provider could begin construction and operation, it had to obtain a franchise from the City of Reno and sign an agreement to that effect. The agreement defines fares, routes, etc. The initial operation of the line will cost 10 cents and take about half an hour each way.[4]

Growth phaseEdit

The streetcar system experienced rapid growth in the United States but was slow to develop in Nevada. The company that operated the line, Nevada Transit Co., was purchased by the Reno Traction Co. in 1906, and the line from Reno to Sparks was expanded in 1907-1908 to extend the line from downtown Reno to the University of Nevada. In addition, in 1908, the Nevada Interurban Railway Co. built a line connecting Reno to Moana Springs. The line is 3.3 miles long and provides intercity service from downtown to the resort.

Mature phaseEdit

In 1910, the Reno Traction Co. increased the number of coaches on the line to 8. The Nevada Interurban Railway Co. operated a line with 4 coaches. The Nevada streetcar remained at that size until 1919. During this time, the two companies gradually became financially challenged as labor prices and maintenance costs continued to rise while fares remained limited by the early franchise agreements.

Decline phaseEdit

In 1918, the Nevada Interurban Railway Co. had to pay more in wages and electricity than it received in fares. In 1919, the Reno Traction Co. discontinued service on all routes except Reno to Sparks. Service provided by the Nevada Interurban Railway Co. was also forced to close in the same year. Nevada with only one tram line connecting Reno and Sparks. Even so, Reno Traction Co. had difficulty maintaining basic route maintenance.

During this time, applications were made for bus franchises and the number of tram riders dropped dramatically. In 1927, the streetcar line was closed completely, and city buses took over for city transportation service.

Quantitative AnalysisEdit


The life cycle of a transport mode is divided into three phases: Birth, Growth, and Maturity phase. It is characterized by an S-curve, which can be represented by the following model [5]



S(t) = predicted system size (e.g., length of the orbit) in year t

t0 = midpoint (inflection point) year

K is the saturation state level (final market size)

b is the coefficient

The model can be solved when K, t0 and b are already available. However, since only the current system size is usually known, since the values of K and b need to be determined by an iterative algorithm and tested by linear regression.

Data & AnalysisEdit

Track length data for streetcars are from the "McGraw electric railway manual - the red book of American street railway investment" published annually from 1904-1920. " [6]

The S-curve parameters

Variable Value
K 11
B 0.27372
t0 1904.1

The Track length (miles) :

Year Track Length (Miles)        Projected Track Length (Miles)
1904 3.0 4
1905 4.5 4
1906 4.5 4
1907 4.5 5
1908 10.3 5
1909 10.3 5
1910 10.3 5
1911 10.3 6
1912 10.3 6
1913 10.3 6
1914 10.3 7
1915 10.3 7
1916 10.3 7
1917 10.3 8
1918 10.8 8
1919 10.8 8
1920 10.8 8

It is clear from the figure and table that Nevada has fewer deployments of trams, with an overall trend of increasing first from 1904-1920.

The years 1904-1907 are the birth phase; after 1908 is the growth phase.


  1. streetcar | Facts, History, & Development. (2021). Retrieved 24 March 2021, from
  2. a b Alicia Barber, “Reno Traction Company (site),” Reno Historical, accessed March 24, 2021,
  3. Jackson, K. (1985). Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States, Oxford University Press. New York: Oxford University Press.
  4. Cummings, A. (2013). From Profitability to Public Service: the Changing Purpose of Public Transportation in Reno-Sparks from 1904-1990 (Master). University of Nevada, Reno.
  5. Garrison, W., & Levinson, D. (2014). The Transportation Experience (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press, USA
  6. American Street railway investments, a supplement to Street Railway Journal, edition, 1894, 1897,1898,1899,1990,1901,1902,1903,1904,1905,1906,1907,1908,1909,1910,1911,1912,1913,1914,1917,1918,1919 and 1920]