A Street Car To Desire: Imagine Trolleys With Hypercapacitors And Overhead Fans?


Septa PCC Trolley 2325
Image credit: Flickr, CSX 4758's photostream, Septa streetcar rolls westbound along Girard Avenue in sunny Philadelphia on April 3, 2007.

When I was a kid (in the 1950's), electric trolley cars or "trams" like the still-operating Philadelphia model pictured here, were quite common in US cities. They were quiet, had no exhaust, and followed the same rules of the road as cars, trucks, and rubber-tired buses. One drawback I remember was that crossing the tracks at an acute angle while riding a bicycle was likely to toss the rider if a narrow-tired model was caught between the steel rail and the street edge: you had to be careful to slow down and cross at close to the perpendicular. Another issue was that the tracks tended to fill up with caked salt and sand in the northern winters.

Look at that web of wires overhead. What happens if street trams come back? Will cell phones be messed up? WiFi communications interfered with? HDTV become snowy?As Atrios points out, some are opposed to overhead wires for what mainly seem to be aesthetic reasons:

I've frequently come in contact with people who consider overhead wires to be such an abomination that they think that any neighborhood which has them is worst than a third world shanty town. This particular aesthetic bugaboo has long puzzled me. Don't mind them at all.
Some historic preservationists apparently regard the wires as an infringement.

Sure, trolley power can be put at ground level, in the street, as has been done with Tramway de Bordeaux (via:Wikipedia link). But, even that won't work well in cities with flood prone, or snowy, streets. So, for situations where you want to put trolleys back where they once were, and extend them to the suburbs, overhead wires will be the cheapest, most reliable approach.

Except: there may be new design and track layout opportunities offered by modern technology. On wide avenues and thoroughfares, trolley routes could be used to separate cars from curbside bike lanes (no car or truck passage or parking allowed, unlike in the photograph), for example.

Hybrid Trolley's could be designed with regenerative braking systems, and with ultra-capacitor power-storage banks that would enable route completion even with a temporary power interruption...or to periodically allow for the crossing of "no overhead wire" zones or street segments. Because capacitors can be recharged very quickly, this would be quite a useful way to short-step the overhead wire infrastructure limitations.

If any of you readers happen to be purchasers or designers of trolley vehicles, please pay close attention to this next idea.

You absolutely must put "whole trolley" ceiling fans in a roof-top bonnet capable of pulling a strong draft fresh air in through the side windows and exhausting it from along the side top edge, with exhaust flows used to divert rain away from the side windows below the exhaust ports, keeping window-seated passengers dry. Except in the most lilting heat, air conditioners won't be needed!

And this one too.

Route district WiFi connections through the power supply wires so that passengers may partake. There has to be a way.

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