What Are Trams?

What Are Trams

A tram is a vehicle that travels on city streets and runs on fixed tracks. It is commonly referred to as ‘streetcar,’ ‘trolley car,’ or ‘trolley’ in North America.


This is because it shares road space with other vehicles and pedestrians. This pretty much answers the question: what are trams?

Most tram systems contain some off-street running as well. It’s either on totally segregated alignments or along with the central reservation of roadways.

They are referred to as the ‘median strip’ in the United States. This segment of the route is known as ‘reserved rights of way.’

Some tram systems run almost entirely on reserved tracks, with only a few brief stretches on the street. Many tram systems in the United Kingdom use former railway lines.

Also, share what was once only used by railways with heavy train services. A tramway is a track that a tram travels on, while a tramway system is a system as a whole.

But, what are trams? What is the difference between light rail and trams? What sets trams and light rail apart from traditional railways?

In this article, we’ll go over all you need to know about what are trams?

History of Trams

What Are Trams
Historic yellow tram in old city of Lisbon, Portugal

Let’s go into a little history when discussing what are trams. Trams, streetcars, and trolley systems have a long history dating back to the early 1900s.

It can be separated into numerous distinct periods based on the primary source of power.


The Swansea and Mumbles Railway in Wales, UK, was the world’s first passenger train or tram. The service was discontinued in 1827 but was revived in 1860 with the use of horses.

Horse cars had several drawbacks, including the fact that each animal could only work for a certain number of hours per day.

They had to be fed, groomed, and cared for daily. Also, a large amount of manure was created, which the streetcar company was responsible for keeping and subsequently disposing of.


Steam was used to power the earliest mechanical trams. There were 2 types of steam trams in general. The first and most frequent had a small steam locomotive at the front of a line of one or more carriages, comparable to a miniature train.

This was known in the UK as a tram engine. The other type of steam tram was known as a tram engine (UK). Or steam dummy (US). It had the steam engine built into the tram’s body.


The cable car was another tram motor system. A moving steel cable dragged it along a fixed track. The power to move the cable was usually provided from a “powerhouse” facility located a long distance from the vehicle.

There were many problems that it faced, including an expensive system of cables, pulleys, and stationary motors. Also, long underground vault structures beneath the rails had to be constructed.

So, cable cars suffered from exorbitant infrastructure expenses. They also required physical strength and talent to operate. Also, attentive operators avoid other cable cars and objects.


Trams were also powered by gas, naphtha gas, and coal gas. They were used in a variety of systems around the world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The tramcar, which was equivalent in size, shape, and capacity to a cable grip car, used gas as its motive power.

The reservoir was charged once a day at power stations via a rubber hose. The automobile also had an electrical generator for lighting up the tram.

Also, for driving the engine on steep gradients and starting the motor.


In 1875, Russian inventor Fyodor Pirotsky constructed and tested the world’s first electric tram line in Sestroretsk, near Saint Petersburg.

In the second half of the 1880s, new types of current collectors were invented. Before this, electric trains were problematic and unreliable. Also, it had limited success.

Once the technical issues of electricity production and transmission were resolved, the efficiency and economy of electricity got rapid acceptance.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, electric trams generally supplanted animal power and other sources of mechanical power, such as cable and steam.

Light rail

The phrase “light rail” refers to railway operations that use smaller vehicles with lower capacity and speed than traditional railways. Light rail infrastructure is less expensive to construct and maintain.

Light rail is an intermediate method of transportation that serves short intra- and inter-city journeys. Stops are closer together than on commuter trains, but farther apart than on local bus lines.

Difference between trams and light rail

What Are Trams

When discussing what are trams, it is critical to understand the differences. Light rail is a relatively new phrase. It can be used to describe a wide range of systems.

Almost all tram systems can be classified as light rail. Trams, on the other hand, are only light rail systems that travel on the street.

Because light rail is a modern phrase, it is safe to say that only modern systems can be labeled light rail. However, many of the elements of modern light rail systems are still present in older tramways.

Many have also been gradually modernized to the point where they are very similar to systems built recently.

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