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Clean Transport

Published on January 5th, 2015 | by James Ayre


Atlanta’s $98 Million Electric Streetcar System Now Open

January 5th, 2015 by  

The city of Atlanta’s $98 million initiative to bring electric streetcars back to the city is now finally starting to bear fruit, with the first section of a possible city-wide network now open to the public.

This small loop of an electric streetcar system opened just a few days ago, on December 30th, but is well worth taking note of, as this is the first time that a streetcar has operated in Atlanta since all the way back in 1949. Back in early 20th century the streetcar was so popular that, apparently, even the mayor of the city would ride it to work.

Atlanta streetcar

While the streetcar line is, as of yet, probably more just a curiosity for most people living in the city, there’s talk of the system being expanded to include and encompass economically important portions of the city, including: the primary retail district area, Piedmont Park; the Georgia Institute of Technology; the Atlanta University Center; and/or notable tourist destinations, such as the Fox Theater and the High Museum of Art.

Atlanta’s Mayor, Kasim Reed, has previously stated his intent to improve the service after the initial opening, via the reduction of wait times (more stock presumably) and the expansion of the area served.


The reason for the opening of the project as it is now, consisting of a rather limited line, is owing to the delays that the project has seen, and issues of public confidence. As he stated recently: “The first thing that we had to do, really, was to get the streetcar up and running because the delays were shaking the confidence in the project, and we needed to put that to bed.”

Given the history of streetcars in this country, I must admit to being quite happy to see them begin to make something of a (very limited so far) comeback. Rather than destroying them in the first place and then rebuilding a half-century later, it would certainly have been better just to keep them in service the whole time (as in Melbourne, Australia).

Rebuilding is certainly better than not doing so, imo. Still, it’s so damned expensive as compared to simply keeping and maintaining them after the initial construction. I guess that the car lobbies were just too strong at the time, though, something that appears to now be changing.

Worth noting is that one-way fares are only a buck a piece. Not a bad price at all. You can find out more at the website.

Image Credit: Atlanta StreetCar

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • Streetcars are a great way to get around a city and never fell out of favour in Europe — only here in North America did we discontinue using them.

    On battery power alone or electric w/battery backup, they are a nice, clean ride.

    I’d go so far as to suggest that the downtown core of each city should be off limits to cars (except for taxi’s, courier vans, emergency vehicles, etc) and have streetcars deliver people around the core.

    Far less traffic, noise, pollution and fewer accidents. It’s great to eat, shop, and see the sights, without thousands of cars whizzing by every hour.

    Cheers, JBS

    • Larmion

      They did fall out of favor in Europe too. At the time when America dismantled almost all of them, Europe went a little less far by halting the construction of new tracks and dismantling all tram tracks outside the largest cities.

      Take Belgium, for example: it once had what was known as ‘neighborhood railways’: a network of tramways that reached almost every village and hamlet in the nation not served by ‘proper’ trains.

      At its peak in 1950, it had a length of 3000 miles in a country the same size as Hawaii or Maryland (11000 square miles)!

      Today? Only the large cities still have tramways, though there are plants to revive the network on a small scale. The railways were maintained though, thankfully.

  • Offgridman

    Cool, glad to hear about this happening, especially an expansion going by the Fox Theatre. It can be a real pain to find parking near there (or very expensive) on our trips into the city to catch an opera.
    Of course we will have to hope that this stays running late enough to catch a ride back to parking afterwards. Maybe it is a southern thing, but it seems strange that the light rail will keep running late enough for people coming out of sporting events, but not for cultural.

  • Kyle Field

    I’m surprised that cutting edge streetcars still use wires overhead with physical arms that extend up. This will change with lighter, more dense batteries as well as faster chargers coming online (thanks auto industry!). It will be exciting to see this tech evolving over the next decade and longer as these innovations are applied.

    • Larmion

      Why would you prefer batteries over overhead wires when they have no advantages whatsoever when the route is fixed (as it inevitably is for rail vehicles)?

      Batteries consume more resources, have a higher embodied energy, are likely to remain expensive even according to the most optimistic predictions, require charging time and so on.

      • Kyle Field

        The reason street cars go on a fixed path is because they are technology limited. Adding batteries and desegmenting them from non value-add infrastructure like overhead wires and rails allows for more flexibility in how we use them, what routes (and how they change over time), etc.

        Basically, calling for an EV bus fleet instead of streetcars to allow for more flexibility in the system.

        • Larmion

          Oh, so you want buses rather than trams – I thought you wanted battery powered trams.

          There’s a case to be made for that, but I still prefer tramways for a few reasons:

          – Buses have an image problem: they’re perceived as being for the poor only. Trams somehow don’t have that problem.

          – Rail vehicles experience less resistance (steel on steel has a lower friction coefficient than asphalt on wheels), thus using less energy per mile. The lower weight due to not needing batteries further increases the difference.

          – Rail vehicles cause fewer PM emissions than buses. Wear on asphalt and tires is a small but significant source of PM emissions, much more so than the small rust flakes emitted by trams.

          – Rail vehicles are not size constrained, thus allowing for a higher throughput capacity.

          – Railways last over a century with minimal maintenance, leading to low operating costs.

          – Because rails are inherently inflexible, they provide certainty: you’re sure that the tramway will still top in front of your door tomorrow. That encourages transit oriented development, which buses do not.

          Ideally, you’d have trams where ridership is high enough (city centres for examples) and electric buses for rural areas and other lower demand areas where rail is too expensive.

  • Will E

    that’s the way to go all electric, no charging time cheap clean save.

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