Public Acceptability of Tram Overhead Wires

Above – tram wires strung from the Vienna Grand Opera House

Various Notes from various contributors:

Remember, people walking in and around cities rarely look up above the shop name on a shopfront. The see the rails and think permanence and that’s where the trams run, but never look up at the overhead wires. In some European cities, OLE head-spans are attached to medieval cathedrals and no-one notices (or cares).

In Croydon the overhead wires were not taken down until several weeks after the trams ceased to run in April 1951, and the Croydon Advertiser carried out a public survey one Saturday in North End, a busy shopping street, asking pedestrians what was different in the street compared with the previous week.  Only three persons out of about forty interviewed even noticed that the tram wires had been taken down since the previous week. (J H Price, “Tramway London – Background to the abandonment of London’s trams 1931-1952”, LRTA, 1993).  People probably didn’t notice them either when they were put back up in Croydon town centre.

The attached photograph was taken August 2020 by David Hold Princess Street in Manchester.  The trams in the photograph are powered by barely-visible catenary-free single contact wires supported from the Town Hall behind the scaffolding, and from various other buildings opposite. The Leigh guided buses run past here.  The tram rails provide passengers with the smoothest-riding part of their whole journey.

One comment on “Public Acceptability of Tram Overhead Wires

  1. From Brad Read, President TIG/m, LLC, quoted incorrectly above.

    First of all, to make claims such as “They… never look up at the overhead wires.” or “no one notices (or cares).” is an obvious overstatement of opinion, and the writer offers no evidence to back this claim up. The evidence he does site (Croydon) shows that, on the contrary, 7% of shoppers noticed the lines were gone when removed (Shoppers! not residents or commuters. Many of these people could have been there for the first time and had never seen the lines). I happen to know many people who do look up and do care. Many cities around the world have banned overhead catenary systems in their historic cores for this very reason.

    Secondly, I categorically deny delivering the above stated efficiency statistic. Efficiencies of complex systems are dependent on many factors and are not subject to simplified generalizations applied to different types of technologies and equipment, and I told the gentleman so. The figure quoted is certainly inaccurate for my company’s hydrogen systems.

    Thirdly, if the gentleman had paid attention to my presentation he would realize that his point is moot as, on average, over 90% of the energy for a full passenger service day on board our self-powered (catenary-free) trams comes from Energy Storage Systems (batteries) and regenerative braking. The hydrogen system is an auxiliary generator which may or may not be utilized on a daily basis, based on temporal loading. Even if the hydrogen cycle efficiencies were as low as he states (which they are not), the overall effect on the Tram system’s efficiency would be negligible.

    Fourthly, he conveniently neglects to discuss the cost of maintenance of catenary systems (both the power distribution on the wayside, and the pantograph on the tramside), or the elephant in the room – Stray Current – which can cause millions of dollars per year in damage to subgrade city utilities through galvanic corrosion.

    So, in conclusion, if his goal was to denigrate TIG/m self-powered Tram systems which do not require any form of wayside power distribution system, by utilizing trumped up claims of excessive hydrogen inefficiency, he will need to do better.

    If, on the other hand, his goal was simply to extoll the beauty and expense of unnecessary overhead power lines, well, there’s no accounting for taste!

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