Change Started
Kolkata Tram

Trams are beneficial for the environment

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

This famous quote is attributed to Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company. Whether he said it or not is debatable, but one thing is sure, this quote alludes to cars and must have been said during the late 1890s or early part of the 20th century when cars first appeared.

The people forget that before cars emerged on the scene, Trams efficiently transported people faster than horses.

Trams, often called streetcar or trolleys, are public transport system that primarily runs on tracks laid on urban roads.

History of Trams

The history of trams began in the early 19th century when the first trams were introduced and were pulled by a team of horses – the number of horses depended on the trams’ size.

Running the streetcars on rails pulled by horses allowed for a smoother ride. Early evidence of the Tram system emerged in New York City (USA), which began streetcar service in 1832.

Trams - NewYork Harlem Line
Trams – NewYork Harlem Line I Source: The Tribecatrib

Given the challenges associated with animals, horse-drawn transport service made way for mechanical trams powered by steam, gas, cable, and electric system. The mechanical ones proved to be more efficient and fast.

The world’s first electric tram was invented by Ukrainian-born engineer Fyodor Pirotsky in 1875. Later in 1879, an electrically operated streetcar was presented by Siemens & Halske at the Berlin Industrial Exposition. In 1881, the electric tram began its operations on the streets of Berlin (Germany), carrying over 10,000 passengers in the first three months.

Therefore we can see that the electric tram came about five years before Carl Benz applied for a patent for his “vehicle powered by a gas engine” in 1886 and more than 20 years before Henry Ford’s first car hit the street.

Trams started gaining popularity

The success of electric Trams running on Berlin streets reached other parts of the world, and various urban centers started replacing their tram systems with electric ones.

In 1883, the tram system started in Vienna (Austria), which worked with electricity from an overhead line with a pantograph.

Gradually, Trams became synonymous with public transport in many cities and towns worldwide, offering affordable and comfortable rides to the working class.

The decline in the Trams system

With the advent of cars, buses, and high-speed trains, tramway systems gradually fell out of fashion by the middle of the 20th century.

Trams often clash with other means of transport – colliding with cars & buses, running over a pedestrian, and bicycle wheels getting caught in the track grooves – causing some severe accidents.

The higher costs of laying down permanent tracks and overhead wires than running Buses added to the misery.

Many cities which started Tram systems slowly stopped running them altogether or curtailed their network.

Revival of the Trams system

However, the advantages of the Tram system are too hard to ignore, and slowly by the 1970s and 80s, it again saw a revival. The Trams became faster, more comfortable, and more efficient and had a higher carrying capacity.

Benefits of the Trams

Better Carrying Capacity:

Trams can be much more capable of road usage than cars, and in many cases, they have a higher capacity than buses.

Cheaper to install:

Trams are much cheaper to install than metro trains, subways, or other forms of heavy rail.

Offer last-mile connectivity:

Considering high-speed trains cannot connect all the spots in the city, Busses and Trams offer last-mile connectivity for daily commuters.

Faster accessibility:

Passengers can reach surface Tram stations much quicker than climbing up and down underground and elevated stations.

Provide sightseeing and tourist attraction:

Trams are a tourist attraction in many cities across the world. With the added improvements & modern comfort, trams have been running on the same track for more than 100 years in more than 150 cities worldwide. Tourists can have incredible sightseeing without sweat by passing through historical monuments and architecturally beautiful buildings.

Here is a video to take you through some of the Oldest Tram networks in the world.


Trams are beneficial for the environment:

With technological improvements and changes, most trams still use the electrical power fed by a pantograph sliding on an overhead line or operating on battery power. Both these methods do not produce any pollution at the point of use.

As per a study, after walking and cycling, Trams are the most efficient in energy efficiency as there are no tail-pipe emissions. They consume 0.91 megajoules per passenger-kilometer traveled, closely followed by the bus, which consumes 0.92 megajoules.

Trams are Energy Efficient
Trams are Energy Efficient I Source: The Conversation

Sooner or later, when coal-powered electricity gives way to 100% renewable energy, the environmental relevance of electric-powered Trams will even get more robust. 

In addition, unlike Bus, most of the Tram system in the world does not run on rubber tires. As per a study by Emissions Analytics, pollution caused by tires can be 1,000 times worse than what comes out of a car’s exhaust. This is because, in the case of cars and buses, every time a tire rotates, it loses particulate matter of rubber, which then blows into the air as dust, further aggravating the air quality.

Wrapping up

In the last few years, many different variants of Trams have evolved. One of the popular systems is the light rail system, where the Tram has dedicated lines and does not mix with the other modes of transport. 

The future of our transport system is undoubtedly electric, and if Trams can be explored as a viable means of transport, they offer commuters a sustainable alternative. If used optimally, the Trams are beneficial for the environment, help to reduce the burden on city roads and provide an affordable means of public transport.

The increase in ridership and switch to renewable energy will only increase the sustainability factor. 

As of 2020, the Tram system is present in around 450 cities worldwide. In the last five years, 50 new locations have added Trams to their transport system, mainly in China and the US.

Trams are beneficial for the environment; wherever they are present, they have become a vital part of the landscape.








  • Trams are certainly nice to have, but it is time for researchers to start looking properly into the benefits of trackfree trams which can do the same amount of work at far lower initial cost, and probably lifetime cost as well. Trackfree? You say? Yes, I’m talking about the three-section electric trolleybuses now operating in several cities.

    • Thanks, Vaughan, We have heard about plans to introduce Trackfree Trams in Sydney, Australia, but not sure if it is already operating in other cities. We will check more about it.

      • There are no current plans to introduce Trackfree trams in Sydney. Over the last decade modern tram systems have been put into service on three routes and a further line is currently (2023) under construction.

Change Started


Change Started is a platform that covers stories, news, research, analysis, opinions, best practices from around the world on issues that are important for the environment. Through inclusive climate action, we can create a sustainable planet.

%d bloggers like this: