AskDefine | Define horsecar

Dictionary Definition

horsecar n : an early form of streetcar that was drawn by horses

Extensive Definition

A horsecar was an animal-powered streetcar or tram.
The first passenger services in the world were started by the Oystermouth Railway in Wales, using specially designed carriages on an existing tramline built for horse-drawn freight dandies. Fare-paying passengers were carried on a line between Oystermouth, Mumbles and Swansea docks from 1807.
Other forms of public transit developed out of the early omnibus that first ran on public streets in the 1820s. These were local versions of the stagecoach lines, and picked up and dropped off passengers on a regular route, without the need to be pre-hired. Horsecars on tramlines were an improvement over the omnibus as the low rolling resistance of metal wheels on iron or steel rails, (usually grooved from 1852 on), allowed the animals to haul a greater load for a given effort than the omnibus. The horse-drawn streetcar combined the low cost, flexibility, and safety of animal power with the efficiency, smoothness, and all-weather capability of a rail right-of-way.
In the USA some of the earliest streetcars appeared in Baltimore, Maryland in 1828 and in New York City in 1832. These streetcars used horses and sometimes mules, usually two as a team, to haul the cars. Rarely, other animals were tried, including humans in emergency circumstances. By the mid 1880s, there were 415 street railway companies in the USA operating over 6000 miles of track and carrying 188 million passengers per year using horsecars.
In spite of its early start, it took many years for horse-drawn street cars to become widely acceptable across Britain; the American George Francis Train first introduced them to Birkenhead in 1860 but was jailed for "breaking and injuring" the highway when he next tried to lay the first tram tracks on the roads of London. An 1870 Act of Parliament overcame these legal obstacles by defining responsibilities and for the next three decades many local tramway companies were founded, using horse-drawn carriages, until replaced by cable, steam or electric traction. Many companies adopted a design of a partly-enclosed double-decker carriage hauled by two horses. The last horse-drawn tram was retired from London in 1915.
The first horse-drawn rail cars on the continent of Europe were operated from 1828 by the České Budějovice - Linz railway. Europe saw a proliferation of horsecar use for new tram services from the mid-1860s; many towns building new networks.
Problems with horsecars included the fact that any given animal could only work so many hours on a given day, had to be housed, groomed, fed and cared for day in and day out, and produced prodigious amounts of manure, which the streetcar company was charged with storing and then disposing of. Since a typical horse pulled a streetcar for perhaps a dozen miles a day and worked for four or five hours, many systems needed ten or more horses in stable for each horsecar.
Horsecars were largely replaced by electric-powered streetcars following the invention by Frank J. Sprague of an overhead trolley system on streetcars for collecting electricity from overhead wires. His spring-loaded trolley pole used a wheel to travel along the wire. In late 1887 and early 1888, using his trolley system, Sprague installed the first successful large electric street railway system in Richmond, Virginia. Long a transportation obstacle, the hills of Richmond included grades of over 10%, and were an excellent proving ground for acceptance of the new technology in other cities. Within a year, the economy of electric power had replaced more costly horsecars in many cities. By 1889, 110 electric railways incorporating Sprague's equipment had been begun or planned on several continents. By the turn of the century, there were almost no horsecars left in the USA.
Pittsburgh, PA had the last horsecar line in the US in regular service, where the Sarah Street line lasted until 1923. Other large metropolitan lines lasted well into the early twentieth century. Even New York City had regular horsecar service, on the Bleecker Street Line, until its closing in 1917. Toronto's horse drawn streetcar operations ended in 1891. In less developed countries, animal power tram service often continued well into the 20th century; for example, the last mule tram service in Mexico City ended in 1932, and a mule-powered line in Celaya, Mexico survived until 1954 http://www.tramz.com/mx/ce/ce.html. The Douglas Bay Horse Tramway still operates as a tourist attraction in Douglas, Isle of Man, near a heritage steam railway and electric trams.
Replica horsecar lines are in operation at all Disney theme parks except Tokyo and Hong Kong as part of the parks' Main Street, U.S.A. "themed land".

Plantation Animal Tramways

Tropical plantations (for products such as henequen and bananas) made extensive use of animal powered trams for both passengers and freight, often employing the Decauville narrow gauge portable track system, in some cases these systems were very extensive and evolved into interurban tram networks (as in the Yucatan, which sported over 3,000 kilometers of such lines). Surviving examples may be found in both the Yucatan http://www.tramz.com/mx/yu/yu70.html and Brazil http://www.tsfr.org/~efbrazil/efs_decauville.html.

External links

horsecar in Czech: Koněspřežná dráha
horsecar in German: Pferdebahn
horsecar in Esperanto: Ĉevaltira tramo
horsecar in Croatian: Konjski tramvaj
horsecar in Lao: ລົດມ້າ
horsecar in Hungarian: Lóvasút
horsecar in Dutch: Paardentram
horsecar in Japanese: 馬車鉄道
horsecar in Polish: Tramwaj konny
horsecar in Russian: Конка
horsecar in Slovak: Konská železnica
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