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The Tatra T3 vehicle is the most widely produced tram in history.

A tram (in North America streetcar or trolley) is a rail vehicle which runs on tramway tracks along public urban streets; some include segments of segregated right-of-way. The lines or networks operated by tramcars are called tramways. Historically the term electric street railways was also used in the United States. In the United States, the term tram has sometimes been used for rubber-tired trackless trains, which are unrelated to other kinds of trams.

Tram vehicles are usually lighter and shorter than main line and rapid transit trains. Today, most trams use electrical power, usually fed by a pantograph sliding on an overhead line; older systems may use a trolley pole or a bow collector. In some cases by a contact shoe on a third rail is used. If necessary, they may have dual power systems—electricity in city streets, and diesel in more rural environments. Occasionally, trams also carry freight.

Trams are now commonly included in the wider term "light rail", which also includes grade-separated systems. Some trams, known as tram-trains, may have segments that run on mainline railway tracks, similar to interurban systems. The differences between these modes of rail transport are often indistinct, and a given system may combine multiple features.

One of the advantages over earlier forms of transit was the low rolling resistance of metal wheels on steel rails, allowing the trams to haul a greater load for a given effort. Problems 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 disposing of. Electric trams largely replaced animal power in the late 19th and early 20th century. Improvements in other forms of road transport such as buses led to decline of trams in the mid 20th century. Trams have seen resurgence in recent years.

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Pacific Electric Railway streetcars stacked at a junkyard on Terminal Island, Los Angeles County, California, March 1956.

The General Motors streetcar conspiracy (also known as the Great American streetcar scandal) refers to allegations and convictions in relation to a program by General Motors (GM) and other companies who purchased and then dismantled streetcar and electric train systems in many cities in the United States.

Between 1936 and 1950, National City Lines and Pacific City Lines—with investment from GM, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil of California, Phillips Petroleum, Mack Trucks, and the Federal Engineering Corporation—purchased over 100 electric surface-traction systems in 45 cities including Baltimore, Newark, Los Angeles, New York City, Oakland and San Diego and converted them into bus operation. Several of the companies involved were convicted in 1949 of conspiracy to monopolize interstate commerce but were acquitted of conspiring to monopolize the ownership of these companies.

Some suggest that this program played a key role in the decline of public transit in cities across the United States. Others say that independent economic factors brought about changes in the transit system, including the Great Depression, the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935, labor unrest, market forces, rapidly increasing traffic congestion, urban sprawl, taxation policies that favored private vehicle ownership, and general enthusiasm for the automobile.

Selected biography

Fyodor Pirotsky before 1898
Fyodor Apollonovich Pirotsky (Russian: Фёдор Аполлонович Пироцкий; 1845-1898) was a Ukrainian-born Russian engineer and inventor of the world's first railway electrification system and electric tram. While the commercialization of his inventions in Russia was relatively slow, Pirotsky is known to met with Carl Heinrich von Siemens and to influence the Siemens's eventual introduction of the first regular electric tram line (for the Berlin Straßenbahn).

In 1880 he modified a city two-decker horse tramway to be powered by electricity instead of horses, and on 3 September [O.S. August 22] 1880 the unusual form of public transport started to serve residents of Saint Petersburg amid the vocal protests of the owners of the horse-cars. The experiments continued until the end of September 1880. Some historians claim that this was the first electric tram in the world. Pirotsky did not have the money to continue his experiments, but his works stirred interest in electric trams around the world. Among people who met Pirotsky was Carl Heinrich von Siemens who was very interested and asked many questions. In 1881 the brothers Siemens started producing their own design of electric trams commercially. The first permanent electric tram line using Siemens tram cars was opened in Berlin in 1881 and the first permanent tram line in the Russian Empire was opened in Kiev in 1892.

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