Jolly Green Trolleys

Trolleys

image by Terry Eggers / Corbis

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The streetcars of yesteryear, which now merely dress up historic districts and nostalgic tourist traps, may soon be sharing city streets with buses and cars as classic streetcar designs are recalibrated to become the next wave of green public transportation.

IEEE Spectrum (Sept. 2009) reports that “some 50 cities in the United States are planning new streetcar lines.” The upgrade to the new trolleys involves eliminating overhead electricity lines (called catenaries), which are both an eyesore and expensive to install and maintain. The new streetcars will be powered by hydrogen fuel-cell propulsion technology. These changes will require less energy, appeal to public transit riders in well-to-do neighborhoods, and encourage high-density property development.

The first hydrogen-powered trolley prototype has yet to roll out, which makes it hard for cities to see how the technology can be put into play. A Colorado-based company has already made a hydrogen-electric hybrid bus, though, and it hopes to add steel wheels to complete the trolley look—potentially transforming these relics of the past into a fleet for the future.