Transatlantic tram terminology

Sir - The article ’Trolley launch’ (RG 1.01 p10) regarding the extension of San Diego’s light rail system may cause people to wonder why Americans call trams ’trolleys’.

The word originated in New Jersey when the early Asbury Park system was electrified. The Daft system of overhead was chosen, consisting of parallel wires held in gauge by an open bottom ’C’ clip. A small four-wheeled cart with double flanged wheels rode on the wires and collected the current, attached to the vehicle by a wire. Since Asbury Park was a seaside and fishing town the residents decided the car was trolling for power, and in time the cart became known as the troller and the entire vehicle became a ’trolley’. The Daft system was soon discarded as it made no practical provision for points or crossovers, and the familiar pole replaced it.

But the word stuck, and all America called streetcars trolleys. While ’streetcar’ or ’car’ is also used, the world trolley is widely accepted. Our Canadian cousins use streetcar but if in Toronto you ask where the trolley stop is you get a blank stare. ’Tram’ is a foreign word almost meaningless here.

William R Wright

Cranford, New Jersey, USA