A trackless trolley bus runs in another part of the city.

A trackless trolley bus runs in another part of the city.

by Thomas J. Shoener

It is unfortunate that you are so accurate in describing the fate of the 23 trolleys [“…,” July 16]. If they ever come back, it won’t be in my lifetime.

That said, there is a alternative used on some lines in the city–the trolley bus or trackless trolley.

Anyone who has experienced the herky-jerky motion of the 23 rumbling down Germantown Avenue knows why anyone who could avoid taking it would. Personally, I am amazed that more people don’t fall once boarded. Myself included. It’s a disincentive to using a convenient and effective service.

The posts for the electricity are already there along the route. The wires would have to be changed–both because of their age and because, as I understand it, the trackless trolleys need two wires in each direction. Even if the poles had to be replaced, their positions are already marked out-SEPTA already owns or has easements over the locations.

These trolleys can go around double-parked cars. Because they are electric, they can avoid much of the harrowing behavior of regular buses getting to speed. They are going to be quieter. I can’t imagine they would be slower than the present buses; they would certainly give a smoother ride. For that reason alone, ridership should increase. There would no issue of maintaining trolley tracks (as purely hypothetical as that is now). Finally, in style, trackless trolleys can look very like trolleys-smooth, sleek, perhaps retro.

Other unfortunate questions also arise; the trackless trolleys give only some answers. They include these:

1. What earthly good are the rails. when they will never be used? Quaint, yes, but they are not a positive factor in negotiating the Avenue–if they are never going to be used for their intended purposes. Without utility, they are a hazard.

2. Does the pretty and quaint stone block roadway on Germantown Avenue do more harm than good? Ask any cyclist who has ridden down the hill. Then ask any pedestrian on the narrow sideways of the Avenue whether he or she has almost been bowled over by a cyclist avoiding the perilous roadway by using the sidewalk. Peril for the cyclist or peril for the pedestrian. This is the Hobson’s Choice inherent in things as they are.

Better to do what can be done, than struggling for something that cannot be obtained; or railing against SEPTA. The trolley is the best. The trackless trolley is good. In this circumstance, the “best” is enemy of the good.

Thomas J. Shoener is a resident of Chestnut Hill.

  • Poisson Volant

    Correct, trackless trolleys need two wires. Electric systems have (at least) two conducting sides – classically, “hot” and “ground”, like the wiring in your house. Rail-based electric vehicles use their tracks as the ground side while the overhead is hot. A trackless trolley’s tires are insulators which means a second wire is needed to complete the circuit.

    • Tom Shoener

      Poison, I hope you will to continue to add your considerable insight on these matters. I would appreciate the ability to view your comments on Discus about these issues. Please advise me how I can do this. Thank you.

      • Poisson Volant

        Tom, thank you very much for the compliment! However, I’ve deliberately opted to keep my activity private because it seems that every thread, no matter how serious or technical, draws a barrel-load of trolls anymore. Several of us regularly try to have informed discussions about rail and transit issues so if any of them have open histories it should be possible to find my posts as well.

        (Fwiw, my handle has a double “s” in it – it’s French for “flying fish” and is a partial pun on my name. Unfortunately “poison” means the same thing in both languages 🙂 while “poisson” is verrrrry different. Guess I shoulda thought of that…)

  • Xian

    It’s totally possible to restore light rail service to the avenue in an improved way. Trackless trolleys would be a good intermediate step. As to ripping out cobblestones? I think they add to the character of the neighborhood and make the Northwest an interesting, unique place. It’s hard to see from our bubble sometimes, but the majority of the world is starting to look like the same copy-and-paste strip malls and subdivisions and asphalt. I don’t think we should be in a hurry to erase the things that make us different, historical and urban. Furthermore, the cobblestones are more durable and last longer than asphalt-paved surfaces, if they’re maintained properly.

    Cyclists deserve proper rights of way, but it’s difficult to make that happen on the avenue without removing parking on one side of the street. I could see a paved bike lane happening south of mermaid lane, where the road widens however.