Our Northern correspondent gets off his trolley.
Not wishing for one moment to hasten the demise of our favoured personal transport, we must take into account the future. With planners believing we’re all to live in mega cities and have no need to own or run a car, we seek out alternatives and as is so often the way, we must look to the past to see the future.
In March 1972, the last of the UK’s once huge trolley bus network was hooked down from the frog* in Bradford, West Yorkshire. Neighbouring Leeds toyed with resurrecting such a wild idea in the early 2000’s but came to nought. A sixty year fling with this curious hybrid (that ironically had started in Bradford), of an omnibus and a railed, electrified tram was deemed non-standard and the spiders web of must-be-followed grid was removed, never to be seen again. Well, at least not on British soil.
For the trolley bus is remarkably more relevant today than ever. With increasing pressure concerning environmental affairs along with our incessant capacity to travel, be that a late night revelry trip home, or to catch that connection to a train to your lover or just the simple act of moving, governments want us out of our cars and onto public transport.
Currently, my home town has undergone a huge change to the (diesel, mainly) bus network equating to bizarre routes, mismanaged timetables, missing buses and frustrated passengers. Just ask my other half… Sheffield has its Supertram, itself a fine way to cross the city for any of the above reasons.
The infrastructure took years to construct and cost over £250 million, (and sold for just £1million…) with delays for everyone en-route. Recent upgrading works caused more heartache and therein lies the problem; any new set up requires huge investment and upheaval for all concerned. Britain chose to tear down its trolley bus grids and deregulate bus companies. Other countries were not so hasty; the trolley bus lives on, thrives even, to this day.
Beginning a mere four years before Benz brought the patentwagen to life, Dr Siemens “Elektromote” was the world’s first trolley bus in Berlin. Considered more an amusement than viable public transport, it did lead to others enhancing the system. Max Shierman is credited with the two spring loaded poles hooking onto the parallel wires above. Britain took up the trolley bus baton with gusto thus becoming a leader in the field. Transferring skills from car making to that of bus chassis wasn’t too difficult. Leyland, The Rootes Group here in the UK whereas Lancia, Mercedes-Benz and Renault took the trolley bus to Central Europe and far beyond.
Yes, you read that correctly; the shield moved into trolley buses with the single deck Esatau being made for a twenty five year period from 1948. A double-decker 140 followed later Serving Roma, Milan and Turin along with Athens (amongst many other more provincial places)in quiet harmony to all those buzzing scooters and Fiat 500’s. For that is probably the main trolley bus attribute; silent running. Bar the chattering passengers and the creak and groan of a moving vehicle, they are whisper quiet. Another, being extremely good at acceleration, even uphill. Yet another the capacity to shift millions of passengers, millions of miles with high vehicle longevity; little maintenance required.
Here’s the but: that canopy of electrical cables. From your Megacity 137th floor apartment window the canopy disappears; from street level looking up, all you see are spiders webs, the occasional arc of blue electricity. Omelettes and breaking eggs; we need to travel, usually for employment so why not make it smooth as possible?
From our rudimentary beginnings, the trolley bus has significantly moved on. Now confined to the museum, the trolley bus of old did set up some very forward thinking from today’s car manufacturers who have diversified into public transport.
Step forward Škoda.a.s (electrical transport division), Iveco, Daimler; as with their car brands we see slightly different methodologies to providing that service. Where once the driver had to be constantly aware of road position in order to stay “on-grid” with hybrid engines fitted you can now leave the canopy without fear of any wrath from the poor soul whose job was to reconnect you. Energy harvested from braking can extend “range” in order to supplant you from your high rise living accommodation to office block. And nary a belch of filthy particulates.
And how the systems have grown. Hugely popular the world over, many countries have invested in the quiet revolution that the trolley bus is. Russia, China and many eastern states run fleets of modern, comfortable trolley buses for huge distances. The Yalta to Simferopol route being some 53 miles in very hilly Crimea. The America’s being not quite as prevalent but far more proactive than here in Britain.
There’s a comforting inner glow that comes with fuss free, emission free travel. Add in those insect-like looks and stick a Winged Arrow on the front along with the destination screen displaying “home” and I’m happy. Of course I would always prefer to drive but when circumstance dictates, waft me about in silence, if you please. Shame I’ve been waiting some time and no sign of the bus just yet… I’ll give it another five minutes.
* Hooked down from the frog was the term for, unsurprisingly un-hooking the electrical connections from the “frog”, the wire switches above.