January 13th, 2011

Fishy Circumstances

Trams, Trains, Smith

I went to a talk on the trams of Walthamstow this evening (1905-1939). The Tram Act passed in the 1870s apparently authorized districts to build tramways - but only up to their borders. As a result, all tramways ended just before the next set began. No connecting tracks. Less than a decade after installing on the cheap, Walthamstow - like many places - considered replacing their trams with newfangled autobuses. Trams were given a further lease of life by the first World War however: they were powered by electricity from coal mined within the country, rather than imported petrol.

Trams are only ever really a feasible method of transport in cities and major self-contained tourist attractions which have the numbers to justify the dedicated road space. It was odd being in an audience mostly consisting of people who thought of trams as a long-time-ago thing, long since replaced by more modern transportation. But that's not how it works. Greater London has a sprawl of narrow streets. Boulevarded cities of the continent have done just fine with trams. As does Toronto with its streetcars. Many of them were looking back to trams; I was remembering commuting to the U of T.

Speaking of justifying transit, I, along with fourteen-or-so other Smith grads, met up with the college president last weekend, while she was in town. She talked to us about all sorts of changed and developments at the college. What most excited me wasn't any of those things: it was learning that, thanks to federal stimulus money, the railroad from New Haven to Vermont is being rebuild along its former path, and Northampton (MA) will have a railway station once again!