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Trolleybus History

Early beginnings

The very first trolleybus in the world was built by Werner von Siemens. On April 29th, 1882 it made its first run in Berlin, Germany. Some years later, on December 17th, 1900 the first trolleybus in Villeneuve, Switzerland, was started public service in the canton Vaud. On July 16th, 1907 the first trolleybus system of Austria was installed at Gmünd, Niederösterreich. More and more this electric transportation system spread all over the world. In the United Kingdom, France and even in Russia it was called Trolleybus while the Americans call it Electric Bus. In the United States a trolley is the American expression for a tramway car. Originally a trolley was the small unit which ran on the overhead wire supplying the electricity to the electric bus. These trolleys were soon replaced by the very famous two poles which still today provide electric contact to the overhead wire system. In Germany the trolleybus system was successfully developed by Max Schiemann (1866 - 1933) and Carl Stoll (1846 - 1907). At the beginning of the 20th century the electric traction was very attractive in comparison to the lower power of the first petrol and diesel motor buses. Until the 1950?s there was a real boom world wide in operating trolleybus networks, especially in the United States, Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Tramway systems were abandoned and replaced by trolleybuses, to save the cost of renewing tram tracks. In addition, trolleybus extensions were quieter and more comfortable than the tramcars that they replaced; so were more popular with passengers.

The Trend changed

In the middle of the 1950?s there began a dramatic change in the development of trolleybus systems. In Germany about 70 trolleybus networks were operated. Most of which were in service until to the end of the 1960?s. Cheap diesel fuel and cheap diesel buses were promoted strongly by major manufacturers. Today there are only about 100 trolleybuses in total still in service in Austria as well as in Germany. Despite their better acceleration and nevertheless their zero-emissions (both CO and noise) this transportation system was given up without any big protest. In Switzerland nearly all trolleybus systems stayed in service. Today there are trolleybuses operated in 15 cities, taking advantage of cheap domestic hydro-electricity and their higher acceleration on hilly roads. From the beginning of the 1970?s the fuel prices increased dramatically. Urban pollution caused people to start thinking ecologically. In addition technical advances in developing stronger and faster trolleybuses promoted the trend for new equipment and for new network extensions in Europe.

Present Situation

With the enlargement of the EU the number of trolleybuses increased by 4000. Now there are about 7000 trolleybuses in service in the EU. It is important to keep all trolleybus networks in the new EU member states in service. The reunification of Germany was a bad example of how strong the pressure of the diesel bus manufacturers? lobby could be with strong pressure to replace trolleybus systems by diesel bus networks. On the American continent there are about 3000 trolleybuses in service. Due to the increasing urban air pollution in all the cities of Middle and South America an electric driven transportation system is more and more necessary. Trolleybuses are much more flexible in service than tramways and their investment costs are much lower than the costs of any rail system. In Asia there are about 5000 trolleybuses running, while in Australia only 60 trolleybuses are presently in service. The situation is worse in Africa. In 1986 the last trolleybus on the African continent was withdrawn in Johannesburg, South Africa. Worldwide there are 40000 trolleybuses in service, of which 75% are running in Eastern Europe and Russia. Particularly in these countries most of them are overduefor renewal, but due to the lack of financial support they continue to provide an essential public service.


Russia is the country with the highest density of trolleybuses. 14000 vehicles are running on the trolleybus networks of 89 cities. Moscow is the biggest trolleybus city, where about 2000 trolleybuses are daily in service. The oldest trolleybus network, which is still in service, exists in Shanghai, China. It was opened on November 15th, 1914 and even today new extensions are planned. In Switzerland the trolleybus system of Lausanne was opened in 1932. In Austria the oldest trolleybus network is that of Salzburg which was opened in 1940, the same year as trolleybuses were intoduced in Eberswalde, Germany. Worldwide the longest trolleybus route exists on the peninsula of Krim, Russia. It connects the cities of Simferopol and Yalta at the Black Sea; the distance is 86,5 km (54 miles).


Worldwide there were a lot of closures of Trolleybus networks in the 1980?s and 1990?s. Some of the trolleybus systems were replaced by LightRail Systems but others were replaced by diesel bus networks. On the other hand today there is already a boom in establishing new trolleybus networks or in renewing existing older equipment and extending existing or former networks. The requirement for the future of trolleybus systems is based on the classic trolleybus concept as well as on automatic guided Trolleybus systems. Major tasks will be increasing the passenger capacity, improving reliability and reducing operating costs. In addition to these targets the maintenance service has to be improved and / or costs reduced. If these items can be handled, the trolleybus is an ideal electric transportation system. The trolleybus will always be the first choice where a tramway system is not economic or where the geographical situation does not allow the establishment of a tramway system.