Why should we prefer electricity as the propelling agent of our street cars over all other known methods? I answer, without hesitation, because it is the best, and being the best is the cheapest. Briefly I will present the grounds upon which I take my stand.

To-day the only methods for tramway service are three in number: Horses, with a history of fifty years and over; cables, with a history of fifteen years; and electricity, with a history of two years. I give the latter two years on the basis of the oldest electric street railroad in existence to-day, and that is the Baltimore railroad, equipped with the Daft system.

The main points for consideration common to each are six in number:

  • 1st. Obtaining of franchise.
  • 2d. Construction of buildings, viz., engine house or stable.
  • 3d. Equipment - rolling stock, horses, engines and dynamos.
  • 4th. Construction of tramway.
  • 5th. Cost of operation.
  • 6th. Individual characteristics and advantages.

Each of these requires a paper by itself, but in as concise a way as possible, presenting only the salient reasons and figures, I shall endeavor to embody it in one.

1st. Obtaining of franchise.

I assume the municipal officers and the promoters honest men.

It is the universal settled conviction that a street car propelled with certainty and promptness by mechanical means is infinitely to be preferred to horses. Hence, if this guarantee can be given, there need be no fear from the other side of the house. Years of experience prove that this guarantee can be given.

The mechanical methods are electricity and the cable. To suit local conditions the former has three general applications - overhead, underground, and accumulator systems; while the latter has but one, the underground. Hence, the former, electricity, has three chances to the latter's one to meet the whims, opinions, or decisions of municipal authorities. Other advantages accruing from mechanical methods are cleaner streets, absence of noise, quick time, no blockades, no stables accumulating filth and breeding pestilence, and lastly the great moral sympathetic feeling for man's most faithful and valuable servant, the horse. These all are directly in favor of obtaining the right franchise.

The three general ways of obtaining the same are a definite payment of cash to the authorities, a guarantee of an annual payment of a certain per cent. of the earnings, and lastly a combination of the two. For the city or town the latter way is the safest, and the best, all things considered. As electricity is mechanical, and as it can be shown that it is the cheapest to construct and most economical, and has three chances to operate, it stands by far the most likely to obtain the franchise.

2d. Construction of buildings.

The governing factors under this head are the local land valuation and tax. The system necessitating a spread eagle policy on the land question will cost. What could be a more perfect illustration than the horse railroad system? The motive power of the New York Central Railroad between New York and Albany could be comfortably stowed in the barns of some of the New York City street railways. What a contrast! The real estate, buildings, and fixtures of the Third Ave. line are valued at $1,524,000, and what buildings! Cattle sheds in the metropolis of America. Surely they did not cost a tithe of this great sum. What did? The land, a whole block and more. Henry George advocates might find food for thought here. All this is true of the other lines in every city in the Union. Enormous expenditures for land. A good one half of their capital sunk in purchasing the necessary room. Go where you will, a good fifty per cent. of the capital is used for land for their stables. This obviously does not include equipment.

How is it with mechanical systems? The land is one of the minor considerations, the last thing considered. Let us look at some figures. From careful examination of many engine plants, considering the ratio between a certain number of horses with their necessary adjuncts and a steam plant of numerically equal power, I find it stands as 1 to 30. That is, a steam plant complete of 30 horse power capacity would need only one thirtieth the floor space of thirty horses. With larger powers this ratio is still greater, and from one estimate I found that it stood as 1 to 108, i.e., for horses I should have to have 108 times more floor space than for an equal number of mechanical horse power. It must be remembered also that the mechanical horse power is 50 per cent. greater than the best animal horsepower.

From one maker, taking the engine alone, I found that a rated 100 horse power engine, guaranteed in every particular, would have ample room in the stall for one horse in the average stable. Another instance showed that I could get a steam plant complete, engine, boiler, etc., of 50 horse power, in a space 5 by 6 feet, which is smaller than the average stall. Here is shown the enormous saving in land purchase.

For car room a building several stories high would answer perfectly, since quick-hoisting elevators could be put in and the tracks on each floor have wire connections with the dynamos, so that the cars could be run across the floor to where you please, facilitating storage and dispensing with handling. This would not be possible with the cable.

Comparing electricity and cable on this point, all things favor the former clearly and beyond all question. Furthermore, if locality so favored, the subject of land purchase for electricity could be tabooed entirely, since distance can be so readily overcome. Way out in the suburbs or back in the country by the side of some waterfall, your station might be, while the current is sent to the great city over heavy conductors. Here land rent or tax would be at the minimum. With horses or cable plainly proximity must be had. It is estimated that the land occupied by the Madison Avenue line of New York City is worth the cost of 40 miles of ordinary double track.