Light Rail

Dewired: An Operator Chronicles the Death of HSR Trolleys

By Jason Leach
Published August 28, 2007

this blog entry has been updated

An RTH reader forwarded a very insightful report on Hamilton's old electric trolley system to me. Check it out:

In 1980, when I went to work for the HSR, the company's Flyers were the very backbone of its service. Everyday nearly half of the system's passengers rode a trolley to get to work or school or the stores. At quitting time, a trolley silently slipped away from the curb downtown on each of the three electric routes as frequently as once every four minutes. LOADED!

As a driver, I couldn't conceive of handling the crowds any other way ... no diesel in the fleet could begin to compete with the trolley's seamless getaway or match its performance on routes with schedules so tight every second counted. Well over 30 million riders were patronizing the little HSR every year then and were showing no sign of abating. It would have been inconceivable to any driver or passengers alike that anything could change except for the better. But it did.

It sounds like Hamilton hasn't changed much over the past few decades. Sadly, we're all still paying the price for these lousy decisions years later.

To drive the knife in a little further, check out this photo compendium of Hamilton's historic trolley buses.

Update: - The original URL for this article is no longer available, to the link now points to the page on

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.


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By jason (registered) | Posted August 28, 2007 at 08:55:00

It should also be noted that in 2003 HSR ridership was 20 million passengers. Even as the city's population grew between 1980-2003 we lost 10 million riders!

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted August 30, 2007 at 11:12:16

From an engineering theory perspective that considers all of the factors of cost, reliability, cleanliness, etc. electric trolleys are simply going to be the best option on high volume routes.

Hyslop saw firsthand that this was also the case in practice. When something is consistent both in theory and practice it can be considered "fact".

A lot of engineers must also have known that but failed in their duty to the public by shutting up when the bureaucrats spoke. Sad. They say every man has his price, and unfortunately that price is very low for the average engineer.

I don't hold the same disdain for the bureaucrats and councillors, for they are morons who could not independently think their way out of a wet paper bag.

"all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing" - Burke

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By everywhere365 (anonymous) | Posted September 03, 2007 at 19:04:20

All the yrs i've lived here in Hamilton, I'm surprised it hasn't turned into a ghost town by now.
This is supposed to be a city to live and be happy and much more.
It's overcrowded by poor and raided by automobiles.
There's plenty of room for bike lanes on both, Main St & King all the way.
I still like to know really wht the trolly buses vanished.
Also non poluting(probably the best ever)was it electrical cost or something else?
I remember it was fast and quiet. Now & again the 2 bars above derailed but perhaps by today a telescopic technology would solve this prob.
But the bus driver got out and got exercise.
Can't complain anyway since TO's Streetcars still exists.
Fed up to my ears and way above about budget cuts or deficit.
and what's really ironic? We pay taxes and they(city)wants more from us.
Compare their pay salary to yours.
I mean most of us that vote are low income workers. But can't always judge until u know the job demand.


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