A trolleybus (also known as trolley bus, trolley coach, trackless trolley, trackless tram [in early years][1] or trolley[2][3]) is an electric bus that draws power from overhead wires (generally suspended from roadside posts) using spring-loaded trolley poles. Two wires and poles are required to complete the electrical circuit. This differs from a tram or streetcar, which normally uses the track as the return path, needing only one wire and one pole (or pantograph). They are also distinct from other kinds of electric buses, which usually rely on batteries. Power is most commonly supplied as 600-volt direct current, but there are exceptions.

Currently, around 300 trolleybus systems are in operation, in cities and towns in 43 countries.[4] Altogether, more than 800 trolleybus systems have existed, but not more than about 400 concurrently.[5]

Trolleybus Low Floor 4 1500 - Sao Paulo, Brazil
Busscar trolleybus in São Paulo, Brazil
Trådbuss Landskrona
Solaris trolleybus in Landskrona, Sweden
Video of a trolleybus in Ghent, Belgium


First Trolleybuss of Siemens in Berlin 1882 (postcard)
The "Elektromote", the world's first trolleybus,[6] in Berlin, Germany, 1882

The trolleybus dates back to 29 April 1882, when Dr. Ernst Werner Siemens demonstrated his "Elektromote" in a Berlin suburb. This experiment continued until 13 June 1882, after which there were few developments in Europe, although separate experiments were conducted in the U.S.[7] In 1899, another vehicle which could run either on or off rails was demonstrated in Berlin.[8] The next development was when Lombard Gerin operated an experimental line at the Paris Exhibition of 1900 after four years of trials, with a circular route around Lake Daumesnil that carried passengers. Routes followed in 6 places including Eberswalde and Fontainebleau.[9] Max Schiemann on 10 July 1901 opened the world's fourth passenger-carrying trolleybus system, which operated at Bielatal (Biela Valley, near Dresden), in Germany. Schiemann built and operated the Bielatal system, and is credited with developing the under-running trolley current collection system, with two horizontally parallel overhead wires and rigid trolleypoles spring-loaded to hold them up to the wires. Although this system operated only until 1904, Schiemann had developed what is now the standard trolleybus current collection system. In the early days there were many other methods of current collection.[7] The Cédès-Stoll (Mercédès-Électrique-Stoll) system was first operated near Dresden between 1902 and 1904, and 18 systems followed. The Lloyd-Köhler or Bremen system was tried out in Bremen with 5 further installations, and the Cantono Frigerio system was used in Italy.

Throughout the period, trackless freight systems and electric canal boats were also built.

Reading Trolleybus at Three Tuns
A double-deck trolleybus in Reading, England, 1966

Leeds and Bradford became the first cities to put trolleybuses into service in Great Britain on 20 June 1911.[8] Apparently, though it was opened on 20 June, the public was not admitted to the Bradford route until the 24th. Bradford was also the last to operate trolleybuses in the UK, the system closing on 26 March 1972. The last rear-entrance trolleybus in Britain was also in Bradford and is now owned by the Bradford Trolleybus Association. Birmingham was the first to replace a tram route with trolleybuses, while Wolverhampton, under the direction of Charles Owen Silvers, became world-famous for its trolleybus designs.[10] There were 50 trolleybus systems in the UK, London's being the largest. By the time trolleybuses arrived in Britain in 1911, the Schiemann system was well established and was the most common, although the Cédès-Stoll (Mercédès-Électrique-Stoll) system was tried in West Ham (in 1912) and in Keighley (in 1913).[11][12]

Smaller trackless trolley systems were built in the US early as well. The first non-experimental system was a seasonal municipal line installed near Nantasket Beach in 1904; the first year-round commercial line was built to open a hilly property to development just outside Los Angeles in 1910. The trackless trolley was often seen as an interim step, leading to streetcars. In the U.S.A., some systems subscribed to the all-four concept of using buses, trolleybuses, streetcars (trams, trolleys) and rapid transit subway and/or elevated lines (metros), as appropriate, for routes ranging from the lightly used to the heaviest trunk line. Buses and trolleybuses in particular were seen as entry systems that could later be upgraded to rail as appropriate. In a similar fashion, many cities in Britain originally viewed trolleybus routes as extensions to tram (streetcar) routes where the cost of constructing or restoring track could not be justified at the time, though this attitude changed markedly (to viewing them as outright replacements for tram routes) in the years after 1918.[13] Trackless trolleys were the dominant form of new post-war electric traction, with extensive systems in among others, Los Angeles, Chicago, Rhode Island, and Atlanta; Boston|, San Francisco, and Philadelphia still maintain an "all-four" fleet. Some trolleybus lines in the United States (and in Britain, as noted above) came into existence when a trolley or tram route did not have sufficient ridership to warrant track maintenance or reconstruction. In a similar manner, a proposed tram scheme in Leeds, United Kingdom, was changed to a trolleybus scheme to cut costs.[14]

A trolleybus in Qingdao, China

Trolleybuses are uncommon today in North America, but they remain common in many European countries as well as Russia and China, generally occupying a position in usage between street railways (trams) and diesel buses. Worldwide, around 300 cities or metropolitan areas are served by trolleybuses today.[4] (Further detail under Use and preservation, below.)

Trolleybuses are used extensively in large European cities, such as Athens, Belgrade, Bratislava, Bucharest, Budapest, Chisinau, Kiev, Lyon, Milan, Minsk, Moscow, Riga, Saint Petersburg, Sofia, Tallinn, Varna, Vilnius and Zurich, as well as smaller ones such as Arnhem, Bergen, Coimbra, Gdynia, Kaunas, Lausanne, Limoges, Luzern, Modena, Piatra Neamț, Plzeň, Prešov, Salzburg, Solingen, Szeged, Târgu Jiu and Yalta. See also Trolleybus usage by country.

Transit authorities in some cities have reduced or discontinued their use of trolleybuses in recent years, while others, wanting to add or expand use of zero-emission vehicles in an urban environment, have opened new systems or are planning new systems. For example, new systems opened in Lecce, Italy, in 2012 and in Malatya, Turkey, in 2015.[15]

Vehicle design

Trolleybus diagram-key
Diagram of a 1947-built Pullman Standard model 800 trolleybus, a type still running in Valparaíso (Chile).


San Francisco Nob Hill 2
A San Francisco Muni trolleybus (ETI 14TrSF) climbing Nob Hill
Irisbus Cristalis ETB 12 n°115 TCL Place Carnot
Irisbus Cristalis trolleybus in Limoges, France

Comparison to trams

  • Cheaper infrastructure - The initial start up cost of trams is much higher, due to rail, signals, and other infrastructure. Trolleybuses can pull over to the curb like other buses, eliminating the need of special boarding stations or boarding islands in the middle of the street, thus stations can be moved as needed.
  • Better hill climbing - Trolleybuses' rubber tires have better adhesion than trams' steel wheels on steel rails, giving them better hill-climbing capability and braking.
  • Easier traffic avoidance - Unlike trams (where side tracks are often unavailable), an out-of-service vehicle can be moved to the side of the road and its trolley poles lowered. The ability to drive a substantial distance from the power wires allows trackless vehicles to avoid obstacles, although it also means a possibility that the vehicle may steer or skid far enough that the trolley pole can no longer reach the wire, stranding the vehicle. Trackless trolleys also are able to avoid collisions by maneuver, while trams can only change speed.
  • Quietness - Trolleybuses are generally quieter than trams.
  • Easier training - The control of trolleybuses is relatively similar to motorbuses; the potential operator pool for all buses is much larger than for trams.

Comparison to motorbuses

  • Better hill climbing - Trolleybuses are better than motorbuses on hilly routes, as electric motors provide much higher static torque at start-up, an advantage for climbing steep hills. Unlike internal combustion engines, electric motors draw power from a central plant and can be overloaded for short periods without damage. San Francisco and Seattle, both hilly American cities, use trolleybuses partly for this reason. Given their acceleration and braking performance, trolleybuses can outperform diesel buses on flat stretches as well, which makes them better for routes that have frequent stops.
  • Environmentally friendly - Trolleybuses are usually more environmentally friendly in the city than fossil fuel or hydrocarbon-based vehicles (petrol/gasoline, diesel, alcohol, etc.). Power from a centralized plant, even taking into account transmission losses, is often produced more efficiently, is not bound to a specific fuel source, and is more amenable to pollution control as a point source, unlike individual vehicles with exhaust gases and particulates at street level. Trolleybuses are especially favoured where electricity is abundant, cheap, and renewable, such as hydroelectric. Systems in Seattle and in Vancouver, BC, draw hydroelectric power from the Columbia River and other Pacific river systems. San Francisco operates its system using hydro power from the city-owned Hetch Hetchy generating plant.
Trolleybuses can generate electricity from kinetic energy while braking, a process known as regenerative braking. For regenerative braking to function, there must be another bus on the same circuit needing power, an electric storage system on the vehicle or the wire system, or a method to send the excess power back to the commercial electric power system. Otherwise the braking energy must be dissipated in resistance grids on the bus; this is called "dynamic braking". For routes that have more frequent stops, the use of trolley buses eliminates pollution during idling, thus improving air quality.
  • Minimal noise pollution - Unlike trams or gasoline and diesel buses, trolleybuses are almost silent, lacking the noise of an engine or wheels on rails. Most noise comes from auxiliary systems such as power steering pumps and air conditioning. Early trolleybuses without these systems were even quieter and, in the UK at least, were often referred to as the "Silent Service". This however can also be seen as a disadvantage, with some pedestrians falling victim to what was known as "Silent Death" (in Britain) or "Whispering Death" (in Australia).
  • Usable in enclosed space - The lack of exhaust allow trolleybuses to operate underground. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, trackless trolleys survived because Harvard Station, where several bus lines terminate, is in a tunnel once used by streetcars. Although diesel buses do use the tunnel, there are limitations due to exhaust fumes. Also, the trackless trolleys continue to have popular support. The only trolleybus systems in Japan, the Tateyama Tunnel Trolleybus and Kanden Tunnel Trolleybus lines, both run in tunnels serving the Kurobe Dam and Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, and were converted from normal diesel buses specifically for their lack of exhaust.
  • Longevity and maintenance - Electric motors typically last longer than internal combustion motors, and cause less secondary damage from vibration, so electric buses tend to be very long-lived compared to motorbuses. As the basic construction of buses has not changed much in the last 50 plus years, they can be upgraded such as when air conditioning was retrofitted to many trolleybuses. Such upgrades are often disproportionately expensive. Wheelchair lifts are relatively simple to add; kneeling front suspension is a common feature of air suspension on the front axle in lieu of springs. In comparison to battery-powered buses, the lack of a specially designed battery or fuel cell (typically with expensive patents) decreases the price and weight, and in locations with a sufficient power delivery network, the trolleybus is cheaper and easier to maintain in comparison to charging stations.
Indicator for a wire switch[16]
Pole bases with springs and pneumatic pole lowering cylinders
Insulated poles, contact shoes, and pull–ropes


Comparison to trams

Note: As there are numerous variations of tram and light-rail technology, the disadvantages listed may be applicable only with a specific technology or design.

  • More control required - Trolleybuses must be driven like motorbuses, requiring directional control by the driver.
  • Higher rolling resistance - Rubber-tired vehicles generally have more rolling resistance than steel wheels, which decreases energy efficiency.
  • Less efficient use of right-of-way - Lanes must be wider for unguided buses than for streetcars, since unguided buses can drift side-to-side. The use of guidance rail allows trams running in parallel lanes to pass closer together than drivers could safely steer.
  • Difficulties with platform loading - Implementation of level platform loading with minimal gap, either at design stage or afterwards, is easier and cheaper to implement with rail vehicles.

Comparison to motorbuses

  • Difficult to re-route - When compared to motorbuses, trolleybuses have greater difficulties with temporary or permanent re-routings, wiring for which is not usually readily available outside of downtown areas where the buses may be re-routed via adjacent business area streets where other trolleybus routes operate. This problem was highlighted in Vancouver in July 2008,[17] when an explosion closed several roads in the city's downtown core. Because of the closure, trolleys were forced to detour several kilometers off their route in order to stay on the wires, leaving major portions of their routes not in service and off-schedule.
  • Aesthetics - The jumble of overhead wires may be seen as unsightly.[18] Intersections often have a "webbed ceiling" appearance, due to multiple crossing and converging sets of trolley wires.
  • DewirementsTrolley poles sometimes come off of the wire. Dewirements are relatively rare in modern systems with well-maintained overhead wires, hangers, fittings and contact shoes. Trolleybuses are equipped with special insulated pole ropes which drivers use to reconnect the trolley poles with the overhead wires. When approaching switches, trolleybuses usually must decelerate in order to avoid dewiring, and this deceleration can potentially add slightly to traffic congestion.
  • Unable to overtake other trolleybuses - Trolleybuses cannot overtake one another in regular service unless two separate sets of wires with a switch are provided or the vehicles are equipped with off-wire capability, with the latter an increasingly common feature of new trolleybuses.
  • Higher capital cost of equipment - Trolleybuses are often long-lived equipment, with limited market demand. This generally leads to higher prices relative to internal combustion buses. The long equipment life may also complicate upgrades.
  • More training required - Drivers must learn how to prevent dewiring, slowing down at turns and through switches in the overhead wire system, for example.[19]
  • Overhead Wires Create Obstruction - Trolleybus systems employ overhead wires above the roads used by the trolleybuses. The wires can restrict tall motor vehicles such as delivery trucks ("lorries") and double decker buses from using or crossing roads fitted with overhead wires, as such vehicles would hit the wires or pass dangerously close to them, risking damage and dangerous electrical faults. The wires also may impede positioning of overhead signage and create a hazard to activities such as road repairs using tall excavators or piling rigs, use of scaffolding, etc.

Off-wire power developments

Trolleybus Driver Adjusting Trolley Pole (cropped)
On this articulated Beijing trolleybus, the operator uses ropes to guide the trolley poles to contact the overhead wires.

With the re-introduction of hybrid designs, trolleybuses are no longer tied to overhead wires. The Public Service Company of New Jersey, with Yellow Coach, developed "All Service Vehicles;" trackless trolleys capable of operating as gas-electric buses when off wire, and used them successfully between 1935 and 1948. Since the 1980s, systems such as Muni in San Francisco, TransLink in Vancouver, and Beijing, among others, have bought trolleybuses equipped with batteries to allow them to operate fairly long distances away from the wires. Supercapacitors can be also used to move buses short distances.

Trolleybuses can optionally be equipped either with limited off-wire capability—a small diesel engine or battery pack—for auxiliary or emergency use only, or full dual-mode capability. A simple auxiliary power unit can allow a trolleybus to get around a route blockage or can reduce the amount (or complexity) of overhead wiring needed at operating garages (depots). This capability has become increasingly common in newer trolleybuses, particularly in North America and Europe, where the vast majority of new trolleybuses delivered since the 1990s are fitted with at least limited off-wire capability. These have gradually replaced older trolleybuses which lacked such capability. In Philadelphia, new trackless trolleys equipped with small hybrid diesel-electric power units for operating short distances off-wire were placed in service by SEPTA in 2008. This is instead of the trolleys using a conventional diesel drive train or battery-only system for their off-wire movement.[20]

Breda dual-mode bus at Westlake station in Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, 9-17-1990
A dual-mode bus operating as a trolleybus in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, in 1990

King County Metro in Seattle, Washington and the MBTA in Boston use or have used dual-mode buses that run on electric power from overhead wires on a fixed right-of-way and on diesel power on city streets. Metro used special-order articulated Breda buses with the center axle driven electrically and the rear (third) axle driven by a conventional power pack, with electricity used for clean operation in the downtown transit tunnel. They were introduced in 1990 and retired in 2005, replaced by cleaner hybrid buses, although 59 of 236 had their diesel propulsion equipment removed and continue (as of 2010) in trolley bus service on non-tunnel routes. Since 2004, the MBTA uses dual-mode buses on its Silver Line (Waterfront) route.

Other considerations

With increasing diesel fuel costs and problems caused by particulate matter and NOx emissions in cities, trolleybuses can be an attractive alternative, either as the primary transit mode or as a supplement to rapid transit and commuter rail networks.

Trolleybuses are quieter than internal combustion engine vehicles. Mainly a benefit, it also provides much less warning of a trolleybus's approach. A speaker attached to the front of the vehicle can raise the noise to a desired "safe" level. This noise can be directed to pedestrians in front of the vehicle, as opposed to motor noise which typically comes from the rear of a bus and is more noticeable to bystanders than to pedestrians.

Trolleybuses can share overhead wires and other electrical infrastructure (such as substations) with tramways. This can result in cost savings when trolleybuses are added to a transport system that already has trams, though this refers only to potential savings over the cost of installing and operating trolleybuses alone.

Wire switches

Trolleybus wire switch

Trolleybus wire switches (called frogs in the UK) are used where a trolleybus line branches into two or where two lines join. A switch may be either in a "straight through" or "turnout" position; it normally remains in the "straight through" position unless it has been triggered, and reverts to it after a few seconds or after the pole shoe passes through and strikes a release lever. (In Boston, the resting or "default" position is the "leftmost" position.) Triggering is typically accomplished by a pair of contacts, one on each wire close to and before the switch assembly, which power a pair of electromagnets, one in each frog with diverging wires. ("Frog" generally refers to one fitting that guides one trolley wheel/shoe onto a desired wire or across one wire. Occasionally, "frog" has been used to refer to the entire switch assembly.)

Multiple branches may be handled by installing more than one switch assembly. For example, to provide straight-through, left-turn or right-turn branches at an intersection, one switch is installed some distance from the intersection to choose the wires over the left-turn lane, and another switch is mounted closer to or in the intersection to choose between straight through and a right turn.[21] (This would be the arrangement in countries such as the US, where traffic directionality is right-handed; in left-handed traffic countries such as the United Kingdom and New Zealand, the first switch (before the intersection) would be used to access the right-turn lanes, and the second switch (usually in the intersection) would be for the left-turn.)

Three common types of switches[21] exist: power-on/power-off (the picture of a switch above is of this type), Selectric, and Fahslabend.

A power-on/power-off switch is triggered if the trolleybus is drawing considerable power from the overhead wires, usually by accelerating, at the moment the poles pass over the contacts. (The contacts are lined up on the wires in this case.) If the trolleybus "coasts" through the switch, the switch will not activate. Some trolleybuses, such as those in Philadelphia and Vancouver, have a manual "power-coast" toggle switch that turns the power on or off. This allows a switch to be triggered in situations that would otherwise be impossible, such as activating a switch while braking or accelerating through a switch without activating it. One variation of the toggle switch will simulate accelerating by causing a larger power draw (through a resistance grid), but will not simulate coasting and prevent activation of the switch by cutting the power.

A Selectric[22] switch has a similar design, but the contacts on the wires are skewed, often at a 45-degree angle, rather than being lined up. This skew means that a trolleybus going straight through will not trigger the switch, but a trolleybus making a turn will have its poles match the contacts in a matching skew (with one pole shoe ahead of the other), which will trigger the switch regardless of power draw (accelerating versus coasting).

For a Fahslabend switch, the trolleybus' turn indicator control (or a separate driver-controlled switch) causes a coded radio signal to be sent from a transmitter, often attached to a trolley pole. The receiver is attached to the switch and causes it to trigger if the correct code is received. This has the advantage that the driver does not need to be accelerating the bus (as with a power-on/power-off switch) or trying to make a sharp turn (as with a Selectric switch).

Trailing switches (where two sets of wires merge) do not require action by the operator. The frog runners are pushed into the desired position by the trolley shoe, or the frog is shaped so the shoe is guided onto the exit wire without any moving parts.


ZiU 9 Athens
A ZiU-9 trolleybus in service in Piraeus, Greece, on the large Athens-area trolleybus system. The Russian-built ZiU-9 (also known as the ZiU-682), introduced in 1972, is the most numerous trolleybus model in history, with more than 45,000 built.[5]:114 In the 2000s it was effectively rendered obsolete by low-floor designs.

Well over 200 different trolleybus makers have existed – mostly commercial manufacturers, but in some cases (particularly in communist countries), built by the publicly owned operating companies or authorities.[5]:91–125 Of the defunct or former trolleybus manufacturers, the largest producers – ones whose production totalled more than 1,000 units each – included the U.S. companies Brill (approx. 3,250 total), Pullman-Standard (2,007), and Marmon-Herrington (1,624); the English companies AEC (approx. 1,750), British United Traction (BUT) (1,573), Leyland (1,420) and Sunbeam (1,379); France's Vétra (more than 1,750); and the Italian builders Alfa Romeo (2,044) and Fiat (approx. 1,700).[5] Also, Canadian Car and Foundry built 1,114 trolleybuses based on designs by Brill.[5]

As of the 2010s, at least 30 trolleybus manufacturers exist. They include companies that have been building trolleybuses for several decades, such as Škoda since 1936, Trolza (formerly Uritsky, or ZiU) since 1951 and New Flyer, among others, along with several younger companies. Current trolleybus manufacturers in western and central Europe include Solaris, Van Hool and Hess, among others. In Russia ZiU/Trolza has historically been the world's largest trolleybus manufacturer, producing over 65,000 since 1951, mostly for Russia/FSU countries. Škoda is Western and Central Europe's largest and the second largest in the world, having produced over 14,000 trolleybuses since 1936, mostly for export, and it also supplies trolleybus electrical equipment for other bus builders such as Solaris, SOR and Breda. In Mexico, trolleybus production ended when MASA, which had built more than 860 trolleybuses since 1979, was acquired in 1998 by Volvo. However, Dina, which is now that country's largest bus and truck manufacturer, began building trolleybuses in 2013.[23]:134

Transition to low-floor designs

A significant change to trolleybus designs starting in the early 1990s was the introduction of low-floor models, which began only a few years after the first such models were introduced for motorbuses. These have gradually replaced high-floor designs, and by 2012, every existing trolleybus system in Western Europe had purchased low-floor trolleybuses, with the La Spezia (Italy) system being the last one to do so,[24] and several systems in other parts of the world have purchased low-floor vehicles.

In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 required that all new transit vehicles placed into service after 1 July 1993 be accessible to persons in wheelchairs.[25] Some transit agencies had already begun to accommodate such passengers by purchasing buses with wheelchair lifts, and early examples of fleets of lift-equipped trolleybuses included 109 AM General trolleybuses built for the Seattle trolleybus system in 1979 and the retrofitting of lifts in 1983 to 64 Flyer E800s in the Dayton system's fleet.[26]:61

NAW 705
One of the NAW/Hess articulated trolleybuses delivered to Geneva in 1992, which were among the first production-series low-floor trolleybuses

Trolleybuses in other countries continued to lack disabled access until the 1990s, when the first two low-floor trolleybus models were introduced, both built in 1991, a "Swisstrolley" demonstrator built by Switzerland's NAW/Hess and an N6020 demonstrator built by Neoplan.[27][28] The first production-series low-floor trolleybuses were built in 1992: 13 by NAW for the Geneva system and 10 Gräf & Stift for the Innsbruck system. By 1995, such vehicles were also being made by several other European manufacturers, including Skoda, Breda, Ikarus and Van Hool.[29] The first Solaris "Trollino" made its debut in early 2001.[30]:30 In the former Soviet Union countries, Belarus' Belkommunmash built its first low-floor trolleybus (model AKSM-333) in 1999,[31] and other manufacturers in the former Soviet countries joined the trend in the early 2000s.

However, because the lifespan of a trolleybus is typically longer than that of a motorbus, the budget allocation and purchase typically factored in the longevity; the introduction of low-floor vehicles applied pressures on operators to retire high-floor trolleybuses that were only a few years old and replace them with low-floor trolleybuses.[32] Responses varied, with some systems keeping their high-floor fleets, and others retiring them early but, in many instances, selling them secondhand for continued use in countries where there was a demand for low-cost secondhand trolleybuses, in particular in Romania and Bulgaria. The Lausanne system dealt with this dilemma in the 1990s by purchasing new low-floor passenger trailers to be towed by its high-floor trolleybuses,[32] a choice later also made by Lucerne.

Vancouver trolley bus - New Flyer E60LFR
The Vancouver trolleybus system completed the transition to an exclusively low-floor fleet in 2009.

Outside Europe, 14 vehicles built by, and for, the Shanghai trolleybus system in mid-1999 were the first reported low-floor trolleybuses in Southeast Asia.[33] Wellington, New Zealand, took delivery of its first low-floor trolleybus in March 2003,[34] and by the end of 2009 had renewed its entire fleet with such vehicles.[35] Unlike Europe, where low floor means "100%" low floor from front to back, most "low floor" buses on other continents are actually only low-entry or part-low floor.

In the Americas, the first low-floor trolleybus was a Busscar vehicle supplied to the São Paulo EMTU system in 2001.[36] In North America, wheelchair lifts were again chosen[32] for disabled access in new trolleybuses delivered to San Francisco in 1992–94, to Dayton in 1996–1999, and to Seattle in 2001–2002, but the first low-floor trolleybus was built in 2003, with the first of 28 Neoplan vehicles for the Boston system.[36] Subsequently, the Vancouver system and the Philadelphia system have converted entirely to low-floor vehicles, and in 2013 the Seattle and Dayton systems both placed orders for their first low-floor trolleybuses. Outside São Paulo, almost all trolleybuses currently in service in Latin America are high-floor models built before 2000. However, in 2013, the first domestically manufactured low-floor trolleybuses were introduced in both Argentina and Mexico.[23]:134

With regard to non-passenger aspects of vehicle design, the transition from high-floor to low-floor has meant that some equipment previously placed under the floor has been moved to the roof.[25] Some transit operators have needed to modify their maintenance facilities to accommodate this change, a one-time expense.

Double-decker trolleybuses

Tetley Bitter Advert on Bradford Trolleybus Cropped
A trolleybus in Bradford in 1970. The Bradford Trolleybus system was the last one to operate in the United Kingdom; closing in 1972.

Since the end of 1997, no double-decker trolleybuses have been in service anywhere in the world, but in the past several manufacturers made such vehicles. Most builders of double-deck trolleybuses were in the United Kingdom, but there were a few, usually solitary, instances of such trolleybuses being built in other countries, including in Germany by Henschel (for Hamburg); in Italy by Lancia (for Porto, Portugal); in Russia by the Yaroslavl motor plant (for Moscow) and in Spain by Maquitrans (for Barcelona).[5] British manufacturers of double-deck trolleybuses included AEC, BUT, Crossley, Guy, Leyland, Karrier, Sunbeam and others.[5]

In 2001, Citybus (Hong Kong) converted a Dennis Dragon (#701) into a double-decker trolleybus,[37] and it was tested on a 300-metre track in Wong Chuk Hang in that year.[37] Hong Kong decided not to build a trolleybus system, and the testing of this prototype did not lead to any further production of vehicles.

Use and preservation

There are currently 300 cities or metropolitan areas where trolleybuses are operated,[4] and more than 500 additional trolleybus systems have existed in the past.[5] For an overview, by country, see Trolleybus usage by country, and for complete lists of trolleybus systems by location, with dates of opening and (where applicable) closure, see List of trolleybus systems and the related lists indexed there.

Of the systems existing as of 2012, the majority are located in Europe and Asia, including 85 in Russia and 43 in Ukraine.[4] However, there are eight systems existing in North America and nine in South America.[4]

Trolleybuses have been preserved in most of the countries where they have operated. The United Kingdom has the largest number of preserved trolleybuses with more than 110, while the United States has around 70.[5] Most preserved vehicles are on static display only, but a few museums are equipped with a trolleybus line, allowing trolleybuses to operate for visitors. Museums with operational trolleybus routes include three in the UK – the Trolleybus Museum at Sandtoft, the East Anglia Transport Museum and the Black Country Living Museum – and three in the United States – the Illinois Railway Museum, the Seashore Trolley Museum and the Shore Line Trolley Museum[38] – but operation of trolleybuses does not necessarily occur on a regular schedule of dates at these museums.

See also


  1. ^ Joyce, J.; King, J. S.; and Newman, A. G. (1986). British Trolleybus Systems, pp. 9, 12. London: Ian Allan Publishing. ISBN 0-7110-1647-X.
  2. ^ Dunbar, Charles S. (1967). Buses, Trolleys & Trams. Paul Hamlyn Ltd. (UK). Republished 2004 with ISBN 0-7537-0970-8 or 9780753709702.
  3. ^ "Trolley service begins the next 60 years" (Press release). TransLink. August 16, 2008. Archived from the original on 1 February 2014. Retrieved 6 September 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d e Webb, Mary (ed.) (2012). Jane's Urban Transport Systems 2012–2013, pp. "[23]" and "[24]" (in foreword). Coulsdon, Surrey (UK): Jane's Information Group. ISBN 978-0-7106-2994-4.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Murray, Alan (2000). World Trolleybus Encyclopaedia. Yateley, Hampshire, UK: Trolleybooks. ISBN 0-904235-18-1.
  6. ^ Elektromote, Siemens History website on 14 August 2015
  7. ^ a b Ashley Bruce, Lombard-Gerin and Inventing the Trolleybus (Trolleybooks, 2017, ISBN 978-0-904235-25-8), p. 88 et seq.
  8. ^ a b Charles S. Dunbar, Buses, Trolleys and Trams (Paul Hamlyn Ltd, 1967, no ISBN), p. 81 et seq.
  9. ^ Henry Martin, Lignes Aeriennes et Trolleys pour Automobile sur Route (Libraire Polytechnique Ch., 1902, no ISBN), p. 29 et seq.
  10. ^ Dunbar p. 84
  11. ^ Dunbar p. 83
  12. ^ J. S. King, Keighley Corporation Transport, (Advertiser Press Ltd, 1964, no ISBN) p. 39 et seq.
  13. ^ Dunbar, p. 90 of
  14. ^ "Plan for city trolleybus comeback". BBC News. 15 June 2007. Retrieved 2009-06-03.
  15. ^ Trolleybus Magazine No. 321 (May–June 2015), p. 90.
  16. ^ G. Cebrat. "Greenfleet". Archived from the original on 2006-02-12. Retrieved 2010-11-29.
  17. ^ "Power in downtown Vancouver won't be fully restored until Tuesday". CBC News. 14 July 2008. Other reports stated that the (electrical) explosion did not affect power supply to the trolleybuses (only implied by this article).
  18. ^ Ashley Bruce. "Overhead". Retrieved 2010-11-29.
  19. ^ "Electric Trolley Bus Fact Sheet" (PDF). Seattle Department of Transportation. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-02-17. Retrieved 2012-03-29.
  20. ^ Trolleybus Magazine No. 267 (May–June 2006), p. 71. National Trolleybus Assn. (UK).
  21. ^ a b Electric Vehicle Technologies at the Wayback Machine (archived March 3, 2006). Transport 2000 BC. Archived from the original on 2006-03-03.
  22. ^ Trademark of Ohio Brass Co., maker of trolley wire fittings and equipment and trolley poles. The typewriter from IBM bearing that name had not been invented yet.
  23. ^ a b Trolleybus Magazine No. 311 (September–October 2013).
  24. ^ Trolleybus Magazine No. 305 (September–October 2012), p. 119.
  25. ^ a b "Getting on board" (July–August 1993). Trolleybus Magazine No. 190, pp. 86–87. National Trolleybus Association (UK).
  26. ^ DeArmond, R. C. (May–June 1985). "The Trolleybus System of Dayton, part 2". Trolleybus Magazine No. 141, pp. 49–64.
  27. ^ Trolleybus Magazine No. 179 (September–October 1991), pp. 100–101.
  28. ^ "The Neoplan N6020 Low-Floor Trolleybus". Trolleybus Magazine No. 183 (May–June 1992), p. 68.
  29. ^ Braddock, Andrew (March–April 1995). "Low-floor Trolleybuses – Making Access Easier". Trolleybus Magazine No. 200, pp. 30–37.
  30. ^ Turzanski, Bohdan (March–April 2012). "Trollino 500, Part 1". Trolleybus Magazine No. 302, pp. 28–35.
  31. ^ Trolleybus Magazine No. 226 (July–August 1999), p. 89.
  32. ^ a b c "Low-floor or Long Life?" (November–December 1998). Trolleybus Magazine No. 222, p. 122. National Trolleybus Association (UK).
  33. ^ Trolleybus Magazine No. 230 (March–April 2000), p. 39.
  34. ^ Trolleybus Magazine No. 249 (May–June 2003), p. 39.
  35. ^ Bramley, Rod (November–December 2012). "New Zealand: A 'Roller Coaster' Ride, Part 4". Trolleybus Magazine No. 306, pp. 126–134.
  36. ^ a b Box, Roland (July–August 2010). "More about the 2000s". Trolleybus Magazine No. 292, pp. 78–82. National Trolleybus Association (UK). ISSN 0266-7452.
  37. ^ a b Trolleybus Magazine No. 238 (July–August 2001), pp. 73 and 88.
  38. ^ Isgar, Carl F. (January–February 2011). "Preservation Update". Trolleybus Magazine No. 295, p. 11. National Trolleybus Association (UK). ISSN 0266-7452.

Further reading

  • Bruce, Ashley R. Lombard-Gerin and Inventing the Trolleybus. (2017) Trolleybooks (UK). ISBN 978-0-904235-25-8
  • Cheape, Charles W. Moving the masses: urban public transit in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, 1880-1912 (Harvard University Press, 1980)
  • Dunbar, Charles S. (1967). Buses, Trolleys & Trams. Paul Hamlyn Ltd. (UK) [republished 2004 with ISBN 0-7537-0970-8 or 9780753709702]
  • McKay, John P. Tramways and Trolleys: The Rise of Urban Mass Transport in Europe (1976)
  • Murray, Alan (2000). World Trolleybus Encyclopaedia. Trolleybooks (UK). ISBN 0-904235-18-1
  • Porter, Harry; and Worris, Stanley F.X. (1979). Trolleybus Bulletin No. 109: Databook II. North American Trackless Trolley Association (defunct)
  • Sebree, Mac; and Ward, Paul (1973). Transit's Stepchild, The Trolley Coach (Interurbans Special 58). Los Angeles: Interurbans. LCCN 73-84356
  • Sebree, Mac; and Ward, Paul (1974). The Trolley Coach in North America (Interurbans Special 59). Los Angeles: Interurbans. LCCN 74-20367


  • Trolleybus Magazine (ISSN 0266-7452). National Trolleybus Association (UK), bi-monthly
  • Trackless, Bradford Trolleybus Association, quarterly
  • Trolleybus, British Trolleybus Society (UK), monthly

External links

Clough, Smith

Interserve Rail (formerly Clough Smith) is a British engineering and facilities management company. Founded in 1910, it is a subsidiary of Interserve.

Crimean Trolleybus

Crimean Trolleybus Line (Russian: Крымский троллейбус, translit. Krymskiy trolleybus; Ukrainian: Кримський тролейбус, translit. Kryms’kyi troleibus; Crimean Tatar: Qırım trolleybusı) in Crimea is the longest trolleybus line in the world. It is 86 kilometres (53 mi) long, between the capital of Crimea, Simferopol, and the coastal city of Yalta on the Black Sea.

Managed by the public transport company Krymtrolleybus, it was built in 1959 in the Ukrainian SSR as an alternative to extending the railway line in Simferopol over the mountains to the coast. It opened in two parts: Simferopol–Alushta in 1959 and Alushta–Yalta in 1961. The journey time to Alushta is about ​1 1⁄2 hours, to Yalta about ​2 1⁄2 hours, and the fare is about 15 hryvnias (since March 2014—58 rubles).It passes through the Crimean Mountains across the Angarskyi Pass, reaching 752 metres (2,500 ft) at the highest point, then descends to the resort town of Alushta on the coast. The remaining distance to Yalta is 41 kilometres (25 mi) and winds around the mountains above the sea.

Škoda 9Tr and Škoda 14Tr vehicles are used, being replaced from 2010 by Bogdan T601 and T701 trolleybuses.

List of trolleybus routes in Bucharest

This is a list of the 15 trolleybus routes running in Bucharest, Romania, operated by the city's public transport company, STB as of July 2015. For more information about Bucharest's trolleybus network, see Trolleybuses in Bucharest. Routes marked with use wheelchair-accessible low-floor vehicles (Irisbus Citelis) on some services, however the Ikarus 415T trolleys are more common.

There are also other routes not running due to ongoing works on the M4 and M5 metro lines.

List of trolleybus systems

This is a list of cities where trolleybuses operate, or operated in the past, as part of the public transport system. The original list has been divided to improve user-friendliness and to reduce article size. Separate lists—separate articles in Wikipedia—have been made for the following countries:




United States

Europe (Note: countries not listed here are included in this article; see Contents table below)








United KingdomThis page also provides references that are applicable to all parts of the complete list.

Bold typeface for a location city indicates an existing trolleybus system, currently in operation (temporary suspensions not counted), or a new system currently under construction.

List of trolleybus systems in Germany

This is a list of trolleybus systems in Germany by Land. It includes all trolleybus systems, past and present. A city name in bold indicates a presently existing system.

Overhead line

An overhead line or overhead wire is used to transmit electrical energy to trams, trolleybuses or trains. It is known variously as:

Overhead contact system (OCS)

Overhead line equipment (OLE or OHLE)

Overhead equipment (OHE)

Overhead wiring (OHW) or overhead lines (OHL)


Trolley wire

Traction wireIn this article, the generic term overhead line is used, as used by the International Union of Railways.An overhead line is designed on the principle of one or more overhead wires (or rails, particularly in tunnels) situated over rail tracks, raised to a high electrical potential by connection to feeder stations at regular intervals. The feeder stations are usually fed from a high-voltage electrical grid.

Sunbeam Commercial Vehicles

Sunbeam Commercial Vehicles was a commercial vehicle manufacturing offshoot of the Wolverhampton based Sunbeam Motor Car Company when it was a subsidiary of S T D Motors Limited. Sunbeam had always made ambulances on modified Sunbeam car chassis. S T D Motors chose to enter the large commercial vehicle market in the late 1920s, and once established they made petrol and diesel buses and electrically powered trolleybuses and milk floats. Commercial Vehicles became a separate department of Sunbeam in 1931.

Ownership switched from S T D Motors to Rootes Securities in mid-1935, and later that year their Karrier trolleybus designs were added to Sunbeam production lines. In 1946 J. Brockhouse and Co of West Bromwich bought Sunbeam but in September 1948 sold the trolleybus part of the business to Guy Motors. In the early 1950s the amalgamated Sunbeam, Karrier and Guy trolleybus operation was the largest in Britain and possibly the world. In 1954 Sunbeam Commercial Vehicles moved within Wolverhampton from the Moorfield Works in Blakenhall to new extensions at Guy Motors Fallings Park.

Guy Motors was bought by Jaguar Cars in 1961 and was closed by Jaguar's parent company, British Leyland, in 1982.

Tallinna Linnatranspordi AS

Tallinna Linnatranspordi AS (TLT) is a transportation company owned by the city of Tallinn, Estonia. TLT is a result of the merger of Tallinn Bus Company (Tallinna Autobussikoondis) and Tallinn Tram and Trolleybus Company (Tallinna Trammi- ja Trollibussikoondis) in July 2012. The company provides bus, trolleybus, and tram services in Tallinn.

Trams in Beijing

The earliest tram (有轨电车) service in Beijing dates back to 1899, and trams were the main form of public transit from 1924 to the late 1950s before they were replaced by trolleybuses that follow the tram routes they replaced. However new tram services are being introduced in Beijing's suburbs.

Trolleybuses in Brighton

The Brighton trolleybus system once served the town of Brighton, East Sussex, England. Opened on 1 May 1939 (1939-05-01), it gradually replaced the Brighton Corporation Tramways network.

By the standards of the various now defunct trolleybus systems in the United Kingdom, the Brighton system was a moderately sized one, with a total of nine routes. It was also unusual, in that it had two operators.

The main operator of the system was Brighton Corporation Transport, which owned the wires, and at its peak had a fleet of 52 trolleybuses. The other operator, Brighton, Hove & District Omnibus Co. Ltd., introduced a fleet of eight trolleybuses to the system on 1 January 1945 (1945-01-01) with three more following later, and ran them on four of the system's routes. The whole system was closed relatively early, on 30 June 1961 (1961-06-30).Two of the former Brighton trolleybuses are now preserved. One is at the Science Museum annexe at Swindon, and the other is at the East Anglia Transport Museum, Carlton Colville, Suffolk. The latter vehicle, no 52, is preserved in the livery of Maidstone Corporation, which acquired it and used it on the Maidstone trolleybus system, following the closure of the Brighton system.

Trolleybuses in Esslingen am Neckar

The Esslingen am Neckar trolleybus system serves the city of Esslingen am Neckar, in the Land of Baden-Württemberg, Germany.

Opened on 10 July 1944, the system had two lines, and nine trolleybuses, as at 2011.

Trolleybuses in Glasgow

The Glasgow trolleybus system operated in the City of Glasgow, Scotland, between 1949 and 1967, with the network reaching its largest extent in 1959. It was the only British system to open after World War II.

The trolleybuses were owned and operated by Glasgow Corporation's Transport Department (along with the city's buses, trams and the Subway).

Trolleybuses in Greater Boston

The Boston-area trolleybus (or, as known locally, trackless trolley) system forms part of the public transportation network serving Greater Boston in the U.S. state of Massachusetts. It opened on April 11, 1936, and since 1964 has been operated by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). It currently includes two physically isolated networks: one serving the towns of Cambridge, Belmont, and Watertown, the other – the Silver Line (Waterfront) – located in the city of Boston proper. Prior to 1964, several additional trolleybus lines were in operation in Boston proper. Measured by fleet size, the system was the third-largest trolleybus system in the United States at its peak (end of 1952), with only the Chicago and Atlanta systems having more trolleybuses than Boston's 463.In the present system, four routes fan out from the Harvard Bus Tunnel at Harvard Square station, running through Cambridge, Belmont, and Watertown. Those lines are the remains of a once-extensive system of trackless trolleys in the area, which was largely formed from former streetcar lines. Additionally, the 2004-opened Silver Line (Waterfront) is a bus rapid transit service using dual-mode buses which run as trolleybuses in the Waterfront Tunnel.

Trolleybuses in London

Trolleybuses served the London Passenger Transport Area from 1931 until 1962. For much of its existence, the London system was the largest in the world. It peaked at 68 routes, with a maximum fleet of 1,811 trolleybuses.

Trolleybuses in San Francisco

The San Francisco trolleybus system forms part of the public transportation network serving San Francisco, in the state of California, United States. Opened on October 6, 1935, it presently comprises 15 lines, and is operated by the San Francisco Municipal Railway, commonly known as Muni (or the Muni), with around 300 trolleybuses. In San Francisco, these vehicles are also known as "trolley coaches", a term that was the most common name for trolleybuses in the United States in the middle decades of the 20th century.

The Muni trolley bus system is complementary to the city-owned Muni bus services, Muni Metro and cable car system and the rail-bound regional Caltrain and Bay Area Rapid Transit systems. In addition, it shares some of its overhead wires with the F Market & Wharves streetcar line.

One of only five such systems currently operating in the U.S., the Muni trolley bus system is the second-largest such system in the Western Hemisphere, after that of Mexico City. The system includes the single steepest known grade on any existing trolley bus line in the world (22.8% in the block of Noe Street between Cesar Chavez Street and 26th Street on route 24-Divisadero), and several other sections of Muni trolley bus routes are among the world's steepest.

Trolleybuses in Shanghai

The Shanghai trolleybus system is a system of trolleybuses forming part of the public transport network in the city of Shanghai, China. Of more than 300 trolleybus systems in operation worldwide (as of 2011), the Shanghai system is the oldest. The system turned 100 years old in November 2014 and was the first trolleybus system anywhere in the world to reach that milestone.For many years, the Shanghai system was also one of the largest in the world, once comprising more than 20 routes and more than 900 vehicles in 1994, accounting for 30% of Shanghai's bus ridership. However the system started to decline in scale and service levels in the late 90s and throughout the 2000s with the fleet shrinking to 150 vehicles in 2012. Those smaller figures still make it one of the largest systems in operation outside the former Soviet Union countries. Since then, the trolleybus network is being expanded with a new expanded fleet of 300 trolleybuses for the 12 surviving lines and the introduction of new eBRT lines using trolleybuses in reserved lanes.

Trolleybuses in Yerevan

The Yerevan trolleybus system forms part of the public transport network in Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia. Since the closure of the Gyumri trolleybus system in 2005, it has been Armenia’s only trolleybus system.

Trolleybuses in Zürich

The Zürich trolleybus system (German: Trolleybussystem Zürich) is part of the public transport network of Zürich, Switzerland. Opened in 1939, it combines with the Zürich S-Bahn, the Zürich tramway network and Zürich's urban motorbus network to form an integrated all-four style scheme.

As of 2012, the system consists of six lines and a total route length of 54.0 km (33.6 mi). It is operated by Verkehrsbetriebe Zürich (VBZ), which also operates the tramway and motorbus networks. Like the other modes of public transport in the region, it is covered by the Zürcher Verkehrsverbund.

York Corporation Tramways

The York Corporation Tramways (YCT) provided an electric tramway and trolleybus service in York between 1910 and 1935.

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