2021 Meetings

Jack May

Friday, January 15, 2021

One of Kansas City’s CAF-built streetcars is shown operating southbound on Main Street approaching 8th. Photo: Jack May (2016)

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Noted rail photographer and longtime ERA member Jack May will be the presenter of our January meeting. Jack’s program is divided into two parts. The first portion is called “Modern Streetcar Systems in the U.S.A. — A personal survey with digressions, detours and diversions.” The second portion of the show will include a potpourri of foreign and North American views of electric traction from trip reports not published in The Bulletin.

Over the past four decades many new electric traction lines have been opened in North America. These “light rail” systems, which now provide a superior type of mobility to the residents of certain lucky cities, are quite long, with most reaching far into suburban areas. Although called light rail, they merely reflect a modern update and technological evolution of the streetcars and interurbans that operated throughout the U.S. for well over a century.

But more recently, certain cities like Detroit, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Kansas City and others, which once had large streetcar systems that were replaced by buses, have built new rail lines to spur downtown development and rehabilitation, to serve major traffic generators, and to increase the mobility of residents and visitors so they can easily and comfortably circulate between local neighborhoods and city centers. The transit industry has reintroduced the name “streetcar” to identify the shorter rail transit lines that have begun operating on streets within certain areas of these cities, categorizing them separately from light rail lines.

Some of these new lines use rolling stock that look like the trolleys of old, and have even restored older rolling stock for the sake of authenticity. Others have opted for a contemporary appearance and state-of-the-art technology, with low floors to allow easy access for disabled users and those burdened with baby carriages and shopping carts. Many of these lines are partly “wireless,” powered by electricity stored in batteries. This presentation will feature many of the new “modern streetcar” lines, and explore the question of what is truly modern — could it just be in the eye of the beholder?

Jack’s ERA involvement dates back to the start of the 1960s, including a 7-year stint as the editor of Headlights. Many know him as the organizer and leader of ERA annual conventions held all over North America traction cities for some 30 years, including numerous international tram and traction tours to Europe. Jack still uses film, and the program will consist mostly of digitized slides he shot while crisscrossing the U.S. for the past 10 years.

Jack traditionally opens each year of ERA meetings with his outstanding presentations. Please join us on Zoom to welcome in the New Year with our first program of 2021!

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