Cable cars, such as those found in San Francisco, actually use the cable as the primary source of movement. The cable itself is constantly moving, and is powered by an engine located in a central powerhouse. The car moves when a grip, attached to the top of the car, clamps down on the cable and applies pressure, which pulls the car along the tracks. The car is stopped by releasing the grip and applying the car’s brakes.
The cables above streetcars (otherwise known as trolleys/trams) provide power to them. They are similar to cable cars in that they run along the road on steel rails, but there is no slot between the tracks because the cable is overhead, whereas for cable cars the cable is underground. The trolley pole connects the trolley to the overhead wire, which sends power down that wire to an onboard electric motor.
Nowadays, San Francisco has the most diverse collection of street cars, which helped revolutionize urban areas with people choosing this mode of transport over horse drawn carriages and cable cars. It is also due to the streetcar that suburbs became a possibility.
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