Latest streetcars in historic Prague. Image from

An overlooked benefit of streetcars is the reduction in noise pollution associated with bus and car traffic.  In fact, some pedestrians in Prague say the newest streetcars from Skoda are too quiet!

An article from iDnes, a Czech news portal, describes the experiences of operators of the new 15T streetcars built by Skoda for the Czech capital’s tram system.  Operators of the new streetcars have to be alert to pedestrians who may not hear them approach. 

Other improvements include cruise control and the addition of an engine for each wheel.  Operators can also now control engines for each wheel, sometimes shutting off up to 16 engines based on the presence of hills.

The District owns three Skoda-Inekon 12-Trio streetcars, currently parked at Metro’s Greenbelt yard. They were built by a joint venture between Skoda and Inekon, another Czech streetcar manufacturer.  The joint venture dissolved around the time DC’s streetcars were being constructed, and the 15T is the latest model introduced by Skoda while Inekon has not produced any subsequent models.  Riga, Latvia has also purchased the Skoda 15T streetcars.

Any vehicle powered by an on-board internal combustion engine generates more noise than one powered by electricity, be it from a battery or from an overhead or underground wire. Modern streetcars are even quieter than the trolleys that were commonplace in the early and mid 20th century.

Buses are the source of DC residents’ particularly frequent traffic noise complaints.  As streetcars being operation in DC and replacing buses on the busiest routes, the benefit to the quality of our daily lives and the enjoyability of our urban spaces will be significant. Newer streetcar models will further boost the mode’s advantage.

Now if only there were a way to push emergency vehicles speedily through traffic without sirens…

Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son.  Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America.