Saturday, June 12, 2010

While we wait for the USA-England world cup match to begin...

A quick quiz:

Which of these urban transport vehicles is a cable car, and which is a tram?

(Images courtesy of Wikipedia)

Chances are, if you live in an English-speaking country which drives on the right--particularly the United States, you'll be familiar with the San Francisco Cable Cars, and identify the image on the left as such.  You may be less familiar with the Portland Aerial Tram--unless you live in Portland, it isn't exactly a well-known landmark--but the term "tram", to Yankee ears, refers to any number of miscellaneous (and relatively uncommon) people-movers, including the custom-built inter-terminal railways found at airports, the centipede-like parking lot shuttles found at Disneyland, and to cable-hauled aerial gondola systems like found between Marquam Hill and South Waterfront.  Likewise, Americans generally use the term cable car to refer to cable-hauled railways. 

If you live in merry ol' blighty, on the other hand, a "tram" is what in the US is called a "streetcar"--a passenger railway or railcar which runs in or near the street (or which is capable of doing so), regardless of haulage.  And given that cable-hauled railways are actually pretty rare; the term "cable car" generally refers to cable-hauled aerial systems in the UK (see the aforementioned article for a good breakdown of the terminology).  Thus--a Brit may well describe the Portland Aerial Tram as a "cable car", and the San Francisco Cable Cars as "trams".  And he'd be correct, insofar as his dialect of English is concerned...

Confused?  So am I. 

Now enough silly linguistic arguments.  It's almost time for soccer.  I mean football....


  1. And of course, the World Cup match ended in a 1-1 draw.

  2. Of course, to those of us who are big skiers, the word 'tram' immediately brings this exact kind of aerial lift to mind. Especially if you've ever skied at a place with a tram, since they can scale much more difficult terrain extremely fast. Jackson Hole, Snowbird, etc - places with aerial trams are well known amongst skiers and boarders.

    Then again, maybe I'm just a skier who's more aware of lift types than most.

  3. You do bring up a good point; I glossed over the difference between a "gondola" and an "aerial tram". The PAT is of course the latter.


Keep it clean, please