Birney Cars

From Nova Scotia Archives, Photographer Unknown

The Birney electric street cars were a small, single truck vehicle which was much lighter than conventional streetcars of the time. They were mass produced during World War I and sold by the thousands because they were inexpensive, and could be operated by a motorman alone, with no need of a conductor - an attractive feature because of the labour shortage during the war. Many cities began to sell off their fleet in the years after the war, due to their low passenger capacity and light weight, which caused problems with derailments, and sometimes caused problems getting through snow.

Halifax, on the other hand, loved these cars, as their light weight and twin motors were ideal for Halifax's steep hills. Halifax originally purchased 24 Birney Cars from the American Car Co. in 1923. Prior to 1923, Nova Scotians drove on the left hand side of the road, requiring the original Birney cars to have their doors moved to the oposite side of the car when the new rule came into effect. Halifax purchased an additional 8 from the Toronto Transit Commision (TTC) in 1927.

Prior to World War II, the Birney Cars carried nine million passengers per year. During the war, they carried over 31 million passengers per year, requiring the purchase of an additional 23 cars, including an additional 14 from the TTC in 1941 and 6 from Bakersfield, CA in 1942

With many cities selling off their Birney fleet, Halifax was able to purchase an additional 62 cars second hand over the years. Halifax eventually ran a 100% Birney fleet consisting of 86 Birney cars.

Birney Cars ran in Halifax until 1949, when the last of the street cars were replaced with Trolley Buses.

Robert R. Brown of The Canadian Railroad Historical Association wrote an extensive essay on the Halifax Streetrailway, especially the Birney cars, in 1954, which is available here (Offisite Link).

Photographer, with a Camera and Tripod, Photographing a Decorated Birney Streetcar, Marking the End of Tram-Car Service in the Main Part of Halifax, 26 March 1949. From Nova Scotia Archives, Photographer Unknown

Birney 128 on Route 1 Belt Line travels along Barrington Street followed by another Birney, car number unknown. From Nova Scotia Archives, Photographer Unknown

Car 126 burns in VE Day riots on May 7, 1945. From Nova Scotia Archives, Photographer Unknown
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