Heritage streetcars or heritage trams are a part of the efforts to preserve rail transit heritage. In addition to preserving street-running rail vehicles, heritage streetcar operations can include upkeep of historic rail infrastructure. Working heritage streetcars are closely related to the growing global heritage railway movement and form a part of the living history of rail transport.
As with modern streetcar systems, the vehicles are referred to as trams or tramcars in the United Kingdom, Australasia and certain other places (with tramway being the line or system), but as streetcars or trolleys in North America. The last two terms are often used interchangeably in the United States, with trolley being preferred in the eastern US and streetcar in Canada and the western US. In parts of the United States, internally powered buses made to resemble a streetcar are often referred to as "trolleys". To avoid further confusion with trolley buses, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) refers to them as "trolley-replica buses".
Museums, heritage tram line operators, and amateur enthusiasts can preserve original vintage vehicles or create replicas of historic vehicles to re-create or preserve streetcar technology of the past. Heritage vehicles that are kept fully functional can be used on heritage tramlines or for charter traffic.
Heritage tram lines that offer scheduled service on a certain route and showcase historic aspects of streetcar systems are usually operated by heritage vehicles. Heritage tramlines that operate on a rail network that mainly serves the interest of modern urban mobility have difficulty in exhibiting historic tramway infrastructure, apart from the car itself. This kind of tramline is often operated mainly to attract tourists instead of providing urban access. Some technical aspects of historic tram infrastructure can prevent the use of a heritage line as an integral part of the public transport system. For example, heritage tramlines often lack handicapped access which is required by law in many countries. Heritage tramlines can be either newly installed lines (created in modern times, 1970s or later) or be surviving older tramlines that have retained use of historic trams for all or most of their scheduled service.
Rail tracks designated solely or mainly to heritage streetcar traffic offer best opportunities for preservation of historic streetcar scenes. Some heritage tramways use all-new construction while others make use of an existing, usually disused, freight railway, by installing overhead wires and passenger stops. In some cities, new heritage tramways have been installed in the city center, to attract tourists and shoppers. Proponents of such projects claim that using a simple, reliable form of transit from 50 or 100 years ago can bring history to life for 21st century users. In serving certain types of transport needs, heritage tramways can turn out to be more economical than their modern counterparts, often with installations that can be built at a fraction of the cost of a corresponding modern standard. However, there are trade-offs; among other things, heritage systems can offer slower speeds, less capacity and higher upkeep costs due to use of non-industry-standard technology.
The Remise Museum in Vienna, opened in 2014, covers the history of public transport in the city of Vienna and offers an extensive tram collection to visitors. The Styrian municipality centre Graz has a tram museum since 1971 located in the depot of Mariatrost. Another heritage tram is operating in Styria between the railway station of Mariazell and the nearby Erlaufsee, mainly with Ex-Vienna streetcars. This line was recently electrified on longer sections and also extended towards the city center. In Innsbruck the city's trams are collected and renovated – together with other Tyrolean railway vehicles – by the association Tiroler MuseumsBahnen which has its museum in the old station of the Stubaitalbahn.
In Amsterdam in the Netherlands the Electrisch Museumtramlijn operates historic trams over a 7 km (4.3 mi) length of former railway line. The tram networks of Hague and Rotterdam have also their tram museums. The association Tramweg Stichting maintains and operates in every three cities its own vehicles, partly as collection of these museums. In Belgium there are 3 tram museums, one in Brussels – organizing several weekend rides to Tervueren and around the city – and other in Antwerpen. The 70-kilometre long (43 mi) Kusttram (the coastal line between Knokke and De Panne via Oostende) features also some vehicles of the once extensive interurban network stored in the depot of De Panne and Knokke operated by TTO.
ASVi run a museum in Thuin and an 8 km (5 mi) line with electric and diesel cars on a part of the once SNCV line 92 and on a part on the once SNCB line 109 after regauging to 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) metre gauge.
In Prague the Czech Republic the Prague Integrated Transport operates Historical Tram Line No. 41 at weekends using historical tram vehicles  and a week-long operating Nostalgic Tram Line No. 23 using old PCC based ČKD Tatra T3 tram vehicles. Historical trams are also seasonally operated in Brno.
In France, the Deûle Valley tramway near Lille which runs along a 3 km (1.9 mi) track from Marquette-lez-Lille to Wambrechies features several tram vehicles dating back to the beginning of the 20th century.
In Budapest heritage trams first operated in 1987. Its fleet contains quite a few vehicles (trams, buses, trolleybuses, even metrocars) from the late 19th century until recent years and there are many more waiting to be repaired. Heritage services are mainly operated from April/May to September/October on weekends. There are both heritage and retro lines. The retro lines can be used with normal (seasonal) tickets, however, on heritage lines other, heritage (seasonal) tickets are needed. In 2019 there are two heritage tram lines, one retro tram line, one heritage bus line and one retro bus line operated regularly. Occasionally there are other lines in operation. More information about the vehicles and routes are available as well as on the service providers website in English. There is also one vintage tram line - Tram Line 1956 - operating yearly in late October as a memorial for the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, it can be used with normal (seasonal) tickets.
In Debrecen there are also a few vintage trams. They are operated less regularly, mostly on certain occasions.
In Miskolc there are also a few vintage trams and buses. They are operated less regularly, mostly on certain occasions.
In Szeged there are also a few vintage trams, buses and trolleybuses. Trams are in service on certain summer weekends. Otherwise, they are operated less regularly, mostly on certain occasions.
For about a one month period near Christmas, each city operates light trams (trams that are decorated with LED strips and/or Christmas decoration). These trams operate on various lines around the cities in the late afternoons, evenings, and can be used by normal (seasonal) tickets usually. At the same time each of these cities, except Miskolc, light trolleybuses are operated in the same way as trams.
Turin, in the northwest of Italy, operates the historical route 7, a double way circular route around the town centre. Turin is the first town in Italy with tramway lines powered by historical streetcars. The inauguration of the heritage tramway line was during the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of national unity, in March 2011.
In the nearby metropolis of Milan, the continued, extensive use of the "Series 1500 tram" is an example of a heritage tramway which blends into everyday urban life to the extent that it is not regarded as one.
Heritage trams provide all of the service on some of the Lisbon tramway network in Portugal, and in Porto a long-closed section of tramway in the historic Batalha section of the town center was reopened in 2007 for use by historic trams. There are now three such heritage routes in Porto, as well as a tram museum. In Sintra, there is a seasonally operated heritage tramway.
In Saint-Petersburg on Vasilyevsky Island the former Vasileostrovsky tram depot, which closed in the 1990s after the city's extensive tram network was cut down due to increasing automobile traffic, was converted into the Museum of Electrical Transport. Apart from excursions to itself, the museum organizes museum fleet rides along downtown tracks (including some now otherwise unused for regular tram service) on a number of public festivals and some summer weekends. A heritage tram of the type that used to run from the inner city nearly to the nearby front line during the World War II siege of the city is installed as a war and tram memorial, not far from Avtovo metro station. A modern replica of a late-19th-century horsecar stands in front of Vasileostrovskaya metro station.
In Spain, a new heritage tramway was opened in A Coruña (La Coruña) in 1997. However, since 2011 is out of order. Tramvia Blau in Barcelona has been in operation since 1904 but still uses trams built in 1904–15, and thus has become a heritage line. Similarly, the tramway connecting Sóller with Puerto de Sóller, on the island of Majorca, is operated with vintage trams and has been opened since 1913. Therefore, it is a heritage line.
In Malmö, Sweden, a technical museum operates an in-street heritage tram line in summer months. In Sweden's capital, Stockholm, a 3-kilometre (1.9 mi) section of former route 7 was reopened in 1991 as a heritage tramway, using vintage cars.
Two separate heritage tramways operate in Istanbul, Turkey, one on the European side of the Bosporus and one on the Asian side. The former opened in 1991 between Tünel (funicular station) and Taksim metro station, and the latter in 2003 in the suburb of Kadıköy.
A heritage tramline, opened in 2011, serves Bursa.
In the United Kingdom the majority of tram lines were lifted before the heritage movement began to flourish, and tracks and trams scrapped. Although trams are returning to British Cities, they are modern transportation systems (also known as light rail), not heritage operations. There are, however, three notable heritage tram operations in the UK.
The National Tramway Museum at Crich near Matlock, is located in an old limestone quarry in Derbyshire, and has a collection of preserved trams. Strictly speaking, this would be considered a tramway museum with an operating tram line, rather than being a heritage tramway. Among the heritage railways on the Isle of Man, at least the Manx Electric Railway qualifies as a heritage tramway as well. Otherwise, the Blackpool tramway is the only surviving first-generation urban tram system in the UK and provides a service running along the town's promenade and also as far as Fleetwood using both historic and modern trams. There is also a modern "Heritage Tramway"  in Birkenhead, Merseyside.
Places in Britain where preserved trams operate:
Heritage streetcar lines:
Museums with operational heritage streetcar lines:
Transit systems operating heritage streetcars:
Heritage streetcar lines are operating in over 20 U.S. cities, and are in planning or construction stages in others. Several new heritage streetcar lines have been opened since the 1970s; some are stand-alone lines while others make use of a section of a modern light rail system.
Heritage streetcar systems operating in Little Rock, Arkansas; Memphis, Tennessee; Dallas, Texas; New Orleans, Louisiana; Boston, Massachusetts (MBTA Mattapan Trolley) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (SEPTA route 15); and Tampa, Florida are among the larger examples. A heritage line operates in Charlotte, North Carolina and will become a part of the city's new transit system. Another such line, called The Silver Line, operates in San Diego. The San Francisco Municipal Railway, or Muni, runs exclusively historic trolleys on its heavily used F Market & Wharves line, serving Market Street and the tourist areas along the Embarcadero, including Fisherman's Wharf. Boston's Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority runs exclusively PCC streetcars on its Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line, part of that authority's Red Line. The historic rolling stock is retained because doing so cost less than would a full rebuild of the line to accommodate either a heavy rail line (like the rest of the Red Line or the Blue or Orange Lines) or a modern light rail line (like the Green Line). It is also unique in that it used almost exclusively by commuters and is not particularly popular with tourists (and thus may not really be a true heritage system, despite the historic rolling stock).
Dallas has the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority. Denver has the Platte Valley Trolley, a heritage line recalling the open-sided streetcars of the early 20th century. Old Pueblo Trolley is a volunteer-run heritage line in Tucson, Arizona; its popularity inspired, in large part, a modern streetcar system for Tucson currently in the final planning stages, which would incorporate the heritage line. The VTA in San Jose, California also maintains a heritage trolley fleet, for occasional use on the downtown portion of a new light rail system opened in 1988. Other cities with heritage streetcar lines include Galveston, Texas; Kenosha, Wisconsin and San Pedro, California (home of the port of Los Angeles). The National Park Service operates a system in Lowell, Massachusetts.
Most heritage streetcar lines use overhead trolley wires to power the cars, as was the case with the vast majority of original streetcar lines. However, on the Galveston Island Trolley heritage line, which opened in 1988, using modern-day replicas of vintage trolleys, the cars were powered by an on-board diesel engine, as local authorities were concerned that overhead wires would be too susceptible to damage from hurricanes. In spite of that precaution, damage in 2008 from Hurricane Ike was heavy enough to put the line out of service indefinitely, and as of 2014 it has yet to reopen.
Another heritage line lacking trolley wires is Savannah, Georgia's River Street Streetcar line, which opened in February 2009. It is the first line to use a diesel/electric streetcar whose built-in electricity generator is powered by biodiesel. In El Reno, Oklahoma, the Heritage Express Trolley connects Heritage Park with downtown, using a single streetcar that has been equipped with a propane-powered on-board generator. The car formerly operated on SEPTA's Norristown High Speed Line, where third-rail current collection is used. The El Reno line is single-track and 0.9 miles (1.4 km) long.
In Portland, Oregon, replica-vintage cars provided a heritage streetcar service, named Portland Vintage Trolley, along a section of that city's 1986-operated light rail line from 1991 to 2014. Elsewhere in Portland, the Willamette Shore Trolley is a seasonal, volunteer-operated excursion service on a former freight railroad line, to Lake Oswego, Oregon. This operation uses a diesel-powered generator on a trailer towed or pushed by the streetcar, as the line lacks trolley wires. Similarly, the Astoria Riverfront Trolley in Astoria, Oregon, is a seasonal heritage-trolley service along a section of former freight railroad and using a diesel-powered generator on a trailer to provide electricity to the streetcar.
Other seasonal or weekends-only heritage streetcar lines operate in Yakima, Washington (Yakima Electric Railway Museum); Fort Collins, Colorado; and Fort Smith, Arkansas. The Fort Collins and Fort Smith lines are both operated by an original (as opposed to replica) Birney-type streetcar, and in both cases the individual car in use is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In Philadelphia, the Penn's Landing Trolley operated seasonal and weekend service as a volunteer operation with former P&W equipment between September 1982 and December 17, 1995 on the Philadelphia Belt Line track on Columbus Boulevard in the historic Penn's Landing district.
Over 50 years later, the revival of extended streetcar operations in New Orleans is credited by many to the worldwide fame gained by its streetcars built by the Perley A. Thomas Car Works in 1922–23. These cars were operating on the system's Desire route made famous by Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire. Some Perley Thomas cars were maintained in continuous service on the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar line until Hurricane Katrina caused major damage to the right-of-way in 2005. The historic streetcars suffered only minor damage and several have been transferred to serve on the recently rebuilt Canal Street line while the St. Charles line is being repaired. New Orleans' St. Charles streetcar line is a National Historic Landmark. Pre-Katrina, New Orleans had plans to reconstruct the Desire line along its original route down St. Claude Avenue.
In San Francisco, parts of the cable car and Muni streetcar system (specifically the above-mentioned F Market & Wharves line) are heritage lines, although they are also functioning parts of the city's transit system. The cable cars are a National Historic Landmark and are rare examples of vehicles with this distinction. Located east of San Francisco is one of several museums in the U.S. that restore and operate vintage streetcars and interurbans, the Western Railway Museum.
In Buenos Aires, Argentina, a heritage tram line was inaugurated In 1980 in the Caballito neighbourhood on existing vintage street tracks. Presently a proposal for a heritage tram in colonial San Telmo is under discussion.
Argentina's capital also hosts the La Brugeoise cars, the Buenos Aires Metro (Subte) Line A rolling stock, since its inauguration in 1913. They were built by Belgian railway rolling stock manufacturer La Brugeoise, et Nicaise, et Delcuve between 1911 and 1919 for the Anglo-Argentine Tramways Company's (Compañía de Tranvías Anglo-Argentina, CTAA in Spanish) first metro line. They were originally designed to run both as metro and tramway cars, but they were refurbished in 1927 for underground use only. They are the oldest metro rolling stock in commercial service in the world as well as a tourist attraction and part of Buenos Aires cultural heritage. The A line also contains a vintage station, Perú. They have been in continuous use for a whole century since 1913 to January 2013 when they were replaced by new coaches, with an average of about 300 thousand daily passengers, up from the 170,000 who traveled on them on their first day. Some of the coaches had already been preserved for touristic purposes, and now the rest of the fleet is under careful restoration and is intended to render service on weekends and holidays.
After briefly operating a short heritage line along Embaré Beach in the mid-1980s, Santos, Brazil, in 2000 opened a new heritage tramway in the historic Valongo district, using a car built in 1911 with an peculiar rail gauge of 1,350 mm (4 ft 5 5⁄32 in). The line is being extended, and additional trams have been added. A heritage tramway was opened in Belém, Brazil, in 2005.
A heritage tramway was opened in Iquique, Chile, in 2004.
A heritage tramway was opened in Lima, Peru, in 1997.
There has been a heritage tramway in Kimberley, Northern Cape, since 1985.