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History of Electric Traction

Railway electrification as a means of traction emerged at the end of the nineteenth century, although experiments in electric rail have been traced back to the mid-nineteenth century. Thomas Davenport, in Brandon, Vermont, erected a circular model railroad on which ran battery-powered locomotives (or locomotives running on battery-powered rails) in 1834. Robert Davidson, of Aberdeen, Scotland, created an electric locomotive in 1839 and ran it on the Edinburgh-Glasgow railway at 4 miles per hour. The earliest electric locomotives tended to be battery-powered. In 1880, Thomas Edison built a small electrical railway, using a dynamo as the motor and the rails as the current-carrying medium. The electric current flowed through the metal rim of otherwise wooden wheels, being picked up via contact brushes. Electrical traction offered several benefits over the then predominant steam traction, particularly in respect of its quick acceleration (ideal for urban (metro) and suburban (commuter) services) and power (ideal for heavy freight trains through mountainous/hilly sections).

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