Underground Power

LGN 988 - [Men laying power cables under Smithe Street], 1914,  BCER.

LGN 988 – [Men laying power cables under Smithe Street] just east of Granville, 1914, BCER.

The “yesterday” image above shows the submersion of electric cables beneath Smithe Street in downtown Vancouver in 1914. According to the CVA record, the cable carried up to 11,000 volts, at that time.

Construction worker wearing Norstad safety helmet installing a "power pole" on Smithe just west of Granville. 2015, Author's photo.

Construction worker wearing Norstad safety helmet installing a “power pole” on Smithe just west of Granville. 2015, Author’s photo.

Less than a block away from the site of most of the work in the 1914 image, a little over a hundred years later, a team of workers appears to be installing a power pole above ground. This seemed like a regressive move to me.

So I asked a friend who is a retired BC Hydro engineer about this apparent oddity. He explained that AC power downtown is still underground (although he mentioned that there are a few exceptions downtown where AC is transmitted above ground), but DC power (used exclusively to power trolley buses and earlier streetcars) is transmitted above ground. Trolley buses need to run on direct current; alternating current would make for a very jerky ride.

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