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Sun Dec 15, 2013, 09:43 PM

D.C. Streetcar To Make Long-Awaited First Appearance



[font size="1"]D.C.'s first streetcar in 50 years will run...well, sometime in 2014. (D.C. DOT)[/font]


The first streetcar to glide down tracks in Washington in half a century will make its first appearance Friday, as the District Department of Transportation intends to transfer one of its new streetcars from its Anacostia test track to the H Street/Benning Road NE corridor.

Contractors worked on Wednesday to finish fastening the overhead power lines that will power the 2.4-mile streetcar line through the busy commercial corridor. Construction workers were lifted from street level in bucket trucks to reach the wiring running both parallel and perpendicular to H Street, while other workers used a high power vacuum to suck out the sludge clogging the yet-to-be-used streetcar tracks. DDOT also deployed a “hi-rail” car to make sure the real streetcar will fit through the corridor by simulating its actual size.

“The hi-rail vehicle basically helps to confirm the clearances that are present within the corridor,” said DDOT project manager Thomas Perry. “It makes sure the streetcar can properly fit against the [platform] stops.”

The hi-rail car moved slowly down H Street and Benning Road, clearing cars parked against the curb on its right. Perry said the size of some of the platforms had to be adjusted. .................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.wnyc.org/story/dc-streetcar-make-long-awaited-appearance-you-still-cant-ride-it/



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Reply D.C. Streetcar To Make Long-Awaited First Appearance (Original post)
marmar Dec 2013 OP
Grover1908 Dec 2013 #1
antiquie Dec 2013 #2
happyslug Dec 2013 #3
Vogon_Glory Dec 2013 #4
happyslug Dec 2013 #5

Response to marmar (Original post)

Mon Dec 16, 2013, 12:17 AM

1. DC trolley/tram

It might prove too embarassing for the Democrats to go into WHY the trolleys/streetcars/trams disappeared from DC in 1962--the Democratic-controlled Congress required DC Transit to give up streetcars as a condition of continuing to have the franchise to operate the transit system in DC. DC Transit management wanted to keep some car lines operating (they used modern PCC-type streetcars with underground conduit current-collection downtown to eliminate overhead wires' interfering with the view of the Washington architecture) but Congress wouldn't let them.
It remains to be seen how this new line works out once it finally operates. Is it in a good location to get patronage? Why did it take so long to plan, construct, and test? I like streetcars and car lines but horrendous expense and long delays could doom the streetcar from situations where it is the best choice. The San Diego trolley got built fast (opened 1981) because they took no federal money and could order off the shelf equipment from Germany. The original DC system got built in months, not years.
Interstingly, there are now more streetcar systems operating in the US than there were in 1957.

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Response to Grover1908 (Reply #1)

Mon Dec 16, 2013, 10:40 AM

2. Before blaming Democrats, perhaps a little more history?

 

The advent of personal motor vehicles and the improvements in motorized buses caused the rapid disappearance of the tram from most western and Asian countries by the end of the 1950s (for example the first major UK city to completely abandon its trams was Manchester by January 1949). Continuing technical improvements in buses made them more reliable (than before), and a serious competitor to trams because they did not require the construction of costly infrastructure. [3] However, the demise of the streetcar came when lines were torn out of the major cities by "bus manufacturing or oil marketing companies for the specific purpose of replacing rail service with buses."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_trams


The General Motors streetcar conspiracy (also known as the Great American streetcar scandal) refers to allegations and convictions in relation to a program by General Motors (GM) and other companies who purchased and then dismantled streetcar and electric train systems in many American cities.

Between 1936 and 1950, National City Lines and Pacific City Lines—with investment from GM, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil of California, Phillips Petroleum, Mack Trucks, and the Federal Engineering Corporation—bought over 100 electric surface-traction systems in 45 cities including Baltimore, Newark, Los Angeles, New York City, Oakland and San Diego and converted them into bus operation. Several of the companies involved were convicted in 1949 of conspiracy to monopolize interstate commerce but were acquitted of conspiring to monopolize the ownership of these companies.

Some suggest that this program played a key role in the decline of public transit in cities across the United States; notably Edwin J. Quinby, who first drew attention to the program in 1946, and then Bradford C. Snell, an anti-trust attorney for the United States Senate whose controversial 1974 testimony to a Senate inquiry brought the issue to national awareness. Both Quinby and Snell argued that the deliberate destruction of streetcars was part of a larger strategy to push the United States into automobile dependency. Others say that independent economic factors brought about changes in the transit system, including the Great Depression, the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935, labor unrest, market forces, rapidly increasing traffic congestion, urban sprawl, taxation policies that favored private vehicle ownership, and general enthusiasm for the automobile. One writer on the subject has suggested that Snell and others fell into simplistic conspiracy theory thinking, bordering on paranoid delusions saying "Clearly, GM waged a war on electric traction. It was indeed an all out assault, but by no means the single reason for the failure of rapid transit. Also, it is just as clear that actions and inactions by government contributed significantly to the elimination of electric traction."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_streetcar_conspiracy

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Response to Grover1908 (Reply #1)

Wed Dec 18, 2013, 12:51 AM

3. That was part of an overall program to "Improve" Transit.

 

Basically that Congress also provided local money to various cities (Pittsburgh was one) so that the local government could buy out the local transit operators.

Altoona Pennsylvania was one of the first to do so in 1957-1959, as the private company closed down and said it would NOT re open at the end of its annual two week shut down (Altoona was tied in with the Pennsylvania Railroad, and when that Railroad shut down for two weeks, the city, including its transit system, shut down for the same two weeks). Instead of leaving the private company just shut down and sell off its buses (it had closed down its Streetcar lines in 1954), the City of Altoona and its main Suburb, Logan Township voted to buy it so the buses can keep running.

http://www.amtran.org/index.asp?pageId=16

Altoona never purchased any PCC streetcars and thus could not afford to keep up streetcar service, unlike transit systems that did buy PCC units, which kept running till the 1960s (Johnstown, Altoona sister city on the other side of Allegheny Mountain did buy PCC and kept them running till 1960). Another factor in the case of Altoona was the Pennsylvania Railroad, which never trusted streetcars on the grounds they took away traffic from its rail service (That the over lapp was minimal did not mitigate the lingering view of the Railroad as the Streetcar as a competitor).

Now, in the early 1960s the Federal Government provided funds for local government to take over their privately owned transit systems. All of these systems were losing money, do to the rapid drop off in riders after WWII. At the same time, many people still depended on those transit systems. Thus there was a push to convert such transit systems to public ownership, but that included buying the privately owned transit systems. The Federal Government provided the money, but it was the locals who decided HOW to use that money. Most wanted to convert to buses, for the last Streetcars were built in 1954, but most had been purchased in the 1920s (and by the 1960s long past their service life). Those systems that had purchased post WWII PCC, kept running them for another 30 years, but those systems that had purchased their PCCs prior to WWII had by the 1960s streetcars over 25 years old and nearing the end of their service life.

The system had some value and that was argued over, but the systems were purchased. At that point the transit operators had three choices:

1. Continue to use the Streetcars they had, even of they were at the end of their service life.

2. Buy new Streetcars

3. Replace Streetcars with buses.

Pittsburgh had the largest number of PCC in the nation in the early 1960s, most pre WWII, but a significant number of post WWII PCCs. Pittsburgh first choice was to replace the Streetcars with buses. This was almost all completed by 1967. Most of the post WWII Streetcars were kept for use on the last three lines, for the simple reason buses could NOT replace those lines (In theory buses could, but given each had extensive own private right of way and buses would have to go on the highways these lines avoided, travel time would triple). These lines lingered on till the cars were over 40 years old and replaced as the lines were converted to a LRV system.

Notice, in the 1960s the push was for buses, not streetcars. The push had several interconnecting reasons:

1. State Highway Departments hated anything on its Roads except if it ran on rubber wheels, They disliked Horse and Buggies AND pedestrians in addition to streetcars and the books they were using to design roads reflected this (Pedestrian were classified as "Road Obstructions" for example).

2. General Motors owned GMC Coach and wanted to sell buses, so would lobby Government to buy buses. This included paying for advertisement stressing the advantages of buses over streetcars. GM's marketing techniques could be imaginative, including advertisements on buses over Streetcars, spreading the news of any Streetcar Accident, but suppressing the news of any bus accident. There is even hints at giving away cars to local government officials (through no convictions or even trials not enough evidence to convict anyone).

3. The Streetcar makes had never been that large and could NOT compete with GM when it came to salesmen and salesmanship (and this remain so till the German and other large European and Japanese Streetcar makers entered the market). Yes, I reject the vast conspiracy set forth by Bradford Snell in 1974, but I also believe GM is not innocent, but GM's plans were post WWII, tied in with its ability to finance its own buses, while most Streetcar Users had to find outside finance, during a period of severe credit shortage (For example, the Federal Government to address the Credit Crisis of the late 1940s forbade installment sales on cars longer then 18 months, it was THAT bad post WWII).

4. NIMTOF - Not In My Term Of Office. Buses last about 12 years, streetcars 30 (maybe longer, electrical drive are easy to replace compared to an internal combustion engine, transmission and drive train). Buses are also cheaper then Streetcars. Not In My Term Of Office comes up for if someone is in office 30 years, that office holder will prefer Streetcars, they tend to be cheaper over a 30 year period. On the other hand buses are cheaper up front, thus for most Politicians whose office is only 4 years or less, buses look like a way to keep the budget down during that person's time in office, even if it cost the public more long term.

http://publictransport.about.com/od/Transit_Vehicles/a/How-Long-Do-Buses-And-Ohter-Transit-Vehicles-Last.htm

5. Most people want to get from point A to Point B, in many situations that can be done by a bus or streetcar. The real question is the cost.

6. The Streetcar push of the 1890s to 1920 was driven by housing developers who opened new suburbs for the upper middle class (The top 10% but stretching down to include the top 40% of the population). It is only after WWII that the bottom 60% of urban residence adopted the car, and then that was in preference to walking to work NOT the streetcar). By the 1920s this same group (top 10%) was embracing cars and abandoning Streetcars (and complaining that Streetcars stopping every block was causing traffic jams). The vast majority of Urban Residents did NOT embrace the car till the 1950s. This turned any mass transit operation from a thing for the upper 10% to something for the lowest 10%, with only a brief stop in regards to the 80% of the people between those two groups. Thus you had a massive drop off in transit use post WWII, as the middle 80% switch to the Automobile from Walking and taking Mass Transit to work.


7. Thus by the 1950s Streetcars and buses were viewed as things the poor used and thus subject to underfunding. Remember the top 90% of the population think mass transit is for the poor and as such is never funded for the simple reason the top 90% believe they will NEVER use it. FDR saw this in action and thus refused to permit Social Security to be income indexed. FDR wanted any Social Security benefit to be related to what you paid into Social Security, so the more you put in the more you will get out. The main affect of this is that ALL people will get something out of it and thus the vast majority of people will make sure it is adequately funded. FDR know that if the majority of people think they will NEVER use a program, those same people will NOT support funding for that program. Thus how FDR set up Social Security to make sure there was massive support for Social Security. It is for this reason Transit has been under funded since before WWII. Mass Transit is viewed in most of the Country as a program to help the poor, and since most people do not believe they will ever be poor, they do NOT support funding for mass transit, and thus mass transit is hopelessly underfunded (And given the cheaper up front cost of buses why buses were preferred to Streetcars).

8. Gas was cheap in the 1960s, 25 cents a gallon as late as 1970 ($1.50 in 2013 dollars). That 25 cents INCLUDED both Federal and State Gasoline tax. Public Transit operators did not pay the tax, so fuel for them would be half of that, about 12 cents a gallon, or about 75 cents in 2013 dollars.

http://www1.eere.energy.gov/vehiclesandfuels/facts/2005/fcvt_fotw364.html
http://chartsbin.com/view/oau

No one points out that Brent oil at $110 a Barrel, we have to go back to the US Civil War to get similar prices (on a constant price basis, i.e. adjusted for inflation). The previous post Civil War peaks were in 1980 at $95.89 a barrel and in 2008 at $96.91 a barrel (we had other peaks, in 1974 at $50.41 a barrel and 1876 at $51.37 a barrel and 1871 at $77.41 a barrels but all other peaks are less then the 1896 peak at $34.96). In 1865 is was $91.99 a barrel, in 1864 $110.11 (all prices adjusted for 2009 dollars). Yes we are paying the most or oil since the Civil War.

On the other hand in the 1960s Gasoline was the cheapest in real term it ever was, bottoming out at $9.97 a barrel in 1970 (remember this is 2009 dollars). in simple terms the price for oil in 1970 was 10% of what it is today. Given there is 42 gallons in one Barrel of oil, that comes to 23 cents a gallon in 2009 DOLLARS (remember the $9.97 is in 2009 dollars, so divided by 42 comes to 23 cents in 2009 dollars, which is 4 cents in 1970 dollars). Remember gasoline was selling at 25 cents a gallon in 1970 in 1970 dollars (i.e. The cost of oil was only about 4 cents a gallon the rest of the 25 cents went to taxes, distribution and refining costs, mostly taxes that transit companies did not have to pay AND they received a discount do to the large volume of diesel they purchased). Thus in 1970 it cost most transit companies anywhere from 5 cents to 10 cents per gallon of fuel, when the fare was 25 cents (I know, I paid it then). Today Gasoline is $3.49 a Gallon and bus fare is $3.00. At $110 barrel that comes to $2.61 a gallon, with a federal gasoline tax of 18.4 Cents a gallon that comes to $2.794 a gallon. Add the 50.7 cents gasoline tax (set to go up over the next five years to 59.2 cents a gallon), that comes to $3.301, that leaves 19 cents for distribution and refining costs (I live in Johnstown Pa, which is the tail end of the gasoline distribution centers, which for Johnstown is the Ohio river and New Orleans to Pittsburgh NOT New Jersey via Philadelphia). Thus in the 1960s one fare paid for about 5 gallons of diesel, today one fare barely pays for one gallon of diesel. Historically labor has been the main cost of mass transit, but in recent years Diesel is starting to compete for that title.

9. The "Advertising affect" of streetcars. People forget Advertising is more the ad on TV or billboards, it is the whole product right down to presentation at the point of sale. When it came to Streetcars, the rail in the road and the overhead wire said "Streetcars" run on this route, even if you do NOT see an actual Streetcar. Buses can do the same, but only when the bus is within sight. Once out of sight, out of mind. In the period from the 1920s to the 1950s upper middle class urban residents (Randolph Hearst was an example of one, he oppose streetcars for it interfered with his drive in automobiles) started to campaign to eliminate Streetcars for they were often caught in traffic, and blamed the streetcars for stopping and picking people up at every corner. They did NOT need to see a streetcar, just the rails and the overhead wires were enough to remind them streetcars ran on that street. To end such comments, New York City started to replace Streetcars with Buses in the 1930s. Not that buses were more efficient, but it stop the complaints of streetcars tying up traffic. With no overhead wires and no rails to remind drivers that a mass transit vehicle operated on that road, no one was remembered that they did and thus less complaints of such vehicle causing traffic jams. Politicians are human, the issue to them was NOT Streetcars tying up traffic, but ending the people complaining about Streetcars tying up traffic. Replacing Streetcars with buses reduced such complaints, for when someone was in a Traffic Jam, unless they actually saw a Bus, there was nothing to remind them that a mass transit vehicle, in this case a bus, operated on that road.

10. The people running the Mass Transit system were NOT using the system. People who use a system tend to have a better idea how it runs, both its good points and bad points. Since most of the people using Mass Transit tend to be viewed as to poor to own a car, they are almost never appointed to a Mass Transit board of Directors. Almost every Board member of every mass transit system tend to DRIVE a Car to the meetings and set their schedule for such meetings assuming people can drive to and from the meetings (the Sole exception may be New York City, given more people use mass transit then Automobile transit in NYC, but NYC is the sole exception to this rule). This makes sure the system driving force is NOT providing transit for riders, but to minimize costs AND to provide ways for employers to get low cost workers to their stores (Yes, such employers show up at mass transit meetings, but NOT their employees for the Employee has no way to get to the meeting OR get home from the meeting for many mass transit system close down at the end of the evening rush hour). Thus the people USING the mass transit system have little input into HOW the mass transit system is set up. When it came to replacing Streetcars with buses, the preference of actual riders were ignored UNLESS it amounted to almost a revolt.

When Pittsburgh replaced its Streetcars with buses, the last three Streetcar lines were NOT replaced for they operated on their own right of way (being truncated interurban lines). In all of these lines, it was faster to go to Downtown Pittsburgh by the Streetcar then to drive (The Local paper did this on one route, and the car driver did beat the streetcar rider by about a minute, but that did NOT include looking for a parking space for the car, or traveling from the parking space into downtown Pittsburgh). Please note this was NOT a special streetcar trip, it was the regular trip with all the stops between the end of the line and downtown Pittsburgh and it still was only a minute behind the Automobile).

I bring this up, for in the 1960s Pittsburgh wanted to get rid of this streetcar lines, but could NOT do it with buses. The bus would have to take the same route as the Automobile AND make all the stops the Streetcar did. Thus buses were out. Into this mess came Westinghouse Electric with a proposal for a rubber tired elevated automatic transit system. It was called "Skybus". Given the computers of the time period only one track was possible. To replace these three streetcar line with one automated system, the plan was to use an abandon railroad tunnel to the far edge of Beechview (where the first of these three streetcar line ran). Take the route to the Center of Beechview and then to the border of Beechview and the next suburb Dormont. Thus you had three stops replacing six (and one of those stops was NOT on the Streetcar route, thus two stops replacing six but adding a new stop). It would then go to the next suburb (Mt Lebanon) replacing six more stops with just one, then to Castle Shanon where it merged with the other two routes (eliminating the none stops between Castle Shannon and downtown Pittsburgh). The next stop was to be at Washington Junction where the existing two streetcar lines split. The longer route that was double tracked was to be replaced by a bus-way to Washington Junction. eliminating the whole route through the Borough of Bethel Park, but taking a route to South Hills Village (a then new Shopping mall that had been on the other Streetcar route) where the final stop would be. The two areas, that provided most of the riders on the Streetcar lines, Beechview and Bethel Park, would see the number of transit stop reduced immensely. On hearing of this plan both areas revolted. Skybus became a dirty word in their vocabulary because all they saw was a reduction in service. The high tech features did not impress them, it was that almost all the existing stops in their communities would be eliminated. Meetings in both areas were hostile at best. When people said, why not upgrade the Streetcars, they were told it could not be done. Then Westinghouse Air Brake entered the picture and said, yes upgrading the existing streetcar system WAS possible and here how to do it. The bus agency did NOT want to hear this for upgrading the Streetcar system was NOT on their agenda.

Now, both areas were heavy Democratic Areas, but ended up voting Republican for County Commissioners in the next election (actually voted for one GOP Commissioner and then a Democratic Commissioner, Allegheny County, which is the County Pittsburgh is in, had at that time a three member board of Commissioners, with the three candidates with the highest number of votes winning, but voters only getting to vote twice, thus from the 1930s till the 1990s you had two Democratic Commissioners and one GOP commissioner). The GOP candidate had embraced the Anti-Skybus cause and ended up winning more votes then either Democratic Candidate (but his running mate always came in a distance fourth). The Major of Pittsburgh saw the writing on the wall and came out against Skybus (when you see a revolt, you ride it out, you do NOT suppress it). Finally the Federal Government stepped in and said if you locals do NOT decide what you are going to do, we are taking out transit money elsewhere. This force the bus agency to agree to what the opposition had wanted for ten years, a full scale engineering study that included upgrading the Streetcar system. When the study was completed it was announced that it would be presented at a Church hall in Beechview. I attended that meeting where the engineers pointed out the most cost efficient option was to upgrade the Streetcar system. Skybus had to few stops, to much additional construction needed for it to even compete with the upgrading the existing streetcar system. Thus in the long run Westinghouse Air Brake (Now WABCO) beat out Westinghouse electric (now defunct for other reasons).

Side note: Westinghouse electric and Westinghouse Air Brake were both founded by George Westinghouse. They have ALWAYS been two different corporations.

Just a comment that the movement to abandoned Streetcars in the 1950s and 1960s had many causes, many of them interacting together to replace Streetcars with Buses. Streetcar lines that survived into the 1970s have almost always been replaced by a Light Rail Vehicle (a name adopted in 1969 to replace the American Term "Streetcar" AND the British Term "Tram" with one word, it is NOT a new type of rail-car, just a new name to be used on both sides of the Atlantic).


More on old Streetcars:


http://books.google.com/books?id=J2zH-zcuU-MC&pg=PA303&lpg=PA303&dq=West+Penn+Railway+West+Virginia&source=bl&ots=9V_trzB8qq&sig=uqynJdhQT_YmzZycPQZxbyroJII&hl=en&sa=X&ei=oZqwUvzNA7iisASn9oDQBg&ved=0CHEQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=West%20Penn%20Railway%20West%20Virginia&f=false

More on the West Penn Railway:

http://www.pittsburghtransit.info/wpenn.html

http://patheoldminer.rootsweb.ancestry.com/westpenn.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Penn_Railways

West Penn even had a line to Clarksburg and Fairmont, West Virginia (it is NOT on the above map):

http://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/612

http://pa-trolley.org/collection/monongahela-west-penn-250/



http://fatherpitt.wordpress.com/category/transit/page/7/

Another Streetcar line abandoned in the early 1950s was the Pittsburgh to Charleroi railway (technically it was truncated at the Allegheny County Line and became the Library line and now the Library line of the T):

http://charleroiinterurban.com/inl.htm

http://charleroiinterurban.com/charleroi.htm

Here is the story of Skybus, the failed replacement for Streetcars in Pittsburgh (My father always said, it would have been ideal between Downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland, the #2 and #3 stops in the State of Pennsylvania, #1 is downtown Philadephia. The problem was the Port Authortiy Transit that ran Pittsburgh buses had plans to use buses between those two stops and still does. The Streetcars between those two stops had always run on roads, so no private right of way, so no lost in time when the switch from Streetcars to Buses took place. Goes to show this was a plan to replace the last streetcar line NOT to actually improve transit:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transit_Expressway_Revenue_Line

http://www.pittsburghtransit.info/skybus.html

Some videos of Skybus in operation:




Please note, Skybus lived on as a people mover in many airports. Seattle Airport was built by Westinghouse Electric (and rebuilt by Bombardier, who after several sales, owns the old Westinghouse Electric part that built Skybus).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satellite_Transit_System

http://www.brooklineconnection.com/history/Facts/Skybus.html

You can see Skybus heritage at the San Francisco Airport:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AirTrain_(SFO)

Miami has a people mover in its downtown area:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metromover

Skybus's little cousin, a Small elevated transit system built in Morgantown West Virginia for West Virginia University:

http://old.post-gazette.com/pg/07149/789706-147.stm

Here is a report that gasoline taxes pay only 50% of all road maintenace:
http://www.seattlemet.com/news-and-profiles/publicola/articles/we-all-pay-for-the-roads

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Response to happyslug (Reply #3)

Thu Dec 19, 2013, 12:29 PM

4. Bravo! Well-Written, Well-Argued!

Bravo! Well-written, well-argued!

I grew up in Dallas and our streetcars (NOT the current DART light-rail system or the McKinney Avenue Transit System tourist line) disappeared in the late 1950's for many of the same reasons.

The Dallas Railway & Terminal System DID have a modest fleet of PCC streetcars. They were sold to Boston's MTA and ran twenty more years, outlasting the buses that Dallas Railway & Terminal and the Dallas Transit System used to replace them.

Another factor that led to the demise of streetcar systems coast-to-coast is what I call the "Babbitt Factor." That is a combination of the belief that anything newer (and widely-hyped) is better than existing technology and the fear of many city fathers (Yes, a sexist term, but local governments were rather more often than not male-dominated fifty, sixty, seventy years ago) of seeming "old fashioned." I don't doubt for a minute that dozens of trolley systems were torn up because city mayors and councilmen chose to believe the BS of bus salesmen that their cities and towns would seem old-fashioned and behind the times if they continued to run "old-fashioned" trollies.

That sort of BS argument led to the end of Austin's last trolley line just before World War II.

National City Lines would never have been so successful at doing in trolley systems without the active collaboration of numerous city governments.

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Response to Vogon_Glory (Reply #4)

Fri Dec 20, 2013, 12:59 PM

5. You have to understand the three different (but interrelated) conversions to buses

 

TYPE I - Interurbans

The first conversion/abandonment of Streetcars was after WWI, The peak year for "Electric Rail" (as it was defined and called at that time) was 1918, when it was the fourth or fifth largest industry in the USA (Behind Steel Making, mining and two or other industries, the Automobile was in production and most people had seen one, but 99 plus percent of the population did not own one, the real boom was in the 1920s and that boom was the reason GM replaced Ford as the #1 Auto maker in the US).

In the early 1920s Farming was booming. Imperial Russia had become the Soviet Union and those countries (Germany, France, Britain) that use to import grain from Imperial Russia refused to import it from the Soviet Union. Thus the demand for US wheat and other Agricultural products were in high demand (recovering from WWI was also a factor, 1919-1921 saw massive unrest in Europe (Germany had a Revolution that turned out to be more a Civil War then a Revolution for example, Some German States even had Communist Governments for a time period between 1918 and 1921, Hungary had a Communist Government for a time period during the same period of unrest, France had strikes (as did Britain). In fact these all started in 1918 and one of the reason for the Armistice is both sides wanted the troops OUT of the Trenches and back home to put down these strikes and revolts.

The US was NOT exempt, the US had a nasty Steel Strike, how dare those workers demand to work less then 12 hours a day six days a week AND then work an additional 24 hour day (Yes, mandatory seven day a week work, including a mandatory 24 hour work period, remember this is all pre over time law),, West Virginia had a outright revolt known as the West Virginia Coal War (Bombers and Machine guns were used against the Strikers as they marched on the Sheriff who is known to have killed one Wobblie while in his jail, and then took the guns from a Town Marshall who was on trial for killing two coal detectors as he enforced the law AND later that same day that Marshall was killed in front of his wife on the courthouse steps by other coal detectors (and the Sheriff refused to arrest the Detectives).

That is all pre 1921. Come 1921 the crisis was over, but given the unrest of the 1918-1921 period (Which in the minds of some historians would have lead to more Communists Revolution if it was NOT for the Swine flu that killed millions in 1918 and 1919). The US Auto makers were looking at who was buying cars and notice two groups, Upper middle class urban residents (The upper 10% of the American Population) and people living in rural America. The 1920 Census was the first US Census that showed that more American lived in Urban Areas not Rural Areas, but it was still close. Thus you has a huge rural populations working on the farms AND in rural industry (coal mining, timbering, Coke ovens)

Side note: Coke Overs were built in rural areas to produce coke from coal. These were of two types, traditional beehive ovens much like the traditional way to produce charcoal from wood (Charcoal was used to make iron and steel before Coke was invented) or newer coke ovens made to be permanent (these slowly became bigger and bigger from 1900 onward, till by WWII most coke was produce in coke ovens next to the Steel mills but rural coke ovens were competitive till the Great Depression).

Thus these two markets is what automakers aimed at. Rural Residents and Upper Middle Calls snobs. The bigger market was the Rural Resident. Going after this market had the effect of reducing such rural residents from taken the Interurban Streetcars built generally between 1890 and 1920 (With many being finished only in 1912-1917 time period). These Interurbans had been built with massive support of rural residents in the 1890-1920 period, for they provided the possibility of competition against the Steam Locomotive companies that dominated transportation at that time period. These had become regulated but they found out they could live with the regulations, it was competition they hated and the Interurban was an attempt to provide competition to them, not only for passengers but fright.

Now, the Automobile (and to an even greater degree the Automobiles relative the Truck) saw the Interurbans slowly lose revenues in the 1920s. Farming was good, high profit for Europe did not want to buy Soviet Grain. Farmer purchased their first car and abandoned the Streetcars. Business that had used the Interurbans turn to trucks (An example of this was Hershey Chocolate, prior to the mid 1920s Hershey had farmed take they milk to the Interurban Hershey was also running and load it on the Interurban to take it to the Hershey chocolate Factory. This was the fastest way to get the milk to the Factory in the 1910s when it was implemented. By the mid 1920s, Hershey found out it could get the milk faster if it picked up the milk directly rom the farmers by sending trucks to the farms. This lead to a lost of revenue for the Interurban line and its eventual collapse.

Not only did these interurbans see a drop in Freight service, they saw a drop in passengers and more and more passengers went by automobiles. In many ways this lead to a death spiral. Less passengers lead the Interurban to reduce trios, which would force more people to use their cars instead of the interurban which lead to further decline in revenue, which lead to reduction in service. Thus reduction in service, lead to reduction in revenue, which lead to reduction in service etc. Sooner or later most of these interurbans just died out. Most when it came time to replace their tracks, thus many lasted till the early 1930s when it came time to rebuilt their tracks, they just said no and closed down. Some were replaced by buses for a while, but even the buses failed after a few years,

Now, some of these Interurbans did survive. Most survived if the rural area they travel through turned suburban (The Surviving Streetcars lines now LRV lines In Pittsburgh are of this type). Another smaller group converted to Diesel Fright service (Lackawanna and Wyoming Streetcar line is an example of the later, it was used to haul coal till 1976):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lackawanna_and_Wyoming_Valley_Railroad

TYPE II - Small Cities

Small cities like Austin that had streetcar lines, generally were tied in with Interurban lines. The drop in Interurban ridership often had a ill affect on them but they remain profitable even as the interurbans lines went bankrupt. Most Small Cities converted to buses in the late 1930s as Federal Funding came into play. Like Big Cities, most small cities required Streetcar operators to maintain not only the tracks but the area of the road that streetcar traveled over (i.e. between the track and 8 inches outside each track), i.e. 6 foot wide section of the road EACH WAY, total 12 feet.

Please note, in some cities the Streetcar companies had to maintain the WHOLE road not just the part the Streetcars ran on. In Some Pennsylvania Communities, the road that existed was the part of the road the Streetcar maintain, the city NEVER installed curbs or did any improvements outside of what the Streetcar company agreed to do.

Side note: In Pennsylvania where most Streetcars used 5 foot 2 1/2 inch gage not standard gage 4 foot 8 1/2 inches gage, the outside was only 5 inches on each side to come to the 6 foot wide area the Streetcar company had to maintain. Notice the difference had to do with the wider gage Pennsylvanian Streetcars ran on. The actual maintenance distance remained six foot in each direction (unless it was single track, which some street cars ran on, the car ran both direction but on the same track and never at the same time).

These small cities had a problem, they did not have the political pull to get waivers of federal requirements that any federal stimulus funds do NOT go to private companies (such as streetcar lines, which were all private lines at that time period). Thus to get Federal Money to pave these roads under the stimulus package they had to show they was no other way to pay for the paving the road. The Streetcar companies were in the way of this rule, for their had a legal obligation to pave most of the road. This put pressure on these small cities to comply with the Federal Rules and to do so, they had to close down the Streetcar Companies. This lead to most small cities abandoning Streetcars in the 1936-1939 period.


TYPE III - Large Cities

Now, while electric passengers peaked in 1918 and then declined, most of the decline was in rural interurbans. Pittsburgh Streetcar passengers peaked in 1927 and held its own close to that number till after WWII (The Great Depression and then WWII reduced the demand for transit but just barely, the numbers were close to the 1927 number till 1947). Los Angles peak year for Streetcar passenger was 1944 (Do to the demands of WWII). Thus URBAN STREETCARS BOOMED DURING THE 1930s AND 1940s. The decline only started in the late 1940s as more and more URBAN Residents purchased cars and moved to the Suburbs (Personal Example, both of my Grandparents NEVER owned a car, through both were well off, not in the top 10% but in the top 50% of income earners during their life times. It is my Father's generation, him, his brothers and his sister that were the first auto buyers in my family. That is typical of most people who lived in Urban America, they purchased they first car after WWII not before WWII.

With this massive sales of Automobiles, Streetcars came to be look upon as obsolete and the causes of Traffic jams. Feeble efforts were made to separate transit from auto traffic but with most States adopted a State Constitutional Amendment that forbids gasoline taxes to be spent on anything but highways, there was no money to improve mass transit, but massive money to build roads. Most States adopted state constitutional amendments in the 1940s that forbade spending gasoline taxes on anything but roads. Pennsylvania has one with a Complete ban on spending gasoline tax money on anything but roads, Texas has one but it only covers 3/4 of all gasoline taxes (Thus Texas can spend 1/4 of all gasoline taxes on other things):

http://texaspolitics.laits.utexas.edu/9_5_1.html

Thus my comments dealt mostly with this third type of Streetcar conversion. Streetcars tend to be the best solutions in high density populations areas (and buses the best option in low density population areas). Thus the interurbans failure during the 1920s while Urban Streetcars boomed. Small City systems, like Austin Tx tended to die out do to a lack of income AND the need get around Federal restrictions on spending stimulus money (Through if the Small City was tied in with a Large City, it tended to keep its Streetcars as part of its connection to that larger city till the 1950s, Washington and Greensburg PA having their Streetcars surviving till the early 1950s was because both were tied in with the Streetcar System of Pittsburgh.

Here is a paper I did a few years ago on the decline of Streetcars and why that happened, it follows the photos and comments about Inclines in Pittsburgh:
http://www.democraticunderground.com/?com=journals&uid=111950

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