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DU Home » Latest Threads » Forums & Groups » Topics » Environment & Energy » Public Transportation and Smart Growth (Group) » D.C. Streetcar To Make Lo... » Reply #5

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):


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):


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:

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marmar Dec 2013 OP
Grover1908 Dec 2013 #1
antiquie Dec 2013 #2
happyslug Dec 2013 #3
Vogon_Glory Dec 2013 #4
LineLineLineLineNew Reply You have to understand the three different (but interrelated) conversions to buses
happyslug Dec 2013 #5
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