Please forward this error screen to 144. In this first article of the series, we will explore the history and technical aspects of one of the most basic forms of rail transit, the streetcar and interurban, and by the end of the series, we will have worked our way up to high-speed trains that can traverse hundreds of miles in a matter of minutes. In most cases, electrical power was provided by a single overhead wire, with the seattle transit token return carried through the running rails in the street.
Cincinnati’s original streetcar system was unique in that it operated on two overhead wires, one for the electrical supply and the other for the ground return. Over time, streetcars became the dominant mode of public transit in most American cities, including Cincinnati, Chicago, and Los Angeles. In some cases, streetcars acted as modes of transit between cities, running on city streets within the urban area but running on their own rights-of-way through rural areas. These lines became known as interurbans, with the rolling stock often times built larger than typical streetcars, with amenities for intercity travel such as more comfortable seats and on-board lavatories. In 1929, the Electric Railway Presidents’ Conference Committee commissioned the design of a modern, standardized streetcar they hoped would fend off competition from buses and the automobile. The so-called PCC streetcar featured a number of improvements in ride quality over the previous generations of streetcars, and became an icon of 1930’s industrial design. The development of the PCC streetcar proved to be inadequate to stop the forces conspiring to kill streetcar service in most American cities during the post-war era, though.
In Cincinnati, the last streetcar line ceased operation on April 29, 1951. The last Green Line streetcars in Northern Kentucky had been replaced by buses years earlier. In the the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, as the dire consequences of a half-century of automobile-oriented urban policy and development became apparent, planners began to question the wisdom of dismantling the nation’s streetcar systems. The success of these new streetcar systems in the Pacific Northwest has sparked interest in cities across the nation, with 22 cities either building or designing new streetcar lines.