Transportation Deployment Casebook/Twin Cities Rapid Transit

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Overview of the Streetcar[edit | edit source]

The streetcar is a mode of transportation which consists of cars, powered by overhead wires, running on rails. A trolley pole is used to collect electrical current from the overhead wire to send through a control device to the streetcar's electric motor. The motor of the streetcar is mounted directly above the vehicle's wheels. Used current from the system is then routed back to generators to complete the circuit of the system.[1]

Although there were many attempts at building a streetcar, the first successful streetcar was built by Frank Sprague. Sprague had previous associations with Thomas Edison and created other electrical inventions, such as the high-speed elevator. Sprague eventually developed a superior electrical engine that was for the streetcar.[1] The first streetcars that Sprague sent into operation were in Richmond, Virginia in 1888. The streetcars in Richmond were a great success and Sprague became inundated with orders from across the country. Sprague's company, The Sprague Electric Railway and Motor Company, could eventually no longer keep up with demand and was taken over by Edison General Electric Company in 1889.[1] Other electric companies, such as the Thomson-Houston Company, were competing for the streetcar market as well; however, Thomas Lowry was impressed by Sprague's streetcars, and thus, they were the ones chosen to eventually operate in the Twin Cities.[1]

Modes Prior to the Streetcar in the Twin Cities[edit | edit source]

The Horsecar[edit | edit source]

The history of the streetcars in the Twin Cities dates back to 1866. It was at this time that Parker Paine, John Merriam, Louis Robert, and A.H. Wilder, prominent businessmen in the area, decided to form a corporation and introduce horsecars to the streets of St. Paul. The venture was initially delayed but was eventually implemented six years later.[2] Minneapolis also initiated its horsecar ventures around the same time in 1867. The mayor of Minneapolis gathered some of the city's wealthiest businessmen to start a horsecar company. The company's initial tracks were laid on Second Street South, which is now Washington Avenue South.[2]

Following the initial formation of horsecar companies in the Twin Cities, the St. Paul Street Railway Company was founded on May 9, 1872. The company initially laid two miles of track, and the first car began operation on July 15 of that year.[2] The St. Paul Street Railway Company had a rolling stock of six cars, fourteen drivers, and thirty horses. The company was very popular, especially due to the horsecar's speed of six miles per hour.[2]

The cars first used in the Twin Cities horsecars were initially very primitive. Each car was about ten feet wide and weighed about 1,000 pounds. Each horsecar could hold approximately fourteen passengers and was pulled by a single horse.[1] There were several horsecar lines, and each car was painted to represent that line that it traveled on. The track and equipment used at the time were also very primitive, which resulted in horsecars often becoming derailed. Passengers would then have to get out of the car and help the drive get the horsecar back onto the tracks.[2]

The St. Paul Street Railway Company was operated by James Cochran, Jr. October 1878. At this time, bondholders created a new company and the name was changed to St. Paul City Railway Company.[2] James R. Walsh became general manager of the new company, until a group of businessmen, led by Thomas Lowry, took it over in 1886. It was at this time at the systems in Minneapolis and St. Paul were merged and began operating under the new company title of the Twin City Rapid Transit Company.[2]

The Motor Line[edit | edit source]

It was clear that horses were not an ideal power source for transportation, so businesses experimented with placing a steam locomotive on the streets of Minneapolis. The primary line that was experimented with for this mode was located near Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet. The Motor Line stopped at all intersections along its route and operated until 10:15 P.M., when people were assumed to have gone home for the night. An extension of the Motor Line was eventually built to Excelsior to reach the lucrative Lake Minnetonka market. Additional Motor Line routes were constructed, however, by 1890 they ceased operation due to complaints regarding soot and noise.[2]

Cable Cars[edit | edit source]

Since the topography of St. Paul possessed so many hills, it was difficult for horsecars to operate in certain areas. Cable cars were thought to be a viable option in these hilly areas. The first cable car was built in St. Paul in 1887. Several other cable car routes were constructed over time; however, the system overextended itself and was very limited in speed. Therefore, the cable car was eventually abandoned in order to focus time and resources on the streetcar.[2]

Early Streetcar Market[edit | edit source]

In 1889, the Stillwater Street Railway was the first line to implement Sprague's electric streetcar in Minnesota. The entire transit system in the Twin Cities, except for two cable lines, was converted to electric streetcars by 1891.[3]

The electric streetcars were much heavier than the previous horsecars. Therefore, the roads required repavement using a material that provided a firmer base.[2] In addition to the cost of the road pavement, the Twin Cities Rapid Transit company was also required to standardize the gauges on the tracks. The horsecars previously operated on narrow gauges; thus, a large investment in new infrastructure was required.[2]

Policies Affecting Streetcars in the Twin Cities[edit | edit source]

One policy that largely affected the streetcars in the Twin Cities was a decrease in wages for the streetcar drivers. In 1889, Thomas Lowry sent a notice to the streetcar driver's that he believed that the only way for the Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company to increase profits was by decreasing their salaries. The men were very upset with the decrease in wages and eventually went on strike. The strike did not last long, though, and after two weeks of partial service, the drivers went back to work.[1]

A second strike occurred in 1917, when the president of the Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company refused to negotiate with the streetcar employees or their union. After much violence and destruction, the Commission of Public Safety demanded an end to the strike, and the workers followed the commission's orders. The TCRT workers eventually went on strike again in November when the company threatened to dismiss any employee wearing union apparel or engaged in union activity. This strike finally broke on December 2, 1917, and the union was defeated. The end of this strike resulted in 800 workers losing their jobs, which were replaced by non-union employees.[4]

Growth of the Streetcar[edit | edit source]

Passenger travel increased in the 1890s and larger cars were demanded on the streetcar lines. As larger streetcars were installed, the infrastructure needed to be replaced to support the heavier cars.[2]

Between 1880s and the 1920s, the streetcars grew with development. The first phase of development occurred in the Midway area between Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the Interurban Line was created.[2] Another significant line, the Como-Harriet line, opened on July 1, 1898. This was the second interurban line and was a large upgrade from the first.[2] The Selby-Lake and the Snelling-Minnehaha were the other two interurban lines that were created. Several suburban routes were developed over time to serve new populations that emerged.[2]

Development[edit | edit source]

In addition to his position with the Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company, Thomas Lowry was also a developer. Lowry's development interests in Minneapolis were what initially triggered his interest in the streetcar industry. He planned to use the streetcars to spur development in areas that he owned real estate.[5] Two specific areas of interest for Lowry were St. Louis Park and Columbia Heights.[3]

Amusement Parks[edit | edit source]

One aspect that aided in the growth of the streetcar were amusement parks at the end of the lines. One such amusement park was the Wildwood Amusement Park in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. This was originally a rather crude amusement park, but it was eventually bought out by the Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company in 1898 so that they could improve the park and attract greater streetcar ridership.[1] Once the park was owned by the TCRT, the customers could pay one fare for both the streetcar and the park.[6]

The park had many popular amenities including amusement park rides, a beach, fishing, a picnic area, and a dance pavilion. Thousands of visitors went to Wildwood Amusement Park each week for several decades. As time passed, and with the rise of the automobile, attendance at the park diminished and the TCRT could no longer afford to keep the park open. TCRT closed Wildwood Amusement Park in 1932 and eventually sold the land to developers.[6]

The TCRT also developed an amusement park in the western suburbs, near Excelsior, on Big Island. This park contained amusement park rides, picnic facilities, and a band shelter.[1] Customers could also pay one fare for a streetcar ride to the park, admission to the park, and a steamboat ride from the dock to Big Island.[7] Beginning in 1907, Big Island Park began earning less revenue than the expense to operate the park. This trend continued, and the park was eventually closed in 1911.[7]

Maturity[edit | edit source]

Twin Cities Rapid Transit built its final tracks in 1932. By this time, TCRT operated 530 miles of track, which extended from Stillwater on the east to Excelsior on the west.[3]

Decline[edit | edit source]

The streetcar was the most prominent form of transportation the Twin Cities until the rise of the automobile in the 1920s. The Great Depression had both positive and negative effects on the streetcar system in the Twin Cities. Due to the financial stress, streetcar ridership severely decreased and many of the lines were discontinued. The Great Depression, as well as World War 2, positively impacted the streetcar system since they stalled suburban development and automobile usage. Automobiles were either difficult to acquire or too expensive to operate.[3]

Following the end of the war, ridership was maintained at significant levels. The Twin Cities Rapid Transit company sought to further maintain these ridership levels and invested in modernized equipment. Attempts to further the streetcar industry were eventually suppressed when outside investors took control of the company in November 1949. Since streetcars were more expensive to operate than buses, these investors drastically substituted buses for the streetcars. By 1954, the streetcars in the Twin Cities were gone.[3]

Data and Analysis[edit | edit source]

Birth, growth, maturity, and decline of streetcars in the Twin Cities

Lifecycle of the Twin Cities Streetcar System[edit | edit source]

The lifecycle of the streetcar system in the Twin Cities follows the S-curve similar to many modes of transportation. Ridership on the streetcars grew very gradually from 1881 to 1900. Following 1900, however, ridership on the streetcars grew steadily from about 1900 to 1920. Ridership on the Twin Cities' streetcars peaked in 1920 and never returned to those ridership levels again. From 1920 to 1933, there was a steady decline in streetcar ridership, and by 1933, there were only 95,724,190 rides on the Twin Cities' streetcars. This was during the time period that the automobile was becoming more popular and fewer people were reliant on the streetcar. Buses began to replace the streetcars in 1922, which also significantly contributed to the decline in streetcar ridership.[7] Ridership increased again from 1933 to 1936 but then decreased from 1936 to 1940. Due to the gas rationing during World War 2, ridership rose significantly again from 1940 to 1946. Following the end of the war, streetcar ridership in the Twin Cities steadily declined until the rails were eventually removed through the entire system.

Methodology[edit | edit source]

A three-parameter logistic function was used to create two S-curves for the Twin Cities streetcar ridership data. Each S-curve used the following equation:

S(t) = K/[1+exp(-b(t-t0)]

S(t) is the ridership,
t is time (in years),
t0 is the inflection point (the year in which ridership reaches 1/2 K),
K is saturation status level (the highest ridership achieved),
b is a coefficient (the slope).
K and b had to be estimated.

The intercept, slope, R-squared and inflection point for the S-curves fit to the Twin Cities streetcar data

The first S-curve was calculated from 1881 to 1919 since the saturation status level was reached in 1920. This S-curve represented the birth, growth, and maturity of the streetcar system in the Twin Cities. The second S-curve was estimated for the remainder of the data from 1920 to 1954 and represented the decline of the streetcar system.

Statistical Outcomes[edit | edit source]

The S-curve for the birth, growth, and maturity of the streetcar ridership in the Twin Cities fit the data very well. This is reflected by the r-squared value of 0.9817. The S-curve for the decline in streetcar ridership, however, did not fit the data very well. This is likely because the decline in ridership experienced several shocks to the system, such as the Great Depression and World War 2.

Ridership data for the Twin Cities streetcars from 1881 to 1954

References[edit | edit source]

  1. a b c d e f g h Lowry, Goodrich. Streetcar Man. Lerner Publications Company, 1979. 1-177. Print.
  2. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Kieffer, Stephen A. Transit and the Twins. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Twin City Rapid Transit Company, 1958. 1-59. Print.
  3. a b c d e Issacs, Aaron, Bill Graham, and Byron Olsen. The 1940s. Minnesota Transportation Museum, 1995. 1-38. Print.
  4. "1917 Twin City Rapid Transit Company Street Railway Strike." Minnesota Historical Society. Minnesota Historical Society. Web. 7 Nov 2012. <>.
  5. Huber, Molly. "Lowry, Thomas (1843-1909)." Minnesota Historical Society. Minnesota Historical Society. Web. 7 Nov 2012. <>.
  6. a b "Wildwood Amusement Park." Minnesota Historical Society. Minnesota Historical Society. Web. 7 Nov 2012. <>.
  7. a b c Diers, John W., and Aaron Isaacs. Twin Cities by Trolley. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2007. 1-348. Print.