Monday, June 30, 2008

10. Trolley lines in Champaign-Urbana

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May be you've seen the vintage street cars of San Francisco, but do you know that our own Chambana once boasted a successful electric trolley line?

This was more than a century ago ... when the first electric trolley lines rolled out.

From Wikipedia:

"The first trolley service in the area was established in 1863, when the Urbana Railroad Company was created to link Urbana and Champaign. These first trolleys were drawn by horses or mules. By 1890, work had begun on an electrified trolley system under the auspices of William B. McKinley. At its peak, this system had as many as 20 routes, including a nighttime "Owl Service" linking Champaign and Urbana.

Interurban streetcar service was also supplied to the area (and indeed to much of Illinois) by the Illinois Terminal Railroad Company, another brainchild of William McKinley. McKinley's scheme of selling electricity from the interurban system to the surrounding towns led to the founding of the Illinois Power and Light Company.

In 1901 the Illinois Motor Transit Company introduced a city bus system to the region, but they went bankrupt within the year. However, the inability of the trolley system to lay enough track to fully serve the area prompted the 1925 addition of another bus system by National City Bus Lines, a subsidiary of General Motors. In 1936, as was happening in other places across the nation, National City Bus Lines purchased the trolley system from the Illinois Power and Light Company and dismantled it. The last trolley operated on 10 November 1936. Within one month bus lines had become the dominant form of transportation in the city under the new name "Champaign-Urbana City Lines"."

That Champaign Urbana City lines almost closed in 1970, but a referendum allowed the creation of CU-MTD, the mass transit district. Their first fare? 30 cents! Considering the fare is at $1 now, it's not much of an increase over the last 38 years. And in the days of $4 gas, this is indeed a very affordable public transport system.

In the figure: Street car #10. "Car no. 10 was the first electric streetcar in Champaign-Urbana, entering service in October 1890 when the electric route opened between Hill and Neil Streets in downtown Champaign, and Wright and Green Streets at the University. Cars 10 and 11 were 16 foot 7 window closed cars built by the Brownell Car Co. in 1890. This picture, taken from the background of a larger view, shows car 10 in its original configuration, with open platforms and a Bombay roof. " Image courtesy of Champaign County Historical Society via H. George Friedman Jr.