When one thinks of an electric interurban railway, one usually thinks of the Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railroad (South Shore Line), generally regarded as "America's Last Interurban". One also thinks of the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee Railroad (North Shore Line), and the Chicago Aurora & Elgin Railroad, two lines which unfortunately became victims of post World War II expressway construction.
Comparing electric interurban railways and "steam railroads". The three major interurbans entering Chicago were not typical interurban lines, enabling them to survive well beyond the 1930's, when most interurban lines were abandoned.
"America's Last Interurban" continues to operate between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana.
Operated until 1963 between Chicago and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Operated until 1957 west of Chicago.
These three major interurban lines entering Chicago were once controlled by Samuel Insull, who also controlled various electric companies including Chicago's Commonwealth Edison, along with other interurban lines in Indiana, and the Chicago Rapid Transit Co.
Insull acquired control of the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee Railroad Co. in 1916, the Chicago Aurora & Elgin Railroad Co. in 1926, and the Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railroad in 1925. Insull resigned from control of all companies in 1932.
MORE TYPICAL INTERURBAN LINES
The more traditional interurban lines were more local in nature, and were basically extensions of city streetcar lines into the country, and on to other cities. Such lines typically ran alongside country roads, which generally were not paved at the time. But the paving of such roads in the 1920's and 1930's made the local interurban lines obsolete, with buses able to do the job more economically.
The Midwestern United States had the highest concentration of electric interurban railways, when interurbans were a popular form of transportation in the country in the early part of the century. Outside the Chicago metropolitan area, interurbans provided the basic local transportation, passing through smaller towns on their way between the larger towns and cities.
Most interurban lines underwent at least one change of name throughout their histories. Smaller lines were consolidated into larger systems by the 1920's. And after the Great Depression, many of those interurban lines which did survive reorganized, with new names. Many electric railways were owned by the electric utility companies, which of course supplied the electricity used by the trains.
In many areas, the interurban lines and local streetcar lines were under the same ownership. Some cities had streetcar systems not affiliated with any interurban lines. Most interurban lines were replaced with buses or abandoned during the 1920's and 1930's.
The first local transit routes in Chicago's suburbs were electric railways, including streetcar and interurban lines. Nearly all of these routes were replaced with buses during the 1930's, evolving to today's Pace bus system.
Some of America's most comprehensive interurban railway networks existed in the Midwest states beyond Chicago. Beyond the Midwest, the development of interurban lines was generally quite fragmented, except in the densely populated northeastern United States, where many local electric railways existed and interconnected.
The interurban industry is one of the most unsuccessful industries to ever exist in America. Included are misconceptions and myths, and what really happened to interurban transportation.
Many of the interurban railway companies provided supplemental, and eventually replacement bus service for the railway service. Many of these bus operations eventually evolved to Greyhound and other intercity bus companies.
An informal look at the question: How far can one travel, strictly using these electric railways of the past?
A similarly informal look at the question: How far can one presently travel, using only local transportation systems?
Some information for these pages is from "The Electric Interurban Railways In America", by George W. Hilton and John F. Due. Along with the McGraw Electric Railway Directories, which were a major resource for the above book. Additional information is from the Poor's and Moody investment manuals from past years.
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