Off my trolley – interurbans

WARNING – if you are from North America, please look away.  This is a confirmed UK resident writing about US railroads, so total accuracy is unlikely!  But I hope in this post to give some idea of the breadth of the prototype – as with ‘ordinary’ railroads, there is a prototype for everyone.  I’ll add plenty of links to other sites, rather than photographs – easier to do this than attribute everything…..

Let’s generalise and split the country into east, west and central USA.  In the east my impression is of smaller interurban lines linking towns.  Perhaps this was because the railroad infrastructure was so dense in this area, that there was little room for more expansive traction systems.  And railroads such as the Pennsylvania and the New Haven were already into electrification, especially for suburban services.  But there is the Aroostook Valley Railroad  carrying potatoes in Maine.  There is the Laurel Line, connecting Scranton and Wilkes-Barre in Pennsylvania, with a double tracked, largely third-rail system, with some overhead.  The main freight yard at Scranton had third-rail throughout – must have been before H&S!  The Laurel Line was also a prototype for a continuous run layout.  The line was double tracked, and at each end, the terminus was a tight, about 50 foot radius loop with the platform adjacent.  No reversing required….

Another small bridge route was the Piedmont and Northern in North Carolina – a short bridge route where some tracks are still used today.

Chicago was commuter land.  The North Shore Line and the South Shore line resembled suburban railroads in many ways, but instead of pantographs there were trolley poles and in places street running.  Freight was an important part of these lines, and some large electric locos could be seen.

The mid-West had extensive passenger interurban services, but freight tended to be carried by box-motors.  I have to include a link to the Indianapolis Traction Terminal –  a monster of a interurban station with an overall roof that could grace any railroad.

In the west of the USA, the traction railroads had a special flavour, where interurban services mixed with heavy freight services.  There were shortlines, such as the Central California Traction and the Yakima Valley Transportation Company.

But the jewels in the crown were the Pacific Electric Railway (note: railway not railroad) and the Sacramento Northern.  The Pacific Electric, in Los Angeles, was the largest electric railway system in the world in the 1920s, with 2,160 daily trains over 1,000 miles of track.  This included two four track mainline sections, where large express interurbans overtook smaller cars or trains of oil or fruit.  Before the freeway came, the Pacific Electric opened up the hinterland around central Los Angeles for development.

The Sacramento Northern boasted 183 miles of track around San Francisco.  It had some interesting features – some cars carried trolley poles, pantographs and third-rail shoes to operate on various parts of the system.  It also had a train ferry with overhead power.

The choice is endless!  Future posts will give some layout ideas for interurban model railroads…..

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About snitchthebudgie

Secretary of the East Surrey N Gauge railway club
This entry was posted in Jon's layout ramblings, Layout design, Traction and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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