10.8.04

MORE RAILROAD READING? Live from the Third Rail discovers a review of Central Indiana Interurban. The discovery perpetuates the automotive conspiracy myth.
The interurbans, which connected small cities and towns with metropolitan areas, were so commonplace that most large cities had were connected to one by the early 1920s. However, by the late 1930s virtually all of the interurban services were extinct. Many fell victim to GM and other auto-industrial companies, as did the street cars in Los Angeles. Others simply became redundant as the automobile proved more flexible and versatile modes of transportation across and around America's vast interior.
Umm, no, the National City Lines case does not identify a vast automotive conspiracy to destroy the interurbans. Interurbans might well have been the dot.com bubble of the early 1900s; the bubble popped well before the Great Depression. Newmark's Door has the roundup on that. A more likely villain might be President Franklin Roosevelt's Public Utility Holding Company Act, something inadvertently alluded to in the review.
The one interurban to survive, the South Shore Railroad, did so because Samuel Insull, the utility magnate whose holdings included Commonwealth Edison and the Northern Indiana Public Service Company, also owned the South Shore from 1925 until 1932, according to the Shore Line Interurban Historical Society.

In other words, he helped usher the South Shore into the era of public subsidies for passenger transport. That is considered to be the reason why the electric train, which still travels from Chicago to South Bend and back on a regular schedule, is the only interurban that successfully made the transition to a commuter railroad.
That's part of it. The Insull interests also owned the Chicago Aurora and Elgin, the Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee, and the Indiana Railroad. The first two entered Chicago on respectively the Metropolitan and Northwestern Elevated tracks, which precluded much freight train service; the third served primarily rural areas. The South Shore, on the other hand, serves the steel mill country along the South Shore (obviously) and although it runs in city streets, the street trackage provided sufficient space for freight trains. For many years, the freight revenues sufficed to cover losses attributable to the passenger service.

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