5.10.19

THE LAST TRADITIONAL INTERURBAN CARS BUILT?

That might be an accurate description of the 451-460 series of cars built by St. Louis Car for the Chicago Aurora and Elgin.  Several of the cars were preserved in a quasi-rapid-transit and museum role at a Cleveland area mobile home park, and one of them went as far east as Scranton, Pennsylvania, until museum curators there decided to concentrate on conserving rolling stock from closer to home.

That car, 453, is now at Illinois Railway Museum, in good mechanical condition although requiring cleaning and painting.

The Trolley Dodger decided to tackle the definition of an interurban car.
It has often been stated that the ten curved-sided CA&E cars were the “last” interurbans built in the United States. To accept this, some caveats come into play.

First of all, what constitutes an interurban? Depending on how you define this, why wouldn’t the PATCO Speedline, which runs between Philadelphia and Camden County, New Jersey qualify as an “interurban,” even though it did not begin service until 1969?

What about the double-ended cars built by St. Louis Car Companyfor the Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Co. (aka Red Arrow) in 1949? They ran on the line between Philadelphia and West Chester, which is generally considered an interurban. But they resembled PCC cars, although they had conventional motors and were not “offically” considered PCCs.

Actual PCC cars were used in interurban service by Pittsburgh Railways, to Charleroi and Washington, PA until 1953.  Some of these cars were built in 1949.
That Lindenwold High Speed Line probably wouldn't qualify as an interurban, what with rapid-transit style high level platforms at all stations, turnstiles creating a paid fare area in each station, and grade-separated rights of way.  On the other hand, there are newer cars on the South Shore Line, where you still find cars running in city streets, and a few crossroad shelters to flag down a train (setting a rolled-up newspaper afire at night optional.)  But do contemporary commuters think of the South Shore as an interurban?
Perhaps it is fair to say that the CA&E cars were the last classic or conventional interurban cars built in the United States. There have been other interurban cars built since 1945 outside of the US, such as the cars operated on the South Shore Line.

An interurban is as much a sociological concept as anything, and has come to represent a particular era in American history. Pacific Electric ran an interurban between Los Angeles and Long Beach until 1961. But when service between those two cities was restored in 1990, via the Blue Line Metro, it was called light rail, even though much of the line runs in the same alignment that Pacific Electric used.

For that matter, is the South Shore Line, the so-called “last” interurban that survived, still an interurban?  Or would most of its riders today think of it as commuter rail?
For the moment, there is enough interurban tradition on the South Shore that I still think of it as such, those full-size coaches and trailers notwithstanding.  A longer train of Roarin' Elgin steel cars on the Illinois Railway Museum main line is pretty cool, too.

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