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Trams - Rearvision ABC National
« on: October 08, 2006, 01:06:28 PM »
First part:  http://www.abc.net.au/rn/rearvision/stories/2006/1749886.htm

Trams: Los Angeles

The story of the struggle between the tram and the car for supremacy in our cities. 100 years ago Los Angeles had the best and most extensive light rail in the world.

Second part  Sunday 8 October, 1pm
Repeated Tuesday.
Transcript: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/rearvision/stories/2006/1755249.htm

The story of trams part 2: Australia
In the first part of the 20th century trams ran in almost all Australian cities and many country towns. Why, during the 1960s, did trams mostly disappear? How did Melbourne manage to retain its trams?

« Last Edit: December 12, 2010, 07:32:05 AM by ozbob »
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Re: Trams - Rearvision ABC National
« Reply #1 on: April 09, 2009, 01:01:01 PM »


Annabelle Quince: Welcome to Rear Vision, with me, Annabelle Quince.

This week, the second in our series on the history of trams.

Reporter: Sydney's trams, after years of service, have almost had it. Alas, our grandchildren won't know what we mean when we say, 'He shot through, like a Bondi tram!'

Conductor: Stand clear please, thank you.


Annabelle Quince: Last week we looked at the demise of the street car system in Los Angeles. This week on Rear Vision I want to explore the history of Australian trams. When they first appeared, just how significant were they to the development of Australian cities? Why and when did they disappear? And most importantly, where did the expression, 'Shot through like a Bondi tram' come from?


Annabelle Quince: The story of the tram, both here and in the United States, offers some interesting insights into the current debate around public transport and our government's love affair with motorways.

The history of Australian trams begins in Sydney. As transport historian, Associate Professor Robert Lee from the University of Western Sydney explains, Sydney, not Melbourne, was our pre-eminent tram city.

Robert Lee: They first appeared on the streets of Sydney, specifically Pitt Street, in 1861. They were horse trams. It was actually an experimental tramline that was really a pilot for rural tramlines, to avoid the cost of building railways over the Blue Mountains and to Goulburn. So it was an experiment to build this tramline in Pitt Street. It was a total failure, because it was dangerous, it was laid with railway rails which projected above the street; there were fatalities, even though Sydney wasn't that busy, because people kept tripping over the lines, and it only lasted about five years or so. So the first tramline was very tentative.

Trams returned in the late 1870s in Adelaide as horse trams and in Sydney as steam trams, and the steam tramline in Sydney was the beginning of something big. It was built to serve the Exhibition of 1879 which was held in Sydney Botanical Gardens. The Sydney station at that time was further out of town than it is today, Devonshire Street, almost in Redfern, and to move the crowds from the station to the Exhibition in the Botanical Gardens, better transport was needed. At very short notice, the line was built for little steam engines, called motors, were imported from Baldwyn in Philadelphia in the United States, some trailer cars were also imported from the United States, and the service was started. And so it was going to be temporary, because trams had a bad reputation in Sydney. But this proved to be very successful and the line was soon extended; the first extension, interestingly enough to Randwick Racecourse. So the first lines in Sydney were built really for leisure purposes to get crowds to the Exhibition in 1879 and the following year to get crowds to Randwick Racecourse.

Reporter: The steam tram of course ran its last trip some years ago, and what a trip it was. The wheels got an extra drop of oil, the fireman really stoked the furnace, and bam! What a tram! The fare was a penny, and the old tram was the original guided missile.

Annabelle Quince: It was a different story in Melbourne however, as Paul Mees, Lecturer in Transport and Land Use, from the University of Melbourne, points out.

Paul Mees: Well we've had three types of tram. There were some very early trams that were drawn by horses, mainly in the 1870s, then from 1886 to 1891 we built the largest cable tram system ever built in the world. Unfortunately for us, the year our cable tram system opened, the electric tram was invented, and so cable trams became technologically redundant. So all future tramlines were built as electric trams. It's actually the centenary of the first electric tram service in Melbourne this year. So our first line was opened in 1906, then from the 1920s onwards, they gradually replaced the cable tram routes with electric trams, except for a few cable tramlines which ended up being replaced by buses.

Robert Lee: The first electric tram was built by Werner von Siemens, and ran near Berlin in 1879. The technology spread quite rapidly in the 1880s. Sydney built an experimental line in 1891 in the eastern suburbs, a permanent line with electric power on the north shore in 1893. There were short-lived electric lines on the outskirts of Melbourne, built by developers about the same time. So electric traction had been proved. And in 1900, Sydney takes a big step to electrify its main lines, with the construction of the George Street line as an electric line. And basically, by about 1910, all the city lines in Sydney have been electrified, and largely rebuilt too.

Annabelle Quince: And trams also were in smaller cities, because they were in Brisbane, they were in Adelaide, and even cities like Ballarat, weren't they?

Robert Lee: Yes, Brisbane in particular had a very intensively used tramway system and quite a long-lived one. Victorian provincial cities like Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong had tramway systems which were established in the heyday of mining and were run by, in the last years, or last decades, by the State Electricity Commission. Ballarat and Bendigo had the good fortune of being marginal electorates at State and Federal levels, and what this means is that their trams lasted a long while, because there was political pressure to keep them. So they lasted until the early '70s. Kalgoorlie had trams, Rockhampton had steam trams. Leonora in Western Australia, a tiny goldmining town out past Kalgoorlie, had a short tramline with one tram. That's the smallest, and the most remote. Launceston had trams. There were steam trams in New South Wales provincial centres like Broken Hill and Maitland, a big system in Newcastle, both steam and electric. So there were trams all over the place.

Annabelle Quince: So who owned these tramway systems, and how were they financed?

Paul Mees: They all started off, almost all of them started off as privately-owned, both Melbourne's and Sydney's. In Melbourne, the cable tram system was built by a single private concessionaire company on the public-private partnership model as we call it today. Basically the tram systems were taken over by public agency, due to public dissatisfaction about the quality of service that private operators were providing, and the financial return to the community, so maybe nothing much has changed. So all the train and tram systems eventually ended up in public hands, although most of them started off as private operations.

Robert Lee: Every Australian city has its own tramway story. In Sydney and Newcastle the tramways had a rather railway feel to them. In steam days they had stationmasters, they had signals and they ran substantial trains with three or four cars, tramcars behind a steam motor. So you can imagine in Elizabeth Street or Oxford Street, a four-car tram hurtling along, often at fairly high speeds. So in Sydney it was run as part of the railways. It was separated from the railways under the Lang government, and the Department of Government Transport was created in the early 1930s. And that, from its very beginning, started operating buses as well as trams.

Now that situation with the trams run by the railways, was unique to New South Wales. In Victoria, there was a concession company that ran the cable trams, the Municipal Tramways Trust ran the outer electric lines. Victorian Railways did own a couple of bayside tram systems, one of which was actually built to the different gauge of the Victorian Railways from St Kilda to Brighton Beach. In Adelaide and Brisbane, they were municipal enterprises of the city government; in Adelaide a trust, in Brisbane owned and operated directly by the City Council. In Rockhampton it was municipal. Mostly municipal, private companies in Perth and Fremantle with British capital. So as I say, every city has a different story.

Annabelle Quince: Michelle Zeibots, from the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology, argues that Sydney trams were important not only because they could move large numbers of people, but also because of the way they shaped the city.

Michelle Zeibots: Oh, they were very important, very, very important. Major events like big events at the Randwick Racecourse, the Sydney Cricket Ground, which are still very big crowd generators, the tramway network used to move tens of thousands of people within an hour, and you really couldn't do that without that high capacity mode of transport. So much so that if we look back at what sorts of capacities the tramway network had back in the 1930s, we find that it was actually greater than the capacity of the system that we have now. So by the system we have now, I mean the road network and the bus networks, or the bus routes that service those areas. So yes, it was enormously important and it wasn't just about moving people, it was also shaping the pattern of land use in Sydney.

So Sydney has a very distinct form of development. The Australian terrace house, which is a much-loved housing typology, that all developed around the tramway network. And then of course when that went, then we got a very different type of transport development and a very different pattern of land use development in the outer suburbs of Sydney.

Robert Lee: Sydney operated its trams very quickly, almost to the end. There's a famous saying, it's a cliché really, that 'you can shoot through like a Bondi tram', and it was true, Sydney trams did run fast. There was quite a lot of reserve track in Sydney, that is, track that's separate from ordinary road traffic. Sydney trams ran in very narrow, congested streets in the city, but once they got out past Taylor Square in the eastern suburbs, they had ample opportunities for high speed running because of all these eastern suburbs parklands in which the tracks were laid. So they did run quite fast. And Sydney trams also served leisure centres. The eastern suburbs were the playground of Sydney, the lower north shore too, to a certain extent, and so they served places like the numerous racecourses of the eastern suburbs, the beaches on both the lower north shore and the eastern suburbs, and indeed the northern beaches from Manly to Narrabeen, the Zoo, all these places were served by trams. So enormous leisure crowds moved by Sydney trams.

Reporter: Then came the toast-rack, much more sedate, and a lot more expensive.

Woman: The wind used to blow through the old trams, you know, didn't it? The wind used to blow through that, it was very, very well-ventilated, the old trams.

Man: The guard would collect the fares by treading the footboards outside all along; he couldn't walk through, he had to move along the footboard outside.

Robert Lee: The design of trams reflected that. Sydney's trams were very high capacity, designed for very fast loading and unloading. Rather uncomfortable. They were called toast-rack trams, because they were cross-bench seats, with a door on each side, no corridor. The seats were timber. By contrast in Melbourne, they had enclosed trams, not as many doors, rather warmer which was appropriate of course to the climate, and rather more comfortable with padded seats from an early stage. Sydney moved to an enclosed cars like Melbourne had in the '30s, but right, almost to the end, certainly until 1960, there were large numbers of so-called toast-rack trams. High capacity, taking the crowds to the Cricket Ground, to the races, and such venues.

Annabelle Quince: So give us an idea of the volume of people that they actually moved, like in Sydney, and compare that to Melbourne. Which one was the kind of the bigger volume in terms of moving people about, when they were at their height?

Robert Lee: At their height, Sydney was much bigger. Usage peaked at over 400-million in 1945, petrol rationing helped with that of course, so that was peak. 400-million is enormous. Just by way of comparison, Cityrail today moves around 200-million a year; in Melbourne the trains and trams each move around 100-million a year, so a total of 200-million, a bit more, for the trams and trains in Melbourne. Sydney moved 400-million by tram in 1945, Brisbane in the same year moved 160-million. So the Brisbane trams, a relatively small network, about 80 miles, moved almost as many people in 1945 as Melbourne's combined tram and train system does today. So huge numbers.

Annabelle Quince: If the trams in Sydney had such a great capacity, why were they closed down?

Robert Lee: Yes, it's only ten years from that massive peak of 400-million to the decision to close. There are a number of reasons: the rapid growth of motor traffic, which begins in 1950. In 1950, there were not very many more cars on the road than there had been in 1930; because of the effect of the Depression, the car numbers actually fell between 1929 and 1935. They recovered a bit by 1939, then came petrol rationing, which continued through to 1950.

But motor traffic took off after 1950. Trams and motor traffic didn't mix all that well, because cars had to stop behind trams in many situations to allow passengers to board and alight safely. Of course more influential people owned cars than rode trams. The NRMA in New South Wales, National Roads and Motorists Association, was extremely hostile to trams, and mounted a campaign against them. Buses did offer operational flexibility in some ways, although reduced capacity. The Commissioner at the time, the Commissioner of Government Transport, Shoebridge, believed that it was best to prune the network of trams, close the outer lines where buses would be more flexible, but keep it in a core of tram systems for the high capacity routes. That was the policy for about half a decade in the '50s, but then the decision was taken to close them, largely under NRMA pressure, political pressure; it was taken by the Labor party under Premier Joe Cahill.

Michelle Zeibots: The reason why so many cities got rid of them, and not all of them as you've pointed out, was because there were vested interests. There were private businesses that made a lot of money out of selling cars to people, selling the petrol to people, selling the tyres to people, selling the rolling stock of buses and things like that, and those sorts of motivations can be very persuasive to politicians for a wide range of reasons, and I think that's really what was the reason for it. Because if we look at Sydney for example, there were massive protests from local residents at the time when those tramlines were removed. They didn't want them removed. And that's something that's largely overlooked in these histories I think, you know, we now talk about everybody loving their cars, but I actually don't see a lot of evidence of that. We drive cars because in most cases we don't have much choice. But when it comes to make a choice between a better public transport system or more motorways and freeways, then most people from what I can see, tend to go for the better public transport. And that's the case now, and it was certainly the case back then when they were looking at removing the tramlines.

Paul Mees: Well I think Australia is kind of like a test case for some of the conspiratorial theories that you hear about, you know for example, why American cities lost their trams; they were all bought up by General Motors and closed down because General Motors didn't like public transport. In Australian cities, in every case, it was the government authority that ran the trams that made the decision to shut them down and replace them with buses, and I think, not to put too fine a point on it, in many cases it was simply because the trams and tracks were old and it was cheaper to buy buses to replace old trams, than it was to buy new trams and to rehabilitate the tracks.

Robert Lee: Interestingly enough, some of the most popular Sydney tramlines were in quite wealthy areas. The Watson's Bay line which went through Vaucluse, the trams to Mosman, very extensively used. The first big anti-tramway closure protest in Sydney was actually for the trams to Vaucluse and Watson's Bay, and the people of Watson's Bay and Vaucluse successfully agitated in 1950 when their line was closed, to have it re-opened. So rich people did travel by tram too. But yes, it is rather strange, it was seen as a means of modernising the city. Clem Jones in Brisbane took a similar sort of approach, the Labor Lord Mayor of Brisbane closed down the trams, he's since admitted he was wrong, but that's what he felt in the late '60s when he did the job.

Reporter: Just recently, the Prime Minister in a radio broadcast in Queensland criticised Brisbane's public transport as some of the worst in Australia, and most people here would agree with him. The scrapping of the city's substantial tram network six years ago, at a cost of $12-million, and the subsequent rundown of bus services, against a rising population, is a major problem for the administering Brisbane City Council.

Annabelle Quince: The last tram ran in Brisbane in 1969. In Sydney the process had begun earlier, and by 1961 the trams had disappeared from Sydney streets. The only city to keep its trams was Melbourne.

Reporter: There is no doubt that Melbourne's most distinctive form of public transport is the tram. We're now the only city in Australia to have them, and Frank Kirby, the Chairman of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board, has no doubts about the future.

Frank Kirby: Well Melbourne is geographically suited to trams, and we have 134 route miles of double track, all in excellent condition. We have in the main, wide streets, and there is no doubt at all that as distinct from a railway, the tram as a street public transport system, has the greatest capacity to move people quickly.

Robert Lee: Funnily enough it was rather a conservative man, Sir Robert Risson, General Manager of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Trust, who ardently fought to keep Melbourne's trams running in the face of hostility from the Liberal Premier, Henry Bolte, Risson took Bolte on and won, and retained Melbourne's trams. There are other factors too. By the 1950s, Sydney's tramway infrastructure and most of the trams themselves, were about 50 years old, and were in need of replacement. The trackwork needed replacing, that meant putting new tracks in, in massed concrete, as opposed to the old tracks which were in wooden blocks in the street. By contrast, Melbourne's trams had been rebuilt in the '20s and '30s, so the trams were younger, the track was younger, the electrical distribution systems were younger, so in Melbourne it wasn't time to replace the plant. In Sydney, it was time to replace the plant, and of course the course of least resistance was to replace it with buses rather than new trams.

Paul Mees: In Melbourne, the same economic equation that counted against trams in other cities, counted in favour of them. But I also don't think we should overlook the fact that between 1949 and 1970 the redoubtable Major-General Sir Robert Risson ran the tram system in Melbourne. He was a Major-General, retired, after the Second World War and he loved trams. And he was the one that had them put back in Bourke Street and a number of other major routes after they'd experimented with double-decker buses, and they hadn't been very popular. So I think we kind of had a conjunction of historico-economic factors, but also a particular key individual who was a very strong supporter of trams. By the time Risson retired in 1970, everyone else was saying to Melbourne, 'Goodness, weren't you clever to hold on to your trams', and so they were probably more or less safe after that.

Annabelle Quince: Despite retaining its trams, Melbourne has also seen a decline in public transport use. So is it that Australians are just so in love with their cars?

Paul Mees: Look, I must say I always reach for my revolver when I start hearing about love affairs with the car, because I actually think urban Australians make relatively rational decisions about how they'll travel. The simple fact is, it's incredibly inconvenient to do so, even for someone like me who lives in the inner city. And it's not primarily a technological question. I think a lot of transport planning kind of gets caught up in the fact that too many boys in particular, appear to have been deprived of toy train sets when they were young, or something. And so everyone seems to think that it's all about whether it's trams are better than buses, or whether there's some fancy new technology like monorails that will solve the problem. Sure enough, you find that all the cities that have done best in restraining people from becoming totally car-dependent, they use the same technologies as the cities that have done badly; it's just that they put the package together in a different way.

So if you go to my pin-up city, Zurich, the highest rate of public transport use in the world outside Hong Kong, yet a very wealthy city, they have a complete network of trains and trams and buses and ferries, and even funny little things on wires that go up the top of mountains, and the whole thing functions as a completely organic system. So you can set off from any part of Zurich, at any time you feel like, and get anywhere in the rest of the metropolis without ever having to wait ages for a transfer, and without being caught somewhere because the last bus has just left at 6pm, and there's nothing until tomorrow morning. There's no Australian city where you've ever been able to do that. Even at the time when public transport was dominant, it didn't provide people with those options. They didn't have any choice in the matter in those days, but public transport in Australian cities has never provided that complete mobility package that it does in the very best of overseas cases, and because it doesn't, and because it's easy to drive, once cars become affordable, then you get a mass exodus away from this partial and rather inconvenient non-system in favour of the car, which is convenient and can take you anywhere.

Annabelle Quince: For many people, the question remains: would our cities be better places to live and work if we had kept our trams?

Paul Mees: Well I think we would have. Although as I've said, I don't think it's the main issue, I think the main issue is providing a comprehensive public transport service everywhere, regardless of the mode employed. But you do get direct urban amenity benefits from keeping trams, and I guess the clearest example for me is you travel along Parramatta Road in Sydney, which once used to be a major tram corridor lined with tram-oriented shopping centres continuously for some kilometres; you go along it now and it's just a dead traffic sewer. If you compare that to some of the tram arterial strip shopping centres in Melbourne, where the retention of the trams has prevented their destruction by cars, I think you can see that Sydney's lost a lot actually by throwing away its trams and surrendering those streets to the automobile.

Robert Lee: Oh, we would have been infinitely better off. I don't think there's anybody in the city who would say that it was a good decision. It was a decision of immense folly, but we've lived with the consequences of it.

Announcer: 702 traffic.

Reporter: You've got a breakdown in Forestville on Warringah Road that ...

Reporter: ... Strathfield problems northbound from Tenery Drive approaching Warina Way, we call it the Bermuda Triangle...

Reporter: Also there's heavy traffic at Smithfield this morning ...

Reporter: ... breakdown on the Cahill Expressway, that's been dealt with, but I mean of course you might still have to deal with the 'shadow of the accident', as they call it.

Annabelle Quince: That's the program. And the end of our look at trams. Thanks to sound engineer John Jacobs, and to Sabrina Lipovic from ABC Archives. I'm Annabelle Quince.

Conductor: And your fares please, thank you. BELL
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Re: Trams - Rearvision ABC National
« Reply #2 on: December 12, 2010, 05:03:21 AM »


Annabelle Quince: Welcome to Rear Vision; I'm Annabelle Quince.

In today's program, the story of the titanic struggle between trams and cars, for supremacy in our cities.

During the early part of the 20th century the battle between trams and cars raged. But by the 1960s tramlines were being ripped up around the world, especially in the US and Australia, and it was clear that the motor car had won.

Announcer: 702 Traffic.

Reporter: You've got a breakdown in Forestville on Warringah Road.

Reporter: ... Strathfield, problems northbound through Teneri Drive approaching Warina Way, we call it the Bermuda Triangle.

Reporter: Also there's heavy traffic at Smithfield this morning .

Reporter: ... breakdown on Cahill Expressway that's been dealt with, but of course you might still have to deal with shadow of the accident, as they call it.

Annabelle Quince: Fifty years on, those cities that lost their trams are facing traffic gridlock, and the debate has gone full circle. Should we be building bigger and better freeways, allowing more and more of us to drive cars? Or should we reintroduce trams or light rail, and get people back onto public transport?

It's a debate that goes to the very heart of how we live in cities, and the kind of cities we'll have in the future.

Man: I don't know what it's like to not have a car.

Man: You've got to have it, it's a necessity of life.

Woman: ... blocking the fast lane south RCPH still a struggle from Topanga to.

Annabelle Quince: Over the next two weeks, we re-examine the demise of the tram, or the streetcar as it was known in America. It's a story that has many parallels with the current debate around public transport.

Next week Australia's story, but in Rear Vision this week, the story of Los Angeles, and the big red cars.

In most American cities today the car rules, and nowhere is this truer than in Los Angeles: freeways dominate the landscape and the only way to get around is by motor car. It's almost unimaginable to think of Los Angeles without cars, yet a hundred years ago it was a very different story. Then it was the streetcar or tram that dominated the city streets.

Woman: When you talk about public transportation in America, for the first part of the century you're talking about streetcars. Trolleys ran on most major avenues every few minutes; steel track and wide electric motors made the ride smooth and clean and comfortable. The centre of the road was reserved for streetcars, and the new automobiles had to move out of the way.

Woman: It's not very well known, especially when people think about the US and think about this pre-eminent car culture that at one time in the early 1920s, one person in ten had an automobile in the US and everyone else used rail, and particularly in the cities, everyone used street rail or streetcars. And that when we think of our cities now, as with the streets that are plied with cars, and buildings that are built and signage that is made for our world with cars, it was a very different city in the 1920s.

Annabelle Quince: Martha Olsen is an activist and co-producer of the documentary film, Taken for a Ride, which documents the demise of transit systems across America.

Martha Olsen: The Los Angeles street rail system was one of the most famous in the world, and it was considered one of the most extensive in the world. Actually they had two street rail lines. They had the Pacific Electric, the famous red cars, which were advertised as going from - Connecting the Mountains to the Sea in Los Angeles. It was over 1,000 miles of track, and what's very ironic is that if you look now at a freeway map of Los Angeles, you can still see a shape and etchings of those early lines because they created the development and really essentially built the city. There was also in Los Angeles a yellow car, a system of yellow cars, the Los Angeles Railway, and they were essentially a downtown system that was much like many systems on most American cities at the time. They ran on almost all of the streets, north, south, east, west, and pretty much connected everyone top the downtown core.

Annabelle Quince: Jonathan Richmond is a visiting scholar in the Department of Urban Planning and Design at Harvard University, and author of Transport of Delight: The mythical concept of rail transit in Los Angeles.

Jonathan Richmond: It was an absolutely massive rail venture and you had property booms developing along the routes of the tracks. It had core and downtown Los Angeles and it spread out its tentacles radially from downtown Los Angeles, out in all directions. It went down to Long Beach and Long Beach just grew like crazy. It went out to the west, it went to the east, it went to Santa Monica, it went to San Bernardino, over a vast area. The lines were fairly well spread apart, and the interesting thing was that the development did not at first take place between the lines because they were not accessible. So development took place where the lines provided accessibility.

Annabelle Quince: And am I right in thinking there was a time when that railway network was literally one of the biggest railway networks in the United States?

Jonathan Richmond: Oh, absolutely. In terms of suburban railways, it was one of the biggest in the world, huge. We're talking about 1100 miles. It was a big, big system.

Martha Olsen: And in the early days of street rail, it was oftentimes the electric companies, the utility companies who would build the street rail, because in the days when many houses weren't electrified, owning or operating a street rail system was a way to use excess electricity. So it was very common, particularly in the mid-west, a part of the US that the utility companies would also own the street rail system.

Annabelle Quince: Unlike other cities in the US, in Los Angeles, the street rail was built and run by one man, Henry Huntington.

Jonathan Richmond: You ask what sort of a character he was. Well he was very wealthy, he was known to be a bit of a dreamer who developed Los Angeles in a very big way. He lived in a magnificent mansion. If you're visiting Los Angeles, you can still visit Huntington House; I would very much recommend it, it's got a beautiful library, with a Gutenberg Bible and other things to see, and it's in San Marina, California. But anyway, Henry Huntington really was responsible for the form that LA was to take.

Martha Olsen: In Los Angeles, Henry Huntington really ran a lot of his lines in order to sell property at the further extension, so it was partly a real estate development scheme, partly a money-making scheme, and then also particularly the inner urban lines, which is what the Pacific Electric in Los Angeles was called, it's a line that ran between cities, as well as running inside of cities, often carried freight at night. For example, the Pacific Electric cars ran at night, brought freight downtown instead of trucks, and during the daytime, they carried passengers. And that was not uncommon in a lot of American cities at the turn of the century, or when these lines were first being used.

Annabelle Quince: While the system was extensive there was a tension, because development only occurred along the lines which left vacant land in between the tracks.

Jonathan Richmond: There was a tension. Development was occurring on the tracks, but there were bits in the middle where there wasn't development, so in a way there was a demand for technology that could allow that development to happen in the middle. And of course it came along with the internal combustion engine and the private car. And that was to be the next revolution, because it allowed you to develop away from the tracks, and that in effect spelt the end for the railway system, because people then built their houses in places that were not accessible to the railway line, and became more and more used to using their cars, and they also learned that their cars could be used not just to go to the centre of town but you could go across the town, you could make all sorts of journeys, you had much more accessibility. And the railways were starting to lose money because of this competition; in fact they started losing money very, very early on in the 20th century, and it just got worse and worse. You see the initial use of the car was a lot for leisure purposes, your families going out for these elegant Sunday outings. And it took away the market for a lot of the off-peak, and made the railways very expensive to operate compared to the revenue they could obtain.

So they got into more and more financial trouble and then they became interested in converting their services to buses. Why? Well first of all the buses cost less to operate, but secondly, the buses could go away from the railway tracks, and could provide a more dispersed form of transport, and you see these advertisements from the 1930s for 'de luxe motor coaches', and you see these elegant people getting on to these buses. And they were known to provide a more comfortable and more direct service than the railway. So essentially, having stimulated development that took off in ways that Huntingdon might not have recognised, and essentially made the railway unviable; it no longer had an economic force, so essentially the system was doomed at that point.

Annabelle Quince: Martha Olsen disagrees. She argues that the demise of the street car was not economic, but rather due to a deliberate plan by motor car companies like General Motors, who saw the street car as a direct competitor.

Martha Olsen: In 1925 General Motors and most all the auto companies in the US began to understand that the fantastically growing market for new automobiles was going flat. They weren't selling as many new cars as they had in the past. And when they were looking at their markets, they understood very significantly that the more street cars and more cities were structured around street cars, the more difficult it was going to be to convince people to try to use an automobile in the city.

So they did want to get not only the ridership from the street cars, but they wanted the physical space on the street. I think that's something that when we look at it today, we don't realise as much that the street cars ran down the centre of the street, and automobiles as they increased in number on city streets, were kind of pushed to the side, they had to get out of the way of the streetcars, the streetcars had signage and signalisation that gave them priority so essentially the cars waited and the streetcars ran, and they ran fast.

Annabelle Quince: In today's program I'm taking a look at the demise of a public transit system in Los Angeles in the 1930s and '40s. Was it due to economics, or a conspiracy?

Many of the streetcar systems in the US were bought up by bus companies, the tracks pulled up and the lines converted to diesel buses. The biggest bus company in the US was the National City Line.

Martha Olsen: National City Lines was a company that was basically formed with the money from General Motors; it was owned and ostensibly led by a group of three brothers from northern Minnesota that had a small bus company, but essentially the money came from General Motors, and General Motors subsidiaries. It began in the mid-'30s, 1935, they began buying up systems in the Midwest and in the southeast. Then more systems came for sale and General Motors pulled in some other companies to help fund this venture. They went to Standard Oil, California, Phillips Petroleum, Firestone Tyre, Mack Truck, and pretty soon these companies were investing in buying up streetcar systems through the Midwest and coming out into the west

By 1946 when the US government began looking at the street-rail situation and had begun hearing complaints from rail companies that they were being forced out of the urban rail market. National City Lines was the biggest bus company in the US and it controlled transit systems in 83 US cities. So it grew from this little company owned by three brothers in their mid-'30s to the nation's biggest transit operator.

Annabelle Quince: So when did National City Line arrive in Los Angeles, and what was the impact when they did?

Martha Olsen: Well National City Lines, through a subsidiary, it was actually Pacific City Lines, purchased the Los Angeles Railway, the yellow cars, which ran in the downtown part of Los Angeles during World War II. The impact wasn't that great when they first purchased the line, because during the war, with the shortages of gasoline in the US, most rail systems were relied on heavily, and no-one was allowed to convert a streetcar system to bus during the war; it was just not possible to get the gasoline. So basically the changes that took place once the National City Lines conspirators started to operate the yellow cars in Los Angeles, it didn't really happen until after the war, right after the war in 1946. And it was at that point that they began to abandon those street car lines and convert them as quickly as they could to buses, downtown.

Jonathan Richmond: There's an argument by people who say there was a conspiracy by General Motors to close down the railway, and there's another argument that the railway was not viable and that the operators were only too happy to have the opportunity to instead have modern diesel buses, which costs less to operate, and had a chance of covering their costs. So you might call it a conspiracy, but if it was a conspiracy, everyone was involved, and it had an economic basis that the demand had changed and the buses could serve the demand better. Meanwhile another key issue was that the railway infrastructure was so dilapidated it was essentially becoming non-functional. So the choice at that point really was either the railways infrastructure had to be renewed. You had to get a new set of rolling stock, you had to renew the tracks, you either had to do that, absolutely massive capital venture, or you had to discontinue it. Now there was no way that the private operator had the assets to do that renewal. So the only way that could have happened, and there was no marketplace, if the revenue wasn't there to pay for it.

So the only way that renewal could have happened would have been if the government had stepped in and done it itself. And in the absence of the government stepping in, the only answer was to convert to diesel buses.

Annabelle Quince: Even though the streetcar lines in Los Angeles were privately owned, in order to convert them to buses, the company needed the city's permission.

Martha Olsen: Even though these streetcar lines are privately owned, they operate under franchises through the city, so they need to convert a line or abandon a line, one needs to get permission from the city or Regional Public Utilities Commission. Those were public hearings, so you can look back at the public record and see these time and time again, these hearings in which these bus operators would come in, no-one understood or knew that they were funded by General Motors, or Standard Oil California, which is now Chevron, some of the biggest oil and auto manufacturers in the world, nobody understood that these little companies, these little political fights: shall we abandon the street rail and go to bus? Nobody understood the real players in that drama. But they were there.

Newsreader: A blistering attack was laid down today by a group of civic leaders. Attorney Marshall Stimson told the board, 'You're not going to solve Los Angeles' traffic problems by turning loose hundreds of buses to stink up the air, slow down traffic and tie up the streets.' A survey of San Fernando Valley citizens showed 88% want rail passenger service retained.

Martha Olsen: Buses back then were nothing like the buses we have now. Their transmissions were extremely rough. Their exhaust systems were very poor. Some of the buses manufactured by General Motors, for example, their exhaust went right into the bus. Maybe some of it went out, but it wasn't well sealed, so that people would get on these things, get sleepy, they would come out reeking of diesel exhaust, or gasoline exhaust, they really were inferior systems, and knew that it was very clear, riders understood that they were losing an important public service.

Newsreader: The State Public Utilities Commission yesterday granted the Pacific Electric the right to use buses instead of trolleys on most of its suburban lines. It probably will take three to six months before the big red cars stop rolling.

Martha Olsen: In Los Angeles when you look at those public hearings that took place as these bus operators were trying to convert the lines and gain permission, they were hugely attended; there were hundreds of people who would come, and big opposition in the newspapers for months and months on end. Letters written about what a bad deal this would be for people in Los Angeles.

Jonathan Richmond: Yes it did have an impact; it certainly accelerated the process at which rail stopped being existent, and it brought in the General Motors diesel bus. I mean an interesting sideline is that if it had not been for this, there might have been a role for electric buses, which would have been more environmentally friendly. That certainly is something that is worth noting. I mean the diesel bus was sold in a very big way, and I think it was accelerated. But the fact of the matter is that without General Motors the same thing would have happened. It might have taken a little bit longer, but it was inevitable.

Reader: To the Mayor and the city manager, to the city transit engineer, and to the taxpayers and the riding citizens of your city, there is a carefully, deliberately planned campaign to swindle you out of your electric railway system. The plan is to deliberately destroy public utilities. Who are the corporations behind this? What is more important, why are they permitted to destroy valuable electric railways?

Martha Olsen: A man named Commander Quinby, Edwin Quinby, he was part of a Rail Passenger Association in the East. He began to publicise and kind of out these companies that were abandoning rail systems across the country, and in 1946 he sent out this warning to a number of cities across the country saying Watch Out, you think this is just a local story that your local street rail system is crying poverty and says that they need to convert to bus because nobody rides the rail any more, and it's too expensive, but the truth is, there are some major players in this game, and they really are trying to steal or get rid of, or remove a public service that you have relied on in your community for a long time.

Reader: Queer case of Quinby by Ross Schram.

Edwin J. Quinby took full advantage of the great American privilege of the free press to feed the lunatic fringe of radicals and crackpots springing up like weeds in the United States today.

Martha Olsen: Of course the bus manufacturers and the bus folks got on Quinby's case and in our film 'Taken for a Ride', we even quote some articles where they kind of call him a radical and a crackpot, and try to really discredit Quinby as well as anyone who wanted to kind of raise their voice about what was going on in the transit world.

Annabelle Quince: In 1946 the US government became involved. An anti-trust indictment was filed against General Motors, not for ripping up streetcar lines, but rather for controlling bus companies like the National City Line. General Motors and its partners were convicted, and fined $5,000 each. The senior executives of General Motors were fined $1.

Jonathan Richmond: There was indeed a court case against General Motors. The interesting thing is, you know how much they were fined? $1. So I think that's a pretty powerful statement. But it's been very influential because if you see a lot of the forces behind railway rejuvenation, you see this conspiracy coming up again and again, and the idea that we could have had the good old days if we had kept the railway, which is not really connected with fact. And you get almost a sort of cargo cult type of culture, in which the idea is if you put the facility in place, then somehow all sorts of good things are going to come back. You hear politicians talking about 'connecting communities', 'providing employment opportunities', you know, 'Oh, this will connect them to the universities', without considering well are they trained in order to get admission to those universities? And it will connect them to employment, but are they up to taking their employment? So it's a way short-circuiting much, much bigger and more difficult social problems. It represents an easy answer, and that's the function of metaphor you know, something solid, standing in for something abstract. And a train on steel rails is a transport of delight. It makes you think you have an answer.

Annabelle Quince: In 1948 the National City Lines and Pacific City Lines merged and more street rail lines in Los Angeles were converted to buses. In 1961 the last red car line ran.

Martha Olsen: Now Los Angeles is the pre-eminent automobile city. It's a place where you don't go, it's very difficult to get anywhere without getting on a major freeway. What is ironic is that it was built on a rail system, it was built for a rail system, and it was organised and structured around a system that is now a ghost in that place.

Jonathan Richmond: I think it happened in many other places. I think it was more dramatic in L.A. because L.A. was really where it began and where there was a great sense of history. I think in many of the East Coast centres, the railway did stay in existence. You had much more of a viable market for rail services in New York, in Philadelphia, in Boston and Chicago in the Midwest, San Francisco. It continued to make sense for the railway to exist.

Martha Olsen: Once you're in a city or a built environment, it all seems like a fait accompli, it seems as if you can't change it, that cities are the way they are, and have always been that way, or this is the way our life is conducted. And the truth is, these big infrastructure projects are not forever; they're constantly being built and changed and revamped, and made to work in ways that nobody dreamed they ever would need to be worked. That was what was so moving to me, thinking about this rail system and that whole communities were formed and shaped and grew up around rail lines and streetcar systems and they are now entirely gone. And it's not just that the system's gone, and that you're riding a different mode of transit, but it's the way that rail lines and streetcars and public transit creates civic life in a city that is very important, and struck me as an incredible loss.

I think our automobile culture has a lot of interesting and fun and wild kind of aspects to it, but civic life is certainly not among them.

Annabelle Quince: If the story of L.A. street rail has made you curious about the history our trams, join me next week.

Thanks to sound engineer Angus Kingston, and to New Day Films for the use of their film, Taken For A Ride.

Thanks for joining me; I'm Annabelle Quince.
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Re: Trams - Rearvision ABC National
« Reply #3 on: December 12, 2010, 08:15:58 AM »
You see the initial use of the car was a lot for leisure purposes, your families going out for these elegant Sunday outings. And it took away the market for a lot of the off-peak, and made the railways very expensive to operate compared to the revenue they could obtain.

I don't believe the conspiracy theory re: General motors etc. IMHO they were opportunists taking advantage of a pre-existing problem.
It wasn't just in the US, but all over the world.

Here is the key: All day PT use collapsed. This wrecked the farebox ratio. IMHO the key now is to get back the off peak patronage. This is much harder than the low hanging fruit which is work in the CBD trips, because you need cross-town and orbital services for that. People by and large DO NOT go shopping in the CBD during the day IMHO. They go to their local shopping centre, they shop in the suburbs. This is the problem- the PT system is designed like it was 1960 when the city downtown area was the place you did your shopping.

We know that we can win back off peak patronage. It's called connections, it's called orbital and cross-town routes and it's called FREQUENCY.

Melbourne has done it with the SmartBus. There is no reason (no, not even geographical barriers like the river prevent this) why Brisbane cannot have orbitals and cross-town routes. If you look at the northern suburbs of Brisbane, the street is a grid pattern.
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