Oregon once had one of the most extensive streetcar systems in the United States. Streetcars provided cheap, comfortable public transportation - before there were automobiles.
Streetcar lines formed the streets and neighborhoods that shaped our cities, providing a foundation for the modern streetcar revival.
For decades, streetcars rattled throughout the region, and the nation, until they disappeared in favor of the car. Today, they are making a comeback.
In 2001, Portland introduced the first modern streetcar in North America, becoming a model for cities all over the country. But the idea is far from new.
More than a century ago, Oregon boasted an extensive network of streetcars. There were trolley cars in towns like Eugene, Salem, Astoria and Klamath Falls. Horsecars traveled over tracks in Corvallis and Baker City. Cable cars traveled up to Portland Heights and steam dummies reached out to Mt Tabor.
Portland had the third largest streetcar system of its kind in the United States. Its cable car line was steeper than anything in San Francisco. And the nation’s first interurban electric rail service stretched from Portland to Oregon City.
In Portland, outlying neighborhoods formed around lines, changing the layout of the city and spurring the development of nearby towns and tourist attractions.
Most of the streetcar companies were privately run operations that were also involved in real estate and electrical power. Some even built amusement parks, known as “Trolley Parks,” to attract riders on weekends and off hours. Oaks Park in Portland remains one of the nation’s last trolley parks.
Today, nearly fifty years after Oregon’s last lines closed, streetcars are enjoying a resurgence.
Edwin D. Culp, Early Oregon Days
Edwin D. Culp, Stations West, The Story of Oregon Railways
John T. Labbe, Fares, Please! Those Portland Trolley Years
Richard Thompson, Portland’s Streetcars
Richard Thompson, Portland’s Streetcar Lines
Richard Thompson, Willamette Valley Railways
Broadcast Date: February 28, 2011