Interurbans, and their suburban counterparts (the streetcar), were once common throughout the country. The mania began during the late 19th century and spilled over into the early 1900's as thousands of miles were laid down from New England to California. In retrospect, the financial interests behind these traction railroads were largely misplaced.
As William Middleton notes in his book, " The interurban was conceived as a transit system, developed from the basic streetcars of the era.To make matters worse they contained extremely high operating ratios of 85-90% (some were even greater than 100%) while the average rate of return never exceeded 3%.Most were gone by the immediate postwar years and only the strongest survived to see 1960.Ironically, the commuter services inteurbans provided are actually making a comeback as LRT (light rail transit) systems as cities look for alternatives to increasingly crowded highways.What became the classic interurban all began in the 1870's with two key developments; in 1870 Zenobe Gramme unveiled a generator for commercial use while Werner von Siemens showcased the world's first electric locomotive at an exhibition in Berlin, Germany during 1879.It opened on February 2, 1888 and proved successful. Louis Car Company Birneys Electroliners Presidents’ Conference Committee Streetcars, PCCs Another important developer was Sidney Howe Short who invented a double-reduction, gearless motor and also learned that overhead catenary was the best means for electrical pickup.