Salt Lake City Streetcars
Index For This Page
This page was last updated on July 29, 2015.
(This is a work in progress; research continues.)
The Streetcar Companies
- Salt Lake City Railroad
- Salt Lake Rapid Transit Company
- Consolidated Railway
- Utah Light & Railway Company
- Utah Light & Traction Company
- Salt Lake City Lines
"Mass Transit in the Salt Lake Valley: 1872 to 1960" -- An scanned version of Utah Economic and Business Review, Volume 37, Number 9, September 1977.
Salt Lake City Railroad -- Clarence Reeder's excellent history of the Salt Lake City Railroad before it was electrified in 1889.
Salt Lake City Streetcars -- Articles by Mike Laine about Salt Lake City's streetcars. Written for the locally produced Gandy Dancer newsletter.
Salt Lake City Streetcars -- An excerpt from John S. McCormick's The Power To Make Good Things Happen, The History of Utah Power & Light.
Salt Lake City Streetcar Timeline -- A timeline of events of streetcar development in Salt Lake City.
Salt Lake City's Streetcar Equipment -- Lists and other infomation about the streetcars themselves.
1939 Report of Operations -- Information extracted from Utah Light & Traction's 1939 Report of Operations.
Salt Lake City's Trolley Coaches -- An article from Bus World magazine (Volume 5, Number 2, February 1983) about Salt Lake City's trolley coaches, streetcars without rails.
Photos of Salt Lake City streetcars. (just a few for now, others to be added later)
Street Railway Journal -- An index to articles in Street Railway Journal magazine (1903-1914) and Electric Railway Journal (1914-1932).
Bus Information -- Information about the histories of bus transit systems in Utah, and the history of Utah Transit Authority.
The so-called "streetcar conspiracy" does not apply to Salt Lake City's streetcar system. National City Lines' purchase of Salt Lake City's transit system in 1944 came at a time when there was only a single route remaining. And its abandonment had been approved in May 1941, three years before, but was delayed to support the war effort.
Brad Snell's infamous streetcar conspiracy theory is hard to prove. American drivers quit riding streetcars because they wanted to, and had better alternatives. Driving a car is much more convienient that riding a street car, or light rail today. Light rail only works today because of congestion, and a common destination of sufficient density to justify the numbers of needed riders to support its high cost.
Beginning with research in the early 1980s, studying the demise of railroad passenger traffic here in Utah, it was always the same. As soon as an improved road, or a paved road came to town, rail passenger traffic fell off considerably. Paved highways started back in the 1930s, using taxpayer dollars, because our elected representatives at the time simply did what they thought we wanted, or at least what the various special interests wanted. Almost all of the various streetcar routes in Salt Lake City were abandoned in the 1920s and 1930s because Utah Light & Traction did not want to pay its share of paving the various streets as Salt Lake City proceeded to pave the streets throughout the city. I have researched all of the requests before the Public Service Commission to abandon the routes, and it was always the same circumstances. Improved roads meant more automobile traffic, and more ruts and pot holes, which in-turn led to paving, which led to abandonment of the streetcar route. It was the same in every case, a consiracy by GM is not needed to explain it, at least here in Utah. By the time National City Lines, or in our case, its Pacific City Lines subsidiary, came to Salt Lake City, there were only a one streetcar route left.
While a conspiracy would explain all things nicely (and you can find a conspiracy theory for every "bad" thing that has ever happened), the truth is, GM and its associated interests simply filled a market niche that had developed due to the way public dollars were being spent. Yes, the U.S. Senate convicted GM and its associates of anti-trust, but don't read too much into that particular political decision. It was pretty much after the fact, and rubber-tired mass transit was already well established.
On July 13, 1944, Salt Lake City Lines, a subsidiary of Pacific City Lines, took over the entire transit operations of Utah Light & Traction. (see Utah Public Service Commission case 2814, approved November 25, 1944)
(The PSC case shown above was the approval for Utah Power & Light Co. to assume ownership of all former Utah Light & Traction electric power generation and distrubution networks, following the sale of UL&T transit assets to Salt Lake City Lines. The actual PUC case, number 2776, for the sale to Salt Lake City Lines, was not available for research.)
At the time that Pacific City Lines purchased the transit operations of UL&T in July 1944, PCL was an Oakland-based holding company which controlled 12 properties in 3 western states: Montana, Washington and California. PCL's wartime earnings allowed the purchase of the Salt Lake property just a few months after acquisition of the utility-owned transit system in Sacramento, the capital of another western state, California. National City Lines had held a substantial interest in PCL but had relinquished control during a major refinancing in 1940. Management and operating methods were, however, little changed, and except for equipment numbering practices, there were few external differences between PCL and NCL properties. By spring 1946, Pacific City Lines was back under the control of National City Lines. (part from Motor Coach Age, Volume 29, Number 3, March 1987)
Streetcar Conspiracy Links
- Wikipedia article about the General Motors Streetcar Conspiracy
- Bradford Snell's GM conspiracy defended
- Zachary Schrag's comparison on both sides of the argument (PDF)
- Martha Bianco's discussion of the subject (PDF)
- Cliff Slater's "General Motors and the Demise of Streetcars", which blames the market, not a GM conspiracy, for the demise of streetcars; from Transportation Quarterly, Summer 1997 (PDF; 22 pages)
- A rebuttal against the conspiracy from "The Straight Dope"
- Guy Span's "Paving The Way For Buses", published in Bay Crossings, April 2003, Volume 4, Number 3
Notes from Utah Power & Light archives Box 5755 (From UP&L file dated September 18, 1914; research completed on March 5, 1982)
- Franchise in Bountiful dated November 27, 1912 for 43 years, assigned to UL&T on September 18, 1914.
- Franchise in Centerville granted by Davis County prior to incorporation of Centerville City, on December 2, 1912.
- Franchise through Davis County granted on December 2, 1912 from south boundary, on Highway No. 1, northeast for 6000 feet, then northeast along Highway No. 2 to south limits of Bountiful, then from north limits of Bountiful along Highway No. 1 to north limits of Centerville, for 43 years.
- Franchise in Salt Lake County granted on March 3, 1909 through Midvale to Sandy, for 46 years.
- Franchise through Murray granted on March 3, 1909 for 25 years, along State Street.
- Franchise for Holladay line granted by Salt Lake County on April 3, 1911, for 44 years.
- Franchise forfieted for line from Murray-Holladay Highway along Holladay-Cottonwood Road to Highway No. 72, then southeast across private property to Granite Station.
- Franchise in Sandy granted on June 15, 1910, for 45 years.
Notes from "Utah Light & Traction Co., History of Origin and Development, Prepared in Connection With Federal Power Commission Request, Order Dated May 11, 1937" (From Utah Power & Light archive library) (Research completed on March 5, 1982)
- When the LDS Church was forced to divest itself of its interest in Salt Lake City Railroad, the stock was purchased by Mayor Francis Armstrong and A. W. McCune in about 1889. (page 36)
- The first electric car operated on August 8, 1889 at 6 p.m., from the power house on 200 East to the east end of town, then back to the Garfield depot, then back to the power house. (page 36)
- Eight cars operated on nine miles of track. (page 36)
- McCune bought the shares of the estate of Armstrong. (page 43)
Much more research is needed into the relationship between Utah Light & Railway and Electric Bond & Share. EBS was a trust formed in 1905 by General Electric to control the generation of electric power in the U.S., and to increase the use of electricity by building electric railroads, both street railways and interurban railways.) (Google search 1) (Google search 2)