American Ground Transport*
Page 2

     Steam railroads provided frequent service between urban centers and branch lines carried passengers and freight to the remotest comers of the country. Barely a dozen years earlier, Frank Sprague’s first successful trolley installation in Richmond, Va., heralded a new era of electric transportation for our cities and towns.
     But even as electric transit technology evolved and overspread the nation, the infant auto industry was producing the antique ancestors of the vehicle that was to indelibly alter, and, many would say, ruin, the American style of living.
     The electric railway industry grew rapidly and peaked early. During the era preceding World War I changes in the physical structure of the industry mainly took the form of adjustments. New service was instituted for new markets, as trimming of marginal lines marked areas where promoters’ ambitions exceeded patronage potential.
     After the “World War” a new and disturbing element made itself felt in the urban picture as the introduction of advanced assembly techniques began to turn a rich man’s toy into a transportation alternative for many amidst the prosperity of the '20s.
     Trolleys and autos got in each other’s way as they fought for the same street space and a contemporary observer might not have believed which mode would eventually prevail.
     As auto development and marketing progressed, the street railway industry didn’t stagnate. Differing approaches to transit needs produced a variety of ideas and inventions, but it was not until 1936 that the efforts of the Presidents’ Conference Committee (PCC) produced the fist batch of 100 modern streetcars, which represented the greatest single advance ever made in electric rail transportation. More than a mere cosmetic facelift of old equipment, or a series of minor improvements in previous technology, the PCC car set a new standard of comfort, performance and patron acceptance through technical innovations still used in the design and manufacture of rapid transit and light railway equipment throughout the world.
      Yet, just 20 years after that huge forward step, the street railway had all but disappeared from the American scene. Why?
     A casual observer might well ask whether that question has more than historical significance in today’s auto-dominated world. His answer would be a definite yes. We have reached a crossroads in national transportation policy, where our future way of life may well depend upon decisions which may be better understood in the context of recent transit history.
     Against this background, American Ground Transport, a new report prepared by Bradford C. Snell and financed by the Stern Fund of New York, ties together many of the loose ends of years of transportation transition to present a picture of public policy goals influenced by private business considerations. The report was submitted in February [1974] to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly of the Committee on the Judiciary. Mr. Snell is presently assistant counsel to the sub-committee, which is chaired by Sen. Philip A. Hart of Michigan.
     “This is a study of the social consequences of monopoly,” the report begins. What follows reveals, among other things. the anatomy of changes which altered the American landscape.

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Copyright 1974 by Third Rail Press, 1999 by The Composing Stack Inc.
Reprinted by permission. Not responsible for typographical errors.

*Quotations in this article are taken from “AMERICAN GROUND TRANSPORT, A Proposal for Restructuring the Automobile, Truck, Bus, and Rail Industries,” 1973 by Bradford C. Snell. Excerpts used by permission of the author.

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