May 1999

Remembering U.S. vs. National City Lines

During the 1920s street railways were a vital industry that provided the bulk of everyday city transportation in the United States. It was also an industry predominently in private hands, an exemplar of American free enterprise.
     Less than three decades later, it was an industry in ruins, its traditional suppliers' business dying or dead, its operating companies passing to municipal ownership at public expense.
     The buses which replaced the streetcars came from a handful of non-rail suppliers, among them Twin Coach and Mack, but predominently from General Motors.
     Were the street railways bowled over by history as the public turned to a better alternative or were they run out of existence by their business rivals?
     This is a large and complex story without a single or simple explanation. One chapter in the story was described in a 1973 paper submitted to a U.S. Senate subcommittee by Bradford C. Snell. The paper was reviewed in the September 1974 issue of The Third Rail in “American Ground Transport”, reprinted here.

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Last updated December 25 , 1999