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In Australia, "interurban" is a general term for intercity rail.

A Philadelphia interurban.
An Interurban, also called a radial railway in parts of Canada, is a type of electric passenger railroad that enjoyed widespread popularity in the first three decades of the twentieth century in North America. Until the early 1920s, most roads were unpaved and could become nearly impassable during wet weather. Travel was by horse back or carriage, and cartage was by horse drawn wagon. The interurban provided a new predictable, durable, and comfortable way to travel and, in some cases, a way to get farm products including fresh milk into town. At present, what once was called an interurban is now categorized as either commuter rail or light rail depending on operation and may include urban streetcar lines.

Rise and decline

Interurbans were often extensions of existing streetcar lines running between urban areas or from urban to rural areas. The lines were mainly electrified in an era when steam railroads had not yet adopted electricity to any large degree. By 1910, there was a very large network of small interurban lines in the U.S., particularly in Indiana and Ohio. Many were financially weak from the beginning. An electric interurban railroad was expensive to build, and there were always construction surprises, such as an unplanned bridge, or a town that demanded streets for the interurban to construct, and franchise fees. In operation, interurbans were labor intensive and physical plant expensive, and frequently passenger revenues were not as originally projected. Many did not survive the 1920s following the country's growing adoption of the automobile and the onset of the Great Depression in 1930.

By emphasizing freight service, some interurban lines (such as the Cincinnati and Lake Erie Railroad, the Indiana Railroad, the Lake Shore Electric Railway, and portions of the Pacific Electric) struggled through the Depression but were abandoned just before World War II. Some lines barely made it to World War II, enjoyed a war-related surge in business, only to decline into abandonment after the end of the war. Examples are the Hagerstown & Frederick Railway, Illinois Terminal, Lehigh Valley Transit near Philadelphia, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railway, Sacramento Northern, and the remaining portions of the Pacific Electric.

Interurban lines that have survived to the present day often evolved into commuter railroads or freight short lines. Examples are the Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad, Philadelphia and Western, and the Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company.

Definition of "interurban"

Real-world lines fit on a continuum between wholly urban street railways and full-fledged railroads. George W. Hilton and John F. Due, in The Electric Interurban Railways in America, define an interurban as a system which shares most or all of four characteristics:

  • Electric power
  • Passenger service as primary emphasis
  • Heavier, faster equipment than urban streetcars
  • Operated on street trackage in cities but on roadside tracks or private rights-of-way in rural areas

The definition of "interurban" is necessarily blurry. Some streetcar systems evolved partly into interurban systems with extensions or acquisitions, while other interurban lines became, effectively, light rail systems with no street running whatsoever, or became primarily freight-hauling railroads with a progressive loss of passenger service.

Another distinction is made between "interurban" and "suburban". A suburban system is oriented toward a particular city center in a single urban area, serving primarily commuters who live in the suburbs of a city. An interurban is more like a regular railroad local train service, moving people from one city center to another with no single center. However, unlike a local train, the interurban serves a smaller region and has more frequent service, and is oriented to passenger rather than freight service, although some small-load freight service was common, especially in the days before trucks (lorries).

History of interurban rail in North America

The first interurbans were constructed in the 1880s, following the successful development of the electric traction motor and controller by Frank Sprague. States with numerous interurban lines were Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. States with less interurban density were Iowa, Utah, California, Texas, and Oklahoma. By 1900, just over of track had been laid. Mileage peaked in 1916 with over 15,500 miles. Always requiring extensive operating capital for many employees, rolling stock acquisition, rolling stock maintenance, operation of shops, track maintenance, interurbans could go bankrupt and into receivership even during a good year. One bridge washout, wreck, fire, strike, or dispute with a village or town over track issues and franchise costs could cause bankruptcy for a struggling line.

Onset of decline

Beginning around the end of World War I the industry began a decline. This was accelerated in the 1920s by the growth in automobile ownership combined with state construction of durable concrete highways. Often these highways flanked the interurban lines, and in some cases the state would pressure the struggling interurban to abandon service so that the state highway could be widened after tracks were removed. The Great Depression finally drove most interurbans into bankruptcy in the early 1930s. A few survived into the 1950s and a few more into the 1960s. Those that survived to the 1960s tended to be lines that had become commuter systems into large cities, such as Chicago's North Shore Line and South Shore Line. Only the South Shore Line operates today, and this is with regional subsidies. The South Shore still shows part of its interurban past with its center of street operation in Michigan City. Other survivors had developed an unusually strong freight business like the Illinois Terminal, although the IT is now gone as a separate corporate entity. It was absorbed by competitive railroads and parts of its former trackage were abandoned. The IT had well maintained track between towns and could operate freight trains at considerable speed, but once into the many towns and villages along its route, it reverted to its legacy interurban street running, including exceptionally tight turns at town block corners.


To minimize cost of construction, an interurban typically ran along public right-of-way, often next to a public highway in rural areas, or on city streets in urban areas. This could require the negotiation of very sharp curves at intersections and climbing steep town grades. Often when an interurban was first constructed, in rural country the adjacent road was unpaved and became bottomless mud during summer wet periods or in winter. Horses would struggle to move people and wagons. In some areas, like rural Pennsylvania, the interurban might be the only reliable daily transportation both for moving people as well as farm to town market products such as vegetables, fruit, meat, and fresh milk. It was less common for interurbans to have long unencumbered stretches of private right-of-way, but some did. Occasionally interurbans ran adjacent to competitive mainline steam railroads, but fares were cheaper, and service was more frequent and not necessarily slower. Due to the characteristics of the electric motor, interurbans could operate on steeper grades, going where steam engines could not. Some lines had steeple cab electric locomotives, box motors, or regeared interurban coaches that could pull two or more railroad freight cars which might result in good freight business eventually providing greater revenue than the passenger business. Some interurbans owned heavy electric locomotives capable of handling longer trains. In a number of cases, passenger business was abandoned and only freight business continued.


With the demise of the interurban, many routes were taken over by intercity bus services such as Greyhound and Trailways. Many local intercity services have since been discontinued, and buses now typically run express between major cities. A few interurbans, built to rather high standards, have survived, as have several that still operate only freight service, but the vast majority are long abandoned. Probably the closest present day trolley line resembling a 1920s interurban with city to countryside to village, side of road, hill and dale operation is the present-day broad gauge Upper Darby to Media 100 year-old former Red Arrow line of Philadelphia's SEPTA system. The last third of the Media line becomes single track private right-of-way with sidings for cars to pass. The cars move rapidly into and out of wooded ravines and along creek beds to then emerge into Media Borough where the cars run trolley-style down the center of Media's main commercial street, State Street. In the early 1900s, this was the Philadelphia and Westchester interurban. At that time it operated all wood arch window heavy interurban cars typical of equipment used nationwide at that time.

Car design and manufacturers

There were many interurban car manufacturers, particularly in the 1890 to 1915 period of the classic arch window all wood truss rod interurban. One of the best known of these was the Jewett Car Company of Ohio. Jewett was a company of craftsmen woodworkers that turned out beautifully made interurban coaches and combines featuring interiors of highly polished mahogany, oak, and cherry wood. Jewett did not survive beyond 1919. Other manufacturers of the all wood design were Kuhlman and Brill. Wood cars were bad in wrecks, famous for "telescoping" one car into and onto another, and beginning around 1920 steel was primarily used. Well known interurban steel car manufacturers included Pullman, J.G. Brill of Philadelphia, Cincinnati Car Company, St. Louis Car Company, Southern Car, Pressed Steel, Hall-Scott, and Holman of California. St. Louis Car, Pullman, and Brill survived to near present day by manufacturing subway-elevated cars, streetcars, and, in some cases, busses. Over time, J G Brill absorbed many of the others and eventually became not only the longest lasting but the largest of the interurban manufacturing companies. In the 1940s, Brill manufactured busses with American Car and Foundry.

In 1929, recognizing the need for more comfort and speed to attract more riders plus reduce power consumption to reduce costs, some interurban railways worked with manufacturers to develop innovative interurban car designs. Using aluminum and streamlining to provide lower weight, a lower center of gravity, and improved ride on often what was rough track, the Cincinnati and Lake Erie in 1929 purchased light weight interurban cars it called "Red Devils" that dramatically improved schedules and, for awhile, business. The Indiana Railroad did the same in 1930 with its lightweights of a similar design. The "Bullet" cars built by Brill for the Philadelphia and Western and then the Fonda, Johnstown, and Gloversville in 1932, were innovative and successful designs. The Philadelphia and Western Bullets ran into the 1980s opertated by SEPTA.

C&LE Red Devil #121, "The Columbus Rocket".

Light rail

The present day North American light rail movement essentially revived the concept of the interurban, but without using the word "interurban". Portlandmarker; the state of New Jerseymarker; San Diegomarker; Denver; Baltimore; and many other cities in Canada and the United States have built light rail systems with characteristics of the old interurbans: slow running in the center of streets, tight radius turns in town but fast running on private right of way outside of town.

Interurban technology

In general, interurbans operated with technology somewhere between that of a streetcar line and a full-scale railroad. The vast majority of interurbans were electrified, utilizing simply strung overhead wire, or, on heavily trafficked high speed lines, the more complicated wiring system known as catenary. In either case, power was transferred from the wire to the locomotive (in the case of an interurban freight line) or interurban passenger car by way of a trolley pole or pantograph. Many interurbans transferred electricity to the trains by way of a third rail running parallel to, and outside of, the rails when running on private right-of-way while overhead supply was used elsewhere, notably in built up areas (i.e. Sacramento Northern Railway, and Chicago Aurora and Elgin Railroad). Power was transferred to the train using a "shoe" attached to the locomotive or car. Engineers working for Michigan United Railways devised a shoe with steel cutters which could remove ice from the tracks.


Most interurban railways in North America were electrified using low-voltage direct current systems popular with street railways. This enabled interurbans to use urban street railway systems with ease. However, these systems had difficulty in maintaining voltage over long distances. Thus, interurbans developed the practice of generating power at higher voltages and stepping down power to the 600 volts needed to power the cars at substations spaced out along the line. By 1905, 600 volts had become the industry-wide standard. The interurbans also had to develop their own powerhouses for electricity as there were few commercial power companies in existence at the time. Some of these steam driven power generation houses produced high-voltage AC power that would be stepped-down and converted to DC at the substations using what was called a "rotary converter." The rotary converter was an AC motor driving a DC generator. Because of owning a power house, many interurban railway companies became electric companies to their local regions.

Most power was distributed to the cars using overhead trolley wires or pantographs. Some companies preferred outside third rail. Third rail was cheaper to maintain and improved conductivity, but it was more expensive to construct as it did not mitigate the construction of transmission lines and poles. Third rail was also more dangerous to trespassers and animals. Also, in the winter, third rails were difficult to keep clear of ice.

In 1904, a single-phase alternating current system became available and was distributed by Westinghouse and General Electric. But the system soon proved expensive to maintain and operate, and it increased wear and tear on equipment and track. It was a short-lived experiment and none were installed after 1910.

Another experiment in electrification came in 1907 with high-voltage DC (1200 volts). This system allowed for easy conversion from other DC systems and was cheaper to maintain. But it was developed so late that few railways adopted it.


Most interurbans were built to standard gauge, but there were a fair number of exceptions. Interurbans often used the tracks of existing street railways through city streets, and when those street railways were not built to standard gauge, the interurbans had to use non-standard gauges as well or face the expense of building their own trackage through urban areas. Many municipalities had ordained the use of non-standard gauges so that railroad freight cars could never be switched onto public streets.


  • See , and . In the Czech Republic, the Liberec-Jablonecinterurbanmarker runs on metre-gauge track. In Belgium, the SNCV Vicinal network was on of the most important metric gauge interurban.

Passenger service

First Passenger Interurban to Bellefontaine, Ohio July 1, 1908.

The true first interurbans were small coaches on rails pulled by horses along unpaved streets between small towns. But most people consider the "first" interurbans bring to be the very large arch windowed all wood coaches and combines running alongside one lane meandering rutted dirt roads between towns in the 1900 to 1920 time period. Due to the tendency for these massive cars to "telescope" in collisions, of which there were some genuine disasters leading to a large number of injuries and deaths, around 1915 only steel cars were manufactured by companies such as J.G.Brill, Cincinnati Car Company, St.Louis Car, Southern Car, and Kuhlman. Many interurbans competed directly with nearby steam railroads, but they offered more frequent service, lower fares, and frequent stops, often at a particular farm or home upon request. Limited service, if offered, was more restrictive about the number of stops.
C&LE Red Devil #121, "The Columbus Rocket".
Eventually, interurban lines began to acquire equipment that was more efficient in operation regarding power consumption, more comfortable for the rider, and capable of faster operation.
In the very late 1920s, some unique designs occurred with emphasis on light weight and speed. In particular, the Cincinnati and Lake Erie Railroad acquired "Red Devils" for high speed operation between major Ohio cities. The Indiana Railroad acquired cars based upon the C&LE design but with some design improvements including heavier trucks. Regardless of such improvements, ridership began to decline as the states began to improve highways for the use of the many automobiles being produced. Ridership dramatically declined with the onset of the Depression.

Freight service

Those interurbans carrying freight were typically the last to disappear. The Insull lines focus on freight allowed freight revenues to subsidize money losing passenger operations. Most of the smaller interurbans only carried LCL freight in box motors, while the bigger interurbans carried car load freight. The North Shore Line was an early adopter of TOFC trains, and the South Shore Line operated three 800-class "Little Joe" electric locomotives. Not only were these locomotives large for an interurban, they were some of the most powerful and large locomotives ever made for any railroad. Typical interurban freight operations, when not hauled in LCL fashion, were hauled behind box-cab or steeple-cab motors, with a footprint dimension similar to a GE 80-tonner diesel. Some interurbans had an auxiliary battery power system on their locomotives for operation on un-wired spurs. Frequently the box-cabs were older passenger interurban cars rebuilt in the company shops. Seats and windows were replaced with wide side doors to become a package and freight hauler. "Steeple-cab" locomotives were built by General Electric, Baldwin Westinghouse, or by the interurban line's own shops.

North America

United States

In the late 1890s, electrified systems called streetcars, which had been developed by Frank Sprague, expanded rapidly. By 1900, just over of track had been laid, and by 1916, at their peak, over were in service. Most of the interurban track that had been laid was located in Ohiomarker and Indianamarker; both states had of track. In Michiganmarker and Illinoismarker there was another of track which was interconnected. In Texasmarker and in Californiamarker, thousands of miles of additional track was also laid down by different companies. The first Interurban in Texas was the Denison and Shermanmarker Railway, completed in 1901. In central Virginiamarker, interurban lines connected City Pointmarker and Hopewellmarker with Petersburgmarker, and Petersburg with Richmond. Another connected Richmondmarker with Ashlandmarker.

In the early 1900s, interurban transportation was very popular in both rural areas and cities. Electric cars offered greater acceleration and lower cost with higher frequency and more stops than mainline steam. After 1910, the popularity of the automobile began to diminish the interurban passenger load, and during the 1920s, many interurban systems were declared bankrupt. Many were also bought out in the Great American Streetcar Scandal and deliberately destroyed. As a result of this shift in transportation methods, the small and unprofitable lines were discontinued. By the 1930s, most of the interurbans had disappeared, although some of their rail lines were taken over for the use of freight drawn by steam engines. Most were replaced with buses. By the 1960s, very few lines remained; the Pacific Electric Railway in Californiamarker was abandoned in 1961, and the Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad near Chicagomarker in 1963.

Remaining and new lines

Few historic interurban lines are still operated in their original form, although a number of more recently-constructed transit lines could be considered interurbans by Hilton and Due's standards above.

Other lines that have some characteristics of an interurban include:

Other portions of interurbans remain in service as parts of regular freight-hauling railroads. California features several former interurbans that survive for freight service. Portions of the Sacramento Northern Railway were operated by the Western Pacific Railroad. The longest surviving portion of the Sacramento Northern is now owned by the Sierra Northern Railroad. Most of the former Tidewater Southern Railway is still operated by the Union Pacific. Another California interurban company, the Central California Traction Company, still operates diesel freight service on its one-time electric line between Stocktonmarker and Lodimarker.

Present Day interurban style street-running freight train operation


In 1887 the St. Catharines and Niagara Central Railway, the first interurban line in the world, started operations. It ran between St. Catharinesmarker and Thorold, Ontariomarker, Canada. Not only was this the first interurban line in the world, but it was also one of the first commercially successful implementations of electric streetcars in the world.

In Southern Ontariomarker, intercity streetcar lines were called radial railways, because their routes generally radiated from a central city. The longest routes from Torontomarker included one running to Lake Simcoemarker and another to Guelphmarker. A portion of one of these lines is preserved and plays host to a working museum of streetcars and other transit vehicles at the Halton County Radial Railwaymarker in Miltonmarker. A notable feature of Toronto's radial railways was that because the city streetcar tracks of the Toronto Railway Company (later taken over by the Toronto Transportation Commission) were built to a wider gauge (which is still used to this day), radial cars from the outlying areas could not pass the city limits, requiring passengers to change trains.

Some of the closer sections of Toronto's radial railways were assimilated into the city's streetcar network, and with the city's expansion, some communities once linked by radial railway now have relatively central stations on the Toronto subway. On a regional level, GO Transit's commuter railway network is designed on a similar radial principle, though it uses much heavier-capacity mainline trains.

There were also significant radial systems operating from Hamiltonmarker, St. Catharinesmarker, Windsormarker, and throughout the Grand Rivermarker Valley, the last of which may see a revival should Grand River Transit obtain funding to build a light railway between Waterloomarker, Kitchenermarker, and eventually Cambridgemarker, running partially on the tracks of the former Grand River Railway. Hamilton and the Niagara Region are also investigating the possibility of reviving former interurban railway routes as modern light rail.

In British Columbiamarker, five interurban lines were operated by the British Columbia Electric Railway Company. The private right-of-way of the Central Park line, between Commercial Drive in Vancouvermarker and New Westminstermarker, is now used by the SkyTrain's Expo Line. The Fraser Valley Line became the British Columbia Hydro Railway when BC Electric was nationalized in the 1960s; it was later privatized and is now the Southern Railway of British Columbia, a local shortline freight railway. The BCER also operated interuban trains between Vancouvermarker and Marpolemarker, and between Marpole, Stevestonmarker and New Westminstermarker on the Vancouver and Lulu Island Railway, which it leased from Canadian Pacific. This railway is also known as Arbutus Corridor route. Likewise, the Millennium Line of the SkyTrain connects the same communities as the former Burnaby Lake Line; however, the new SkyTrain line does not follow the original right-of-way, which is now the route of Highway 1 through Burnaby. The fifth BCER interurban connected Victoriamarker and Patricia Baymarker on the Saanich Peninsulamarker. Its right-of-way is commemorated by Interurban Road in Saanich.

In Quebecmarker, the Montreal and Southern Counties Railway operated electric interurban lines from central Montrealmarker across the St. Lawrence Seaway to Longueuilmarker and Granby from 1909 to 1956.

In Nova Scotiamarker, the Cape Breton Electric RCompany operated interurban services between Sydney, Glace Bay and New Waterford from 1901 to 1947, and the Pictou County Electric Company operated interurban services between the five towns of Pictou County from 1904 to 1931.


In the first decade of the 20th century, Canadian investors purchased the Mexico Citymarker tram operator Compañía de Tranvías de México, and attempted to create an interurban radial-railway system on the Canadian model, beginning work on lines that were intended to reach Tolucamarker and Pueblamarker. Typical US style interurban electric cars built by the St. Louis Car Company were imported for the service. Expenses due to Mexico's difficult terrain and political instability that culminated in the Mexican Revolution combined to end this project although lines were completed as far as La Venta and Tulyehualco and a popular suburban line was built to San Angel and Coyoacánmarker. A portion of the ex-Puebla line operates today as the Xochimilco Light Rail system. Another Mexican system that would have been considered of an interurban type was the Playa Miramar high-speed line in Tampicomarker.

The Mexican state of Yucatanmarker had approximately 1,500 kilometers of interurban tramway network, mostly narrow gauge and either animal powered (mule or horsecars) or gasoline powered.


The Hershey train is an electrified train from Havanamarker to Matanzasmarker that was built by the Hershey Company in order to facilitate transport of workers and products after it had bought sugar plantations in 1916. It is a commuter service running in northern Havana and Matanzas provinces, some original equipment still exists.


In Europe, lines that fit the interurban definition were rare historically. A whole large interurban system in continuous service exists however since 1894 at Upper Silesia in Polandmarker connecting cities and towns of this densely populated region (See Silesian Interurbans for more information). More common were either wholly urban, street-running tram systems or light rail systems operating wholly on dedicated rights of way. In Europe, tram-trains began running on the streets in cities and on railway lines in the suburbs and countryside in the mid-late 20th century.


NZH trams in 1959
The Netherlands used to have an extensive "tram-system" that came very close to the American-style interurban. The standard gauge NZH trams in the area between The Haguemarker, Leidenmarker and Haarlemmarker were fairly big electric trams running on 1200 volt with in-street running in towns and quite a lot of private right-of-way outside towns. Especially the "Budapestermarker" trams (see picture) resembled American interurban cars. A typical tram was made up by coupling a motorised unit (A400 or A500 series) with one or two trailers (B400/B500). In common with American practice the NZH also had local streetcar lines in The Hague, Leiden and Haarlem sharing some of the track with the interurban routes. Power supply was entirely by overhead wire. Although there was a connection between tram and train tracks in Leiden it was not possible to convey railway cars on NZH track due to differing track and wheel geometry, curve radius and loading gauge. The A/B600 series of twin-cars, built around 1930, resemble those of Oaklands Key System 'Bridge Units' built slightly later.

Part of the NZH system was built to metre-gauge. In the 1920s the same "Budapester" interurbans were bought for use here (with narrower wheel-sets of course). It was envisioned that some of this track would be converted to standard gauge at a later date but the axe fell before this could occur. Because the terminus of one of these lines was at Spui in the centre of Amsterdam (where the streetcars use standard gauge) some three-rail track (combined standard/narrow gauge) existed there. Long after the demise of the NZH-interurbans the tree-rail track was still present in some streets with interesting pointwork where streets crossed.

1908 Interurban-style car of the Hofplein-line, preserved in the Dutch Railway Museum, Utrecht
Nowadays few lines remain, one of which is Line 1 of HTM, running from Scheveningen to Delftmarker. NZH turned into a bus company and in 1999 was taken over by Connexxion. However Connexxion also runs the light-rail line from Utrecht to Nieuwegein that was built around 1980 but has roots in the steam-tram era. In addition, until 2006 Nederlandse Spoorwegen ran two regional lines between The Hague and Rotterdam Hofplein/Zoetemeer as a train (heavy-rail) service, and these were then transformed into Randstadrail, a concept similar to the old interurbans. Interestingly this "Hofplein-line" started early 20th century as a separate company (ZHESM) modelled after the American style interurbans (running fully electric multiple-unit trains right from the start) but was included into the nationalised rail system later on.


The Belgian Vicinal tramway system had many characteristics of the American interurban, although operating speeds and vehicle comfort were only comparable on a few of the more important services. The main surviving section is the Belgian Coast Tram, which has been in service since 1885. With 70 stations along its 68-kilometre line, connecting the cities and towns along the entire Belgian (West Flandersmarker) coastline, it is the longest tram line in the world. Some other sections were absorbed into urban tramway systems, especially in Charleroimarker.

Czech Republic

Two interurban lines exist, both connected to city street car systems, the Liberec-Jablonecmarker line and the Most-Litvinov line. The Liberec-Jablonec line is notable for being metre-gauge.


In Germany, Interurbans that fit the whole definition were uncommon. However, in many instances the definition is almost met.

One of these cases are the many early sondary (connecting) railway lines that were built in the onset of the 20th century. Many of them were street-running in urban and suburban areas while using a dedicated right of way in less populated areas. Those lines were usually operated with mainline stock, however very few were electrified. Most of them have disappeared or were moved onto a fully dedicated right of way due to increasing street traffic and safety concerns. One of the few such railway lines still in service is the steam operated narrow-gauge Molli train between Bad Doberanmarker and Kühlungsbornmarker West on the shore of the Baltic Seamarker in the north-eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommernmarker which is street-running inside Bad Doberan and has its own right of way on the rest of the line.

Another not uncommon case are interurban tramways. Germany has numerous areas where several larger cities are clustered together, and there were always places not served by mainline railway lines. Often urban tramways companies jumped at the opportunity and built over-land tramway lines, sometimes linking two existing tramway networks together. Those lines were run with standard tramway cars.

After World War II these Interurban tramways were modernised and now dubbed Stadtbahn. All of them are street-running in city areas and use a dedicated right of way between cities, and all of them are electrified. Rolling stock used is either standard tramway cars or special heavier cars which still qualify for tramway use in street-running lines as regulated in BOStrab. Generally, the stadtbahn systems fit the definition of an interurban once their network leaves city boundaries.

One particularly large effort was the Stadtbahn Rhein-Ruhr which was meant to grow to a length of , spanning over 10 cities of the Ruhrgebiet industial area, building upon already existing interurban and urban tramway lines. Although those plans were later abandoned due to exploding costs, 17 Stadtbahn lines between Krefeldmarker in the west and Dortmundmarker in the east were finished and today one can travel from Krefeld to Bochummarker without using a single mainline train. The only link missing is between Bochum and Dortmund.


Switzerland has a large number of interurban electric rail lines, usually narrow gauge. Some are operated by Swiss Federal Railways, but most are privately owned companies or are Canton (County) owned. Examples are the Bierre-Apples-Morges line that operates north from Morges on Lake Geneva, known as BAM locally. The Nyon-St Cergue-LeCure line operates north from Nyon on Lake Geneva and is known as NStCM. Nyon is just east of municipal Geneva. Interurbans operated by the City/District of Aigle go primarily to ski resorts: Aigle to Leysin; Aigle to Ollon - Monthey - Champéry; Aigle to Sépey - Les Diablerets - Bex - Villars - Bretaye. Aigle, population 8,100 people, is 13 km southeast of Montreux at the foot of the Alps.

Isle Of Man

The Manx Electric Railwaymarker survives after over 100 years of service using mainly original equipment. It links Douglas with Ramseymarker. The Snaefell Mountain Railwaymarker links the M.E.R with the summit of Snaefellmarker the highest hill on the island.



Influence of the United States

In Japan, no clear distinction of the interurban from the ordinal heavy rail has been settled, but most of the major private railway companies, which now play important role in public transportation, had been influenced greatly by the systems of U.S. interurbans, such as motors and controllers of General Electric, Westinghouse Electric, air brakes of Westinghouse Air Brake Company, trucks of J. G. Brill and Company and Baldwin Locomotive Worksmarker, just to name some.


The first interurban in Japan was the Hanshin Electric Railway's main line which opened in 1905 between Osaka and Kobe. In the Greater Tokyomarker area in the same year, the present Keihin Electric Express Railway (Keikyū) extended its main line to the station of Kanagawa in Yokohama, to connect Tokyo. The followers of this earlier period were Keihan Electric Railway's main line between Kyoto and Osaka in 1910, Nagoya Electric Railway (present Nagoya Railroad) in Nagoya to surrounding towns such as Inuyama (present Inuyama Line) and Tsushimamarker (Tsushima Line). The latter had operated through to the center of Nagoya via streetcar line, though the former had planned so in Osaka but the administrating authority refused.

Second generation

The second boom of Japanese interurban were in 1920s to 1930s, unlike the counterparts in the US that declined in this period. The difference of the countries is the motorization, in Japan until 1960s private automobile was not common. The operators of this generations built their exclusive tracks with heavier rail (e.g. 100 lb. per yard), less curves and rarely laid tracks on roads.

In Kansai region mostly from Osaka
  • Kobe Line of Hankyū Electric Railway (present Hankyu Corporation)
  • :competing Hanshin's Main Line in the same region
  • Kobe - Himeji Electric Railway
  • :western half of the main line of present Sanyo Electric Railway connecting Akashi and Himeji
  • Shin-Keihan Railway
  • :concurrent to Keihan, later transferred to Hankyū
  • Hanwa Electric Railway
  • :later merged to the governmental network under wartime condition, presently Hanwa Line
  • Osaka Electric Tramway's main line (present Kintetsu)
  • :for Nara
  • Nara Electric Railway's line (presently Kintetsu)
  • :Kyoto and Nara
  • Sangū Kyūkō Electric Railway
  • :Together with Osaka Electric Tramway line, from Osaka to Ise, exceeding 100 km in distance
In Tokyo In other regions


During the Japanese post-war economic miracle (1955-1975), rapid urbanizations increased the traffic and required the capacity expansion. Descendants of interurbans also extend the length of trains. presently, especially in and around Tokyo, companies such as Keikyū, Tōbu, Odakyū operate trains of 200 m length.

See also


  1. Rowsome, pp119–140. Chapter: interurbans, their origin, the good years, and the decline.
  2. Hilton, The Electric Interurban Railways in America, 2000
  3. Statistics from Table 6, Hilton and Due, The Electric Interurban Railways in America, pp. 186-187.
  4. Middleton, The Interurban Era, 2003
  5. Jackson (1914), 102.
  6. For information on electrification, see Hilton and Due, pp. 53-65.
  7. Also see CERA Bulletins: Illinois Traction; North Shore Line; South Shore Line; Not Just Passengers; and Interurbans Press: "Interurbans of Utah.


  • [Very thorough discussion of the origins, construction, economics, and decline of the interurban industry.]
  • Middleton, Wm D., The Interurban Era, 432pp. Kalmbach Publishing Co., Milwaukee, WI. 1961, reissued 2003. (ISBN 0-89024-003-5) Library of Congress 61-10728 [One of the best books regarding the history of U.S. and Canadian interurban lines. Presented by region. Excellent photographs and explanations.]
  • Middleton, Wm D, Traction Classics Vol I: The Great Wood and Steel Cars, 248pp, 1983.
  • Middleton,Traction Classics Vol II: Extra Fast and Extra Fare, 179 pp, 1985.
  • Middleton, Traction Classics Vol III: The Interurban's Interurban Freight, 182pp, 1985, Golden West Books, San Marino, CA. (ISBN 9789-870950-858)
  • Middleton, Wm D, The Last Interurbans, 234pp. Central Electric Railfan's Association Bulletin #136, Chicago, IL., 2003. (ISBN 978-0915348-367)
  • Bradley, George, Indiana Railroad: The Magic Interurban, 224pp, 1984. Central Electric Railfans Association Bulletin #128, Chicago, IL. (ISBN 091-5348-284)
  • Keenan, Jack, Cincinnati and Lake Erie Railroad, 226pp, 1974. Golden West Books, San Marino, CA. (ISBN 9780-87095-0551)
  • Demoro, Harre, California's Electric Railways. (ISBN 091-6374-742)
  • Demoro, Harre, Swett, et al., Sacramento Northern: Through the Sacramento Valley, 206pp, 1998. Interurbans Press Bulletin #26 reissue. (ISBN 978-0916374-471)
  • Trimble, Paul, Sacramento Northern, 2005. Arcadia Publishing. (ISBN 073-8530-522)
  • Brough, L., and Graebner, J., From Small Town To Downtown, A History of the Jewett Car Company, 1893-1919, 208pp, 2004. Indiana Univ. Press. (ISBN 978-0253343697)
  • (Lib Congress 56-11054)
  • Springirth, Kenneth, Suburban Philadelphia Trolleys 128pp. Arcadia Publishing, 2007. Chicago, IL.(ISBN 978-0-7385-5043-5)
  • Meyers, Allen, Spivak, Joel, Philadelphia Trolleys 128pp. Arcadia Publishing, 2004. (ISBN 0-7385-1226-5)

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