Sub-Feature Article


Laurence R. Veysey, Editor


On June 9, 1953, the Editor left New Haven, Conn., for a journey by way of a number of electric railways to El Paso, Texas, where he joined SC-ERA president Isely in the tour of Mexican systems described elsewhere in this issue.

Between New Haven and El Paso the following electric systems were sampled:

New York, Pittsburgh, Illinois Terminal RR, Sand Springs, OK, Dallas and El Paso.

A descriptive travelogue of the trip follows.


1.  PITTSBURGH:  On June 10th we began our tour of the crumbling interurban system after some morning rush hour general photography.  (See June TIMEPOINTS for the complete news story on the facts of the abandonments.)  At the time of our visit, both of the Charleroi and Washington lines were yet in operation for the entirety of their distance.  And one of the three local routes within Washington was still functioning, as it turned out three days before its demise.

 We rode Charleroi first.  This is the longer of the two interurbans main lines.

Service to Charleroi and to Washington was cut some months ago to hourly instead of half hourly, with the alternate trips terminating at the points where by the time this reaches our readers all service will be terminating.

In its full glory, the Charleroi line was a long and beautiful affair indeed.  Of course PCCs, which in recent years have entirely replaced conventional cars, slow the service somewhat (even though they operate at what for PCCs are good speeds), and also make it generally bouncier and less inviting.  A superficial appearance of being “streamlined” is no substitute for sold riding quality, as a ride on one of these routes will testify.

Western readers who know nothing of the East will be unable to imagine the luxuriant profusion of greenness which gives the interurbans their “scenery” in the summertime, nor the contrast between that and the bleak bareness of the same surroundings in long winter months.

The Charleroi line spends a good deal of its time on single track right-of-way plunging through verdant woods.  Occasionally it finds itself on the streets of a town; and even through the vistas of greenery the dingy ugliness of industrial activity may often be observed.

Outbound the trip is nearly all downhill, but there is a certain portion of the route that is far more spectacular in this respect than any other.  Between Monongahela and Charleroi the right-of-way suddenly confronts the Monogahela River from the top of a high bluff, turning, the line parallels the water in a rapid descent nearly to its level.  Three spectacular bridges over ravines enliven the stretch; they are at least as high as the Fletcher Drive trestle on the PE Glendale line.

The Charleroi line does not end in the city of its title.  Instead it continues via side of the road running to a loop in rural territory near Roscoe.  Its entire length is thirty miles; and its recent abandonment on June 27 has deprived the railfan of a great deal of highly photogenic track.

Returning to Washington Junction, we proceeded to travel on the second route to Washington.  There is less of the spectacular to be found here; but the right-of-way, which is through agricultural rather than industrial scenery, provides many pleasant rural dips and rises and curves.  Washington, Pa., has long been famous as the home of a toonervillesque local system, one of the three lines of which was titled in homely simplicity, “East-West.”  But it was later than twilight for the orange cars there when we arrived; dusk was at hand and final darkness delayed only long enough for us to ride the last remaining route, “Jefferson-Maiden,” three days before busses of another company began serving its patrons.  After the PCCs the few “sawmills,” as conventional PRys cars are known to the local fans, seemed extremely different and pleasurable.  We carried good full loads, for it was the evening rush hour.  Spartan wooden seats (no new thing for an Angeleno) and slow, grinding motors seemed to fit will into the atmosphere.  Washington, Pa., had been, since 1951, the smallest American city to enjoy local streetcar service of its own.

We returned to Pittsburgh, boarding our PCC at the antique interurban station in Washington, into which the cars wye.  Darkness was falling, and we had spent an entire day on verdant rights-of-way, far removed from the hustle of the huge PCC system that blanks Pittsburgh itself.


2.  ILLINIOS  TERMINAL: On June 11 we rode the New York Central’s one daily train, “The Peorian” from Indianapolis to Champaign.  It happened to leave at the right time for us, 7.15 am.  Behind its diesel locomotive were nearly half a dozen baggage cars and about twice as many passengers in the fairly antique coach.

Main treat of this ride was the glimpse of Illinois Terminal trackage and former trackage on the erstwhile Danville line.  We hearkened back in our memory to September of 1950, when we had ridden a big blue interurban all the way into Danville.  At first all we could see from our train window were a few rotten ties scattered along the abandoned right-of-way.  It was hard to realize that there had been another track next to ours, with trolley wire, so recently as April of 1952.  Then, abruptly, track and trolley wire jumped into our line of vision.  We had reached Watkins, where passenger trains of the ITRR had run until two months or so before.  Now our eyes were glued to the track that we could only ride besides once daily and never ride itself.

At Champaign we had a good long wait for the next interurban to Springfield; only three round trips daily are now being run.  When our car arrived it was the 1203, a spare that is not normally assigned to the line: slightly slower and less roomy that the 200s but to the hungry railfan eye hardly less appealing.  It was painted blue; and all regularly used cars on the ITRR roster are not in the “new” scheme, though  we saw a few traction orange cars at St. Lewis.  The 1203 had once had its home on the now-gone Peoria-Decatur line, which was our favorite of all heavy ITRR interurban services.

Our three-hour ride to Springfield was conducted in true Middlewesten old-time style, two man of course, and nothing lacking except a load of passengers.  This portion of the former Danville line is rich in scenery, though of a flatter and less woodsy variety than could be found south of Pittsburgh.

Arriving at Springfield in a thunderstorm, we had a bite to eat and then braced ourselves for a ride on the “Blue Beetle,” otherwise known as the “Silverfish,” on the main line to St. Louis.  Granted that the night featured bad weather, it was still sickening to see how few passengers ITRR is carrying even on the most important trackage.  There were perhaps ten people on the streamliner, spread through the two-car train.  The Editor, who had suffered long rides on postwar equipment twice before, settled himself down in reclining seats with a magazine and tried not to listen to the squeaks and rattles, and not to feel the jerks and lurches.  By the time the magazine had been thoroughly digested, we fortunately were nearing St. Lewis.

Then a pleasant round trip on the Granite City local line in pitch darkness.  A mixture of PCCs and “PE 600s” (470s) were being used, with none of the low-series 400s in evidence.  A good fast motorman gave us a treat with the 472 over the elevated stretch of the ride.  By contrast with the main line, Granite City passengers were quite numerous.

ITRR is apparently going downhill fast.  An application is now before the commission to discontinue the through St. Lewis-Decatur service.  Unless riding improves, it’s our prediction that the line will go freight-only within the next five years.


TULSA, OK: We arrived on June 12th, cheerful as always when we come upon the Sand Springs Railway, thriving and healthy, obvious to the fact that it is a lone survivor in an electric railway desert.  It has been four years since our last visit to the Orphanage Locals; riding seemed just as heavy; service was just as frequent. 

Big news had been made on the system the day before we arrived.  The fares had gone up for the first time in history!  The SS Line has always been the last streetcar in the nation to give a 5 cent fare; but on June 11 this was increased to 10 cents, and the former 10 cent through-rate to Sand Springs went up to 15 cents.  An entire era of electric traction in the United States thus ended.  Patrons seemed entirely satisfied with the increase, and there was practically no confusion at the fare box.

In short, everything was brisk and happy on this little electric railway.  Car 76 had been newly repainted.  The wistful toot on the air horn will continue to be heard along Tulsa’s Archer Avenue for quite some time to some.


DALLAS, TX.: We arrived for our first visit to Dallas with its neat, well-maintained car lines on June 13th.  To show the state of electric traction there, the entire rail system may be ridden in about 12 hours of solid riding.  We missed one tip of one line (Second Street) because we made a treaty with our stomach to stop awhile in the early afternoon.

Dallas does not really possess “big city” flavor, so the sight of the trolleys was an especial treat.  In fact, we thought more than once during the day of San Diego, although Dallas still has more lines to offer than did the other in those last days when its roster comprised roughly comparable equipment.

Dallas has three classes of equipment known to be in service.  (1) 25 PCC cars, double-end Pullman products made in 1945.  (2) The large 700 series, pleasantly 1920ish.  (3) The 100s, used on one line (Cole-Junius), which vary little from the Sevens.  The non-PCC cars are mainly to be noted for their noisy air-operated fare boxes.  Also seen: the famous turtle-roof cars of the 400-series, sitting in the barns.  As we observed Dallas on a Saturday, we couldn’t tell if these definitely “older” units were seeing any regular activity in rush hours.  The 700s are gradually being repainted in the red and cream of the PCCs (replacing the old scheme of green and cream), and receiving at the same time leather seats instead of wooden ones.  The unmodernized Sevens are as yet far more common than those which have undergone this treatment.

In addition to a number of fairly prosaic residential and business streetcar routes fanning out in all directions from downtown Dallas, there are several lines which possess an especially unique flavor.  The nicest track in the city is, of course, the long viaduct right-of-way across the river and the railroad tracks which is used by three lines ( one of them a PCC line).  Like Twin Peaks Tunnel in San Francisco, this stretch is the trademark of the system to the railfan.  Here the cars have an opportunity for a lengthy, uninterrupted speed run.

Aside from the viaduct, the pleasantest single line is Belmont, over which the Denison trains of Texas Electric once operated.  It features right-of-way, single track with turnouts, and runs through a residential neighborhood landscaped in lawn.


The three lines which use the viaduct all have some running on dirt streets, with single track and turnouts as an added attraction.  There are other single track stretches on other lines, but in regular oiled pavement.  The Forney line has a complete right-of-way in the eastern part of the city; here one is likely to be the only white passenger on the car (and, owing to segregation laws, consequently to have the entire front of the car to himself.

Concerning past and future abandonments: A route map of 1950 shows the Cole line running through to Southern Methodist University, whereas now it ends at Knox and Cole, some distance closer to town.  There has been no report of this change; and there was no trace of the track that apparently went much further so recently.

The Forney line, mentioned above, is reportedly to be abandoned within a few months, replaced by a rerouting of an existing bus line.  Aside from that, motormen were familiar with no other contemplated streetcar abandonments in the near future, although it seems generally agreed that the system will slowly go bus between now and 1960.


EL PASO, TX.:  We arrived in El Paso in midmorning on June 14.  This gave us time to ride the entirety of the brief rail system there before Doc’s 1938 Chevrolet pulled up to the Mexican border shortly before 1 pm.

The El Paso setup is very simple.  The 20 ex-San Diego PCC cars comprise the entirety of the rail roster.  The one remaining line, to Juarez, Mexico, is a one-directional loop, entering and leaving the United States on the one-way bridges two blocks apart.

Motormen, nearly all Mexicans, have two separate coin changers, hung one above the other, for each of the two currencies which are legal tender for a portion of the trip.  Coins of both nations enter the same fare box.  From observation, it would appear that Mexican money is not accepted on our side of the border.  (Although American money is accepted in Montreal.)  Nearly all the passengers are Mexicans.  One hardly ever hears English spoken on the cars.

In El Paso the line enters the business district; in Juarez the line traverses (El Paso  bound) a street filled with cheap souvenir stores, night clubs and honky-tonk atmosphere.

As recently as World War II, EPGL operated a local line entirely within Juarez, Mexico.  It used Birneys; but the ex-El Paso Birneys now running in Vera Cruz were sent south some years before the “Hippodromo” line in Juarez was abandoned.

El Paso, to sum it up, is a most unlikely city to have a streetcar system in this day and age.  But peculiar circumstances assure the public international streetcar service of permanence.



 The Southern California Traction Review

Feature Article


Electric  Railways  of  Mexico

By Laurence R. Veysey and M.D. Isely


On June 14, 1953, the president of SC-ERA and the editor of TIMEPOINTS began a two week vacation tour of Mexico, during which all existing street and electric railways in that nation were inspected.

Unfortunately, the first system we visited was no longer in existence as a rail service.  This was the Torreon enterprise.  But, Tampico, Mexico City, and Vera Cruz all have electric lines; the Mexican Railway main line electrification on its Mexico City-Vera Cruz route is still very much active; and Celaya continues to be content with its mule car line, last such to run in North America on urban streets.

So get our your maps and come with us south of the border.



Torreon-Ledro Electric Railway, Ltd.


This system, which was abandoned in two sections, the last of which on March 6, 1953, operating a suburban line commencing in the city streets of Torreon, over a private-right-of-way to the neighboring city of Ledro, a distance of several miles.


J.W. Higgins III, visiting the system in operation during November, 1952, affirmed: “The car line is, at best, a consistent piece of railroad.  Cars, track and overhead are all thoroughly shot.”  He predicted it would not last much longer ---and it didn’t.


But, then, is it most logical to ask, why did FETL purchase used El Paso cars as recently as 1950?


The answer lies in the construction of a new, direct four-lane highway between Torreon and Ledro.  Poorly maintained as the trolley line was, prior to the building of this highway its right-of-way was more direct between the two communities than any existing roadway for busses.  Thus, the management could still hope for business, and apparently desired to continue.


But the highway came.  And FETL is the only electric railway in Mexico , which like Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway, runs busses exclusively now but retains its former name. Most bus companies throughout Mexico have sprung up independently of electric railways; of existing electric systems there, only Vera Cruz operates busses in addition to rail cars.


Today FETL uses the highway, along with its competing bus lines.  It has Ford transit-type busses, two-man operated.  Most busses in Mexico, including the competitors of FETL, are hood in fronts operated by one man.



 Tampico-Miramar Electric Transport, Ltd.


Tampico is a port city located on the Gulf of Mexico between Vera Cruz and the Texas border.  But Tampico itself is not quite on the Gulf.  The several miles which separate it form those blue waters are traversed by the electric railway in question.


TETM operates but one line, as indicated above.  It begins on single track loops in Tampico streets, passing near the car house and shops.  At the edge of the downtown district it enters a right-of-way, double track, which passes along a slum neighborhood where business is very heavy.  It terminates at a loop laid in the sands of the beach.


Other bus companies also operate between the two terminal points, as well as jitneys.  But they charge a considerable higher fare and their route must detour along the highways which make the through trip more time consuming.  TETM seems to be retaining an adequate share of the business.


Base schedule of service is every ten minutes.  There is hourly owl service.  Collection of fares (30 cents Mexican for the through trip, or not quite 4 cents American) is made by conductors walking through the car after the passengers have seated themselves.  (This style of collection applies, throughout Mexico, save  only in Mexico City, where fare boxes are used.)  Track on the right-of-way is very rough and speeds are not great; frequent stops also cut into the latter.  The cars themselves, however, are well painted externally and adequately maintained.


Special train service is run at shift changes onto a siding at Madero Refinery, part way out along the right-of-way.  This is the only train operation; regular cars always run singly.  A box motor, painted dark green rather than the usual yellow, hauls a passenger trailer; but the purpose of this arrangement is not known, as that particular train was never seen loading passengers.


The cars are fairly heavy suburban affairs.  They have that old-time deep groaning sound that is dear to the heart of every true traction fan; and the fact that the line is apparently very safe, becomes in this light, an most pleasant one.



By M.D. Isely


The Torreon-Lerdo and Tampico-Miramar systems had much in common.  Each was a suburban-interurban line sharing congested local streets for a distance with competing motor vehicles, but also possessing a prw paralleling the good highway used by those motor vehicles between cities.  Each was well planned and constructed.  Both lines were well located to serve their respective communities. 

The busses which have replaced the cars of FETL use the same terminal, and, except for the prw sections, follow an identical route.  Yet Tampico has a thriving enterprise, while Torrreon has only a decaying ruin: such a ruin that the manager refused permission to photograph the rolling stock on the grounds that the picture, if published, would create an untrue impression of public transportation in an otherwise modern, well kept urban area.


The rolling stock is one of the major points of difference.  Of the 31 FETL passenger cars and trailers at Palacio Gomez car house, we identified seven major types with marked variations among individual cars of any one type.  These included both single and double truck cars and ten open bench trailers which were possibly converted from mule cars after electrification came on June 16, 1900.  Most recent acquisitions are ex-El Paso City Lines car 74, 85, 94, and 95, all still in the El Paso paint and bearing the NCL herald.  By contrast one old car bore the word Durango along its entire side.  The paint must have been at least 20 years old.  The use of the name Durango stems from the fact that the line was interstate, originating in Durango province and crossing the Nazas river into Coahuila province.


The earliest electrics seemed to be some high wheel single truck Brill cars which may have been bought new at the time of electrification. The newest car bodies were Birneys, one of which was on the car house floor with its truck nowhere in evidence.  The other was on a non-Birney truck.  A cane car and work car loaded with welding equipment were also present.  Aside from the Brill name cast into side frame members, there were no builder’s names anywhere on any of the equipment.  All that can be accurately said of the majority of the cars is that there were many types, to begin with, and, in most cases, the subsequent modifications effectively mask the original identity.


Now, as to what we found in Tampico by contrast.  In keeping with Mexican practice the name plates were also removed from the Tampico cars.  We did see the Osgood Bradley name on some seats, the G.E. trademark on an air compressor or two, and the Tomilson name cast into parts on the couplers.  Electrical equipment was obviously G.E., and, with the pneumatic and mechanical components, was highly standardized.  Only on one single truck work car showed any variation.  The passenger equipment included motor cars equipped to pull trailers, motor cars not so equipped, and trailers.  The cars came from Chicago just before and after the First World War, but we could not learn the name of the builder.


Maintenance is another big point of difference.  When abandonment came last spring with the Torreon wire, track and cars alike were falling apart.  Although the new Ford transit busses at present make a nice appearance, maintenance will have to be much better than it was for the streetcars, if the service is to survive.  Unlike streetcars busses cannot run for years on their reputations.  Tampico, on the other hand, has shop equipment which is more than adequate, including a very complete machine shop plus a wood mill with all new, if rather light, power tools.  Shop employees are capable.  Their rebuilt armatures would do credit to the Milwaukee Road’s recently reequipped Dear Lodge shops.


They are no more capable than the platform men.  Tampico-Miramar is the only system we have ever observed where we noticed no discourtesy, no rough operation, no missed fares, and no flat wheels!  Morale is high but this was not always so.  Strikes before World War I, coupled with jitney competition resulted in abandonment of the city lines in Tampico at some early unknown date.  The relatively high wages and easy work in the Tampico oil refineries has caused much employee dissatisfaction in recent years.  So much so that last year the electric company, which formerly owned the line, disposed of it to the employees as it had previously disposed of its Vera Cruz system in the early 1930s.


The present management speaks well for employee ownership.  The men do not emulate their less industrious brothers in the oil industry.  Although layovers are short, headways are well maintained.  The cars and the men are always on the go.  It takes a lot of 4 cent fares for a ten mile trip to pay wages of $3.00 each (American), daily to motormen and conductors plus all the other expenses.  Idle men and cars collect no revenues and the new owners know it.  A very good average speed is maintained on an eight mile prw with only a hand full of grade crossings (if one considers the condition of the track and the frequent stops.)  But the crew had time on one trip to lift aboard a drunk who had passed out in a loading zone and to wake him up enough to learn his destination and get his fare.


Because of the excellent riding characteristics of the cars and uniformly smooth operation we were made relatively unaware of the extent of the unevenness of the track --until, nearing Miramar at night, we looked back and saw half a mile or so of assorted waves, both horizontal and vertical, brought into sharp relief by the old-fashioned arc headlight of the car following.  Subsequent close examination revealed that the track is in a serviceable, if not exactly smooth condition, and is being improved.


The cars were of quite advanced design at the time they were built and are ideally suited to the service they perform today.  They are quite simple: no groups, no door engines, no dead man, no fare boxes --and no breakdowns!  The basic essentials are there and they work perfectly.  The car bodies are well maintained and are swept out at the Miramar end of each trip.


Things are informal.  The crews dress for comfort rather than for show, and they look cool, relaxed, and efficient.  Their money pouch and hand fare receipt system is not as fast as an American’s mechanical changer and fare box, but with the motorman doing most of the loading with mirrors and a simple fare structure, they get the job done.


Little boys, swinging deftly on and off the moving steps and standing on the sill or coupler, will be the railfans of tomorrow, and they will enter adult life with greater assurance than their over-protected contemporaries in Los Angeles, whose nervous parents usually made an ordeal of such a simple matter as boarding a STANDIING streetcar.


Yes, the cars are open, at both ends and on both sides above the belt rail.  Boarding the car is an incident instead of a rite.


Basically, the Tampico system is no better adapted to its trade territory than was the Torreon line.  Not having observed the former in operation, we can only venture that the 3-4 man operation, lack of standardization, poor maintenance and the rollicking slowness of old single truckers, contributed more to its demise than did the construction of the new highway.  Tampico has a good highway too, but its rail line is efficient and gives excellent service; it is here to stay.



 Electric Transport Service of the Federal District


Mexico City now has 26 streetcar lines, many of them very long.  In our three days there we could not do more than scratch the surface.  An entire two weeks would be required in the capital alone to do the STE system justice.


Cars, cars, cars!  Aside from open bench equipment and genuine Birneys, the system has nearly everything -- and most of it loops around the Zocalo, a large square in the heart of the city, where many of the downtown lines terminate.


The Zocalo is now probably the single greatest streetcar loading area in North America.  Cars approach it from all four sides, entering at one corner paralleling the square, then leaving it the next corner.  On the north side there is one track; on the east and west sides there are two tracks; on the south side, three tracks.  On the north, the direction is from west to east; on the west, from north to south; and on the east from south to north.  Thus, not only is there some two-track parallel operation akin to what used to be in San Francisco and New Orleans, but there is also one block of 3-track parallel operation.


The Mexico City roster is highly confusing.  We probably missed some of the minor variants in car types, but among the many designs we noted were these:

1. Single-truck pre-Birney cars, slightly longer than Birneys, in use at all times on the #22-Lerdo  line entering the Zocalo and on some outlying shuttles, and on Sundays, on additional cars  entering the Zocalo.  Example: car 56.

2. Double truck arch roof cars, only slightly larger than the single-truck pre-Birneys.  Numbered in the low 100s.

3. Double-truck modern appearing cars, reportedly built around 1929.  Numbered in the 100s. Not exciting to ride.

4. Double-truck Birneys, or variants thereof, some apparently of  the lot sent from Capital  Transportation (Little Rock, Ark.), numbered in the 400s and 700s.

5. A wide variety of ancient deck roof cars, with a great many number of series such as in the  200s and 300s.

6. Peter Witt cars, from the United Railways in Providence, R.I., numbered in the high 600s

7. Other 1920ish cars of a different design (end doors only) in the 500s.

8. Railroad roof suburban or interurban cars, of varying designs (some with couplers), numbered  in the 400s and 800s.  A few of these have arch roofs. These heavy groaners run on such  long lines as Xochimilco and Obregon, and may carry trailers.

9. Trailers include a series of incredibly ancient open platform cars (900s).

10. The one PCC car ordered from St. Lewis Car Co., new in 1946.  It is of standard postwar design, with standee windows.  Number 2000.  It runs to Xochimilco at extra fare, and does not carry standees.

It will be noted above that number series appear to begin and break off at many odd points.  It would take a very careful and lengthy study of the system to produce anything like a complete car roster.

What is the operation like in Mexico City?  What are its distinctive features?  These are the questions most of interest to the typical American railfan who has never travelled south of the border.


Through it would be difficult to put the trackage into neat pigeonholes of classification, it is possible to generalize that most mileage is of one of three main types of operation.


(1) In the downtown section, one-way narrow streets, some of which run into the

Zocalo.  This part of the system is much like downtown Philadelphia (north-south), except that car tracks follow the side of the curb on one-direction single-track rather than the middle of the street, with parking prohibited, of course, on the side where they run.

(2) In residential neighborhoods to the west and south of downtown section, fairly

broad avenues and boulevards, with double-track down the center.  More often than not bracket arm poles, set in a concrete center strip, divide the tracks, but the latter are themselves set in the asphalt pavement.  (Exception: a few lines such as Xochimilco use center of the street right-of-way as soon as they leave the narrow one-way street downtown area.)  On these broad avenues there are often traffic circles at main junctions, with statues in their center.  The tracks curve around them, and in certain instances, where lines cross at such points, complete loops exist.

(3) In outlying suburban areas, such as to Xochimilco and beyond, and also on the western edge of the city, there are right-of-way lines, single or double track, but more generally the former.  These may include the outer portions of through lines from downtown, such, once again, as Xochimilco; or may be shuttles or extensions of crosstown lines.

The bulk of the operation through-out the city is single-end.  But a few rural shuttles are double-end at their outer terminus.

As intimated, most of the system is located south or west of the Zocalo in the city center.  But a few lines wander northward for a short distance on single track, one-direction loops, returning on alternate streets; while there are three right-of-way lines to the northeast of the city.

There are many lines all over the system which looked very interesting on the map but which we lacked time to ride.  Our impressions cannot, therefore, be considered anywhere near complete.  But, for the would-be traveler to the Mexican capital we can recommend Xochimilco, the San Gregorio shuttle continues out the country from Xochimilco; the #52 to Tizapan, reached by the Obregon car from downtown (itself a long, fascinating ride); and, for single-truck equipment, the short #22-Lerdo north from Zocalo.

Inbound from Xochimilco we rode the PCC car, loyally waiting for it a considerable length of time in the rain.  All other STE cars are the familiar Mexican yellow, but the PCC is red and cream.  The PCC is well maintained, and commodious; but being the only fast car on a line with numerous slow older cars around it; and, running non-stop on the same double track with frequent local service; it is not surprising that its speed is severely limited.  The condition of the track is also a factor in cutting the PCC’s speed.


Until February 21, STE operated 27 rather than 26 lines.  On that date the widely publicized accident on the scenic rural La Venta line occurred.  Now La Venta has been “suspended,” apparently indefinitely.  From what we could ascertain from descriptions of the line and from riding the highway to La Venta, this was by far the most scenic line on the system, with its steep grades and precipitous views.  It is certainly a shame that a few safety devices could not be installed and the line restored to operation.


But if one line has been dropped, another may be added.  Tracks and poles are in place south of Obregon for a short distance on track that supposedly is to be extended to the new campus of the University of Mexico.  By far the bulk of the new route is unfinished; the boulevard along which the cars will run has not itself been cut through as yet.  If the extension materializes, it augurs well for the future of STE rail service.


STE faces a great deal of unorganized but heavily concentrated bus competition.  Small hood in front operators, usually limited to one or two lines per company, fill the city.  STE is, of course, government controlled.  It operates no busses itself, but does run the one trolley coach line---a crosstown route circling the downtown area from southeast to northwest.


Fare is 15 cents Mexican (less than 2 cents American), except on the trolley coach, where it is 4 cents American, and on the PCC car, where it is 12 cents(one peso).  Fare boxes and rear entrance are used on most lines: Peter Witts are still pay as you pass the conductor; and on certain outlying shuttles and suburban runs the conductor travels through the car collecting fares by hand and issuing receipts.  A few shuttles are one-man.


Scheduling of cars throughout the system is rather poor.  On heavy lines in town there are long gaps between cars; then suddenly three or four cars will follow each other in a bunch.  On single track, such as the Xochimilco line, there are long delays for meets.  Apparently to obtain some kind of a check on motormen’s performance, time clocks are located at various terminal points, and must be punched when the car arrives.


Mexico City is such a conglomeration of car lines that it is hard to generalize on the system as a whole: parts seem very poorly maintained, other parts surprisingly well kept up.  Many cars are too old for the service they perform, although eminently picturesque; others are modern.  A few cars were seen in gleaming new yellow paint; most were shabby in that respect.  Some rail was observed to be in excellent shape; but on most rural rights-of-way, we rode, it needed immediate repair.

But one thing emerges from our visit to Mexico City very clearly: don’t stay three days, stay three weeks!



  (Cooperative of Vera Cruz Urban and Suburban Transport, Ltd)


Vera Cruz is the traction fan’s dream city!  Little more could be said to add to the overall impression of this system that we gained.  It was cetainly our favorite system in Mexico: a little gem which can easily be ridden in its entirety in several hours but which forever beckons the observer back to do the same thing over again.


If you want to know why, glance over the following list of car types operated.


1. Single-truck Birney cars, numbered upward from 100.  (Some of these have typical Birney  trucks, others a different type of truck; but all have standard Birney bodies, though the windows have been removed and the doorways are open.)  These were obtained from El Paso in 1936. 


2. Open bench cars, single-truck, complete with footboards.  Obtained from  Philadelphia in 1908.


3. Open bench cars, double-truck, with motors that should sound more like typical work car motors than anything else.  Origin uncertain.


4. Ex-Tampico (ex-Chicago?) double-truck, closed cars, obtained when the city system in  Tampico folded.  In appearance they are quite similar to the existing cars in Tampico; fairly  long and quite high.


5. Ex-Hartford, Conn. double-truck closed cars, not typical of Connecticut Company standard designs.  They were obtained in the late 1930s.  Their special feature is  sloping end floors; they are lower in roof design than the Tampico cars and more modern in  appearance.


6. Ex-Pacific Electric 100 class obtained in 1950, as TIMEPOINTS readers are well aware.


According to shop men, not a single car running in Vera Cruz was built originally for that city!


Now then, picture cars of all these types continually flowing up to a double track, one-direction loop terminal at the railroad station.  Picture them passing along downtown single-track on narrow streets (track at the curb as everywhere else in Mexico), then fanning out over one-way loops into various parts of the city.



There are seven lines, but two of these have no independent running, being alternate routings or turn backs of the other five.  Of the five independent lines all but one are entirely on one-direction loops.  The fifth, Panteones, has a considerable suburban right-of-way, used in both directions with a turnout, contrary to usual Vera Cruz practice.  This Panteones line, longest of the system, is easily the most interesting.  It uses single-truck Birney cars exclusively, and they are sufficiently crowded to merit the use of large equipment, were it available.  It ends at the cemetery

 ( “pantheon”) which give the line its name.


The ex-PE 100s are also a joy to ride once again.  They look a little unnatural as single-end cars, of course; but that wistful little hum of the motors is still present in delightful moments when they pick up speed.  With the conductor taking up fares by hand from seated passengers, at car stops all doors on the four corners of the car are simultaneously opened, permitting fast loading. Gradually, the PE controllers are being replaced with nine-point coffee-grinder K35 controllers, which the company and its owner-employees are more used to dealing with.  Most Vera Cruz cars are yellow (except for huge advertisements covering the entire backs of some), but the PE paint scheme is being retained --and--modified.  Several of the CTUSU 200s (new numbering series for these cars) have already received a new coat of paint in Vera Cruz, and, while the bodies are yet red with orange striping, at least one roof is solid silver, while another is dark red.  That latter car, incidentally, has all of its red just a shade or two darker than the real PE red.  The 100s operate on two lines:  Villa del Mar, a pleasant loop along the gulf beach front, and Bravo Laguna, which is really a turn back on Pantiones.  It is on the latter that they turn through the narrow market place, the sides of the 100s (now 200s) barely missing huge piles of stacked bananas and other fruit.


The looping arrangement for the lines in the downtown area is such that three of the seven lines must pass over the same track for several blocks in the same direction on both inbound and outbound trips.  Cars on these lines carry cardboard arrows on their front windows that the motormen set to indicate the future course of their journey:  to the right for the railroad station and to the left for the outer portion of the lines.


CTUSU also runs busses, unlike any other existing Mexican electric railway; although there are also a number of competing independent busses in Vera Cruz.  The CTUSU busses have a company emblem with the picture of a streetcar on their sides--a picture the cars themselves do not carry.  The system charges the same fare as in Mexico City.  Neat shops and offices are maintained at the car house on Avenida Gonzales Pages.  The men at the shops are exceedingly pleasant to visitors; and since we had some knowledge of Spanish we were able to learn more about the history of the system and its cars than some other railfans who have also visited Vera Cruz.


Such as the fact that the company has been employee-owned since 1932; and that it will continue to operate rail service for as long as possible; but, of course, “Quien sabe?”  That is, who can tell?  At least here is a determined, alert enterprise which does remarkable well with boomer cars from at least five different locations.  The trolley wire may sag a little, but the gay, bouncy cars of Vera Cruz roll on.  We saw new track being laid in the heart of the downtown district; we saw the very heavy loads the cars are carrying.  So we’re fairly optimistic about the chances for survival of street railway service in this Citadel of the Birney and the Open Bench Car.  And in the meantime, we look back on our day in Vera Cruz as the high point of the entire Mexican tour.


5. FERROCARRIL  MEXICANO (Mexican Railway)


This steam and diesel line is run by electric power through the mountains on a stretch that occupies about three hours of the twelve hour ride between Mexico City and Vera Cruz.  It is typical railroad electrification, with pantograph and catenary.  The scenery is intermittently spectacular; most interesting is the famous horseshoe bridge, where the line, after climbing up one side of a canyon, bends back across the river and reverses itself up the other side of the canyon.  There are nine tunnels on the electrified portion.


6. FERROCARRIL  URBANO (Urban Railway)


Celaya, a small town on the El Paso-Mexico City highway near Mexico City, has an old world, other century atmosphere.  The mule car line fits very perfectly into this setting.

The Urban Railway of Celaya is about one mile long, and is 38" gauge, single track.

Two open bench mule cars, painted bright yellow, are used.  We arrived during street reconstruction work that temporarily caused the line to be cut in two, with a walk-around transfer in the middle.  The route begins at the plaza in the center of town, then winds on streets to the edge, follows a right-of-way (paved between the  rails with cobblestones for the mule), and terminates at the railroad station.


Cars run daily from 10 am until 7 pm., the two-man crews working a nine hour shift with no days off.  The mules have a better deal;  there are four mules and each has only to work four and one half hours a day.  This latter arrangement is the reason for our assertion that this is the only railway line in North America where the power supply on the northern end improves considerably at 2 pm. every afternoon.  The afternoon mule, you see, is considerably more spirited than the morning mule.


The temporary arrangement, incidentally, whereby mules worked only the northern or southern ends at one time, will shortly be terminated, according to the driver of the northern car.  It had only been in effect for about two weeks when we arrived.


Cars carry good loads at 20 cents(Mexican) fare.  It is not difficult to board a moving car even at top speed.  There are many abandoned mule tracks running in other sections of the city; we were told they were abandoned at the time of the revolution following 1910, but that there was absolutely no thought of abandoning the present line.


Freight as well as passengers are carried.  A spur leads into a flour mill on Cinco de Mayo Street, and we saw flat cars which the mules pull loaded with this freight for the railroad station, where it is transferred for shipment.


Thus we concluded our tour through Mexico with a visit to the only line which, as Lazear Israel liked to describe after our return, features cars with one horse power outside hung motors.  Celaya reminded us that, after all, the Vera Cruz Birneys are fairly modern.




News Articles:




On Wednesday, July 21, a PE car became derailed near Toluca Yard, tying up the entire subway in the evening rush hour and forcing patrons to be directed into Hill Street busses.



On July 26 the Pacific Railroad Society sponsored its first PE excursion in more than three years.  It carried 69 passengers, including many SC-ERA members.

Car 5111 left Main Street Station soon after the scheduled 8:00 am. departure time, for Soldier’s Home via the Air Line.  Not quite reaching the destination, but proceeding far enough to snarl traffic on Wilshire Blvd. at a photo stop, the car then traveled to Ocean Park and on to Inglewood. The return to Alla featured a photo stop among weeds nearly as tall as the car.  Former PE 638 hastened through Culver City toward a rendezvous with an Air Line freight train of considerable length at Eleventh Avenue siding.

Back at Main Street Station for lunch, the group swarmed aboard “hot rod blimp” 316, and ambled down the four track main line to Watts.  There it turned westward to visit West Athens, Hawthorne, and El Segundo.  The final portion of the excursion was a run to Torrance Shops, Ocean Ave. (farthest southerly point of trolley wire on the San Pedro via Gardena line), and a breathtaking climb up the “Tehachapi Loop” of PE on industrial trackage in Torrance.

The special arrived at Los Angeles for a final time only one hour late, making the actual length of the trip nine hours.



Effective 3:30 am., July 14, 1953, trackage on Santa Monica Blvd. from Hollywood Blvd. to Las Palmas Avenue was removed from service.  Last revenue run on the affected portion occurred June 1, rather than May 31 as incorrectly reported in the June TIMEPOINTS, when the Santa Monica Blvd.-West Hollywood line was replaced by motor coach service.  During the interim weeks the regular mid-afternoon PCC deadhead trip had continued to use those rails.  This car, which leaves West Hollywood at approximately 3:30 pm., now is running via Hollywood Blvd.



The hearing on PE’s application to abandon its famous Santa Monica Air Line passenger service was held on July 27th.



Pacific Electric locomotive 1601 has been scrapped.

Watts car house was being remodeled in July to include a new diesel freight locomotive repair center.

PE is now using its automatic left-center door controls in evening rush hours at the Subway Terminal on PCCs.



  (Clipping from R. Ballash)

Portland Traction Company is now operating seven rather than eight former Pacific Electric cars on its interurban system.  On Thursday, July 9, 1953, three persons were injured and 13 others shaken up when the eighth car (number as yet unknown) struck a logging truck at Milwaukee just before noon.  The front of the car was bashed in but it remained on the tracks.  Judging from the appearance of the car, it will probably be rebuilt.





Publicity has been released by SC-ERA member Norman K. Johnson concerning his planned LATL type BG (wood standard) excursion, which he announces for August 23rd at 9:00 am.  The six hour trip will cost $3.00 until August 13, $4.00 thereafter.  The deck roof beauty, which usually hides in the car house, needlessly ashamed of its age, will haunt lines W and R with memories, and will also visit portions of the V, S and 5 lines.





During mid-July hearings were held before the California Public Utilities Commission concerning the application of Key System Transit Lines to abandon rail service on it A & B transbay routes.  The City of Oakland desires the B line to be retained, but is willing to see the A Line discontinued.  There will be no decision, according to the commissioners, for at least two months.



On July 24, Key System Transit Lines employees began a strike affecting the bridge railway operations as well as all local busses in Greater Oakland.

The union is asking  30 cents per hour more for trainmen and drivers, which would increase wage rates from the present $1.68 to $1.98.



On July 25 the New York subway and surface transportation fare throughout the city was increased from 10 cents to 15 cents.  The move follows the acquisition of New York City Transit System by a state authority. 

During the latter part of the spring a token fare of 2 rides for 25 cents has been contemplated, but it was impossible to obtain sufficient tokens before the deadline for the increase: a deadline which prohibits New York fare hikes in autumn election months.



On June 14 the Waterloo-Cedar Falls local streetcar line of the CF&N system was abandoned.  This has used ex-Knoxville, Tenn., Master Unit type cars, running hourly (half-hourly in rush hour) on a highly scenic right-of-way between the two neighboring cities.

Interurban lines from Waterloo to Waverly and Cedar Rapids continue to operate.

This was the last streetcar line of any sort in the state of Iowa.



Famous electric locomotive 1544, which carried debris trains following the San Francisco earthquake in 1906 and later found a home on PE, arrived at the Travel Town transportation museum in Griffith Park on July 15.  Both it and the 1498 seem highly unnatural in the bright red paint they are now wearing.  PE donated the locomotive, unofficially known as “Electra” to the City of Los Angeles.  Perhaps its most unique feature was the arrangement whereby its motorman sat sideways in order to view the track in both directions



One of the highlights of the summer social season occurred recently as part of a series of Saturday afternoon parties held on the Santa Monica Air Line car.  Pacific Electric was host to eight railfans when it held its weekly party of July 18.

These included SC-ERA members Alan Weeks (with a non-member friend), Walter Abbenseth, Ernest Haase, Ray Ballash, Bob Ramsay and Laurence Veysey; and TIMEPOINTS subscriber Bill Arnold.

Also aboard was an attractive female newspaper reporter, representing the West Los Angeles Independent, who sought material for a historical feature on the unique Air Line service.  She alighted, amid friendly farewells from the eight railfans, in Santa Monica.

In addition to the usual photo stops, motorman Fred Lane provided picture takers with additional opportunities in the well-known hilly area west of Palms.

Car 5117 also had a lengthy pause in Ocean Park, prior to reaching its evening berth.  A Ford of mid-1930s vintage was parked on the ill-maintained track just west of an intersection.  It was locked and there was no owner in evidence.  Party guests of the Pacific Electric assembled, together with local onlookers, in a group beside the car.

Los Angeles police were summoned in the form of a motorcycle officer.  A tow truck was ordered by radio, while Conductor L.E. (“Cookie”) Koch began walking back toward Culver City, prepared to perform his duty of flagging down any approaching interurban passenger or freight trains.  (He was just eight days and 16 hours too early.)

Then, at first hardly noticed by party-sans to rail service or by the other congregated onlookers, two sunburned youths appeared from the beach, clad only in their bathing suits.  One of these quietly unlocked the door of the Ford---and was at once confronted by the police.  The call for the tow truck was cancelled, while it was explained to the errant lads that this was not an abandoned track; that, rather, it was the home of regularly scheduled passenger service from Los Angeles to the Western beaches.

More than a half hour late, 5117 pulled into its accustomed siding across from what was once the most picturesque car house in Southern California.  The Air Line party had come to an end.

The Air Line party of July 18 was but one of the number of interesting weekly events in the railfan summer social season, and all who were present at it have vowed to return some future Saturday for more of the same.