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Streetcars in Atlanta

Photograph of several streetcars on Peachtree Street in the early 1900s.

Streetcars on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, early 1900s. (Library of Congress.)

After the Civil War, the ashes of Atlanta had barely stopped smoldering before an act to incorporate the Atlanta Street Railroad Company was introduced into the General Assembly. It was approved February 23, 1866.

As it turned out, the company and the city could not agree on paving requirements, taxes, and other matters, and nothing happened. The enterprise stalled, even while the rest of Atlanta rushed to rebuild.

Finally, in 1871, two new investors, George W. Adair and Richard Peters, entered the scene. Both had worked for the Georgia Railroad before the war, Adair as a conductor and Peters as chief engineer, and both had extensive real estate investments, which would be made more valuable with improved transportation nearby.

After buying the company in April 1871, and renaming it the Atlanta Street Railway Company, the two built their first line. Opening late the same year, it used horse-powered streetcars on tracks running from the center of town south down Peachtree (then Whitehall Street) to Mitchell to Forsyth to Trinity to Peters. It ended at McPherson Barracks, the garrison for Reconstruction-era Federal troops (now the site of Spelman College).

In early 1872, a second line opened, running a little over a mile up Marietta Street; it was followed a few months later by a Decatur Street line to Oakland Cemetery. In mid-summer, a line opened on Peachtree Street, running about a mile to Pine Street. All of the routes used mules and horses to pull the cars.

A mule-powered streetcar on Whitehall Street (now Peachtree Street) in 1872.

A mule car on Whitehall (now Peachtree) Street at the railroad tracks in 1872. Curiously, in some published versions of this photograph, the word "liquors" was blotted out.

The following year a line from Union Station to points south was constructed. It zigzagged from Alabama Street to the City Hall-Courthouse (now the State Capitol site) and after a couple of more turns ended at the present site of the Olympic Torch Tower.

In early 1874, a line down Whitehall to McDaniel Street opened for business. That year also saw extensions of two older lines as the Peters Street line was extended to West End and the Peachtree Street line was extended to Ponce de Leon Springs.

The latter half of the 1870s saw little street railway construction due to a struggling economy after the Panic of 1873, but in the follwing decade expansion resumed. In 1880, the Marietta Street line was extended to the fair grounds and race track at Oglethorpe Park (which was soon to become the site of the International Cotton Exposition). In 1881, the Peachtree Street line was extended to present-day Fourteenth Street. In 1882, the Whitehall Street line was connected to Peters Street via a new railroad underpass (where Northside Drive now passes under the tracks). This route bypassed the original line to McPherson Barracks, which was taken up.

Mule car on Pryor Street. Union Station of 1871 in center. (From Lawton B. Evans. The Student's History of Georgia. 1884. Online at Internet Archive.)

In 1883, Atlanta's second street railway enterprise, the West End & Atlanta Street Railroad Company, finally started construction after a difficult birth. (It had been chartered in 1872 but may have lost time due to an inventor's "prismoidal one-track railway.") The line began at Marietta and Broad, then ran down Broad to Mitchell to Madison Avenue (now Spring Street) to Nelson to Walker to Peters through present-day Spelman College to West End Avenue to Ashby (Joseph E. Lowery Blvd.) to Porter (Lucile Avenue) to Gordon Street (Ralph David Abernathy Blvd.). The following year it was extended to Westview Cemetery.

Also in 1883, the new Metropolitan Street Railway began work on a line from the Union Depot at Pryor Street to the new Grant Park in the southeastern section of the city.

1884 brought yet another company to the scene. The Gate City Street Railroad Company constructed a line from Pryor Street at Decatur Street, up Pryor to Wheat Street (Auburn Avenue today), then Wheat to Jackson to present-day Parkway Drive. Near present-day Angier Avenue the tracks left the streets and took a private right of way to Angier Springs (now the east side of Historic Fourth Ward Park).

Meanwhile, also on the north side, the Atlanta Street Railway extended its Peachtree Street line eastward about a quarter-mile down Wilson Avenue (present-day Fourteenth Street).

In 1887, the Gate City was sold to a holding company, the Union Street Railroad Company. The new owners abandoned the no-street tracks to Angier Springs and built north up Jackson Street (Parkway Drive) to Ponce de Leon Avenue, then up Boulevard (Monroe Drive) to the Piedmont Exposition site (now Piedmont Park).

Center-entrance and exit streetcar in Atlanta, GA

The mule cars would eventually evolve into cars like this one.

The Metropolitan Street Railway, which had begun construction in 1883, expanded during the 1880s to several areas of southeast Atlanta. Its Pryor Street line was built down that street about two miles to Ridge Avenue, and its Georgia Avenue line branched off Pryor and ran east to Grant Park.

Another Metropolitan route branched off Pryor Street at Hunter Street (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive), turned south onto Fraser Street, and then ran east on Fair Street (now Memorial Drive) to Oakland Cemetery. It was later extended down a private right of way (now Park Avenue) to the east side of Grant Park as far as Berne Street.

Also during the 1880s, the company built its Pulliam Street/Washington Street line. It left Pryor Street at Trinity, ran down Pulliam to Clarke where it turned east for a block and then turned south down Washington Street to end at Ormond Street. (Most of these streets were lost to the interstate highways, stadium, and parking lots built in the 1960s.)

During the first decade and a half of Atlanta street railways, horse and mule power was used to move the cars along the rails. As the 1880s moved to a close, this would change.

One non-animal power source that was procured was steam, in the form of small locomotives often partially disguised with a streetcar-like enclosure around the engine. Called steam "dummies," these vehicles would pull one or two trailing cars with passengers. Sometimes these were converted horsecars.

A steam dummy streetcar

A steam dummy.

The dummies could travel at several times the speed of horse-drawn cars, which allowed for a faster schedule. Additionally, steam power was a time-tested, reliable technology that had been used on Georgia's rails for a half-century. A downside, however, was smoke from the engine, considered a nuisance on city streets, especially in residential areas.

Their faster speeds made dummies appropriate for longer suburban lines, especially those on private rights of way where streets and neighborhoods had not yet been built. Perhaps with such future lines in mind, the Metropolitan Street Railway secured permission in 1887 to operate steam dummies.

H. K. Porter steam dummy used by the Metropolitan.

By 1889, the Metropolitan was operating 7 dummy engines, according to Poors. The company also had 23 horses and 17 cars. This equipment carried 1,106,931 passengers just under a quarter-million miles during the year ending December 31, 1889.

An 1888 report on a Porter dummy sold to the Metropolitan provides a bit of information on the steam-powered operation:

Cylinder size 9 in. diameter x 14 in. stroke
Track gauge Standard
Radius of sharpest curve 55 ft.
Grade in feet per mile 250 ft.
No. of cars hauled at one time 1
Weight of train in tons 9.5 tons

Remarks: On busy days hauls two crowded cars, about 29 tons. Grades undulating, and steepest grade about 350 feet long. Runs 17 hours per day, making round trip every 30 or 40 minutes. 7,517 miles in 3 months. 17.5 lbs. coke fuel per mile.

(From: Light Locomotives. H.K. Porter Company, Pittsburgh, PA, Sixth edition, 1889. Online at Google Books.)

The dummies were put to use on the Metropolitan's line to Decatur, which opened in 1891. An extension of the Fair Street (Memorial Drive) line, it ran on mostly private right of way which later became Arkwright Place, Woodbine Avenue, and Oakview Road. Dummies were also used on the company's line to the Confederate Soldiers Home near Grant Park. This line also opened in 1891.

Augustus Koch's 1892 birds-eye map of Atlanta shows steam dummies operating on Pryor Street, Park Avenue, Tennelle Street (in Cabbagetown), and on today's Fulton Terrace and Sasseen Street. (Note: This map is 33 MB in size and is in JPEG2000 format.)

The "Dummy Line" on Fair Street in Atlanta, around 1892. Streetcars were powered by steam dummy engines.

The Fair Street (now Memorial Drive) line is labeled "Dummy Line" on this 1892 Sanborn map. The empty area in the center is Oakland Cemetery. For a birds-eye view of this area, also from 1892, click here.

In 1887, while the Metropolitan was acquiring steam dummies, a new street railway in Atlanta began construction. It also would choose a non-animal motive power, but instead of tried-and-true steam, it would use the brand-new, and still somewhat tentative, electric traction technology.

The Atlanta & Edgewood Street Railroad Company was a venture of Joel Hurt, developer of the city's first planned residential suburb, Inman Park. The street railway was a connection from Inman Park to downtown, traversing the sparsely developed area in between. In fact, it was necessary to construct most of Edgewood Avenue, which at the time only existed for a few downtown blocks under other street names.

The railway may have used steam dummies in its earliest months of operation before electric car service began on August 22, 1889.

The Trolley Barn in Atlanta. Streetcar tracks can be seen in Edgewood Street alongside the building.

Built in the late 1880s, this Shingle-Style trolley barn served the Atlanta & Edgewood Street Railway Company. It is now used as a meeting and events facility. More photos.

Two Inman Park streetcars on the Edgewood Avenue bridge

Two Inman Park streetcars on the Edgewood Avenue bridge over the Richmond & Danville Railroad.

In this scene from Koch's 1892 birds-eye map, an electric streetcar is traveling on Edgewood Avenue at Euclid Avenue.

Part of Inman Park as shown on Koch's 1892 birds-eye map. An electric streetcar is traveling on Edgewood Avenue at Euclid Avenue. The car barn is on the right where tracks diverge. Trains run on the Georgia Railroad at the bottom of the image. The John M. Beath residence, now known as the Beath-Dickey house, is at the top between two other houses.

Shortly before 1889 came to an end, Atlanta's second electric streetcar company, the Fulton County Street Railroad, opened for business. Its line began at Marietta and Broad and then ran up Broad to Peachtree, to Houston Street (now John Wesley Dobbs Avenue), to Hilliard Street, to Highland Avenue, to North Highland Avenue, and to Virginia Avenue. From Virginia it turned south on present-day Monroe Drive and continued down Boulevard back to Highland. The result was a route that looked a bit like a balloon on a string and came to be known as the Nine-Mile Circle.

On September 21, 1891, nearly twenty years after Atlanta's first streetcar began service, the two electric railways, along with the Atlanta Street Railway, the West End, and the Gate City were merged into the new Atlanta Consolidated Street Railway Company, led by Joel Hurt. In November of the following year, the Metropolitan was also added to the mix. The resulting system totaled over 50 miles, with some cars powered by electricity, some by steam, and some by horses and mules.

Hurt and his associates decided that electrification of the steam and horse lines would take precedence over further expansion. By 1894, some 44 miles had been converted to electric operation. It was during the same year that the last steam dummies ran on the South Decatur and Soldiers Home lines.

The establishment of the Atlanta Consolidated in 1891 did not mean the end of competition in the city's streetcar business. The same year, the Atlanta & Chattahoochee River Railway Company was incorporated with the aim of building a line to the new Hollywood Cemetery and to the river. Opening the following year, it ran from Walton and Luckie streets to Jones Avenue to Gray Street to Kennedy Street (now Cameron Madison Alexander Blvd.) to English Avenue to Bellwood Avenue to Mayson-Turner Ferry Road (later Bankhead Highway and now Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway) to Hollywood Road and eventually to the river. In 1892, it was taken over by the Collins Park & Belt Railroad Company, which had been chartered in 1889 but had not constructed any tracks.

An 1894 issue of the Street Railway Journal summarized the situation of the CP&B at the time, "The line is suffering considerably from a collapse of the real estate boom, but is still in operation...A portion of the route is through a woody, wild, romantic region, with many curves and grades, but which is rapidly building up with new homes."

Koch's 1892 map shows the CP&B's route in today's Maddox Park area.

Koch's 1892 map shows the CP&B's route in today's Maddox Park area. MARTA's Bankhead station is now at this location.

In 1890-91, another new player, the Atlanta, West End & McPherson Barracks Railway Company, built a line from downtown to Fort McPherson, southwest of the city. (The old McPherson Barracks shut down in the early 1880s; a few years later Spelman College was built on the site. The new fort, built in 1885-88, closed in 2011.) The route began at Broad and Alabama streets, ran along Alabama to Forsyth, then down Forsyth to Fair Street (now Memorial Drive) which it followed a short block before turning south onto Cooper Street. From Cooper it turned west on Richardson then south again onto McDaniel Street. After crossing the ETV&G tracks, it continued down McDaniel through mostly undeveloped properties to the fort. In late 1891, the AWE&MB changed its name to the Atlanta Traction Company.

Around this time, a line from Richardson Street to Grant Park was built by the Grant Park Electric Railway Company, which apparently was an arm of the Atlanta Traction Company and not a separate entity. The route was Richardson to Cooper Street to Hendrix Avenue to Pryor Street to Ormond Street to the park.

Koch's map shows Brisbane Park, owned by Atlanta Traction Company.

Here Koch's map shows Brisbane Park, owned by Atlanta Traction Company for "baseball and other amusements," as noted in the map's legend. The Atlanta Crackers of the Southern League played here in 1892 .

In early 1893, construction began on a second line from Atlanta to Decatur. Built by the Atlanta City Street Railway Company, which had been incorporated in November of the previous year, it started at Loyd Street (Central Avenue) on the north side of the Union Depot, then to Decatur Street, to a connection with Ivy Street (Peachtree Center Avenue) to Gilmer Street to Pratt Street to Bell Street to Tanner Street (since obliterated by the Downtown Connector) to Fort Street to Irwin Street to Lake Avenue to Euclid Avenue to McLendon Street, then south at Clifton Road to DeKalb Avenue and on to Decatur.

Also, a branch line was built to the old Robert Alston farm which was being developed by the East Lake Land Company for residences and as a resort. Following present-day East Lake Drive, the line intersected the older dummy line at present-day Oakview Road, eventually creating the Oakhurst neighborhood.

In 1894-95, the new Atlanta Electric Railway Company built a line to the former city waterworks at Lakewood Park. The route was Loyd Street (Central Avenue), Crew Street, and present-day Lakewood Avenue.

The Atlanta City Street Railway and the Atlanta Traction Company did not survive the Panic of 1893. After entering bankruptcy and receivership, the two were closed down and their assets sold in mid-1895 to the new Atlanta Railway Company. This company built a line to the west side of Grant Park, which already had lines via Georgia Avenue and Ormond Street, but which apparently could support a third. The route was Mitchell to Capitol to Woodward to Grant to Augusta to Cherokee to Ormond.

The Atlanta Railway Company also built lines from Mitchell Street northwest to Magnolia Street and southwest to West Fair Street (now Atlanta Student Movement Blvd).

Marietta Street, viewed from Peachtree Street. (From: The Heart of the South along the line of the Atlanta & West Point RR. Atlanta: Atlanta & West Point RR and Western Railway of Alabama, 1898. Online at Internet Archive.)

In 1899, Joel Hurt's Atlanta Consolidated changed its name to the Atlanta Railway & Power Company, indicating an intention to sell electricity for uses other than powering streetcars. The following year it purchased the Atlanta Railway Company. Meanwhile, the Collins Park & Belt Railroad changed its name to Atlanta Rapid Transit Company. This company was associated with Henry M. Atkinson of the Georgia Electric Light Company.

At the time, state law prevented electric light companies from operating street railways, but street railway companies were allowed to own and operate power plants and sell any excess power. Accordingly, it was in Atkinson's interests to associate himself with street railways, without involving his electric light company.

By the early years of the twentieth century, horsecars and steam dummies had passed from the scene, and all street railways, in Atlanta at least, would become powered by electricity. Street railways had plenty of room for growth, as did the sale of electricity for general use. It made good business sense to tie the two together. Complicating matters, however, was the existence of two enterprises, Atkinson's Atlanta Rapid Transit Company and Hurt's Atlanta Railway & Power Company, both seeking to dominate the streetcar and electricity businesses in town.

Five Points, early 1900s. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Under Atkinson, the Atlanta Rapid Transit Company expanded its system in 1900-01 to compete directly with many AR&P routes. Among these was a third route to Decatur (via Auburn Avenue, Howell Street, and present-day DeKalb Avenue), another route to Grant Park (via Woodward and Cherokee Avenues), a line to Lakewood via Central Avenue and Crew Street, and lines on Juniper Street, Forrest Avenue (now Ralph McGill Blvd), and Ivy Street (now Peachtree Center Avenue).

The Rapid Transit Company provided new cars on several of its routes and reduced fares to attract ridership. The close proximity of the competitive routes meant that many customers came at the expense of the AR&P, which saw a significant decline in profits.

Atlanta streetcars on Whitehall Street, early 1900s.

Whitehall Street, early 1900s. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

In September of 1901, Hurt sold his interests in the AR&P to a Boston investment firm associated with Atkinson. Early in the following year, Atkinson incorporated the Georgia Railway & Electric Company, which soon brought the AR&P, the Atlanta Rapid Transit Company, and the Georgia Electric Light Company into its fold.

By paying the city government an annual percentage of gross earnings, the new GR&E and its successors gained a monopoly of the street railways in Atlanta that would last until the 1940s.

The GR&E moved quickly to reorganize many routes, building new tracks in some places while abandoning tracks on more than a dozen streets. The northern Decatur line was abandoned east of McLendon at Clifton. This also eliminated the East Lake line (on present-day East Lake Drive), but a route to East Lake via Cottage Grove Avenue remained. The Decatur Street/DeKalb Avenue segment between Howell Street and Hurt Street in Inman Park was also removed. The Fort MacPherson line was shortened; its new terminus was at Dill Avenue at present-day Sylvan Road.

Among the new tracks was a 1902 extension from East Point to College Park. Within a decade an interurban connection to Fairburn would follow.

Downtown Atlanta traffic a century ago included streetcars, buggies, and pedestrians.

Downtown Atlanta traffic a century ago included streetcars, buggies, and pedestrians.

To increase ridership, the GR&E assisted in the development of the Ponce de Leon amusement park in 1903 and the adjacent Atlanta Crackers baseball park in 1906-07. Both attractions were located at Ponce de Leon Springs on the west side of the Southern Railway. [See also Atlanta BeltLine (and Belt Lines).]

An automobile, a horse-drawn buggy, and an electric streetcar in early twentieth-century downtown Atlanta.

An automobile, a horse-drawn buggy, and an electric streetcar in early twentieth-century downtown Atlanta.

In 1903, the Atlanta Northern Railway Company was organized by the GR&E to construct an interurban line from Atlanta to Marietta. The first cars ran on the 18-mile route on July 17, 1905.

The line began at Walton, Forsyth, and Marietta Streets and ended at the city square in Marietta. Along the way, it passed by Hills Park, Crestlawn Cemetery, Bolton, Gilmore/Oakdale, Campbell's, Smyrna, Fair Oaks, Jonesville, and Glover Machine Works. North of Campbell's the line followed alongside the NC&StL Railroad, first on the west side, then crossing over to the east side on a bridge just north of Fair Oaks (at present-day Atlanta Road bridge over the CSX railroad).

The first three miles of the route was on city trackage of the Marietta Street-Inman Yard line, with most of the remaining mileage on private right of way. (See Streetcars in Marietta).

Cobb County's Trolley Line Park marks the former Atlanta Northern interurban route alongside Log Cabin Drive south of Smyrna.

Cobb County's Trolley Line Park marks the former Atlanta Northern interurban route alongside Log Cabin Drive south of Smyrna.

By 1907, Atlanta could boast that its trolley network reached every part of the city along with several suburbs:

Atlanta has one of the finest systems of electric railways in the country, penetrating every section of the city so thoroughly that almost every door is in close proximity to its lines. This convenience, with a five-cent fare and transfers to cross lines, affords economical and rapid transit to all, and in easy reach of all classes. And, in consideration of these advantages, Atlanta's patronage of her street-cars is immense.

Suburban lines of the same system extend to Marietta, twenty miles; College Park, nine miles; East Point, six miles; Fort McPherson, four and one-half miles; Oakland City, Decatur, six miles; Kirkwood, five miles, and Edgewood suburb, three miles. All of these lines enjoy a splendid patronage, while they afford great convenience to a very large percentage of business men and women of the city, who make their homes in these neighboring towns.

Another feature of the trolley system of Atlanta which renders travel on its lines simple and easy, is the fact that from a single block in the almost exact center of the city practically all of its lines radiate, and all but four of them from a single corner.


From: Atlanta, the Metropolis of the South, Franklin-Turner Co., 1907. Online at Internet Archive here. A map from this publication showing downtown streetcar lines is here.

A line to Hapeville began operations in 1907; it branched off the East Point/College Park line between those two towns.

A streetcar on Mitchell Street passes alongside Atlanta Terminal Station.

While expanding his street railway system, Henry Atkinson also organized other business ventures including a steam railroad, a steamship company, and a mining company. As was the case with his street railway/electric power enterprise, these three investments were intended to be mutually supportive. The railroad would haul his coal and iron, and the steamship line would extend his reach beyond the limits of the rails.

Built as the Atlanta, Birmingham & Atlantic, the railroad connected the port city of Brunswick to Manchester, Georgia, where it split into two lines, one to Birmingham and the other to Atlanta. Atkinson's Birmingham Coal & Iron Company and his Brunswick Steamship Company anchored the western and eastern ends, respectively, while his home base of Atlanta anchored the northern end.

In early 1909, the AB&A failed, entering bankruptcy and nearly taking the whole of Atkinson's business empire down with it. Despite the financial difficulties of its early years, however, most of the railroad survived and today it forms a major link in the CSX network.

Streetcar at Whitehall (now Peachtree) and Alabama streets around 1914. Directly behind the streetcar was the Eiseman Building, which was torn down for MARTA's Five Points station. The ornamental arched windows at the top of its Whitehall facade (not visible in this photo) are now a decorative feature inside the station. (From: Atlanta Souvenir, Atlanta: Johnson-Dallis Co., 1914. Online at Internet Archive here.)

In 1912, the properties of the Georgia Railway & Electric Company were leased to the Georgia Railway & Power Company, formed the same year to purchase several existing power companies. As part of the arrangement, the GR&P acquired the Morgan Falls hydroelectric plant on the Chattahoochee River and the Tallulah Falls hydroelectric development in Rabun and Habersham counties, then under construction.

The power house at Tallulah Falls. The hydroelectric facility helped propel Atlanta's streetcars.

The power house at Tallulah Falls. The hydroelectric facility helped propel Atlanta's streetcars.

An interurban line from Decatur to Stone Mountain opened on November 29, 1913. GR&P built the 9.15-mile line at a cost of just under $400,000.

It began at Sam's Crossing in Decatur, where it connected with the streetcar system. Eastbound, it generally followed present-day East College Avenue, Avondale Road, North Clarendon Avenue, Church Street, and East Ponce de Leon Avenue. Most of the route north of Scottdale was beside the Georgia Railroad (now CSX), beginning on the south side and then passing under the railroad north of Hambrick Road. From there it remained on the railroad's north side into Stone Mountain. (See Streetcars in Stone Mountain).

Between Avondale Estates and Stone Mountain, the PATH Foundation's Stone Mountain Trail for pedestrians and bikes now retraces the route.

The interurban streetcar barn and substation in Stone Mountain has survived and is now a local arts center known as ART Station.

The interurban car barn and substation in Stone Mountain has survived and is now a local arts center known as ART Station.

World War I brought a huge new military facility to the area, Camp Gordon. Located on 2,400 acres near Chamblee, it comprised over 1,600 buildings with barracks for 46,612 men and corral space for 7,688 horses and mules. Although located on the Southern Railway, 14 miles from Five Points, the camp needed a streetcar connection as well. The closest was on Peachtree Road at the county line, three miles to the southwest.

Recognizing that the camp was not likely to be a long-term establishment, the GR&P agreed to a permanent 1.6-mile extension of its line to Oglethorpe University, along with a temporary extension to the camp. The single track line was completed around December of 1917. After the war ended, the camp property was sold and the streetcar line north of the university was removed.

Old trolley waiting station on Ponce de Leon Avenue, built in 1923.

Old trolley waiting station on Ponce de Leon Avenue, built in 1923.
(Photo of historical marker at the site.)

In 1928, Georgia Power brought the Macon Railway & Light Company and the properties of the Augusta-Aiken Railway & Electric into its fold. The Columbus Electric & Power Company, which owned the street railway system in that city, was added in 1929-30.

The Twenties brought more changes in the corporate structure when the GR&P entered into an alliance with the Southeastern Power & Light Company in the spring of 1926, followed by the formation of the Georgia Power Company a few months later. The new company consolidated the GR&P, the Athens Railway & Electric Company, and the Rome Railway & Light Company, along with various other properties into a single system.

GR&P/Georgia Power Company also began a major upgrade of equipment during the Twenties. A 1927 article (condensed here) described the company's efforts:

Atlanta Builds for the Future, With New Cars and Better Service

Electric Railway Journal
December 31, 1927

Atlanta is doing more than its share to get rid of the 25,000 obsolete cars. Since 1921, 178 cars have been retired, 176 burned and two
given away

CONFIDENT that new cars and, therefore, better service are the real answer to increased revenue and the ultimate support of the public, the Georgia Power Company, Atlanta, Ga., and its predecessor company, the Georgia Railway & Power Company, have been buying cars steadily since 1921, in the face of a declining curve of earnings on the investment. Some idea of the extent to which the present company believes in better service is gained from the knowledge that it has spent over five million dollars in service improvements since 1921, and the budget for 1927 will add more than a million and a quarter dollars to that already invested.

The present operating executives took charge in 1921 and almost immediately purchased 33 cars, followed in 1922 and 1923 by orders for twenty cars during each year. In 1925 sixteen new units were added and the following year saw seventeen additional new cars in service, bringing the total to 203 cars in 1926. As recently announced in Electric Railway Journal, the company placed an order this spring for 40 more units, which will bring the new equipment total to 243 cars purchased over a period of seven years.

The 1926 car orders place the Georgia Power Company in the position of having purchased nearly 2 per cent of all of the new passenger cars for city use that were bought in the United States during the last six years. The extensive car purchase program and the retirement of 178 old units has reduced the average age of the passenger equipment from 13.6 years in 1921 to 8.6 years in 1926....

With the retirement of fourteen old cars this year and the placing in service of the 40 cars scheduled for delivery in September, the average age of all cars, city and interurban, will be 7.4 years. For the city cars only the figure is 7.7 years. This contrasts with the following figures: Dec. 31, 1921, 13. 5 per cent of the cars in service were less than five years old. On Dec. 31 this year the rolling stock less than five years old, 210 cars out of 449, will be 46.75 per cent of the total on the property.

Passenger Riding Increased

The record of passengers carried indicates the wisdom of the company's policy. The total number of passengers carried in 1926 was 96,794,273, as against 91,358,379 in 1921. Revenue passengers increased from 73,611,786 in 1921 to 75,901,241 in 1926....

On the fourteen lines in Atlanta, where obsolete cars have been replaced by new cars, there has been an average increase in patronage of 4.73 per cent within three to six months following the installation of the units in service. The average increase on the balance of the system during this period was only 0.772 per cent. In the matter of increased riding as the result of new cars there is cited one route on which the installation of the new cars was followed by a business increase of 21.4 per cent for six months as compared with the corresponding period in the preceding year. On another route 13.5 per cent increase was obtained, while the system increase was 1.8 per cent. Increases of about 13 and 12 per cent, respectively, are shown on two other routes following the installation of new cars.

One-Man Cars Successful

When making its new car purchases the Atlanta company determined to give the one-man car a thorough test, a decision that has been productive of splendid results, both from the standpoint of increasing the car men's wages and solving the great Southern problem of race separation. Reduction of accidents also is attributed to the introduction of this type of car, which the company placed in service during 1925.

The low-floor, front-entrance type of one-man car which was recently put into service.

At present 110 units in operation are arranged for one-man operation and the 40 new cars to be delivered this month are of this same type. Twenty additional cars which permit of ready conversion to this type will be changed during this year. One-man operation is used on all interurban lines and during rush hours 32 per cent of the service is of this nature. The management has found a $1,700 per car annual platform expense saving in one-man operation over two-man operation. After deducting interest charges and depreciation, approximately $720 per car per year has been saved. This saving is allocated to give 50 per cent to the public in additional service, 25 per cent to operators in increased wages and 25 per cent to the company in increased earnings.

Every one familiar with the race question in the South knows that it is difficult, especially where congestion is present. The one-man cars adopted by the Georgia Power Company have the treadle step rear door mechanism. This has reduced race contact materially and has brought forth unqualified praise. With rear door operation there is no definite dividing line separating sections of the cars to be used exclusively by each race. The practice is for the negroes to occupy the seats from the rear forward, and the white patrons vice versa. Although at first it was found that the one-man type was productive of more accidents, familiarity of the public and trainmen with the new cars has grown to such an extent that in April, 1927, accidents on one-man cars were just about equal to those on two-man cars.

Perhaps one of the most interesting phases of the one-man situation in Atlanta was the lack of opposition encountered when this type of unit was first placed in service. The company took a novel means of introducing them to the public. This consisted of a contest to decide what color scheme the public liked best. Two of the cars were painted in the proposed new colors, green and cream and red and cream. One of the older cars was painted in solid green, the former color standard. These sample cars were placed in front of the company's building and the public was invited to cast ballots, the result being that more than 20,000 ballots were cast for the green and cream color scheme.

Among the 203 new cars purchased since 1921 are 100 double-truck, four-motor safety cars, with safety air brake equipment, door engines and treadle mechanism.

There are 40 double-end cars with automatic couplers and air brake equipment for two-car-train service. Ten cars are of the single-end safety type with automatic couplers and air brake equipment for two-car-train service. Another twenty units are double-truck, double-end, two-man cars with straight air brake equipment and equipped with door engines and pneumatic control.

Replacement of ten old type interurban cars with light-weight one-man cars brought about a total reduction in car weight from 315 tons to 189 tons. All the new units have cheerfully finished interiors, wide aisles and thermostatic heat control.. In the new interurban cars the de luxe appointments are much in evidence. Besides leather-upholstered individual seats the cars are provided with smoking compartments, generously upholstered arm rests, foot rests, dome lighting, parcel racks and ticket holders. On both the city and interurban units the side sheathing and door pockets are insulated with cloth and covered with canvas as a noise prevention feature.

With the exception of the cars purchased in 1921 all of the units have 26-in. wheels, insuring a comfortable step from the street level. Cars purchased in 1925 and 1926 and those now on order are of the same general design with the exception of twenty of the 1925 order, which were so designed as to make them easy of conversion to one-man operation. The popular type car in Atlanta is a 48-passenger, 46-ft. x 8-ft. car with 50-in. front door opening and 32-in. rear door opening. Electrical equipment consists of 35-hp. motors. K-75 low type control, line breakers and safety air brakes. The new interurban cars seat 52 passengers and weigh 37,800 lb. They are double-truck, four-motor units and have PC multiple-unit control for train operation and are equipped with Tomlinson couplers. The two-car trains have a seating capacity of 111.

This rolling stock serves a city system of 21 routes, thirteen of which are through routes. The remaining lines terminate in the downtown business district. In all, the Georgia Power Company operates 114 one-man cars, 239 two-man cars and 22 trailers in regular passenger service. It has a reserve of 26 single-truck cars, 24 double-truck open units for baseball and other special services, bringing the total to 425 units. This is exclusive of the 40 one-man cars now being constructed. Two interurban lines are operated, one to Stone Mountain, Ga., the site of the gigantic Confederate memorial; the other, the Atlanta Northern Railway, runs to Marietta, Ga. There are 85.817 miles of double track and 49.919 miles of single track in Atlanta. The Stone Mountain single-track line is approximately 10 miles long with turnouts. On the line to Marietta there are slightly over 14 miles of single track and a mile of double track.

Service Improved by Faster Operation

Several measures for evaluating the service improvements in Atlanta are available. In 1923 the average speed in miles per hour was 9.18 as compared to 9.77 m.p.h. in 1926. There has been an increase in the average operating speed from 9.47 m.p.h. in 1923 to 10.5 m.p.h. in 1926. As a corollary to the increase in speed there has been a marked reduction in schedule failures. In 1926 the loss from schedule speed was 4.54 per cent as compared with 8.63 per cent in 1923....

(The entire article is online at Internet Archive here.)

As indicated in the article, streetcars in Atlanta (and in the southern states generally) were racially segregated at the time. In Georgia, segregation began with the passage in the 1890s of "Jim Crow" laws that required separate accommodations in public facilities and public transit such as streetcars and passenger trains. The shameful practice finally began to erode in the 1950s and 1960s with the Civil Rights movement. For a good overview, see the Segregation article at the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

(To be continued)

More Information:

Historic Streetcar Systems in Georgia by New South Associates.

A map of the Georgia Railway and Electric streetcar system in 1902 is online here at Wikimedia Commons.

A 1907 map of downtown streetcar lines is here at railga.com.

A 1911 map is here at Wikimedia Commons.

See newdavesrailpix.com for numerous Georgia Railway & Power Company streetcar photos.

Suggested Reading:

O.E. Carson. The Trolley Titans; A Mobile History of Atlanta.
Glendale, CA: Interurban Press, 1981.

Robert G. Cullen. Baseball and America's Streetcars in the 19th Century. Online at Transportation Research Board here.

Jean Martin. Mule to MARTA. Vols 1 & 2. Atlanta Historical Society,
1975-76.

Wade H. Wright. History of the Georgia Power Company; 1855-1956. Atlanta: Georgia Power Company, 1957.


RailGa.com. Georgia's Railroad History & Heritage. © Steve Storey

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