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North Carolina's Interurban and Streetcar History

Published: May 22, 2023

By: Adam Burns

The southern states did not contain many true interurban systems.  However, North and South Carolina were home to one of the most successful interurbans in the nation, the Piedmont & Northern Railway. 

Its success was largely due to its heavy carload freight tonnage, so much so that major Class I railroads fought to preclude the P&N from linking its disconnected segments.  North Carolina was also home to several local streetcar systems.

2395872356237572608926092097.jpgA postcard featuring the Sunset Park Railway, which served Asheville and Weaverville, North Carolina. It began in 1906 as the Asheville Rapid Transit Railroad and then became the Sunset Park Railway in 1911. The system ended service around 1934.

Asheville & Eastern Tennessee Railroad

The Asheville & Eastern Tennessee Railroad began operations in 1909 after it purchased the Weaverville Electric Railway & Power Company.

This railroad began operations in 1901 connecting Grace, Weaverville and Pack Square in Asheville. The line remained in service until November, 1922 when it fell into receivership and was purchased by the Asheville Electric Company.

In 1925 the railroad was again renamed, this time the Carolina Power & Light Company, which lasted until September 1934 when services were finally abandoned.

Piedmont & Northern Railway

The Piedmont & Northern Railway began in 1910 serving two disconnected routes in North Carolina and South Carolina:

  • The first stretched from Greenwood to Belton, Anderson and Clifton, all of which were located in South Carolina.
  • The second segment connected Gastonia, Belmont, Mt. Holly and Charlotte, North Carolina.

The North Carolina segment was originally known as the Piedmont Traction Company before the two company's merged in 1914. The P&N also owned the Greenville, Spartanburg & Anderson Railway, which operated 96 miles of trackage.

The P&N's original route ran on a 1500-volt, direct current system that carried both freight and passengers and used heavyweight passenger equipment throughout much of its existence.

The railroad had hoped to close the gap between its two lines but was denied building the 51-mile extension by the Interstate Commerce Commission (thanks in part to petitions by the Southern Railway).

For many years the company was owned by the Duke Power company. Passenger operations lasted until 1951 while freight service used diesel locomotives after 1954.

The P&N continued to haul freight until it came under Seaboard Coast Line control in 1969. Today, part of the route is being rebuilt in North Carolina for use as a freight carrier once again using the original P&N name.

Tidewater Power Company

This operation serve the port city of Wilmington and connected to Wrightsville and Wrightsville Beach, opening in 1902. It remained somewhat profitable for many years thanks to the popular nearby beaches but finally abandoned operations by 1940.

Piedmont Railway & Electric Company

The Piedmont Railway & Electric Company served the City of Burlington. It began operations in 1912 eventually operating about eight miles of track. The railroad remained in service until 1922 when streetcar operations were abandoned.

Charlotte Street Railway

The Charlotte Street Railway was the first of many interurban operations to serve the city. It began in 1887 as a horse-powered railroad but had switched to electric streetcars by 1891.

In 1896 the system became the Charlotte Electric Railway and fourteen years later in 1910 changed again to the Southern Public Utilities Company.

The last owner of the railroad was Duke Power and at its peak the operation contained 29 route miles. Duke Power owned the interurban until operations were discontinued in 1938.

Today, light-rail service has returned to Charlotte in the way of the Charlotte Area Transit System or CATS which began operations in 2003.

North Carolina Public Service Company

The North Carolina Public Service Company began operations in 1911 connecting Concord and Kannapolis. It operated about four miles of trackage and lasted until 1925 when services were abandoned.

Durham Street Railway

The Durham Street Railway, incorporated in 1891, was the first of many interurban railroads to serve the City of Durham.

In 1902 the system became known as the Durham Traction Company and by 1921 was purchased by the Durham Public Service Company. At its peak the system operated about 11 miles of track and was discontinued by 1930.

Fayetteville Street Railway & Power Company

The Fayetteville Street Railway & Power Company was the first of several interurban railroads to serve Fayetteville. It began operations in 1889 but by 1908 became the Consolidated Railway & Power Company.

In 1919 it was again renamed, this time the Cumberland Railway & Power Company with its final reorganization coming in 1921 as the Cape Fear Railways. Never a very profitable railroad operation it was discontinued by 1926.

Goldsboro Traction Company

The Goldsboro Traction Company served the City of Goldsboro. It began operations in 1910 operating five miles of track and just two years later was renamed the Goldsboro Electric Railroad company. Services lasted until 1920 when the line was abandoned.

Greensboro Electric Company

The Greensboro Electric Company, which began operations in 1902 was the first of three different names to operate the route.

In 1909 it became the North Carolina Public Service Company, which was purchased by Duke Power in 1927. At its peak the system operated 11 miles of track and was abandoned in July of 1934 in favor of buses.

Hendersonville Street Railway

The Hendersonville Street Railway served the small town of Hendersonville beginning operations in 1891 on three miles of track. It remained in service until 1904 when it became the Appalachian Interurban Railroad, was continued the streetcars until 1920 when all operations were discontinued.

New Bern-Ghent Street Railway

The New Bern-Ghent Street Railway served the coastal town of New Bern beginning operations in 1913 on three miles of track. It lasted until 1929 when services were abandoned.

Pinehurst Electric Railroad Company

The Pinehurst Electric Railroad Company served the Pinehurst area and Southern Pines golf club from 1896 until only 1911 when the unprofitable railroad was abandoned. At its peak the railroad operated nine miles of track.

Raleigh Street Railway

The Raleigh Street Railway was the first of three interurban railroads to operate in the city. It began operations in 1886 as a horse-powered line but by 1891 had upgraded to electric streetcars.

At its peak the railroad operated 11 miles of track. In 1894 the operation was taken over by the Raleigh Electric Company and then again renamed the Carolina Power & Light Company in 1908.

This railroad operated under two different owners (Electric Bond & Shares Company and National Power & Light Company) before being abandoned in favor of buses in 1934.

Salisbury & Spencer Railway

The Salisbury & Spencer Railway began operations in 1901 and at its peak served nines of track.

In 1924 it was acquired by the North Carolina Public Service Company and three years later came under Duke Power ownership and renamed the Southern Public Utilities Company. Service lasted until 1938 when streetcars were scrapped.

Wilmington Street Railway

The Wilmington Street Railway was the first of several interurban railroads to serve the port city of Wilmington. This little railroad began operations in 1892 and remained until 1902 when it was renamed the Consolidated Railways Light & Power Company.

This operation lasted only five years and in 1907 was purchased by the Tidewater Power Company. At its peak the system operated 22 miles of track and continued to operate streetcars until 1940 when they were discontinued in favor of buses.

Winston-Salem Street Railway

The Winston-Salem Street Railway began operations in 1890 and lasted only a year before being renamed the Winston-Salem Railway & Electric Company.

This operated lasted until 1900 when it was renamed the Fries Manufacturing & Power Company. In 1913 the railroad became known as the Southern Public Utilities Company and by 1935 was under Duke Power control.

At its peak the system operated nine miles of track and was abandoned in late December, 1936.

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