Texas Interurbans: 500 Route Miles

Published: May 18, 2023

By: Adam Burns

Given the state's large size its not surprisingly Texas contained several interurban and streetcar systems.  At its peak there were right around 500 route miles in service by the 1910s.  

In their book, "The Electric Interurban Railways In America," Drs. George Hilton and John Due note that 350 miles of this was situated in the Dallas area.  Interestingly, Texas was unique in that most of its network was constructed after 1910, very late for the interurban industry.

In addition, the two final such systems were built in the state, the Texas Interurban (1923) and the Houston North Shore (1927).

09235725617246165815237538692627.jpgA postcard featuring Galveston-Houston Electric Railway car #109, circa 1925.

Austin Rapid Transit Company

The Austin Rapid Transit Company served the City of Austin beginning operations in 1890. In 1902 the railroad was renamed the Austin Electric Railway and again in 1911 as the Austin Street Railway. It remained in service until 1945 when operations were suspended in favor of buses.

Amarillo Street Railway

The Amarillo Street Railway was chartered in 1906 and began operations on January 1, 1908.  It was designed to promote a local real estate venture and eventually grew to a length of 9 miles.  

Never a particularly successful line the system was sold at a sheriff's sale on September 14, 1917 to G. Gordon Brownell who immediately ended service a month later on October 19th.  

The city purchased the property and restarted operations on July 5, 1920 but with perennial losses afflicting the company it made its final run on September 1, 1923 and the rails were later sold for scrap.

Amarillo Traction Company

Another streetcar operation in the city of Amarillo was the Amarillo Traction Company was formed in 1909 by N.A. Brown for the purpose of connecting the city with the San Jacinto Heights area.  

Service began on June 23, 1911 and the system originally used gasoline-powered rail cars but upgraded the line with electrified, overhead trolley wire in 1913.  As was so often the case with such operations it could never turn a profit and shutdown in 1920.  

The city re-initiated service in January of 1923 but this arrangement lasted only until January of 1924 when operations were suspended indefinitely.  After some debate it was decided to replace the trolleys with buses.

Beaumont Traction Company

The Beaumont Traction Company served the city of Beaumont beginning operations in 1909. In 1918 the system was purchased by the Eastern Texas Electric Company and streetcar service remained until 1937 when buses replaced railroad operations.

Port Arthur Traction Company

The Port Arthur Traction Company served the city of Port Arthur beginning operations in 1910.

In 1918 it was purchased by the Eastern Texas Electric Company and operated until 1937 when sold to National City Lines and streetcar operations were abandoned in favor of buses.

Texas Electric Railway

The Texas Electric was formed through two predecessor roads; the Texas Traction Company and the Southern Traction Company. These two interurbans were built between 1908 and 1912 and served north and south of Dallas connecting to Denison, Terrell, Hillsboro, Waco, and Corsicana.

The two merged in 1916 to form the Texas Electric Railway. From the beginning both lines were quite profitable and moved a large amount of passenger traffic thanks to the large population area they served along with interchanges to Northern Texas Traction Company and Texas Interurban Railway that gave it interchange connections to Denton and Fort Worth.

The company was very late in developing freight services, not until the late 1920s, but once it did earned substantial profits from the operation with friendly interchanges to neighboring railroads.

During World War II it grossed more than $2 million annually although it it quickly declined after the war. By 1948 the entire system was abandoned.

Corpus Christi Improvement Company

The oddly named Corpus Christi Improvement Company began operations in 1890 serving its namesake city.

It was renamed the Corpus Christi Street & Interurban Railway in 1910 and again changed hands in 1925 as the Nueces Railway Company. Streetcar services survived until 1934 when buses replaced rail operations.

El Paso Electric Company

The El Paso Electric Company began operations in 1901 taking over from several smaller interurban operations in the city. In 1943 it was renamed the El Paso City Lines and streetcars lasted all of the way until 1977 before finally being discontinued.

Texas Interurban Railway

As mentioned above, the Texas Interurban was one of the final interurbans ever built when it opened to the public in January, 1923 serving Dallas and Terrell on a 33 mile system.

It somewhat paralleled the Texas Electric as it also operated a line to Denison beginning in 1924, thanks to trackage rights over the Katy system. It was never very profitable thanks to the TE already entrenched in the region and was abandoned in just 1931.

Laredo Electric & Railway

The Laredo Electric & Railway began operations in 1892 taking over from several smaller lines. It was renamed the Central Power & Light Company in 1930 and streetcar service survived a few years longer until 1934.

Citizens Railway

The Citizens Railway served the Waco area and began operations in 1877. The railroad was renamed three more times during its existence including the Southern Traction Company in 1913, Texas Electric Railway in 1917 and finally as the Waco Transit Company in 1946. Streetcar service survived a few years longer until 1948 when buses replaced railroad operations.

Wichita Falls Traction Company

The Wichita Falls Traction Company began operations in 1909 serving its namesake city. Streetcar service lasted until 1935 when buses replaced railroad operations.

Bryan & College Interurban Railway

The Bryan & College Interurban Railway began operations in 1910 serving Bryan and College Station on a seven mile railroad system. It was sold in 1923 and renamed the Bryan-College Traction Company which operated the line until 1930 when operations were abandoned.

Dallas Consolidated Electric Street Railway

The Dallas Consolidated Electric Street Railway began operations in 1898 serving the Dallas area. It was purchased by the Dallas Electric Corporation in 1902 and again changed hands in 1925 as the Dallas Railway & Terminal Company.

In 1955 the operation became the Dallas Transit Company and operated for one more year before discontinuing streetcar operations.

Fort Worth Street Railway

The Fort Worth Street Railway dates back to 1874 as a horse-powered streetcar operation. It was renamed the Northern Texas Electric Company in 1902 and again changed hands in 1938 as the Fort Worth Transit Company. Streetcar service survived until 1939 when buses took over transit operations.

Texas Traction Company

The Texas Traction Company served the town of McKinney beginning operations in 1907. In 1917 it was renamed the Texas Electric Railway and streetcar service survived until 1926.

Lake Park Street Railway

The Lake Park Street Railway began operations in 1887 serving the town of Waxahachie. In 1891 it was renamed the Waxahachie Street Railway and again changed hands in 1912 as the Southern Traction Company before being purchased by the Texas Electric Railway in 1917. Streetcar operations were discontinued in 1932.

Houston North Shore Railway

From a technical standpoint this interurban was the final such company ever chartered in the country. It did not begin service until 1927 (chartered on June 27, 1925) when the industry, in general, was in severe decline.

It served Houston, Highlands, Goose Creek, and Baytown on a system that stretched 34 miles. From a planning standpoint it was very well conceived and served more as a standard railroad with the significant freight traffic it was able to build, despite being electrically operated.

Not long after it was built it was purchased by the Missouri Pacific and became a permanent part of the company.

Eastern Texas Electric Company

Another lately constructed interurban, the Eastern Texas began service in 1913 serving Port Aurthur and Beaumont on a 20 mile system.

It served a highly populated area and also was able to derive considerable earnings from carload freight. Unfortunately, it was not allowed to continue building new freight feeder lines and was forced to abandon in 1935.

Roby & Northern Railroad

The R&N was a very small operation, operating a four-mile line serving the town of Roby with the Katy at Roby Junction. Partly due to its small size it was operated for a very long time between 1915 and 1941 before ending service.

Southwestern Traction Company

The Southwestern Traction Company served Belton and Temple on a 15-mile system that began in 1905. It attempted to expand but never had the funds to do so. Abandonment came in 1923.

Rio Grande Valley Traction Company

A medium-sized interurban that served West Texas and the towns of El Paso and Isleta, about 13 miles. It began operations in 1913 and at its peak operated about 40 miles of track. Service was suspended by 1932.

San Antonio Traction Company

The San Antonio Traction Company was formed in 1900 by several smaller railroad systems. At its peak the interurban served downtown San Antonio and the suburbs of Beacon Hill, Denver Heights, and Alamo Heights. Operations survived until 1933 when buses replaced railroad services.

Northern Texas Traction Company

The Northern Texas began operation in June, 1902 serving the large cities of Fort Worth and Dallas on a 35-mile system that was immediately profitable thanks to the region it served.

Additionally, thanks to interchanges with the later Texas Electric, the company derived additional traffic from folks traveling to Waco, Denison, and other nearby towns. At its peak nearly half of the main line was double tracked and featured trains running on a half-hour basis.

Unfortunately, it was never able to develop much freight business and lost substantial traffic during the 1920s. As such, by 1934 the system was out of business.

Tarrant County Traction Company

This operation began service in late 1912, as the Fort Worth Southern Traction Company, serving Fort Worth and Cleburne to the south on a 31 mile system.

It failed two years later and was purchased by the Northern Texas Traction which renamed it as the Tarrant County Traction. It had difficulty earning much revenues, despite a well-engineered route, and was abandoned by 1931.

Galveston-Houston Electric Railway

This company began operations in 1911 serving its namesake cities on a system that covered 50 miles. Very well built with little competition from other interurbans or railroads in terms of the services provided it prospered.

Strangely, it weathered the Great Depression as well as could be expected and was still earning a profit but decided to abandon operations in 1936 in favor of buses as revenues were declining.

Other Streetcar Systems

Bonham Railway, Power & Light

Brownsville Street & Interurban Railway

Corsicana Traction Company

Dallas Interurban Terminal

Galveston Electric Company (Operated streetcars in Galveston until 1938.)

Houston Electric Company

Roby Northern Railroad

Southwestern Gas & Electric Company (Purchased by the Middle West Utilities Company in 1925 and discontinued railroad services ten years later.)

Thanks to Robert Carter for help with the information on this section.

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