Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Twenty electric interurban railways operated during the early twentieth century in the Great Plains. Most were built in the early 1900s, with commuters generating most of the revenue. The light-rail interurbans used self-propelled trolley cars resembling standard streetcars. Unfortunately for the largely local owners, almost all interurbans fell victim to a combination of the Great Depression and the rise of the automobile.

Half of the Great Plains interurban companies and almost half of the 1,000 miles of track were on the eastern edge of the Great Plains in the Dallas and Kansas City, Missouri, areas. Dallas had 350 miles of tracks, most of them belonging to the Texas Electric Railroad, which stretched north to Denison and south to Waco. Kansas City had four short interurban railways extending to Lawrence, Leavenworth, and suburban Olathe and Zarah.

The interurbans were a series of unconnected parts. Only four were built in the vast area of Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and the Prairie Provinces. In Manitoba, a road connected Winnipeg to beach resorts on Lake Winnipeg. South Dakota had the four-mile-long Deadwood Central, and Omaha had two glorified streetcar lines. Half a dozen other interurbans ran in Kansas and Oklahoma: small systems connected Pittsburg, Kansas, with Joplin, Missouri, and the seventy-seven-mile-long Union Electric Railway thrust south from Parsons, Kansas, to Nowata, Oklahoma. At the advent of interurbans, steam railroads already ran through just about all of the important urban centers, so no pressing need existed for an interurban network. Few of the region's interurbans came close to achieving the inexpensive, frequent, and fast service promised by their promoters.

Lawrence H. Larsen University of Missouri-Kansas City

Hilton, George W., and John F. Due. The Electric Interurban Railways in America. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 1960.

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