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Trolley Cars

We Started With Trolley Cars

We now have light rail and comfortable buses to move people about in the metro Phoenix area, but it wasn’t always that way. The concept of mass transit is always evolving. When we consider trolley we think of the famous trolleys of San Francisco or even Disneyland. However, the genesis of mass transit in Phoenix began in 1887 with, you guessed it, trolley cars.Phoenix was more of a ranching and farming community with adobe-style buildings along unpaved roads. An entrepreneur named General Moses Hazelton Sherman began the Phoenix Railway Company, not necessarily as a means of moving people to work and home, but to promote his fledgling real estate business.

Trolleys were powered by horse and mule until 1893, when they were replaced by a more modern electric railway system.

By June of 1920, 32 miles of track made its way through the streets of Phoenix, with a suburban line carrying passengers to Glendale from 1911-1926. The rail lines, which originally served a short stretch of Washington Avenue and traveled south on 7th Street and Central Avenue, were gradually expanded. In 1912, the 2nd Avenue extension became known as the Kenilworth line.


Sherman’s financial problems forced him to sell the railway to the city in 1928 and the system was renamed the City of Phoenix Street Railway. It was not only popular, but highly profitable. In 1929 alone 6,665,000 passengers rode the Phoenix rails at five cents apiece, with the railway grossing a healthy $295,000 for the year. Throughout the Depression and World War II comfortable buses gradually replaced the hard-riding electric trolley cars in Phoenix. The end came in 1947 when all but six trolleys were lost when a fire destroyed the car barn.

One of the surviving trolley cars was #116, now fully restored and can be found in the Phoenix Trolley Museum near downtown. Trolley aficionados had to smile at the sight of one of the first cars in the new light rail system that began service in 2008. The car number? 116A. History is preserved, and the lineage of riding the rails in Phoenix continues with the cities state-of-the art Light-Rail system.

To learn more go to www.phoenixtrolley.org

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