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Interurbans, and their suburban counterparts (the streetcar), were once common throughout the country. The mania began during the late 19th century and spilled over into the early 1900's as thousands of miles were laid down from New England to California. In retrospect, the financial interests behind these traction railroads were largely misplaced.By 1950 just 1,519 miles remained and the number dropped to 209 miles by 1959.
It seems surreal that a train could actually fit on such a narrow patch of right-of-way where a railroad doesn't even appear to exist!Ironically, the commuter services inteurbans provided are actually making a comeback as LRT (light rail transit) systems as cities look for alternatives to increasingly crowded highways.What became the classic interurban all began in the 1870's with two key developments; in 1870 Zenobe Gramme unveiled a generator for commercial use while Werner von Siemens showcased the world's first electric locomotive at an exhibition in Berlin, Germany during 1879.Depending upon cost an interurban's route either followed its own dedicated right-of-way or, with permission from the state/county, could be laid right next to a rural road.The latter alternative was cheaper but the resulting grades and curves were less than ideal, a problem only compounded when freight movements were involved.