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South Shore train in the streets of Michigan City , 2002

Interurban is an English-speaking name for a ( rail ) transport connection between urban areas. In America one understands by it a hybrid form of interurban tram and branch line , which is run to save costs in densely built-up areas also on roads and in poorly built-up areas mainly on its own track.

The first Interurbans were built from 1880, but most were built between 1900 and 1908. After that, only a few new Interurbans were put into operation. After the end of the First World War , the decline began, which was triggered by the early mass motorization in the USA . The Great Depression in the early 1930s closed most networks and only a few routes remained in existence until after 1970. Interurbans usually use heavier rolling stock than trams , and there are stronger links with normal railways .

Interurbans are mainly used to transport people and are mostly electrified with overhead lines. In terms of character, they most closely resemble light rail vehicles or the Karlsruhe model .


Most interurban routes in North America were powered by 600 volts DC , as were trams. However, the low voltage caused problems when transmitting over long sections. Therefore, many substations were required, which were supplied with higher voltage and transformed them to 600 volts for the individual sections. Since there was often a lack of electricity plants in the areas to be developed at the time of construction , they were built by the Interurban companies, which thereby also became energy providers.

The transmission to the wagons was mostly carried out via overhead lines and pantographs , some companies used power rails .

1200-volt alternating current systems were also developed later, but these could no longer prevail.


Most Interurbans were built in standard gauge , but there were a number of exceptions. Since Interurbans often used the existing tracks of city trams, this gauge was often adopted, even if it deviated from the standard gauge. Some municipalities ordered the construction in narrow gauge, so that no freight wagons of the normal railroad could switch to these tracks.


Individual companies offered sleeping car courses on their connections. For example, such types of car drove from Indianapolis to Columbus.

As early as 1914, vehicles with low-floor entry were used on the Shaker Heights line of the Cleveland Railway .

In Los Angeles, Pacific Electric offered tourist tours on the interurban routes.

The Lehigh Valley Transit Company drove its railcars as early as 1920-1940 on individual longer sections between Philadelphia and Quakerstown at about 130 km / h.



In 1887 the St. Catharines and Niagara Central Railway , the world's first interurban line, went into operation. It ran between St. Catharines and Thorold in the Province of Ontario . In Ontario Inter Urbans were also radially railways ( radial tracks called) because they emanated from a central city.



Between 1900 and 1910, Canadian investors bought the Compañía de Tranvías De México tram operator in Mexico City and tried to build a radial system based on the Canadian model. The lines started should reach Toluca and Puebla . Typical interurban cars were imported from the USA by the St. Louis Car Company . The difficult topography and political unrest that culminated in the Mexican Revolution caused the project to fail. Until then, routes to La Venta and Tulyehualco and the suburban line were built to San Angel and Coyoacán . Part of the former Puebla line now functions as the Xochimilco Light Rail system.

Another Mexican system that can be considered Interurban of its kind was the Playa Miramar Express Line in Tampico . In the Mexican state of Yucatan , there were around 1,500 kilometers of Interurbans, mostly in narrow gauge and powered by horses or gasoline.

United States

Existing routes

The following lines have some interurban features:

Other sections of the Interurbans line operate as part of normal railways, e.g. B. the Sacramento Northern Railway , which is now used by the Union Pacific Railroad and the Sierra Northern Railroad .

Individual evidence

  1. Traction Planbook. Carstens Publications, 1975, ISBN 0-911868-16-X : Holland Palace Car Co. produced types of cars for Indianapolis & Eastern and Appleyard Syndicate Lines in 1906 and 1914
  2. Traction Planbook. Carstens Publications, 1975, ISBN 0-911868-16-X : The railcars manufactured by the Kuhlman Car Co. had a lowered entry area in the middle of the car with a step height of approx. 35 cm from the top of the rail; similar types were also used e.g. B. used on the Trenton-Princeton Fast Line; in these two examples, however, it was necessary to climb into the actual passenger compartment inside the car.
  3. ^ Donald Duke: Pacific Electric Railway. Golden West Books, 1958, ISBN 0-87095-030-4 : The "Orange Empire Trolley Trip" covered 175 miles of the many times longer overall system in Orange County.
  4. ^ Allen Morrison: The Tramways of Mexico City (Ciudad de México): Part 2: Early Electrics. Retrieved November 20, 2008 .
  5. ^ Allen Morrison: The Tramways of Yucatán: Part 2: Intercity Lines. Retrieved November 20, 2008 .