THE PRE-D.S.R. YEARS - Part III
|THE DETROIT UNITED RAILWAY YEARS
Between the years 1863 and 1900 approximately twenty-nine streetcars companies
had operated either horse-drawn or electric powered streetcars along streets in and
around the city of Detroit. By the year 1897, there were only three city companies
remaining. The largest and oldest of the companies -- the Detroit Citizens Street
Railway (a successor to the Detroit City Railway, the city's original 1862 franchise
holder) -- also held the controlling interest in the two smaller companies.
After surviving the final legal battle involving Hazen S. Pingree's 10-year attempt to
take-over their street railway operations, representatives from the three remaining
city companies, along with the previously consolidated suburban railway operation,
announced to the press on December 30, 1900, that all of the streetcar systems in
the Detroit area were to be consolidated into one new system.
The Detroit Citizens Street Railway, the Detroit Electric Railway, the Detroit,
Fort Wayne and Belle Isle Railway, and the Detroit Suburban Railway were all
to be absorbed into the newly formed Detroit United Railway. This new company,
better known as the DUR, would begin operations on Monday, December 31, 1900.
The DUR now provided street railway service within both the city of Detroit, and its
Meanwhile, after the emergence of the electric powered streetcar, another form of
mass transportation, known as the Interurban Electric Railway system, was also
developing during the late 1800's. Although the interurban cars and the streetcars
both traveled along rails and were powered by overhead wires, the interurban cars
were usually larger and more luxuriant than those cars that ran only within urban
cities. The interurbans could travel at speeds of 40 to 50 miles per hour through
rural areas over routes ranging in length from 20 to 75 miles long. While the steam
powered railroads of that day didn't bother with short haul passenger runs -- which
transported passengers between villages, towns and cities -- the interurban routes
would help to fill that gap.
By 1900, Detroit boasted more extensive interurban millage than any other city in
the country. But almost immediately after its formation, the DUR embarked on a
massive expansion campaign and set out to acquire all the major interurban routes
which operated into Detroit. The DUR had succeeded in acquiring all but one of
these lines by August 1901. By consolidating all of the interurban operations, the
company now controlled all of the interurban rail service to such far away cities as
Port Huron, Flint, Pontiac, Ann Arbor, Jackson, and Toledo, Ohio. It even acquired
service across the river in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
Although the DUR now operated an extensive interurban and city transit operation,
its Detroit street railway operation would be a rough and troublesome journey for
the company. Most of the DUR's twenty-two years of operation would be plagued by
constant battles with city hall, pot shots by politicians and the press, and growing
negative public opinion. Although the former Mayor (and later Governor) Hazen S.
Pingree had been unsuccessful in his take-over attempts, the well-loved mayor had
already planted the seed in the minds of Detroiters that municipal ownership and
operation of the streetcar system was the only alternative. The DUR may have won
a major battle against the city in the courts, but the war would continue on.
Like the previous companies, the fare charged by the DUR continued to be a flat 5¢
all day. The exception would be on those so-called "Pingree three-cent lines," which
were those lines originally operated by the former Detroit Railway Company, the
company which Mayor Pingree himself helped to form in 1894. But the continuing
issue over fares would again arise as early as 1906, 1907, and again in 1912. Even
a compromise proposal in 1906 -- where the DUR agreed to lower fares in exchange
for an extension on all of its franchises until 1924 -- was soundly rejected because
of the anti-DUR sentiment among Detroit voters.
But the biggest hurdle to date for the DUR would be the impending expiration on a
number of the thirty-year franchise agreements originally granted to the previous
streetcar companies the DUR had inherited. As the franchises on the various lines
would expire, the city would then refuse to extend them. Instead, the city began
charging a $300.00 daily rental fee for the DUR to operate along these routes. The
company basically found itself having to lease its own rails from the city in order to
continue operating. Their biggest challenge, however, would occur in 1909, when
the 52 miles of trackage originally granted to the former Detroit City Railway back
in 1879 were due to expire. In 1912, the State Supreme Court ruled the rental fees
to be illegal, although the city could order the DUR to vacate the affected streets.
However, an agreement had been reached with the city in 1911 where "Day-to-Day"
service permits would be implemented on the affected lines in lieu of any additional
franchise agreements. These permits also enabled the DUR to begin extending and
adding new trackage and lines, which had ceased during the franchise dispute. But
at the same time it permitted the city to be able to purchase the tracks at any time.
By the year 1910, the city's population had reached 465,766, and continued
to double every ten years. As Detroit's population mushroomed, its boundary lines
also began to expand outward. Consequently, the DUR found itself struggling to
handle the enormous and increasing crowds. Service had become so bad that The
Detroit News (the DUR's most vocal opponent among the local press) ran cartoons,
editorials, and articles criticizing the company's poor service.
On February 10, 1910, The Detroit News assigned a reporter to study just what it
was like going home on the Baker Street streetcar line. The reporter had boarded a
westbound 6:15P.M. car at Michigan Avenue and Griswold. He noted that on every
corner along the route were groups of citizens anxious to get home. When the car
would stop passengers piled on, fighting and twisting among each other just to get
a foothold. He went on to write:
"With the inside of the car full, soon every inch on the front and rear
steps were occupied by men clinging to the car. Other would-be-passengers,
unable to find footing on the step, piled on the fender and rested against
the front of the car. ...They stuck to the fender and cursed the DUR when
the motorman pleaded with them to get off."
Such conditions moved many city officials to again come out in favor of the
city's purchase of the rail lines. Another Detroit News article noted that many irate
passengers would often take DUR motormen to court under a city ordinance which
made it a misdemeanor for any motorman failing to stop a streetcar that had space
for more passengers when patrons were waiting at a legal boarding zone.
That article went on to add... "When one defendant, motorman George Brown,
denied in court that he and his colleagues ever did such a thing, Judge
William F. Connolly adjourned the case and went out in rush hour to see
for himself. What he saw made him so angry he disqualified himself from
the case and announced he would be a witness against the motorman."
||- (both photos) Detroit News photos
||These two photos show
two DUR cars struggling
to handle the crowds.
The left photo shows how
passengers often had to
battle for space on the
Harper streetcar during
rush hour. The right
photo shows how the
passengers had to hang
on to a crowded Baker
line trolley in 1910.
To further compound DUR service problems, the arrival of the 'Model T' auto would
soon pose additional headaches. For the past fifty years streetcars basically ruled
city streets, having only to contend mostly with horse-drawn carriages and bicycles.
But by the arrival of the 1920's, the DUR streetcars and interurban cars now had
to contend with increased traffic congestion downtown and along the city's narrow
main streets -- due primarily to the increasing popularity of the automobile.
Back when the DUR was formed in 1900, their major repair shops were located on
E. Jefferson and Bellevue -- which would later become the location of the landmark
U.S. Rubber Company (Uniroyal Tire) facility. In 1905, the main shops were moved
to a much larger plant located on Monroe Street, between St. Aubin and Dequindre.
However, problems arose with the city over trackage rights on the streets leading
up to the Monroe Shops. In an attempt to avoid further hassles from the city, the
DUR decided to build a much larger facility in Highland Park, directly across from
the Ford Motor Company 'Model T' Plant -- located on Woodward and Manchester.
This new facility, which would extend some three blocks west of Woodward Avenue
to Hamilton, was completed around 1915. In addition to the Highland Park Shops,
the Woodward Car House and the Woodward Terminal office building were also
located on the property.
To the DUR's credit, by the year 1915 the DUR operated twenty-one streetcar lines
within a then smaller size city, owned ten carhouses, and by 1919 had acquired a
fleet of 1,434 cars, that averaged 10.67 miles per hour along city streets. Weekday
service required over 1,800 scheduled runs, with headways along a number of the
heavy lines as close as 30 seconds during rush hours.* On a number of the more
heavily traveled routes the DUR even added large trailer cars to make two-car trains
during the rush hours. However, the majority opinion of the press, city politicians,
and the public, continued to be that a city-owned system could do a better job.
Meanwhile, that ongoing issue of the city attempting to own the street railway lines
would again arise after the new Michigan Constitution of 1908 removed restrictions
against municipal ownership of public utilities. In 1909, the Home Rule Cities Act,
which granted any city the authority to pass all laws and ordinances relating to its
municipal concerns, was passed by the state legislature. After attempts by the DUR
in the courts delayed the process, the voters of Detroit were finally able to amend
their city charter to make municipal ownership of the lines legal. On April 7, 1913,
Detroit voters approved a charter amendment which would authorize the municipal
ownership and operation of a street railway system within ten miles of the city.
The new charter amendment also authorized the creation of an appointed Board of
Detroit Street Railway Commissioners to govern the operation. However, after the
D.S.R. Commission and the DUR were unable to reach an agreement upon a sale
price, a November 1915 ballot proposal, which would have allowed a group of judges
from Wayne County Circuit Court to later decide on the price -- instead of allowing
Detroiters themselves to vote on the actual sale price -- was defeated by the voters.
The final chapter of the Detroit United Railway's battle with the city would begin
in 1919, when James J. Couzens (a former Ford Motor Company general manager)
would be elected mayor of Detroit. Couzens would run on a platform which included
the city's acquisition of the DUR. That story next.....
The above information was compiled from information acquired from Detroit's Street Railways Vol.I (1863-1922) and Vol. II
(1922-1956); miscellaneous Jack E. Schramm historical DSR articles published by Motor Coach Age magazine; The Detroit News
"Rearview Mirror" on-line series "Clang, clang, clang went the trolley" and other numerous publications and online sources.
*The above DUR figures were supplied by the publication "DETROIT'S STREET RAILWAYS Volume I: City Lines 1863-1922" (Central Electric Railfans'
Association Bulletin 117) by Jack E. Schramm and William H.Henning.
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