The Ohio Museum of Transportation

Ohio's Transit History

Dayton Trolley Coaches

This article originally appeared in the Ohio Brass Company's Transit Observer Spring Issue 1970 (vol 42 no. 1)

It is reproduced here exactly as it was written back in 1970

Whatever Happened To The Clean, Quiet Trolley Coach?

It gave way to the diesel bus and polluted air in all but six cities

Dayton is the best example of trolley coach life

"Trolley coach operators will rue the day they allowed their valuable flocks to fly the carbarn"

The words were spoken in 1957 by the general manager of a city transport system in England, and his comment was prompted by the exodus of trolley coaches across the United States border to Canada. Canadian transit properties were buying all units available from U.S. operators, who had decided the trolley coach had outlived its usefulness.

His prediction was based in the theory that the cost of electric power would decrease, while the costs of liquid fuel and maintenance would be on the rise.

Well, transit operators across the U.S. may well be wishing they still had their trolley coaches rolling along city streets, but for more important reasons than cost. The trolley coach is clean and quiet, while the diesel bus which replaced the trolley is drawing much criticism for it's excessive noise and its contribution to air pollution.

Currently, industry and government are involved in research and development to produce a clean combustion-type engine. The solution, though, still is conservatively estimated to be at least five years away.

Yet, back in the 1950's there was little concern over air pollution. Diesel coaches were being hailed as the savior of public transportation. One-way streets, expresswaysm and urban renewal were raising havoc with trolley coach lines; and, instead of seeking ways to overcome those stumbling blocks, there was a tendency to desert the trolley coach in favor of the diesel.

During the 1930's, the trolley coach burst forth on the American street scene in 38 different cities, replacing the antiquated streetcar in most instances. It was the decade of most rapid growth for the trolley coach, followed closely by the 1940's.

And then came the 1950's which saw the trolley coach disappear from use almost as quickly as it had become popular in the 30's and 40's. In the 1950's alone, 22 trolley coach operators pulled the plug on the electric bus in favor of the diesel bus.

Trolley coach systems succumbing in the 50's included those in Louisville, Ky.; Kenosha, Wis.; Toledo, Ohio; Denver, Colo.; Providence, R. I.; Little Rock, Ark.; Greenville, S. C.; Flint, Mich.; Greensboro, N.C.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Duluth, Minn.; Honolulu, Hawaii; Wilmington, Del.; Newport, Ky.; Wilkes-Barre, Pa.; Portland, Oreg.; Birmingham, Ala.; Kansas City, Mo.; Akron, Ohio; Youngstown, Ohio; and Baltimore, Md.

In the 1960's, another 16 U.S. cities phased out the trolley coach: Memphis, Tenn.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Brooklyn, N. Y.; Detroit, Mich.; Los Angeles, Calif.; Cleveland, Ohio; Atlanta, Ga.; Des Moines, Iowa; Shreveport, La.; Columbus, Ohio; Cincinnati, Ohio; Milwaukee Wis.; Dallas Texas; St. Joseph, Mo.; New Orleans, La.; and Johnstown, Pa.

Today, only six cities in the U.S. continue to operate the electric bus in their transit systems - Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, and Dayton. Elsewhere in North America, trolley coaches are found in 12 Canadian cities and Mexico City.

Dayton's trolley system stands out for two reasons. The other five U.S. cities with trolleys generally are classified as "major league," at least in size. Dayton on the other hand, ranks only 54th in size in the nation.

More significant, though, is the second reason. The trolley coach performs the major role in Dayton's transit system, carrying 85 per cent of the passenger load. Diesel buses are used, but primarily in suburban service and as feeder buses to the trolley lines. The other cities with trolley coaches in use operate them as only a supplement to rapid transit and/or diesel buses.

So, it is easy to see why trolley buffs place Dayton in the "deluxe" catagory.

Dayton was the first city in Ohio to incorporate trolleys into it's transportation program, with the coaches hooking up to the overhead power supply on April 23, 1933.

That Dayton still manages to operate a trolley coach system is not something that just happened. The city lived through the same crises which befell other U.S. cities. Instead of giving in to the problems, Dayton's transit leaders met and overcame them.

To overcome one-way streets, it was necessary to duplicate overhead along parallel routes. So it is today all Daytonians know when going west from town on the Fifth Street Line, one boards and rides the trolley on Fourth Street.

Expressways proved to be another headache. Built for the convenience of the automobile driver, they cut into fare-box revenue and created reconstruction problems for the trolley lines. Urban renewal also presented rerouting expenses.

In Dayton, these roadblocks were hurdled and the trolley coaches kept in existence. It is significant to note the Dayton operation has consistently had the lowest fares in Ohio, and has been able to operate in the black, without subsidization. Rising costs and the inexorable loss in riding to the automobile have plagued Dayton the same as other cities, and with a new union contract in the offing in 1971, another fare adjustment is necessary. Actual subsidization of the lines looms ahead, if the declining volume is not retrieved, but this eventuality has been delayed much longer than in other cities.

The Dayton operation is free enterprise, with no burden on the taxpayer. The system includes 133 trolley coaches and 50 diesel buses. The trolleys operate on eight routes covering 133.2 miles and, as mentioned before, carry 85 per cent of the passenger load. Diesels are in use on four routes covering 54.2 miles and, in addition, provide feeder service to the trolley lines. Feeder service involves five routes and 35.5 miles.

There are 44 Pullman coaches, 1947 vintage, and the remainder consist of Marmon-Herringtons built frim 1947 to 1951. Many of the units were purchased from cities which were closing down their trolley operations. The Dayton fleet includes trolleys which once rolled along the streets in Kansas City, Cincinnati, Little Rock, Indianapolis, and Columbus.

Dayton has a long heritage in public transportation and is one of the pioneers in the electric propulsion of transit equipment. The city is celebrating its hundredth year of public transit. The Dayton Street Railway opened for business on May 2, 1870, with horse-drawn cars running on about 3-miles of Third Street.

Initial electric service began in August of 1888, only a year after the first successful electric street railway was installed in Richmond, Virginia. The first line in Dayton proved profitable and a second line followed in 1890. By 1895, all horses has been sent to pasture and Dayton's public transit was completely electrified.

Dayton at one time had five street railway companies, but mergers over the years have resulted in one company. The present City Transit Company was formed in 1955 through a merger of the City Railway Company (incorporated in 1893) and the Dayton & Xenia Railway. City Transit took over the Oakwood Street Railway and Dayton Suburban Lines in 1956, consolidating all major transit companies into a single operation.

There has always been good public acceptance of trolley coaches in Dayton, with no serious threats to replace them with diesels. And over the years power costs have been considered reasonable.

Yet, a dark cloud hangs over the City Transit Company. Revenues are on the decline as more people turn to the auto for city transportation. Attempts are being made to entice riders back to public transit by placing the bus on a more equal basis with the auto.

A traffic ordinance providing right-of-way for buses has been passed to speed public transit; and there have been proposals such as parking bans along main thoroughfares, prohibiting left turns off certain two-way streets, and providing outlying parking areas for persons desiring to park and ride a bus into town.

Any city which could retain trolley coaches in the face of the swinging tide towards diesel buses should be able to meet the challenges of the auto and traffic congestion. At least, don't bet against Dayton as that city embarks on its second hundred years of public transportation.

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Selling Point for the trolley coach is told simply in the sign which appears on the back of all units of Dayton's 133-coach trolley fleet.





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Take a good look at a trolley coach, a conveyance which rolled along streets in 59 cities in the United States and now is seen in only six cities.




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City Transit Company in Dayton runs both diesel buses and trolley coaches with the trolley the predominant of the two.




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Trolley coach departs one of two carbarns used by City Transit in Dayton. This also is the repair garage, where enough spare parts are available to keep the current fleet of 133 trolleys running for many years.




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Major complaint about trolley coaches has been the overhead lines and materials, which critics call unsightly. While trolleys will never get away from the use of overhead, its use has been simplified as much as possible in Dayton, and the overhead wires are a symbol of clean air.




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Look up to find Ohio Brass' interest in Dayton and trolley coaches. It's in the overhead. O-B helped design and build the overhead for many trolley systems in the country. Here is a simple power switch area which includes much O-B material.




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Refurbished trolley coach used in trial program conducted in Toronto proved to be a success, and the decision has been made to modernize the remaining 151 trolleys in the Toronto fleet.

(Note: The City Transit Company did purchase one of these Flyer E-700A trolley coaches in 1971. It ran under fleet number 900 and is still retained today, by the MVRTA, although no longer in service.)




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Daytonians ride their public transit system, which manages to operate in the black without subsidy. City Transit Company provides a number of sheltered bus stops for its riders' convenience.



Pictures appearing in this article, along with the captions were originally published by the Ohio Brass Company in the Spring 1970 issue of the O-B Transit Observer.

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