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Twin City Rapid Transit
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Twin City Rapid Transit

The Twin City Rapid Transit Company (TCRT), also known as Twin City Lines (TCL), was a business that operated streetcars, taxicabs, buses, and steamboats in the area of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. It existed under that name from a merger in the 1890s until it was purchased in 1962. At its height in the early 20th century, the company operated an intercity streetcar system that was believed to be one of the best in the United States. It is a predecessor of the current Metro Transit bus and light rail system that operates in the area.

Table of contents
1 Beginnings
2 Growth
3 Decline
4 Conspiracy?
5 Aftermath
6 New Beginnings
7 See also
8 External links
9 References

Beginnings

The origins of street rail transport in the Twin Cities are a bit murky. Some sources state that it dates back to 1867, when businessman and mayor Dorilus Morrison began building rails in downtown Minneapolis. He quickly joined forces with Colonel William S. King and other Minneapolis businessmen to create the Minneapolis Street Railway. However, the lines didn't go very far, and the railway was pretty much useless for a time. There are some indications that a streetcar was purchased but never used, collecting dust for several years.

In 1872, St. Paul saw the first successful horse-drawn streetcars by the St. Paul Railway Co. In 1875, the Minneapolis Street Railway made a deal with the Minneapolis City Council where the company would have exclusive access to street rails for 50 years if they could be up and operating in four months. The company recruited real-estate mogul Thomas Lowry, who got the line operating on September 2, 1875 between downtown and the University of Minnesota.

The streetcars became popular because they rode on smooth rails, while most of the streets of the era were just dirt or possibly cobblestone. These roads could become treacherous to pedestrians and uncomfortable to ride on in horse-drawn buggies when the weather turned foul.


Image of TCRT streetcars at the
1910 Minnesota State Fair
Thomas Lowry envisioned linking together the various railways that were cropping up around Minneapolis. While other systems were popping up with more horse-drawn carriages or cable cars, Lowry pushed forward with electrification of the lines. Starting in the late 1880s, electric streetcars began moving in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. Cable cars quickly lost favor as they struggled through snowy Minnesota winters, and the public quickly grew weary of slow horsecars.

Growth

In 1890, the two cities were connected with a railway along University Avenue, the first of four rail lines linking them together. A merger of the two city systems, the St. Paul City Railway Co. and Minneapolis Street Railway, formed the Twin City Rapid Transit Company. It went on a building spree, quickly doubling the amount of electrified track in the system.

The company continued absorbing smaller competitors for the next 40 years. In 1898, the company began a transition to using company-built streetcars and machinery (such as cranes and snowplows) rather than purchasing the cars from other companies. The first such car was built as a personal streetcar for company President Thomas Lowry, although his was a special-order. The car featured one end with large windows, to make the scenery more visible. This car was used on special occasions, such as the opening of new lines and a visit by United States President William McKinley.

Old track was also upgraded. In the early days, a number of lines had been first laid down with narrow-gauge track. These were all upgraded to standard gauge. In addition, the basic construction of the lines improved. The rails of the Twin Cities were upgraded to the most expensive track in the country, running US$6060,000 per mile. Tracks featured welded (thermite) joints, and were commonly surrounded by cobblestone or asphalt. By 1909, 95 percent of the rails were of this type of construction, used until the company ended streetcar service.

From 1906 to 1926, TCRT experimented with “streetcar boats.” Officially known as Express Boats, they were steam-powered vessels with designs reminiscent of the streetcars of the day. The boats operated between resorts on Lake Minnetonka, but slow times hit hard in the 1920s. Ultimately, seven were built, but most of them were scuttled in the lake in 1926.


Streetcar boat” Hopkins on Lake Minnetonka
TCRT also expanded into the region around White Bear Lake, and company-owned attractions were built in that area. The Wildwood Amusement Park in Mahtomedi was a prime destination.

The internal combustion engine didn't escape notice, and Twin City Rapid Transit acquired several bus lines that began to pop up around the time of World War I and a taxicab company in the 1920s. When the transportation system peaked in 1931, it had nearly 530 miles of track and 1021 streetcars. Rail extended from Stillwater on the bank of the St. Croix River in the east to Lake Minnetonka in the west. For a time, TCRT was the largest employer in the area.

It is said that anyone who lived in Minneapolis was no farther than 400 yards (less than ¼ mile) from the nearest station at that time.

Like any organization, TCRT felt some growing pains along the way. In 1917, a major labor strike took place in the months after the United States entered World War I. It began on October 6, and was influenced by the organization Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, also known as the “Wobblies”), a militant group that had been organizing unions in the region, particularly in the northern Mesabi Iron Range. Horace Lowry, the son of Thomas Lowry, headed the company at this time and absolutely refused to negotiate with the striking workers. This angered workers and others who felt sympathy for them.

An angry mob in St. Paul damaged streetcars and harassed those who had continued to work. The Minnesota Commission of Public Safety ordered the workers back on the job, and they complied for a while. People again left work in late November. On December 2, a crowd energized by speakers from the Nonpartisan League again grew angry after TCRT cut off electricity to the streetcars in downtown St. Paul, making it impossible for many people to return home. Over the following days, many were arrested, and the strike was effectively broken. 800 people were eventually replaced by non-union workers.

Things turned out differently in the 1930s, although it was not a smooth transition. In 1932, most of the system's streetcars were converted to “one-man operation” where, rather than requiring both a motorman to drive in front and a conductor to take fares in the rear, the motorman took over both operations. The doors on the streetcars were modified to allow easier boarding in front. So-called “gate cars” which had used open grating on the rear of the cars mostly disappeared from the lines. The transition from two-man to one-man operation was taking place on many streetcar lines across the country around this time.

The conversion to single-man operation meant that about half of the company's workforce was suddenly surplus. Many employees found it hard to get work, and were often forced to take strange shifts. One worker recorded having a 19-hour shift from 4:24 PM on Sunday to 9:49 AM on Monday. There was a company union, although it hadn't done much good. By October 1933, the workers had gained backing from Minnesota Governor Floyd B. Olson, St. Paul Mayor William Maloney, and the National Recovery Administration, among others. The next year, the workers voted to join the Amalgamated Transit Union.

Decline

With the Great Depression and the rise of the automobile, the rail lines began to decline. Buses were frequently used toward the edges of the system as long routes, especially those with low ridership, were cut back. World War II allowed the system to bounce back for a time, since strict fuel rationing and citizens' efforts to conserve resources made automobile use rather un-patriotic. However, the restrictions also hit TCRT itself, meaning that the company could not afford to build many new streetcars. The company was forced to add more buses to shore up the system's various routes.

After the war, trolley riders returned to their automobiles. TCRT's management explored ways to upgrade the line to bring people back. Heavy wartime use meant that the rails needed to be repaired, and competition from other forms of transportation required modernization. In 1945, the company received its first streamlined PCC streetcar. The following years saw dozens of new PCC cars on the streets, although the first one remained unique in the fleet because it was the only one to have air brakes.

The company had a long-standing policy of reinvestment in the rail system. When profits appeared, they were usually used to pay off loans and improved the rails, streetcars, and other hardware the company owned. It was rare for the company to pay out dividends. In 1948, a Wall Street speculator named Charles Green bought 6000 shares of TCRT stock. He expected to quickly gain profit, but found he had purchased stock just as the company decided to set forth on some major construction. Knowing this would demolish his anticipated dividends, Green contacted other shareholders and urged them to vote out the company's president, D.J. Strouse, and put him in charge instead.

Green took control of the company in 1949 and quickly started dismantling the railway system, announcing that the company would completely switch to buses by 1958. Many of the system's trolleys were sold to other cities around the continent. It was soon discovered that Green had connections to organized crime, and his actions were alienating the public. He sold his shares in 1950 to be briefly replaced by Emil B. Anderson before local lawyer Fred Ossanna ascended to head the company the next year. Ossanna held off on the teardown for a short while, but soon announced that the process would be accelerated. Lines would be removed and replaced by buses in two years.

On June 19, 1954, four years before Green had envisioned, the very last streetcars ran in Minneapolis. The leftover vehicles were unceremoniously burned in order to recover the scrap metal they contained. The last streetcar was very famously photographed alight behind Fred Ossanna and James Towley as Towley presented Ossanna with a check.

Conspiracy?

Many have alleged that the teardown of TCRT's rail system was associated with actions General Motors took in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, arguably with the express purpose of destroying streetcar systems to promote bus and automobile travel. GM, along with several other companies with automobile-related businesses, formed National City Lines, a holding company that engaged in hostile takeovers of many streetcar lines. In 45 cities, this resulted in “bustitution,” the full conversion from steel-wheel to rubber-tire transit.

National City Lines did not engage directly with Twin City Rapid Transit, although Fred Ossanna had previously worked for NCL. He came to work at TCRT as a lawyer for Charles Green in the 1949 takeover of the company. However, General Motors did apparently offer some deep discounts on buses. Reportedly, Ossanna once went to ask for 25 buses—and was offered 525. The vast majority of buses in TCRT's eventual bus fleet were built by GM.

Still, most of the activity was geared toward stripping TCRT of its assets to fill the pockets of owners and investors. Ossanna was convicted in 1960 of illegally taking personal profit from the company during the transition period, and was imprisoned along with other accomplices. Carl Pohlad, who became the owner of the Minnesota Twins in 1984, was the eventual successor of Fred Ossanna as head of Twin City Lines in the 1960s. He ultimately sold the company in 1970.

Aftermath

Before the dismantling began, TCRT had purchased a significant number of PCC streetcars. These were sold off in 1952 and 1953, still in very good operating condition at the time. The cars ended up in Mexico City (91 cars), Newark, New Jersey (30), and Shaker Heights, Ohio (20). (The Shaker Heights cars served in a commuter line to Cleveland). The vast majority of the older wooden streetcars, mostly built by TCRT itself, were destroyed. Out of 1240 built by the company, only about five survived to be restored and operated by rail museums.

Two of the wooden streetcars in use in the 1950s had been given away to railfan groups before the rest of the fleet was burned. They are owned by the Minnesota Transportation Museum and the Seashore Trolley Museum in Maine. One other steel-sheathed car had been sent to a railway to the north in Duluth-Superior, but it was never used. It now resides at the East Troy Electric Railroad Museum in Wisconsin. A few additional cars escaped the burn pits, but they were still subjected to harsh conditions and only one or two are restored.


TCRT PCC car no. 322 at the Minnesota Transportation Museum
One of the streetcar boats, the Minnehaha, was found by divers and then brought to the surface in 1980. After a long wait, it was restored and has been operating on Lake Minnetonka since 1996 by the Minnesota Transportation Museum. The MTM also restored one of TCRT's old PCC cars.

Some of the PCC cars once owned by Twin City Rapid Transit are just beginning their lives as museum pieces. The Newark City Subway finished operation of their 24 remaining cars on August 24, 2001, replacing the cars with new light-rail trainsets. 15 have been sold to the San Francisco Municipal Railway, or Muni, for their collection of classic streetcars on the Market Street Railway.

Other vestiges of the company's streetcar history remained in the Twin Cities. A large building on Snelling Avenue in St. Paul first served as the main construction and repair shop for the streetcars when it was built in 1907. It was expanded and remodeled over the years, later becoming a major garage for the bus system. However, the complex had become outdated, with poor ventilation, a leaky roof, and other problems. It was finally shut down in September 2001.

New Beginnings

Less than twenty years after rails disappeared from Twin Cities streets, politicians began proposing new light rail systems. Congestion was bad enough in 1972 that there were proposals to build new subwayss or people movers, but excessively high costs prevented any of the projects from getting anywhere until the end of the century. The University of Minnesota did a fair amount of research on personal rapid transit (PRT) systems and has held a number of patents on the idea.

In the 1970s, the bus lines (some of which still trace former horse-drawn buggy paths) were shifted to a partially publicly-funded operation overseen by the Metropolitan Council.

Politics, frustration, and certainly a little nostalgia finally culminated to bring rail transport back to the Twin Cities with the Hiawatha Line. Construction began in 2001, and the line began operations in 2004. At 12 miles long, it is only a faint echo of what was in the past, but many people in the state hope it is a new beginning. Others feel that, at the cost of $715715 million, it could become a tremendous failure that the state can't afford. Some are already pushing for extensions to the Hiawatha Line (indeed, the rails had been extended slightly at the ends even as it was being built), and a proposal for a heritage streetcar line running east-west through the city—possibly including PCC cars once owned by TCRT—has been examined. A proposal for PRT service was unveiled in early 2004, and there are also well-developed plans for a new commuter rail service, the Northstar Line, tracing Interstate 94 northwest toward St. Cloud, Minnesota.

See also

External links

References