Although West Virginia’s terrain limited the area in which streetcars could operate profitably, the state had several streetcar systems. Most were interurban lines, connecting two or more communities and offering rural people easy access to town. Interurbans filled an important need in the days before automobiles and paved roads.
The interurban movement began around 1890. As reliable electrical service became available, investors realized that electricity could be used to run locomotives or to operate single rail cars. It wasn’t practical to stop a steam train at short intervals, but a single electric car, with its light weight and rapid acceleration, could stop and start quickly and frequently.
The state developed several interurban systems, some of them large. The Wheeling system began operation in 1865 with horse cars. Electric cars began to be used in 1887. Mergers produced the Wheeling Traction Company, with operations on both sides of the Ohio River. In 1933, employees bought the company and renamed it Co-operative Transit Company. It operated until 1947.
In Huntington, operation began in 1900 in the city and to nearby Ashland, Kentucky, and Ironton, Ohio. The streetcars were first operated by the Camden Interstate Railway, then Ohio Valley Electric Railway, and finally American Railways Company.
Monongahela West Penn was the biggest interurban system in West Virginia, with street railways in Clarksburg and Fairmont, a main line connecting the two cities, and branches to Mannington, Fairview, Bridgeport, and Weston. In addition to extensive passenger service, this standard-gauge rail line also served local industry from 1914 to 1938. It began as Fairmont & Clarksburg Traction in 1901. After a merger and name changes, it became Monongahela West Penn Service Company in 1934. Remaining portions became City Lines of West Virginia before operations ceased in 1947.
Parkersburg had a street railway with a 14-mile branch to Marietta, Ohio, known as the Parkersburg & Marietta Interurban and built in 1903. Although physically separated from the Clarksburg system, it later became part of Monongahela West Penn. The standard-gauge Parkersburg system interchanged freight traffic with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.
The Charleston Interurban Railroad operated two interurban lines, one west to St. Albans (built in 1912) and the other east to Cabin Creek (built in 1916). At a receiver’s sale in 1935, the property passed into the hands of the Charleston Transit Company, which converted the entire operation to buses on June 29, 1939. Princeton and Bluefield were served by a 12-mile line which became Tri-City Traction in 1928. A six-mile line, the Lewisburg & Ronceverte Railway, connected the main line of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad at Ronceverte with Lewisburg. Built in 1906, it lasted until the early 1930s.
The Wellsburg, Bethany & Washington Railroad operated north of Wheeling. Despite its name, the line never reached its intended destination of Washington, Pennsylvania, but instead stopped at Bethany. Local residents incorrectly believed that the ‘‘Toonerville Trolley’’ comic strip was based on the antics of the WB&W. Built in 1908, it operated until 1926.
Sistersville was a hub of trolley activity. In 1903, an 11-mile line was built from Sistersville to New Martinsville. The two towns and the intervening Paden City benefited from this interurban line, which was the Union Traction Company. Also in 1903 the Parkersburg & Ohio Valley Electric Railway was built from Sistersville to Friendly, both in Tyler County. The line was five miles long. It lasted until 1918; the line from Sistersville to New Martinsville until 1925. Another line, with headquarters in Sistersville, was the Tyler Traction Company. This 13-mile standard-gauge line between Sistersville and Middlebourne was built to high standards and carried both passenger and freight traffic. Built in 1913, it ceased operation in 1930.
West Virginia streetcar and interurban lines provided cheap, frequent, and sometimes speedy transport for several decades from the early 1900s until the Depression of the 1930s. The Wheeling, Clarksburg-Fairmont, Parkersburg, and Bluefield-Princeton lines served their communities beyond the mid-1940s, and many West Virginians alive in the 21st century can recall the experiences of riding in streetcars.
This Article was written by Borgon Tanner
Last Revised on November 05, 2010
Hilton, George W. & John F. Due. The Electric Interurban Railways in America. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1960, Reprint, Stanford University, 2000.
O'Connell, John. Popular Mechanics Railroad Album. Chicago: Popular Mechanics, 1954.
Ellifritt, Duane. Early Engineering in the Hills. West Virginia Hillbilly, 7/1/1978.