The Ohio Museum of Transportation

Ohio's Transit History


Cleveland Trolley Coaches

One of the more notable trolley coach operations was in Cleveland which started running the electric coaches in 1936 and ended operations in 1963. During this period it was a trolley coach fan's dream with Brills, Pullmans, St Louis' and Marmons running on frequent headway and the chance to see the only pre-war Twin Coach articulated trolley coach that was ever built.

The first route instituted in Cleveland was the Hough line. It was the replacement for the 4.6 mile rail line. This trolley coach route started operation on March 1, 1936 under the Cleveland Railway Company (CRC). The line was to hold a special place in history as it was the first trolley coach line to actually enter a downtown area of a city with a million plus metropolitan population. This line required 20 cars to hold service and these were manufactured by Pullman and bore the fleet numbers of 900-919. An additional 8 cars were purchased in 1937 from Pullman (920-927) to handle the increased ridership on the line.

For the next nine years, there were no other trolley coach routes implemented in Cleveland. This was due primarily to the financial difficulties of the CRC. Plans were made up to change over several lines but nothing was done by the CRC other than the initial line which proved to be a great success.

The City of Cleveland purchased the CRC on April 28, 1942 and renamed it the Cleveland Transit System (CTS). The CTS immediately started making plans to change over more rail lines to trolley coach operations starting with the 5.6 mile Wade Park line. Due to the war restrictions in place at the time, the CTS could plan but not convert the line. It wasn't until December 16, 1945 that the line was converted over. This line saw the arrival of 24 new trolley coaches to hold down service and were a mix of 13 new St. Louis Car Co. (fleet numbers unknown) and 11 new Pullmans (950-960).

Also during this period, the one and only Twin Coach trolley bus was purchased. Originally a demonstrator to the CRC in 1940 & 1941, this articulated oddity was purchased by the CTS in 1942. This car was dubbed the "Queen Mary" and was one of two ever built. The other, a post war design, went to Chicago. As a point of clarification at this point as to the articulation of this coach, it did not bend as articulated coaches of today bend. It could only bend vertically, not side to side, so it had an extremely large turning radius.

The immediate postwar period saw several plans for the future of the publicly owned transit system. Two of the more serious plans considered saw the increase in rail service using cars of the PCC design. These plans considered using existing street and/or private right of ways (PRW) along side major routes. For the trolley coach network, neither plan really included it. At one point the City of Cleveland even purchased 50 Pullman multiple unit PCC cars to implement the PRW plan but for reasons unknown to us at this time, the PRW plan was scrapped in favor of yet another post war transit plan.

The new plan was to build a heavy rail rapid system. This decision caused an explosion in streetcar to rail routes. Many of the major streetcar routes proposed for the PRW system, were switched over to trolley coach operations to save money since the streetcar routes needed new cars and rail work. Trolley coaches were still cheaper to operate than gasoline buses at this time and the decision was made to keep electric operations.

By 1946, the post war conversion from rail to trolley coach operations was fully underway. The first conversion in this conversion boom was the 4.5 mile Cedar Avenue line on June 16, 1946 followed by the 7.1 mile Broadway line on August 16, 1947. Additional lines followed in 1948 with the 8.8 mile East 105th Street line and the 6.8 Union Avenue line being converted on January 31st of that year. One additional line was converted in 1948 and was the 5.4 mile Buckeye Road line which saw it's first trolley coach hit the wires on July 1st.

By the end of 1948, 284 trolley coaches were needed for daily operation in Cleveland. These included St. Louis Car Co cars (1000-1174), Marmons (1200-1274), and Pullmans (961-999) which were ordered between 1946 and 1948. Many of the older units were still needed and still saw heavy service at this time.

In 1949 and 1950, additional rail lines were converted to trackless operation. The 5.7 mile Woodland Ave, 5.7 mile Clifton and 6.2 mile Fulton lines saw the conversion in 1949 and the 7 mile Kinsman line became trackless on March 26, 1950. No new coaches were purchased for these conversions. At this time, however, the CTS decided to end all rail operations so many heavy haul rail routes began seeing conversions to trackless operation.

Starting in 1951, the conversions began with the 4.4 mile Detroit Avenue line on August 24th and the 6.9 mile St. Clair line on November 3rd. 1952 saw the conversion of the 6.5 mile Lorain Avenue line to trackless and the heaviest hauling route on the system, the Euclid Avenue line, was converted to bus operations. The Euclid line was slated to become trackless at a later date but never happened.

Additional equipment that was purchased for the 1949 through 1952 conversions were Marmon's in 1951 (1275-1324) as well as 32 used model T40 1936 Brill trolley coaches from Louisville. Interesting to note on the Marmon order was that car 1324 was on a little tour of Europe. During late 1951 and early 1952, this car was on display at the Brussels Automobile Show in Belgium and then was borrowed by Les Ateliers Metallurgiques of Nivelles, France as a prototype for the possible manufacture of Marmon-Harrington trolley coaches overseas. This car was returned to the CTS in 1952.

True to it's word, the CTS was closing down the streetcar system and sold off the newest equipment, 75 PCC cars. to the Toronto Transit Commission in Ontario, Canada in 1952. At this point of time, the CTS had only 5 rail lines remaining and all were being worked by older Peter Witt design cars. Of these 5 remaining lines, only one was converted to trolley coach operations. The remaining 4 lines would be dieselized. As a historical note, the streetcar operations in Cleveland ended on January 23, 1954 with the conversion of the Madison line to bus operations.

The last new trolley coach route to be implemented in Cleveland was the 6.5 mile Superior Avenue line on March 20, 1953. This line also marked the last time any more trolley coaches would be purchased by the CTS. 50 used 1947-48 Pullman trackless (850-899) were obtained from United Transit in Providence, RI as they were phasing the system there out.

As with most of the trolley coach operations around the country, it didn't take long from the height of the trolley coach operation to the one by one conversion of each line to bus operations. Within 2 years of the last new trolley coach line opening, the overhead started coming down on the trackless operations in Cleveland. There were a few reasons behind this, most related to the new Rapid line that the CTS opened in 1955 which made the CTS's decision to eliminate trolley coach operations slightly different than the usual reasons.

First was that by this time, diesel power was cheaper than electric trolley coach operations. Secondly was that the new Rapid line pulled many passengers off the slower surface trolley coach routes which made operating them more expensive. Unlike in other cities at the time, ridership reduction in the overall system was not the issue. In addition the CTS stated that it could not generate or obtain enough power to supply electricity to both the trolley coaches and the new Rapid.

The lines were converted to bus one by one, as had been done in the rail to trolley coach conversions a few years earlier. The East Side of Cleveland had the distinction of having the last of the trolley coach service but this ended on June 14, 1963 when these lines were finally converted over to diesel operation.


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This page updated on August 13, 2004