Guide to Past & Present Traction Systems in North Carolina

by Alan Coleman and Ken Humphreys

One list leads to another. When looking for information on past and present North Carolina railroads one inevitably finds information about trolley car lines (or to be more technical about it, "electrified street railways.") In some cases trolley lines turned into bona fide railroad operations; in several North Carolina examples, steam-powered railroads became part of a trolley line. Steel rails are steel rails we say, so here is the P&W’s city-by-city guide to trolley car operations in North Carolina. Dates, except as noted, are the date of actual operation of electrified trolley systems. Many of the systems continued operations using conventional motor buses.

Notes and Credits:

Much of the information appearing on various Internet sites is anecdotal and is often contradictory. Any further information, changes, additions, or corrections are welcomed. Please e-mail P&WRR . The following sites and other references are invaluable:

· Walter R. Turner’s Development of Street Car Systems in North Carolina,
· Jon Bells’s Charlotte, North Carolina: The Charlotte Trolley,
· Jon Bells’s Charlotte, North Carolina: LYNX Light Rail,
· Charlotte Trolley,
· The Fitch Bond Book
· Badin Museum
· Piedmont and Northern: The Great Electric System of the South by Thomas Fetters and Peter Swanson
· Trolleys in the Land of the Sky: Street Railways of Asheville, N.C. and Vicinity by David C. Bailey, Joseph Canfield, and Harold E. Cox
· McGraw Electric Railway Manual, American Street Railway Investments, Ashland, KY
· "Next Stop, the Beach" by Diane Silcox-Jarrett, Our State magazine, November 2003
· Don's Rail Photos - Piedmont & Northern RR , (many photos of P&N traction equipment)
· Winston-Salem From the collection of Frank B. Jones, Jr.
edited by Molly Grogran Rawls, Arcadia Publishing

Listing of Past & Present Traction Systems in North Carolina

Asheville (1889-1934) There were multiple street car operations in the 19th/20th turn of the centuries which were absorbed by the Asheville Electric Co. by 1900 or so. At its peak Asheville had 45 operating trolley cars and 18 miles of track.

1889-1893 - Asheville Street Railway Co.

1893-1900 - Asheville & Biltmore Street Railway and Transportation Company

1893-1900 - Asheville Street Railway

1900-1912 - Asheville Electric Co. (Consolidation of the above lines)

1901-1909- Asheville and Weaverville Electric Railway and Power Company

"The Weaverville Line" had 7.75 miles of standard gauge track and offered connecting service at Grace with the Asheville Electric Company to carry passengers from Weaverville to Asheville’s Pack Square. The rail property was sold to Richard S. Howland (one of the principals behind the Asheville and Craggy Mountain Railway) in 1909 to become the Asheville and Eastern Tennessee Railroad.
1909-1922- Asheville & Eastern Tennessee Railroad. R. S. Howland bought the Weaverville Electric Railway and Power Company in 1909 and renamed it the Asheville and Eastern Tennessee Railroad. Howland expanded service to and from Weaverville with over ten trips a day at the company’s zenith. A 1922 fatal head-on collision on the line helped push the line into receivership and the line shut down on November 29, 1922.
1921-1925 - Asheville Electric Co. (Electric Bond & Shares Co.)

1925-1934 - Carolina Power & Light Co. (National Power & Light Co.) The last day for trolley operations in Asheville was on September 7, 1934.

Badin, New Hall's Ferry and Whitney (1916-1928)The Yadkin Railroad provided traction passenger service from New Hall's Ferry to Whitney and Badin from about 1916 until 1928.

Belmont (1916-1932) At the request of Belmont Mills, the Piedmont & Northern added a 3-mile spur from its mainline Belmont Junction to the mill to handle both freight and passengers in March of 1916. Three small city-style trolley cars handled the passengers; freight operations were handled as switching operations by the mainline crews. Operations ended in 1932.

Burlington (1912-1922) At its peak Burlington had 11 cars and 8 miles of track.

1912-1922 - Piedmont Railway & Electric Co. (Interurban line to Haw River)

Charlotte (1891-1938; 1996-date) At its peak the old Charlotte trolley system had about 50 operating trolley cars and 29 miles of track.

1891-1896 - Charlotte Street Railway Co. (Began in 1887 as a horse-drawn line. Trolley service began May 18, 1991)

1896-1910 - Charlotte Electric Railway (Later Southern Public Utilities Co).

1910-1925 - Southern Public Utilities Co.

Southern Public Utilities Co. was marred by a bitter strike which resulted in five strikers being fatally shot by police at the trolley barn on South Boulevard August 25. By mid-September the strike was settled with all employees returning to work without a national union contract.
1925-1935 - Southern Public Utilities Co. (Duke Power Co.)

1935-1938 - Duke Power Co. Streetcar service ended March 14, 1938. The final run was with Car #85. (See Charlotte Trolley)

1996-2003 - Charlotte Trolley, Inc. Trolley car service returns (albeit without using a trolley pole) using Charlotte-assembled 1927-vintage Car #85 towing a generator trailer on a two-mile line. This car was built by the Perley A. Thomas Co. of High Point, builder of the famous New Orleans trolleys on the Desire and St. Charles lines. Car #85 looks very much like the New Orleans cars (see the photo section). Charlotte Trolley had a number of other trolleys but none were used in regular operations. Car #85 is pictured in the Charlotte photo section and Car #1, a restored Athens, Greece trolley in pictured in the Athens section of this site. Click here to go to the photo section of this site

2003-date - Charlotte Area Transit System. Light rail system begins expanded county-wide light rail service and replaces Charlotte Trolley’s volunteer motormen with unionized transit workers on the heritage line. Overhead wire is in service by the summer of 2004. " Historic" cars now include the former Charlotte Trolley car #85 plus three 2005 Gomalco Trolley Co. replicas of double-truck Birneys). The first LYNX light rail line, the 9.6 mile Blue Line, began operations on November 24, 2007 using 236-passenger capacity articulated light rail vehicles built by Siemens.

Charlotte to Gastonia interurban service (1912-1951) The Piedmont & Northern Railway operated a 34-mile, 1500 volt DC interurban and freight line from Charlotte to Gastonia. The P&N’s Piedmont Traction Company was built at the same time as the company’s 98-mile Greenville, Spartanburg & Anderson Railway. When delivered, the six Jewett Car Company "Piedmont & Northern Lines" interurban cars used on the North Carolina line were sublettered "P.T. Co." beneath their car side numbers, the S.C.-bound balance of the 23-car order were sublettered "GS&A." At its WW II traffic peak, ten trains a day ran between Gastonia and Charlotte, but the peacetime surge in automobile ownership and highway construction doomed the interurban passenger service. Nearly 40 years of interurban passenger service ended on February 28, 1951 when 29-year P&N veteran conductor J. A. Whitlock and 38-year veteran engineer V. J. Rogers manned passenger train #8’s last run to Gastonia using combine #2100 and coach # 2103. Passenger service in South Carolina ended on October 31 of the same year.

Charlotte to Gastonia traction freight service (1912-1954, downtown Charlotte service, 1912-1958) The P&N used a variety of purchased and shop-built electric locomotives which included B-B+BB units which it pioneered. The final mainline electric operation in North Carolina occurred in May of 1954, with Alco RS-3’s and S-4’s replacing the electric units. The Alcos were too heavy for the line running down the old Mint Street trolley line in Charlotte, so box cabs 5101 and 5103 survived in service until May 21, 1958. At that time a line relocation project demanded by the city of Charlotte as a means of ending the "traffic hazard" was complete. In 1963 the P&N donated 1913-vintage GE box cab #5103 to the Southeastern Railway Museum in Duluth, Georgia. #5103 was purchased by the North Carolina Transportation History Corporation (today’s North Carolina Transportation Museum Foundation) in 1995, and returned to North Carolina for display at the museum at Spencer.

Concord/ Kannapolis (1911-1925) Operations began with unsuccessful Edison-designed battery cars which were replaced by trolley cars after several years of service interruption because of problems with the battery-operated cars. At its peak the Concord Kannapolis trolley system had 4 miles of track and an unknown number of cars.

1911-1925 - North Carolina Public Service Co. (Dates are in question)

Durham (1902-1930) At its peak the Durham trolley system had 21 operating trolley cars and 11 miles of track.

1891-1902 - Durham Street Railway Co. (Began in 1887 as a horse-drawn line)

1902-1913 - Durham Traction Co.

1913-1921 - Durham Traction Co. (Cities Service Co.)

1921-1930 - Durham Public Service Co. (Cities Service Co.). Streetcar service ended in 1930.

Fayetteville (1889-1926) Little information found on the sporadic Fayetteville street car operations

Fayetteville Street Railway & Power Co. (1889-1908)

Consolidated Railway & Power Co. (1908-1921)

Cumberland Railway & Power Co. (1919-1921).Chartered on February 12, 1919 to operate Fayetteville's trolley system, this cash-poor line was sold for $75,000 on August 2, 1921 to North State Power Co. North State Power Co. reatined ownership but quickly conveyed operations over to newly formed Cape Fear Railways.
Cape Fear Railways (1921-1926).Cape Fear Railways became a common carrier in 1926 serving Ft. Bragg and discontinued traction service in Fayetteville.

Gastonia (1910-1948) Some months before the beginning of its interurban service to Gastonia, Piedmont & Northern predecessor Piedmont Traction began operating a 4-mile street car system in that city as part of the franchise requirements that permitted railroad operations on city streets. At its peak, the Gastonia trolley system had 5 trolley cars to bring riders to its interurban line. At the end of street car service in 1948, the P&N was the last surviving street car line between Atlanta and Richmond.

1910-1914 - Piedmont Traction Co. (Piedmont & Northern Railway)

1914-1948 - Piedmont & Northern Railway. Gastonia city street car service ended on the evening of September 21, 1948, when motorman Bob Nolen made car P&N # 2's final stop in front of the city police station on Franklin Street. "Old Ironsides," as the car was fondly called, was retired as a city park display; sadly Halloween vandals damaged the car so badly in 1956 that it was cut up for scrap.

Goldsboro (1910-1920) At its peak the Goldsboro trolley system had 9 operating trolley cars and 5 miles of track.

1910-1912 - Goldsboro Traction Co.

1912-1920 – Goldsboro Electric Railroad company

Greensboro (1902-1934) At its peak the Greensboro trolley system had 24 operating trolley cars and 12 miles of track.

1902-1909 - Greensboro Electric Co. (Service began July 11, 1902))

1909-1927 - North Carolina Public Service Co.

1927-1932 - North Carolina Public Service Co. (Duke Power Co.)

1932-1935 - Southern Public Utilities Co. (Duke Power Co.)

1935-1956 - Duke Power Co.Streetcar service ended July 14, 1934.
Duke Power Co. operated trolley-buses beginning July 15, 1934. Service ended June 5, 1956

Hendersonville-Henderson County (1891-1920) At its peak the Appalachian Interurban Railroad system operated 2 horse cars and 3 miles of track. Fanciful postcard images notwithstanding, the company could not afford the expense of electrification.

1891-1904 - Hendersonville Street Railway Co.

1904 - 1920 Appalachian Interurban Railroad

High Point (1912-1935) At its peak the High Point trolley system had 9 operating trolley cars and 6 miles of track. The High Point Thomasville & Denton, a local common carrier railroad, operated downtown freight service under the wires for several years with an electric "motor".

1912-1927 - North Carolina Public Service Co. (Took over a defunct line which operated for about one year in 1906-07).

1927-1932 - North Carolina Public Service Co. (Duke Power Co.)

1932-1935 - Southern Public Utilities Co. (Duke Power Co.)

1935 - Duke Power Co.

New Bern (1913-1929) System began operation with battery cars but switched to trolleys. At its peak the New Bern trolley system had 4 operating trolley cars and 3 miles of track.

1913-1929 - New Bern-Ghent Street Railway

Pinehurst /Southern Pines (1896-1911) At its peak, a 9-mile, four car trolley line from the railroad depot in Southern Pines to the golf club at Pinehurst. A "Pinehurst Junction" sign at the Southern Pines depot stirred a dispute between the communities which led to an irate Southern Pines removing its portion of the line in 1905; local Pinehurst trolley service lasted 6 more years.

1896-1911 - Pinehurst Electric Railroad Company

Raleigh (1891-1934) At its peak the Raleigh trolley system had 26 cars and 11 miles of track.

1891-1894 - Raleigh Street Railway (Began in 1886 as a horse-drawn line)

1894-1908 - Raleigh Electric Co.

1908-1921 - Carolina Power & Light Co.

1921-1925 - Carolina Power & Light Co. (Electric Bond & Shares Co.)

1925-1934 - Carolina Power & Light Co. (National Power & Light Co.)

Salisbury /Spencer (1901-1938) At its peak the Salisbury to Spencer trolley system had 13 cars and 9 miles of track.

1901-1911 - Salisbury & Spencer Railway

1911-1924 - Salisbury & Spencer Railway (North Carolina Public Service Co.)

1924-1927 - North Carolina Public Service Co.

1927-1932 - North Carolina Public Service Co. (Duke Power Co.)

1932-1935 - Southern Public Utilities Co. (Duke Power Co.)

1935-1938 - Duke Power Co.

Wilmington (1892-1940) At its peak the Wilmington trolley system (presumably including the Wilmington Sea Coast Railroad) had 34 cars and 22 miles of track. The Wilmington Sea Coast Railroad (1887-1901) was a steam-powered passenger line which ran from Princess Street in Wilmington to "Ocean View," which was to become incorporated as Wrightsville Beach in 1899. The WSCRR had a bridge across Banks Channel to the beach proper by 1889. The WSCRR developed Wrightsville Beach as a popular beach destination; the rail line wiped out by a hurricane in 1899 but was rebuilt within a year. The Wilmington Sea Coast Railroad sold its line to Consolidated Railways, Light & Power Co. (later known as Tidewater Power Co.) in 1901, which converted from steam to trolley cars by 1902. Tidewater built the famed Lumina Pavilion in 1905 at its southern end. Wilmington city trolleys made their last run on the afternoon of April 18, 1939, when the company’s first motorman to operate a street car, "Tuck" Savage, was given the honor of running the last city car. Service on the interurban line to Wrightsville Beach survived until April 27, 1940.

1892-1902 - Wilmington Street Railway Co. (Began in 1887 as a horse-drawn line)

1902-1907 - Consolidated Railways Light & Power Co.

1907-1923 - Tidewater Power Co.

1923-1928 - Tidewater Power Co. (National Public Service Corp.)

1928-1933 - Tidewater Power Co. (Middle West Utilities Co.)

1933-1935 - Tidewater Power Co. (Penn-Southern Power Corp.)

1935-1940 - Tidewater Power Co. (Associated Gas & Electric Co.)

Winston-Salem (1890-1936) At its peak the Winston-Salem trolley had 43 cars and 9 miles of track. A parade through downtown Winston-Salem marked the end of trolley service on December 30, 1936.

1890-1891 - Winston-Salem Street Railway Co.

1891-1900 - Winston-Salem Railway & Electric Co.

1900-1913 - Fries Manufacturing & Power Co.

1913-1925 - Southern Public Utilities Co.

1925-1935 - Southern Public Utilities Co. (Duke Power Co.)

1935-1936 - Duke Power Co.

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