A Street Car Named Desire (for Better Public Transit)

The Utah County community seems generally excited about the upcoming arrival of Frontrunner commuter rail in December. Even after it arrives, however, Provo’s rail network may still lag behind what it was more than a century ago.

When I was looking for old photographs for this post on The Paramount Theater, I also stumbled upon a number of images depicting Provo’s old street cars.

This old postcard is one of the most enticing images of Provo I’ve ever seen from any time period. I don’t have a date for this image.

Based on these pictures, the street cars apparently ran at least along Center Street and University Ave (which went by a different name at the time). It’s also worth remembering that these cars were installed when Provo’s population and density were far lower than they are today.

Downtown Provo in 1890.

This picture is labeled as a streetcar from 1888, though it doesn’t look like there were any streets at the time.

Most of these pictures come with minimal information so it’s hard to say what happened to the street cars. My guess is they were replaced as automobiles gained popularity. However, the incident in the pictures below also could have contributed the system’s demise.

A train collision in downtown Provo.

An alternate view of the collision.

A third view of the train collision. Unfortunately I don’t know the date of this accident.

The spectacular accident aside, it’s remarkable that a tiny frontier town was able to build this rail system while today we struggle to get funding even for bus rapid transit. It seems we could learn a thing or two from our forebears.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “A Street Car Named Desire (for Better Public Transit)

  1. Reblogged this on Notes from the train and commented:
    I just mentioned this anticipated new rail line in Utah recently. Some super cool pictures in this post.

  2. The street cars were called the Orem Interurban and ran from Salt Lake to Payson, with plans in the works to go to Nephi (halted due to WW1). It is very ironic that “The train was [partly] financed by Walter C. Orem” considering that his namesake, Orem City, is a very unwalkable place.

    The accident in the photos occurred on Oct. 4, 1918.

    See: http://www.provolibrary.com/historical-orem-interurban-electric
    and
    http://historytogo.utah.gov/utah_chapters/mining_and_railroads/utahsinterurbans.html
    and
    http://www.heraldextra.com/news/local/article_e0d04d52-fcb4-5043-85b5-09a6ee4189d1.html

  3. Aaron Cook

    They also have a huge print of the accident, of all places, in a Chuck-A-Rama along 500W as you go north to Orem. It’s the same photo as the second shot of three (the only one where you can see a house) and it has more info (not much, but about a half paragraph). Off the top of my head, and I may be wrong, it said it occurred at 2nd W and Center Street, which means there had to have been a lot more rails all over the place. (or I simply did not remember right)

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