North Carolina Railroads - Street Railways - Durham

Click Here for an excellent write-up on the history of "Street Railways" in North Carolina provided by Walter R. Turner.

The following three (3) known "Street Railways" were operational in the city of Durham from 1887 to 1934, when the last line ceased operations.

Durham Street Railway Company

Year Chartered

Year Operational

Year Ended

Length of Line




2 miles

The Durham Street Railway Company ran from West Main Street, near the present-day east campus of Duke University, to downtown. However, wagons often had accidents in Durham when crossing the tracks, which were six to eight inches high, leading to financial problems, disbanding of the system, and removal of the tracks.

The Street Railway Journal of July 1892 reported: "Durham, NC. —The Durham Street Railway Co. contemplate changing from horse to steam dummy power, laying a heavier rail and extending their track two miles."

The Street Railway Journal of December 1892 reported that the Durham Street Railway Company had two (2) miles of track, its President was J.S. Carr, its Vice President was A.B. Anderson, and its Secretary was R.H. Wright.

In 1894, Johnston's Electrical & Street Railway Directory reported that the Durham Street Railway Company operated four (4) cars on two (2) miles of track, and its officers were: J.S. Carr - President; and, Q.H. Wright - Purchasing Agent.

In 1902, the Durham Street Railway Company was purchased by the Durham Traction Company.

Durham Traction Company

Year Chartered

Year Operational

Year Ended

Length of Line




11.43 miles

The Durham Traction Company was incorporated on February 1, 1901 and opened the city's first electric streetcar system in June of 1902. Company President Richard H. Wright and other Durham civic leaders were the owners of this company, which was also involved in the production of electricity for the city. During this period, the streetcar line extended to West Durham and to East Durham.

In 1902, company officers were: R.H. Wright of Durham as President; J.S. Manning of Durham as Sectetary-Treasurer; and, W.W.S. Butler of Durham as Superintendent. The company operated 4.2 miles of track within city limits and two (2) miles of track outside city limits, owned twelve (12) passenger cars, and had 20 employees serving 109,916 passengers in 1902.

Durham Traction Company Trolley - 1915

Click Here for more information and a ton of photos online about the Durham Traction Company. Link is current as of September of 2018.

The Electric Railway Journal of July 28, 1917 reported: "On Jan. 1, 1913, practically all the stock of the Durham (NC) Traction Company was acquired by the
Cities Service Company."

The Electric Railway Journal of August 7, 1920 reported: "Durham (NC) Traction Company. The Durham Traction Company expects to build 1-1/2 miles of new track, including an extension of 1/4 mile."

The Electric Railway Journal of October 2, 1920 reported: "Cash fares on the city lines of the Durham (NC) Traction Company were raised from 7 cents to 8 cents on Sept. 5. The price of tickets in strips of four was advanced on the same date from 25 cents to 30 cents. The increases were made by authority of the State
Corporation Commission. The company had applied to the commission for a 10-cent fare, asserting that during the past year it operated its railway department at a loss of more than $61,000. Granting of the company's petition was opposed by the city, which contended that the company was operating its other departments at a profit."

The Electric Railway Journal of July 9, 1921 reported: "The Durham (NC) Traction Company, organized and operating since 1901, certified with the Secretary of State about a month ago to a change in name to the Durham Public Service Company."

Durham Public Service Company

Year Chartered

Year Operational

Year Ended

Length of Line




11.91 miles

Durham Public Service Company Streetcar - c.1925

Although Durham Traction Company retained its name and most officers were unchanged, Henry L. Doherty of New York and the H. L. Doherty Company controlled ownership by 1912. F. W. Frueauff of New York, the only non-Durham director in 1915, was president by 1920, when streetcar lines extended eleven miles within the city. The company's name changed to Durham Public Service Company in 1921. R. L. Lindsay, vice president and general manager, had been manager of Durham Traction.

In 1921, the Durham Public Service Company operated 11.91 miles of track and carried 2,521,950 passengers.

The Electric Railway Journal of December 31, 1921 reported: "The Durham Public Service Company, Durham, NC, will put into effect the token system of fare collection. This change is for the convenience of the patrons and for increasing the service and speed of cars."

The Electric Railway Journal of February 4, 1922 reported: "Durham Public Service Company, Durham, NC, is laying new rails on Chapel Hill Street."

Thomas Car Works of High Point, NC Streetcar delivered to Durham Public Service Company in 1924
From Perley A. Thomas Advertisement in the Electric Railway Journal

The Electric Railway Journal of January 24, 1925 reported: "Durham Public Service Company, Durham, NC, it is reported, has ordered three Mack railway-type buses."

1925 Mack Bus Advertisement (not Durham)

The Electric Railway Journal of January 24, 1925 also reported: "R. L. Lindsey, vice-president and general manager of the Durham Public Service Company, Durham, NC, has told the city that plans are being made to co-ordinate railway and bus service. The present idea is to abandon a portion of the track in West Durham. The program, stated unofficially, includes the purchase of three buses."

1926 REO 21-Passenger Bus (not Durham)

The Electric Railway Journal of January 2, 1926 reported: "Durham Public Service Company, Durham, NC, has placed an order with the REO Motor Car Company for eight buses of 21 passenger capacity."

1926 Yellow Motor Company Bus - 21 Passenger (not Durham)

The Electric Railway Journal of January 1, 1927 reported in Table II on Page 37 that the Durham Public Service Company purchased a total of six (6) buses in 1926. Two (2) were 21-passenger buses built by REO, as shown above. Four (4) were 21-passenger buses built by Yellow Motor Co., as shown above. In Table III on Page 38, the Journal noted that the city of Durham had increased its bus routes by 2.13 miles in 1926.

Five Points in Durham, NC - 1927
From Electric Railway Journal of November 26, 1927

The Electric Railway Journal of November 26, 1927 reported: "Durham, NC has only about 45,000 inhabitants, and in respect to the size of the city served the brief submitted for the 1927 Coffin Prize by the Durham Public Service Company is unique. Modestly, its brief tells the history of this company during the past five years, a story replete with interest, especially to other properties of similar size, because it shows what can be done—and has been done—to bring such a property into good financial and physical shape."

"Industrially, Durham is one of the leading cities of its state, being famous for its output of tobacco, textiles, hosiery, yarn and bag products. It is also an educational center, being the home of Duke University, and only 12 miles from the University of North Carolina."

"The electric railway system dates from 1902 and operating conditions were favorable up to the outbreak of the World War. Then expenses increased rapidly, and though the company received two fare increases its net earnings were unsatisfactory. The downward trend in net continued until 1924, when the company was faced with the early need of spending $125,000 for track construction and paving, $36,000 to replace obsolete rolling stock and $13,000 as its part of removing a grade crossing within the city. This sum was in addition to $325,000 which the company had expended during the previous five-year period on roadbed, paving and rolling stock. The conditions prevailing with respect to gross and net earnings for the six-year period ended with June, 1927 are disclosed in Table I."

"The first step taken in the constructive program was the adoption of a co-ordinated plan of bus and car operation on the basis of rendering a service which would attract public approval and patronage by meeting present-day demands for service with present-day methods. This meant that the entire routing plan had to be revised. During the previous ten years the city had grown rapidly in certain directions and its traffic arteries had changed. Some car routes were rendering a needed service, while others, aside from serving low-traffic-bearing areas, showed heavy losses and no prospect of ever developing satisfactorily."

"Poorly patronized routes without indication of future traffic increases and in bad physical repair as to track were immediately abandoned and bus operation substituted. In the first month of bus operation, March, 1925, approximately 8,000 bus-miles were operated with a bus-mile revenue of only 11.5 cents. The progressive increase resulting from the six months period is shown in Table II, which also gives data on car-mile revenue. In the latter it will be seen that there was an improvement during 1927, as compared with 1925, of 3.5 cents in revenue, largely as a result of co-ordinated service and improved operating conditions. Incidentally it was found that the buses maintained an average speed in excess of 10 m.p.h., as compared with approximately 8 m.p.h. on the cars, as, with the exception of the trackage in the business area, the railway layout was single track with turnouts. Moreover, with the bus, it was found possible to enter new territory impossible of being served by rail operation."

"Experience with co-ordinated service showed soon that under Durham conditions so-called feeder operation was not popular and passengers on the buses must have a direct service into or through the business section. With the buses, also, the opportunity for chartered service returned. Chartered service with cars had long passed, but with buses the company is securing an increasing amount of business from lodges, schools and churches and for other pre-arranged trips. Considerable regular school business also is being done. As this chartered service ordinarily does not come at the same time as the maximum of demand of regular service, it increases the average daily miles operated per bus."

"The cars now operated locally are modern light-weight, double-truck, one-man safety cars, and special endeavor has been made to maintain these cars in a well-painted, cleanly condition. All cars are repainted on regular schedule and, with the prevailing color scheme of deep orange and cream with black lettering and striping, have a very attractive appearance. Both cars and buses are washed outside and cleaned inside on regular schedule. Comment on the comfortable riding qualities of the buses led to the decision to replace existing seating equipment on the street cars with spring-edge, leather-upholstered seats and cushions, and this work is now progressing."

"In its selection of type of bus the company made an extended study into the most desirable size for its conditions and decided on the 21-passenger bus. It attributes much of the success of its bus service to the fact that it did not purchase a larger vehicle. Improved operating conditions were also secured, according to the brief, by the adoption for these vehicles of the vacuum booster brake system and of an extra high grade of parafin-base Pennsylvania lubricating oil costing approximately 66 cents per gallon, instead of cheaper oil. In consequence largely of these two practices the maintenance of buses (account No. 1304 in the A.E.R.A. classification) has been kept to 2.09 cents per bus-mile."

[There are two more tables and four paragraphs in this ERJ article.]

1930 Mack Bus Model BC

The Electric Railway Journal of February 1930 reported: "Recent deliveries by the Mack-International Motor Truck Corporation include... five Model BC six-cylinder 20-passenger buses to the Durham Public Service Company, of Durham, NC."

The Electric Railway Journal of January 1931 reported that Durham Public Service Company had abandoned 9.53 miles of streetcar track during 1930, replacing said track with bus service. The same ERJ reported that Durham Public Service Company was operating a total of thirty-two (32) Mack 29-passenger buses as of January 1, 1931.

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