Colorful History of Newark's Street Trolley Cars: From Birth to Death

by Nat Bodian

On October 4, 1880, Newark's first electric trolley line -- the Springfield Avenue line -- began operations.

It started in downtown Newark and traveled up to Irvington.

It was followed, within weeks, by the Central Avenue line, and then the Orange line on Orange Street.

By 1900, a decade after the first electrified trolley went into operation, more than 300 trolleys were passing Broad and Market Streets every hour, in rush hours.

In 1903, Thomas N. McCarter organized the Public Service Corporation, which combined all Newark trolley operations, as well as gas companies, and power and light companies.

By 1910, more than 552 trolleys per hour were rolling on steel tracks though the Broad and Market intersection.

By 1913, with a Public Service fleet of nearly 2,000 trolleys, traffic at the Broad and Market intersection was 600 cars per hour in rush periods, and plans were laid to build a new modern trolley terminal on Park Place facing Military Park that would draw the trolleys off the streets and into downtown Newark through underground approaches.

Opening of Downtown Trolley Terminal

In 1916, the new Public Service Terminal was opened in April. The result was startling. The 600-trolley per hour rush hour volume at the Four Corners diminished to about 300.

The trolleys feeding into the New Terminal came in on two levels. Trolleys using the lower level basement Terminal approached from Washington Street through a tunnel carved under Cedar Street and Military Park.

Cars using the upper level terminal entered from Mulberry Street on the east, using an incline bridging Pine Street, before entering the Terminal itself.

The new Public Service Terminal had ten loading and unloading tracks on the two levels.

Trolleys reaching the Terminal arrived from such diverse points as Paterson, Elizabeth, Hackensack, Jersey City, Bound Brook, Perth Amboy, Trenton, Caldwell, the Oranges, Irvington, Maplewood, and later, Morristown.

With the advent of World War I in 1917, and the accompanying bustling wartime economy, motorbus as well as trolley operations of Public Service continued to expand.

By 1923, in addition to the 200,000 bus passengers per day, the 22 trolley lines of Public Service each day carried 330,000 passengers.

Seven years later, in 1930, Public Service was running more than 2,000 trolley cars on 23 different street lines. In May 1935, it added underground trolley service by opening the City Subway on the bed of the old Morris Canal, with service from Broad Street to Heller Parkway.

1935 Also Beginning of End of Street Trolleys

But even as the new City Subway was getting underway, the year also marked the beginning of the end for the 23 street trolley lines as Public Service introduced the newly-perfected rubber-tire trolley buses, also called 'trackless trolleys'.

This vehicle was a combination trackless trolley and diesel-electric bus.

These vehicles, perfected by Public Service engineers, could draw electric power from overhead electric wires when running on established trolley routes1. A second pole was added to allow for grounding.

When the end of the overhead electric wires was reached, the trolley poles could be hooked down to the roof and a gasoline or diesel engine could be started, which drove a generator that generated the electricity needed by the electric motors to run the vehicle.

The advantage of the trolley bus was that it didn't have to follow the rails and could pull to the curb to pick up or discharge passengers, and the trolley poles would pivot and remain connected to the overhead electric wires.

Phase Out of Trolley Service

With the success of the trolley bus, by the late 1930s, Public Service laid plans to phase out street trolley car service.

Trolley service on Broad Street officially ended on December 18, 1937, although it took more than a decade before all trolley service on Newark's streets finally came to an end.

The last two street trolley lines in service, the 21 Orange, and the 29 Bloomfield, continued rolling on steel tracks until March 30, 1952 when they made their final runs.

The Orange Street Car on that date was replaced by the No. 22 Roseville bus.

On many discontinued street trolley lines, the tracks remained embedded in the roadway for many years after the trolleys had ended their runs.2

* * *

Some Newark Street Trolley Lines*

No. 1 Newark
No. 3 Bergen
No. 5 Kinney
No. 7 Weequahic
No. 9 Clifton
No. 11 Elizabeth
No. 13 Broad
No. 15 Nutley
No. 17 Paterson
No. 21 Orange
No. 23 Central
No. 24 West Orange
No. 25 Springfield
No. 27 Mt. Prospect
No. 29 Bloomfield
No. 31 South Orange
No. 33 Market
No. 35 Kearny
No. 39 Harrison
No. 43 Jersey City
No. 49 Union
No. 51 Irvington

* (If you know of or can recall any other Newark Street Trolley lines, please let me know and I will add them to this list).


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