Trolleys of Marion

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Local Street Car Companies

Marion was one of the first communities in Indiana to have a public transportation system. As early as 1889, the first street car company was created. In those glorious but primitive days, the cars were pulled by mules or horses, but in the following years several companies sprung up and started offering electric service. The times changed, however, when Union Traction Company purchased the last local street car company, Marion City Railway Company, in 1899.

When customers became dissatisfied with the service that Union Traction provided with its street cars, (later in 1899) Marion Transit Railway was created.

The competition was fierce, however, and Marion Transit went out of business a few years later. Union Traction and then other Interurban Companies established lines to and within Marion. For many years they dominated the street car industry in Marion until street cars became unprofitable. Then they sold all of the street cars and streetcar tracks in Marion to some local business men. They formed Marion Railways, Inc. in 1933. The street cars enjoyed a period of prosperity and popularity until they were given up for busses in 1947.

Marion Electric Street Railway

Marion Street Railway was the first streetcar provider in Marion, Indiana. It began service in its founding year, 1889, with a handful of mule cars. It originally had lines to the Veterans administration, at the south end of town, and the train station at the connection of the Nickel Plate and Pennsylvania railroads (near the corner of 14th and Branson streets). It also had a rail going north along Washington street (see 1890).

In later years, they added a line to service the eastern side of town and a branch on the VA root that went south on Washington to 34th street. They also extended their only east-bound rail down Lincoln Boulevard

In 1891, they started electric service. They were then capable of moving passengers at tremendous speeds, nearly a mile a minute(see Electric). The improved service did not, however, help the company in the long run. Soon competing companies sprang up, as early as 1891, the very same year that Marion Street Railway ran its first electric trolley (see 1892).

Queen City Electric Railway Company

Queen City Electric Railway got off to a rocky start. Though it was officially begun in early 1891, they failed to complete construction of the tracks until late 1892, nearly two years later. During its short life, the company competed with Marion Street Railway and later Marion City Railway. The company was sold at auction after going out of business to Marion City Railway in 1895. There was then only one street car company in Marion.

It is notable that Russel B. Harrison was president of the company, while, at the same time, his father was president of the country.

Marion City Railway Company

Marion City Street Railway overcame, if temporarily, the competition that its predecessor, Marion Street Railway, had suffered. In 1895 it sent two representatives to a public auction being held in Marion. The sole item being sold was Queen City Electric Railway. They sent a team of two bidders who opened the bidding at $30,000. The auctioneer pronounced the sale onto a silent crowd of spectators when there were no other bids, which was not surprising, as there were no other bidders present.

Queen City Electric enjoyed a monopoly until Union Traction company bought it out in 1899.

Marion Transit Railway

Marion Transit Railway was the last of the local trolley companies in Marion. It received franchises to make streetcar and interurban lines in 1899 and started service the next January with a single line that went south to Marion College. It was started because of complaints about the service provided by Union Traction Company. Union Traction enjoyed a monopoly on streetcar service when the company was founded, so it didn't feel that it needed to extend its line to Marion College when the school moved south. Students had to walk for several blocks after getting off the trolleys.

Then, a few months later, Union Traction started selling tickets for a penny on their streetcars going to Marion College. Marion Transit opened a line to the Veterans Hospital in October, but three days before service began, Union Traction started selling penny tickets on their line to the VA, as well.

For years, the price of a street car ride had been a nickel. Union Traction knew that Marion transit had no hopes of beating that price, and that they would loose too many of their customers to stay in business for long. In September of 1891, Union Traction purchased Marion Transit Railway. They reorganized the company a few days later, and most of the stock holders of the old Marion Transit were put in charge of the Union Traction subsidiary until they closed it down in 1903.

Marion Railways, Incorporated

Marion Railways was the last trolley line in Marion. When the last interurban left Marion, it left 14 miles of tracks in Marion, as well as the line to Gas City. The tracks and power lines in Marion were purchased for a low rate by three business men who wanted to keep the streetcars running.

Though Marion was one of the earliest towns to have street cars, it was well known for being one of the last towns to keep them running. Rail fans were attracted from all across the country to ride on the Street cars, but, sadly, Marion Railways could no longer afford to maintain the rails, so the trolleys were replaced with busses in 1947.

Interurban Electric Railways

Adams Street Trolleys.JPG
There were three companies that had interurban electric railway terminals in Marion. Two of them (Union Traction and Indiana Railways and Light) also had street car service within Marion. There were several propositions to make interurban electric railways through and across Indiana, but most of them were never built.

What was an interurban?

The interurban electric railways allowed people to ride electric trains between larger towns. The trolley service extended beyond the city limits of Marion, Gas City, and other nearby towns, but these were just local lines that used the same cars as the trolleys within Marion. The interurban trains were much larger and more powerful. they were intended to carry people long distances across a vast network of tracks that covered most of Indiana by the mid 1820s.

When the interurban companies bought out the local trolley companies during the early 1900s, they kept using the same rails and cars to offer local service as the local companies had been using for years. They didn't offer superior service, they merely had more resources with which they could defeat the locals in price wars.

Other Rail Roads

Two Railroads also crossed Marion, the Nickel Plate R.R. and the Pennsylvania R.R. They placed tracks which the interurban companies would later parallel when laying tracks and wire for the electric railroads. They were different from the interurban companies in that they used steam and diesel engines instead of electric and that they didn't transport people within a town.


The interurban railways and the trains were important to the trolleys in Marion because much of the streetcars' business was taking people to and from the train and interurban stations. The interurban electric railroads were more trouble for the Marion-based street cars than they were beneficial. They were the fiercest competitors in the struggle to provide transportation within Marion. They had much more money than the smaller, local companies. They dominated the trolley scene from 1903 to 1933. This thirty year stretch was longer than any of the local companies lasted. Marion-based companies only operated for a total of twenty-eight years--split evenly in half so that the first fourteen years was before the interurban took over, and the other half was after they left.


Created by Ben Ogle