Monday 20 November 2023

Milwaukee Memories


And Then
Like most American cities, Milwaukee is, in general terms, unrecognisable today when compared with, say, the 1930s.

The public transport began with horse trams ...

... later to become an extensive electric network serving all of the city.
There were some impressive frequencies as here on line 11.
Note the first tram times and the last short working at 0127, seven days a week.

The simplified network map shows trams ("streetcars" in Milwaukee) in orange and trolleybuses in blue.
Green lines are "independent" bus routes. Trams and trolleybuses were painted in an orange livery.

But there was more. The tram company also generated electricity for the residents of the city. Their big Lakeside power station opened in 1921 ...
... one of the biggest to use powdered coal.

The power station also had its own tram route ...
... exclusively for power workers, although some enthusiasts' rode the line and were turfed out at the main gates!

But, early for the USA, the network was closed in 1958 with a good crowd to say farewell.
Souvenir tickets were issued.
And old piece of cine film was discovered which purports to be the "last" day. fbb suspects that it was a compilation celebrating the last day as there are no modern trams on the clips.
Poor quality, if course, but fascinating none-the less.

But there was another network.
... with a yellow livery and "go faster" stripes.

Milwaukee had an inter urban "fast" set of routes called Speedrail.
Today, thee lines would have been called "rapid transit" or possibly "tram train" because they were more train than tram.
In their latter years, the lines struggled and smart new stock ...
... failed to bring back the customers.

From a PR point of view the end of the business followed soon after a major head on crash on a single track section. It concerned a train taking American Railroad Modellers (NMRA) on a trip.
Tragically, there was loss of life.

One of these trains was a 9:20AM service from Milwaukee to Hales Corner, run by heavyweight articulated interurban cars No. 1192-1193. Normally, these cars were reserved for rush-hour use, but their appearance also made an impression on the NMRA crowds, being able to see veteran cars in action. No. 39-40 left Hales Corner at 9:25AM, behind schedule for a still-unknown reason. To this day, no-one knows exactly how the accident took place. Some say that Maeder, in his haste to make up time to clear the 9:20AM heavyweight and enthusiasm to be driving a high-speed interurban, misread a signal; others claim there was a signal malfunction that allowed both heavyweight and lightweight trains to occupy the same block. Nevertheless, at 9:45AM, just south of National Avenue in Greenfield, Wisconsin, the unimaginable happened.
It is believed that one of the drivers ignored a signal.

The remaining interurban routes closed in 1951.
Back to the city network and one oddity. That workers tram route to the power station continued for three years (approx) after the system closed, finishing in 1961.

So it was sixty years until trams returned to the Milwaukee streets and there were problems with the plans and (surprise, surprise) the politics.

Tomorrow we look at today's two lines and recognise some of the challenges the new network is facing.

The challenges will be very familiar to tram watchers (and HS2 watchers!!) in the UK.

 Nex Milwaukee blog : Tuesday 21st November 

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