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Interurbans were similar to the familiar streetcars, but were primarily designed to run between cities. From their initial introduction in the 1890s, they were heavily promoted as "the" form of passenger transportation. Just as the canal system that were built throughout the state 60 years before, the interurbans failed to realize their potential because of new technology.

From 1890 until 1910, interurbans quickly became important components of regional transport systems, reaching their peak between 1914 and 1918. The main difference between passenger trains and interurbans was the frequency of passenger service offered and the fact they operated on electricity instead of coal. Trains were not efficient in moving small numbers of passengers between local communities. The interurbans provided that economical way of moving people quickly and for a reasonable cost to the passengers.

Interior of Interurban Car

The first interurban line in the United States connected Newark and Granville, Ohio. The builders had originally tried to build their interurban line along the National Road, however, when they tried to purchase right-of-ways along the road, property owners wanted too much money. So the builders opted for the Newark/Granville route. By World War I, 2,798 miles of interurban track existed within Ohio. Ohio's mileage exceeded the next closest state by approximately 1000 miles.

During the late 19th Century, a number of Ohio businessmen were convinced the interurban represented the future. Having seen how quickly the railroads had transformed the transportation industry, they felt interurban rail lines had the same potential.

The lines usually extended only a few miles either between towns or within a community. The interurbans provided a quick and cheap alternative to regular railroads, canals, or horses. While the interurban railroads primarily transported people from one location to another, they also carried farmers' crops and products.

Cleveland Interurban

From the first decade of the 20th Century until the early 1930s electric interurban railways connected almost all Ohio towns and villages with populations of more than 5000.

However, the interurbans future was short lived and most interurbans never developed sufficient traffic and revenue to assure financial stability and few interurbans ever paid consistent returns on their investment for very long.

Interurban Pilot House

After the invention of the automobile, the interurbans, just as the horse and carriage lost favor. When the automobile became a mass produced vehicle, along with the necessary roads, and service stations, the auto became an affordable alternative for the average citizen. Autos made transportation even more affordable, faster and more mobile. They also meant the demise of the interurban's reign.

After 1925, lines were abandoned as rapidly as they had been built. As traffic dwindled in the face of competition from automobiles, buses, and trucks, the electric trains could no longer cover their fixed expenses. Toward the end, many lines produced more revenue from selling electricity to communities along their rights-of-way than from the sale of transportation itself. By the early 1930s, most interurban lines in Ohio had ceased operation.