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Interurbans, and their suburban counterparts (the streetcar), were once common throughout the country. The mania began during the late 19th century and spilled over into the early 1900's as thousands of miles were laid down from New England to California. In retrospect, the financial interests behind these traction railroads were largely misplaced.For power, most interurbans used overhead catenary (energized electric lines attached to line-side poles), usually rated at around 600 volts.However, in some cases third-rail was utilized and the electricity greater.Much of the trackage was situated east of the Mississippi River as the interurban offered flexibility and affordability for the everyday commuter.It is rather amazing so much capital was expended on these operations, which struggled to make a profit right from the start.
While most interurbans were small, local operations this was not always the case.
In 1889 there were just 7 miles of interurbans in service, a number which jumped to 3,122 by 1901, and finally peaked at 15,580 in 1916.
These numbers slowly receded into the 1920's as abandonment hastened through the 1930's.
The Panic of 1903 ended this fervor but it reignited again between 19 when another 4,000 miles were built.
Once more, a financial setback, the Panic of 1907, ended investment although afterwards another great construction period did not materialize.