Special Reports

Historical Perspective: Fresno streetcars

Fresno's first endeavor into mass transit began in the late 1880s, a period of boom in the region.

It didn't take long for entrepreneurs to realize a system of streetcars and trolleys would fill the need for easy travel within the city and attract business to the area.

In 1887, six municipal franchises for street rail service were granted. Two were given up and one was repealed, leaving Fresno Street Railroad Co., Fresno Railroad Co. and the Fresno, Belmont and Yosemite Railroad. Each would carry passengers in horse- or, at first, mule-drawn trolley cars, to different areas of the city.

Fresno Street Railroad was the first to hit the rails in January 1889. The others soon followed.

Most of the trolleys used were antiquated cars from San Francisco. The cost of a round-trip fare was a nickel. The most successful streetcar company was the Fresno, Belmont and Yosemite Railroad. They started out with six trolleys, six employees and 18 horses or mules.

In 1901, Fresno Railroad Co. was granted a municipal franchise for electric streetcar service. There was also a flurry of buyouts of the rival streetcar businesses: Fresno City Railroad Co. was bought by the Fresno, Belmont and Yosemite Co., which in turn was bought by Fresno Traction Co. in 1903. The same year, Fresno Traction bought Fresno City Railway Co.

The peak years of streetcar travel -- carrying tens of thousands of riders -- were 1902 to 1929. As the 1920s came to a close, the streets were filled with automobiles, which began to compete with trolleys for space.

Streetcar revenues fell with more and more auto travel. By May 1939, after 50 years of streetcar service and almost 200 miles of track, the last two lines were abandoned when National City Lines took over and switched to buses.

The city eventually bought the bus line -- service we still have to this day.

Go to fresnobee.com/galleries to see more historic photos of streetcars in Fresno.

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