Bus rapid transit service begins in Eugene, Oregon on Sunday, January 14, 2007. The service is called EmX (short for Emerald Express) and it features custom-designed hybrid-electric vehicles, and stops with raised boarding platforms and real time route information. The route will run four miles from downtown Eugene to downtown Springfield with two and a half miles in exclusive bus-only lanes.

Photo by Lane Transit District

In honor of the EmX beginning service, here is a transit history poster I made some years ago, titled Streetcars of Eugene 1907-1927. The poster shows the system in 1912, a period when streetcars were used to boost real estate development. That’s why some of the lines ran through empty fields. These days, planners recommend “land use first”: The demand for development and codes that support transit oriented development should be in place before transit lines are built.


Streetcars of Eugene 1907-1927
Silkscreened 20″ X 28″ poster

Urban land uses circa 1912
(Orange) Public, Religious, Commercial
(Green) Residential, Parks, Cemeteries
Copyright 1990 by Laurence Aurbach

The System

… was said to be the greatest small-city system in the United States. Trolleys rolled through the streets and suburbs of Eugene for twenty years, serving commuters, farmers, manufacturers and joyriders alike. Railroads were the primary means of transportation during this era, and were considered the key to economic development. Horsepower was becoming outmoded by technology, and automobiles were slow, fragile and expensive. Eugene’s desire to become a regional distribution center prompted the construction of over eighteen miles of lines for a town of 11,500 persons.

The system was built by the Portland, Eugene & Eastern Co. for an estimated half-million 1912 dollars. Through 1915, PE&E operated the cars on a franchise granted by the City Council. Southern Pacific assumed management subsequent to that date.

All routes ran daily on a half-hour schedule from 6 a.m. to midnight, except the Fairmount line which ran on a 20-minute schedule from 11:45 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. A ride on the streetcars cost 5 to 10 cents, and reportedly excellent service was provided by the twenty-seven motormen, conductors and mechanics.

The Cars

Only the finest trolley cars were suitable for Eugene. Manufactured in St. Louis, the nine cars featured electric heaters and rattan seats. A variety of styles were used, including open, enclosed, and “California Style” semi-enclosed cars. They all ran on standard gauge track and were powered by 500-volt DC overhead cables.

The cars were 45 feet long with a maximum capacity of 100 passengers. When not in use, they were parked at the PE&E carbarns located at 13th and Beech.

The Routes

1. Blair: Built 1912. Length 2.0 miles.

This line was operated in conjunction with the College Crest line.

Roads traveled: 8th, Blair, River.

2. College Crest: Built 1910. Length 6.2 miles.

Eugene residents enjoyed countryside excursions when warm weather allowed riding in open-air trolleys. Day hikers used this loop as a jumpoff point for hikes up Spencer Butte.

Roads traveled: Willamette, 11th, Polk, 18th, Friendly, 19th, Jefferson, 24th, Friendly, 28th, 29th, Willamette.

3. Fairmount: Built 1907 to the University; extended 1908 to Hendricks Park. Length 5.6 miles.

The only presently existing streetcar tracks are located on Columbia Avenue.

Roads traveled: Willamette, 11th, Alder, 13th, University, 26th, Columbia, Fairmount, Moss, 13th, Alder, 11th, Willamette.

4. West Springfield: Built 1910. Length 4.8 miles.

For several years, Eugene was dry while Springfield was the only wet town from Salem to Medford. Saturday night drinking parties were so popular in Springfield that a 2-car “drunken special” ran at midnight, when the bars closed. A sheriff was stationed in each car to prevent harassment of women.

On Sundays, hundreds rode to Judkins Point ballfield, where they spent the afternoon cheering on the home team.

Roads traveled: Willamette, 11th, Franklin, parallel to Southern Pacific tracks, South A bridge, Main.