Streetcars of Eugene

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.

21 responses to “Streetcars of Eugene

  1. Brian Friedkin

    I have lived in the Springfield/Eugene area for almost 14 years and I knew there had once been a streetcar that went from Springfield to Eugene, but I never knew about the rest of it–amazing! I have a friend who worked on the EmX construction and he said that they pulled out the old tracks that were buried under asphalt. Contrary to Alan Drake who makes the case the light rail is actually more cost effective, everyone is touting rapid transit buses as cheaper for small cities. It seems to me that it would have been cheaper to fix up the old tracks that were preserved under asphalt for 60+ years–but what do I know? Nonetheless, the Em-Ex is still great. Hopefully the future lines will be electric trolley rapid transit buses. I live a few minutes up the hill from the Springfield station and I think this has improved the quality of life here a lot.

    The zoning laws here are still incredibly stupid. Even though we now have transit here transit oriented design it is not reflected in the zoning laws. I own a house next to where I live where I had planned to build a 2 bedroom apartment. But it’s illegal to do that unless you live in the main house. The auxiliary dwelling also must not exceed 40% of the main house size. So if the house is just a little over 1000 square feet that makes for a shack sized apartment that is not worth building. But the thing that really gets me is that the law requires that you put in a driveway!

    About eight years ago a friend of mine was elected to the Eugene city council and I gave him a copy of Kunstler’s, “Geography of Nowhere,” and said to pass it around. You can lead horse to water… The council in the last few months voted to waste tax money and build a giant parking garage right next to the EmX line to encourage the building of a grocery store. Also, there are two hospitals, one proposed and one going up in two suburban locations that will suck life from the city.

  2. Laurence Aurbach Post author

    Glad you liked the poster, Brian. It was fun uncovering the history of the system… people in Eugene mostly thought transit was an impossibility, so I wanted to remind everyone what had already been achieved.

    For resources on codes, groups like the Form Based Codes Institute, Placemakers, the APA New Urbanism division and the Local Government Commission can provide good info at the local government level. Also the CNU publication Codifying the New Urbanism may be helpful. Maybe you could ask the library to get a copy.

    For transit oriented development, Reconnecting America and the Victoria Transport Policy Institute have valuable things to offer. There are many other good organizations, especially in Portland, Seattle and San Francisco.

    I see nothing in Alan Drake’s editorial that is against green bus options. He writes,

    Increased use of hybrid buses and trolleybuses can allow bus liquid fuel demand to decrease, even at elevated service levels. The better economics of trolleybuses will allow public transit agencies to operate more service, with more passengers, without major increases in public subsidies.

    The main thing isn’t the size of the city, it’s the popularity of the route. BRT works well up to a certain point; then too many vehicles are needed, the cost of labor gets too high, and buses get bunched up on the street. That’s when a shift to rail makes economic sense. The EmX is well positioned to make that shift in the future.

  3. Charlie Johnson

    I am from Corvallis and understand the value of having good community involvement in the long term discussions about downtown. Is there a group that is forming to push the idea of trolley in Eugene? I want to help move this idea along. Aloha

  4. Kirk Kneeland

    I love rail travel and knew through discussions with my parents that Eugene once had an electric trolley system. For a number of years when I was just a kid we lived on Fairmont Blvd. and I can still see the areas where the trolley tracks were paved over, all in the name of progress and the automobile. Your map and article shows me the entire system and where all the routes went. Great! I have often thought about getting involved in the promotion of both an electric trolley system and the revival of the the old Mill Race. I think both would create a more desirable place to live and make Eugene a great place for tourists to see. I am not sure what I can do to bring a bit of the old unique Eugene back, but I am interested in the future development of Eugene. Thanks for doing the research for this website.

  5. jason

    It’s really too bad to see the cuts to the LTD express routes in the recent budget, but with LTD revenues currently tied to payroll tax receipts, LTD transit funding decreases when jobs get cut. I have a masters in city and regional planning and I totally buy into the Curitiba model of BRT and more general TOD, but these good ideas needs strong financial support in order to succeed in Eugene, not just good intentions. I grew up in Eugene and have observed that for this too be a more viable system, this area needs more density and better financing for LTD. Eugene has very limited TOD and is mostly low density sprawl (but great bike paths). With financing for new development and the broader economy in the tank, it will be hard for the Emx and the wider LTD system in the near term.

  6. rex

    Laurence, is that poster available? Or could get one printed? I would love to have one for my office.

  7. Laurence Aurbach Post author

    I sold the posters in the early ’90s, mostly through the Lane County Historical Society Museum. If you click on the image above you’ll see a larger version, which should at least print at 8×11 size with reasonable quality. If there’s interest, I could look into scanning a copy and selling through something like Cafe Press.

  8. Andrew Fisher

    Thank you for sharing the poster and information regarding street cars in Eugene. I have done some research on the street cars for our Friendly neighborhood website. The College Crest line ran through our ‘hood.

    Street car tracks are now visible in at least 3 locations in Eugene; on Columbia, on University Avenue, and downtown in the outdoor garden area of Down to Earth. I have taken photos of the tracks and posted them on the history page of the Friendly Area Neighbors website:

    Each rail appears to be about 2 1/4″ or 2 3/8″ wide and are set apart 56 5/8″.

    Hopefully street cars will rattle down our neighborhood streets again some day.

  9. Hugh H. Hughes

    My uncle Jack F. Shaffer was a Eugene streetcar conductor for a number of years—which years, I do not know. He used to talk about running the Fairmont route. He was married to a Parks who died at the birth of his second son, Yale. He had an older son,Dale. He remarried in the 1930’s to Edna L. Moore of Hayden Bridge, Springfield. He also drove motor stage over McKenzie Pass as he lived on the McKenzie for some time. I would love to know more about his history. Thanks. H.H. Hughes

  10. Brent DeGreene

    LJ I found your wonderful map during a web search after seeing rails peeking through the disintegrating asphalt on University Street. The other day, I noticed rails beginning to be visible on Moss Street for several blocks leading almost to the new Knight Arena. Like a previous commenter, I lived in Eugene for many years before learning of the streetcar lines. Thanks for the great information.

  11. violet

    The tracks on University Street north of 24th avenue are very visible again as they were in the 70’s or 80’s when they were paved over.

  12. Brian McCarthy

    When our office designed the West Gate Entry to the U of O in the mid 80’s we encountered street car tracks in the middle of 13th Avenue just east of the Bookstore/Duck Shop. I continue to wonder how much of the track system remains intact under 4-inches of asphalt paving?

  13. Steve Riley

    This is a great site, thank you for all of your work. I know two locations where there is additional track still in place but it is currently covered by asphalt. In some places it is wearing through. The two locations are Alder between 11th and 13th and University Street between 19th (possibly 18th) and 23rd and possibly 24th. I referenced your web site in a letter to the editor with regard to an idea for a parking structure to service the U of O that would be located near Autzen Stadium and serviced by a trolley or streetcar line that would go to the campus and retrace a small portion of route 3 and 13th and University. Thank you again for helping to preserve our history.

  14. Mark Smith

    I recently visited the Center for Appropriate Transport and noticed the Streetcars of Eugene poster hanging on their wall. I decided to search the web for this poster as I too would like a copy for the house. If this does become available again, count me as another interested party for Streetcars of Eugene. Thanks!

  15. Casey Gifford

    Thank you so much for this information! I’m writing my thesis on Eugene’s transit policy history and am slowly uncovering history such as this. Could you possibly give me your resources? Thanks!

  16. Laurence Aurbach Post author

    Thank you, Casey. Unfortunately, I don’t have the bibliography of sources. My research drew on books in the Eugene Public Library, publications by the Lane County Historical Society, the University of Oregon map library, and most importantly from period newspapers on microfilm in the University of Oregon main library.

  17. Andrew Fisher

    After attending last year’s City Club discussion on the potential of streetcars returning to Eugene some day, I was inspired to start developing a concept map of possible, future streetcar lines or routes. I’m an artist and designer. I’ve created a map of a phased streetcar system for 2032 and provided a detailed description. I welcome folks to check it out and interested in your feedback!

    Also, in 2010, the City of Eugene, Lane County, Lane Transit District, EmRail, the Eugene Chamber of Commerce, Travel Lane County, EWEB, the University of Oregon and the Central Lane Metropolitan Planning Organization formed a Eugene Streetcar Feasibility Study Group. The 2011 report is available on the Friendly Area Neighbors (FAN) website on our “history” page:

  18. Laurence Aurbach Post author

    Interesting ideas, Andrew. Are you familiar with Jarrett Walker’s book and blog Human Transit? I think he might say those neighborhoods that only have one-way routes are not going to have service that is frequent enough to be very useful as a car alternative. It would be great to hear Jarrett’s thoughts about your plan directly from him.

  19. Christopher Walkup

    On your map, I am curious what the commercial zone was at the far south end of university street. Thanks!

  20. Laurence Aurbach Post author

    Christopher, I don’t remember what that specific property was. It was probably a small farm or garden business. The University of Oregon Map Collection can give you more information.

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