Third-Rail Interurban Railroads

Picture above is a third-rail interurban rail car.

oneida railway (NY Central, West Shore division at Oneida Castle)

I got some great stuff a few years ago and will list below

have been hunting down info on third rail interurbans in the US, and have made up a list. This covers all that I know about so far, and the dates of discontinuance on each.
If anyone knows about more (some I have missed) or date corrections, please post back. This list does not include city operations, like NYCMTA, CTA, MBTA, LIRR, Metro North, etc., but does include, for example the P&W Norristown line.
All dates are “passenger service discontinued” dates, and not necessarily electrified discontinuance dates if they still may have had electrified freight service a few more years. I will add more details (mileage, voltage, etc.) to some of the lesser “popular” ones.

CA&E – Third rail Chicago suburban service – all service discontinued Chicago – Aurora/Elgin 7/3/57
Through service to CTA loop until 9/19/53

CNS&M mostly overhead but 3rd rail into Chicago via CTA –
last run 1/21/63

Scioto Valley Traction Co. – 600 volts 3rd rail –
Columbus, OH – Chillicothe 47 mi Columbus – Lancaster 30.8 mi
Last passenger service 9/30/30

Northwestern Pacific – 3rd rail commuter service Sausalito-San Rafael, CA with a branch to Mill Valley – main line 10.5 miles
Ended 2/28/41 (Mill Valley branch ended 9/30/40)

Oneida Railway (NY State Railways) Syracuse – Oneida – 3rd rail
Ended 12/31/30

P&W (Red Arrow) 69th St – Norristown (13.7 mi) – still in operation
Strafford Branch (Villanova – Strafford) disc. 3/23/56
Lehigh Valley Transit through service Allentown-69th St disc. 9/26/49, while overhead LVT to Norristown lasted until 9/6/51

Sacramento Northern – 3rd rail (portion of line) Sacramento – Chico, CA passenger service ended 10/31/40, lower part of SN to San Fran was overhead, but used 3rd rail over bay bridge in San Fran, which ended 1941. Also SP “Big Red Cars” service used 3rd rail on bridge until 1941. Key System (overhead except for bridge) until 4/20/58

PRSL (Pennsylvania Reading Seashore Lines) – 650 volt combo 3rd rail/overhead from Camden, NJ to Atlantic City (overhead in cities), also branch from Camden-Millville, NJ electrified.
Atlantic City line (electric operations) disc. 9/26/31, Millville line cut back to Glassboro 6/20/49, and last electric operations (Glassboro-Camden) on 9/8/49

WB&H (Wilkes-Barre & Hazleton) 3rd rail line disc 7/17/33

L&WV (Lackawanna & Wyoming Valley) Scranton-Wilkes-Barre 12/31/52

Michigan Railways – Kalamazoo-Grand Rapids (50 miles), also Allegan-Battle Creek, Jackson-Muskegon, Grand Rapids-Muskegon
Some lines were experimentally 2400 volts dc for a while, but this was too high for practical use (arcs, power failures, etc.) and were all cut back to 1200v shortly (in about a year) – all lines disc. 11/30/28
Were these the only third rail lines in Michigan?

Puget Sound Railway (WA) Seattle-Tacoma ended 12/30/28

New Haven Nantasket Beach Line – Cohasset-Nantasket Jn-Weymouth-Braintree (MA) 6.5 miles – center third rail (like Lionel) until 1902

Also New Haven Hartford-New Britain-Bristol (18.6 mi) plus branch to Berlin, CT (3 1/4 mi) – center third rail (v-shaped)
Reports say most 3rd rail removed in June 1905, but New Britain also mandated via injunction that all third rail service end by 8/1/1906 due to public safety

Albany Southern RR (NY) Albany – Hudson NY – third rail 37 miles + 2 miles overhead in Hudson, NY – ended 12/21/29

Central California Traction – third rail Stockton-Sacramento, 1200 volts, passenger service ended 2/4/33 with electric freight until 12/24/47, and the line in still in operation with diesel freight.

Key System (Key Route) Bridge Units travelling over the Oakland Bay Bridge between San Francisco’s East Bay Terminal (now TransbayTerminal) and West Oakland utilized 600v third rail pickup while on the bridge. Off the bridge, the articulated cars used pantograph pick-up. They lasted until 1958, with some of the Bridge Units going to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
I noticed that the Key was tucked in under Sacramento Northern on your list above on my second pass. The Key was an independent private company not linked to SN or SP.

The New Haven Railroad was going to run commuter service on it’s Main Line utilizing the outer two tracks which would have been divided from the two middle “high speed” tracks by fence. Their Nantasket Beach service was going to be the prototype for this expanded service. This early electrification was probably the reason for the underground loop at Boston’s South Station, and never came to pass.

Baltimore & Hamden (Md.) used center 3rd rail for a short time in the mid ’80s, but it was soon replaced by real horses.
I think this was before Hamden became part of the City of Baltimore.

I don’t think that Southern Pacific – Interurban Electric Rwy. used 3rd rail shoes. I think they used the 1,200 Volt catenary across the Bay Bridge.

Don’t forget the Altantic City & Shore, which used third rail where operating on trackage rights over the PSRL.

As far as the Bay Bridge goes, although the Key System trains ran until 1958, the other two lines to use the bridge discontinued service in 1941, just a few years after the bridge was built. The SN used the 600v third rail to cross the bridge to slow them down, as they used 1200v catenary elsewhere. The IER cars never used the third rail, but had 1200v catenary over the bridge for just that short time span, if I’m correct. Even so, they were very heavy and much slower than the other two lines.
In Michigan, in addition to the lines I mentioned, was the Grand Rapids, Grand Haven & Muskegon Railway. It ran on third rail (except in the cities) from Grand Rapids to Muskegon, with a branch to Grand Haven. This was a sister line to the L&WV, also financed by Westinghouse. Not sure of the mileage, but it quit on 4/18/28.
There was also the Baltimore & Hampden (MD), which used 3rd rail, but I can find very little documentation about that line.

What about Staten Island Rapid Transit? Even though it’s under the MTA NY City Transit umbrella now, and operates using modified R44 subway cars, it’s technically part of the national rail network and was owned for years (and electrified) by the Baltimore & Ohio.

Giving this long dormant topic a “bump”, I was recently rereading “The Electric Interurban Railways In America” by Hilton and Due and found the following brief entry on a New York State line named the “Keeseville, Ausable Chasm and Lake Champlain Railroad”:

“In 1890 this little road (6 miles) was opened to connect Keeseville, center of a resort area, with the main line of the Delaware & Hudson Railroad at Port Kent. It was electrified in 1905 with a third rail-probably the smallest third-rail line in America. The electrification was removed in 1911, but the railroad survived until 1924.”

Are there any I have missed?


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