After I wrote about the NWP’s Escalle Station in yesterday’s blog it dawned on me that I had maybe jumped the gun …. How many people know of the Marin County Interurban Electric Service? I did not write the next piece ….. it appeared in the Marin Magazine of August 2011 and was written by Jim Wood. It succinctly tells the Service’s story.
“Mass Transit in Marin?
For nearly 40 years, electric-powered “interurban trains” connected the county
Think about it: A clean and green, electric-powered rail system with stations in Fairfax, San Rafael, Mill Valley and San Anselmo, all connecting to a terminal in Sausalito where commuters could take a ferry into San Francisco. Its only sound was a low moaning air whistle. As for the electric power that made this train silent? That came from the High Sierras via 150 miles of transmission line that was, at the time, the world’s longest.
With minimal fanfare and the utmost of confidence, the Northwestern Pacific Railroad’s interurban electric cars began operating on August 16, 1903. So what went wrong? The railroad’s formula lacked one key ingredient: people. At the onset, Marin had but 16,000 residents, and by the mid-1930s the county’s population was only 41,000. In addition, by then most Marin households owned at least one automobile. “At best, no more than 20,000 fares — perhaps representing 10,000 people — were collected in a single day,” writes historian Harre W. Demoro in Electric Railway Pioneer (Interurban Press, 1983).
The death knell came on May 28, 1937, when cars, driven mostly by commuters, began traversing the Golden Gate Bridge into the city. Sadly, Marin County’s last interurban electric train ran on February 28, 1941.”
What did the trains look like? Here’s a few of the pics I have culled from the net to date.
NWP interurban 386, arrived from Sausalito, unloads from the front platform special express shipments at Mill Valley Depot, October 1939. 386 was the last of 12 motors and 7 trailers bought new in 1930. It had only 11 years of service until abandonment in 1941, after which it was transformed to Pacific Electric as No. 4511.
Northwestern Pacific electric train at Ross Station on its southbound run to the ferry terminal at Sausalito. This is 1938 and the system had less than three years more to operate. The steel electric cars got their power from a “third rail” beside the tracks (under the board covers on both sides of the fence).
NWP electric passenger motor 383 at High School Station near Mill Valley, July 1937. St. Louis Car Co. 1930. Electric 3rd rail this side of car. Mill Valley Branch electric trains quit on 9/30/40 and the entire NWP interurban system serving San Rafael, San Anselmo and Manor was abandoned 2/28/41.