One hundred and twenty-five years ago, in 1892, the first electric trolleys began to roll across the streets of Philadelphia. They replaced the horse-drawn carts that had preceded them as the predominant method of public transportation in the city since 1858 under various private companies that first webbed the city with iron rails.
On Friday, SEPTA leaders and transportation enthusiasts celebrated that history with the debut of a specially-wrapped trolley that will celebrate the 125th anniversary of trolleys in Philadelphia for the next year.
The special anniversary trolley is now in service on Routes 11, 13, 34 and 36.
This special holiday trolley was unveiled by SEPTA Assistant GM of Operations Scott Sauer and Heinle Assistant General Manager of Customer Service & Advocacy Kim Scott Heinle on Friday, Dec. 15 at the Elmwood District depot in Southwest Philly near the 73rd street station at a celebration attended by members of the Authority's Citizens Advisory Council and Youth Advisory Council.
At the time the tunnel connecting West Philly and Center City was opened in 1905, the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company controlled nearly 4,000 cars on 86 subway and trolley routes and 678 miles of track, according to SEPTA trolley historian Roger DuPuis II. The streetcars were named trolleys due to how they “trolled” along overhead wires, he says.
As of 1946, the fleet included some 1,900 trolley cars, which carried more than 600 million riders a year. But in the 1950s trolleys began to be phased out in favor of buses.
Today, electric trolleys still serve SEPTA commuters on Routes 10, 11, 13, 15, 34 & 36.