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Red Cars

Pacific Electric Railway, Red Car, Whittier Museum

Front end of Pacific Electric Railway "Red Car," in exhibit at the Whittier Museum. Los Angeles Almanac photo.

During the first half of the 20th Century, the Los Angeles area was crisscrossed by more than 1,100 miles of track carrying passengers on Pacific Electric Railway Red Cars. These cars, powered by overhead electrical cables, were so-named for their red color (downtown railcars were painted yellow). Passengers could travel the line between the San Fernando Valley and Long Beach and as far as Redlands and Newport Beach.

The Red Cars served most of the Greater Los Angeles Area, however, between Downtown L.A. and the rest of the city of Los Angeles, riders were primarily served by the Yellow Cars of the Los Angeles Railway Corporation, also known as LARy. The Yellow Cars were never as celebrated as the Red Cars, but LARy transported more than twice the number of passengers.

Pacific Electric Railway

Opening day, July 4, 1902, for Pacific Electric Railway line in Long Beach, in the California Historical Society Collection at USC Library.

Map of Pacific Electric Railway routes, 1912. Prepared by D.W. Pontius, in the collection of UCLA Library.

As automobiles became more plentiful, the Red Car era drew to a close with only a brief resurgence in ridership during World War II. By the early 1950s, the automobile had become the dominant means of transportation in Southern California. Control of red car lines ended in the hands of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority in 1958. By 1959, only the Los Angeles to Long Beach trolley line still operated. That line ceased operations on April 8, 1961.

Pacific Electric Railway, Red Cars, Terminal Island

Junked Red Cars stacked at a scrap yard in Terminal Island in 1956. Photo from the L.A. Times Photographic Collection at UCLA Library.

Also see: Electrical Railway Historical Association of Southern California