Waco History: The Interurban Railway

By Terri Jo Ryan

Waco was a city on the move at the turn of the twentieth century, and its run into modernity was aided by the advent of the interurban electric railway.

Although Waco had other forms of mass transit since the days of the stagecoach, with first mule-hauled and then electrically-powered streetcars, it was the Texas Electric Railway that ultimately inherited the early rights-of-way to do business in the city, though several transit firms vied for traffic in its early days.

Citizen’s Railway Company, formed in 1877, used eighteen mule-drawn cars, and ten electric ones after 1891, to get commuters and shoppers where they needed to go until 1912. Southern Traction Company succeeded it, reconstructing tracks and adding extensions. Additionally, a streetcar company named Huaco Heights leased equipment from Citizen’s Railway Company and operated from 1913 to 1918, servicing the Huaco Heights real estate development.

It took John Frank Strickland, a man of vision and drive, to pull together the diverse elements to craft an efficient system. Strickland traveled to Texas by wagon train in 1878 from his native Alabama. He later went on to create the largest interurban rail system in the Southwest, with more than two hundred miles of track connecting commercial and cultural centers throughout the state.

Working his way up through plowing, cotton ginning, and then the grocery trade, Strickland became involved in electric power generation in Waxahachie in 1892. He later served as president of companies such as Texas Power & Light and Dallas Power & Light, positions he held until his death. Strickland and partners saw construction of interurban railroads as a complementary function of their power companies, and in 1908, a Strickland company began interurban service from Dallas to Sherman.

By 1911, Texas Traction operated seventy-seven miles of track from Dallas and Denison as well as local lines in Sherman, Denison, and McKinney. In 1912, interurban transportation from Dallas to Waxahachie began. The company extended the line to Waco in October of 1913, and absorbed streetcar lines in Waxahachie and Waco.

On New Year’s Day in 1917, Strickland merged Southern Traction Company and Texas Traction Company to create the Texas Electric Railway Company. The rail also served as the right-of-way for the electric power lines. Area drugstores and hotel lobbies sold tickets, offering different rates for children, clergy, and “excursion” groups. As ridership soared and business boomed, Strickland also won a postal contract to transport US mail, and employed a clerk to sort the letters and packages along the way.

The system’s usage peaked around 1920, when some 819,000 passengers rode the rails. The interurban’s decline began during the Great Depression, and the line started taking freight to make up for the loss of passenger revenue. Business rallied again during World War II, when gasoline shortages and rationing of rubber made rail travel more attractive than driving.

But after the war, the lure of private-car ownership and the development of better roads led to the system’s decline. The streetcar operations of Texas Electric Railway were sold to Waco Transit Company in 1946. As part of that sale, the streetcar continued to run from downtown to East Waco along the Texas Electric’s city track. But streetcar service ended when Texas Electric Railway ceased operations on December 31, 1948. Commuter service lasted for another year by the Texas Electric Bus System before being entirely phased out. Within days of the company’s closure, workers began pulling up tracks and taking down copper wire to sell off the assets and liquidate.

Remnants of the interurban railway remain visible in downtown Waco today. Pylons which once supported the interurban bridge as it spanned the Brazos River (noted on the Waco History map) offer a constant reminder of the interurban’s legacy of providing citizens with a convenient and economical means of transportation both throughout the city and the state.

Cite this Page

Terri Jo Ryan, “Interurban Railway,” Waco History, accessed January 4, 2018, http://www.wacohistory.org/items/show/117.

This post was first published in “Waco History.” Waco History is a mobile app and web platform that places the past at your fingertips! It incorporates maps, text, images, video, and oral histories to provide individuals and groups a dynamic and place-based tool to navigate the diverse and rich history of Waco and McLennan County. It is brought to you by the Institute for Oral History and Texas Collection at Baylor University.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.


On your way to 2018, don’t forget to recycle 2017!

By Anna Dunbar

Did you know Americans create 25% more trash during the holidays? All of the celebrations, with disposables, create more trash than usual.

This year, take a second out of your busy schedule, and put your gift-packing into your blue recycling cart.

1.  A Cardboard Reminder – It is important to remember that ALMOST ALL corrugated cardboard boxes are recyclable and should ALWAYS be placed at the curb with your blue recycling cart (not with your trash). It is helpful if you break-down boxes as flat as possible.  If you have too much recycling for your curbside cart, put the excess in one of the cardboard boxes!

DON’T FORGET…You can recycle:

  • Large Gift boxes (used for boxing clothing, etc.)
  • Small Gift boxes (used for boxing jewelry, etc.)
  • Any color packing boxes
  • Any color shipping boxes

Do NOT recycle boxes contaminated with food, such as delivery pizza.

2. Electronics – Did you get a new TV or computer and need to dispose of the old one? Take the television or other electronic item, along with your most recent Waco water bill, to the Cobbs Citizen Convenience Center (recycling center).

3. Live Christmas Tree – Don’t throw out your tree just yet! Keep Waco Beautiful has an awesome opportunity to recycle those lovely Christmas trees! Bring them out Saturday, January 6, 2018 from 10 AM – 3 PM to Paul Tyson Football Field and Keep Waco Beautiful, along with Waco Parks and Recreation, will mulch the trees for free! This service is for anyone, no matter where you live. You can also get a bag of mulch to take home with you. Waco residents can also take the tree to the Cobbs Citizen Convenience Center or leave it at the curb during green week.

4.  Need a second recycling cart? –  Waco residents can now have access to two blue curbside carts for no extra cost. Go to Waco-texas.com or call (254) 299-2612 to request a second recycling cart.

5. Glass Containers – Don’t forget that glass food or drink containers can be dropped off at the Cobbs Convenience Center for recycling by anyone, no matter where you live! Please do NOT put glass in your blue curbside recycling cart.

6. Got beautiful bags and bows??  – Have a bag swap with friends! It saves money and reuses a bag that has a lot of cheer left!

Thank you for all you do to Keep Waco Clean and Green!

Anna Dunbar is the Operations Administrator for the City of Waco Public Works. She is responsible for informing Waco residents and businesses about recycling and waste reduction opportunities as well as solid waste services in Waco. Her husband is a Baylor professor and her daughter is a graduate student at Baylor University. She is an active member of Keep Waco Beautiful and The Central Texas Audubon Society. If you would be interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org .