Los Angeles Electric Railway
LARy logo.jpg
LocaleLos Angeles, California and its suburbs
Transit typeStreetcar
Number of lines25
Began operation1895
Ended operation1958 (ceded to LAMTA)
1963 (rail operations ceased)
Operator(s)Los Angeles Railway
Reporting marksLARy
Track gauge3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm)
Electrification600 V DC overhead line[1]
Map (Interactive version)

Los Angeles Railway (Yellow Cars streetcars).svg

The Los Angeles Railway (also known as Yellow Cars, LARy and later Los Angeles Transit Lines) was a system of streetcars that operated in Central Los Angeles and surrounding neighborhoods between 1895 and 1963. The system provided frequent local services which complemented the Pacific Electric "Red Car" system's largely commuter-based interurban routes. The company carried many more passengers than the Red Cars, which served a larger and sparser area of Los Angeles.

Cars operated on 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) narrow gauge tracks,[2] and shared dual gauge trackage with the 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge Pacific Electric system on Main Street in downtown Los Angeles (directly in front of the 6th and Main terminal), on 4th Street, and along Hawthorne Boulevard south of Downtown Los Angeles toward the cities of Hawthorne, Gardena and Torrance.


Early years

Predecessor: The Los Angeles Consolidated Electric Railroad Company

The first electric railway in Los Angeles was built in 1887 to facilitate the sales of a real estate tract on Pico Street. The Los Angeles Electric Railway used the early Daft overhead system with a crude electric car and trailers. Though the real estate venture was successful, after an explosion in the power station, the Pico Street electric line closed, seemingly for good.

Los Angeles also had significant investments in cable technology. The Los Angeles Cable Railway (later named the Pacific Cable Railway) owned many exclusive franchises agreements to city streets and had constructed several major cable lines crisscrossing the growing downtown area, considered the latest word in cable railway technology.[3] But construction was expensive, legal and operating problems plagued the system, and new technological developments threatened to make the system obsolete.

Development of an effective electric transportation system based on the new Sprague-based technology began in earnest with the arrival in Los Angeles of Moses Sherman, his brother-in-law Eli P. Clark and San Francisco investors late in 1890. Sherman, originally a teacher from Vermont, had moved to the Arizona territory in 1874 where he was involved in business and civic affairs, real estate, and street railways.[4]

Sherman became interested in opportunities in Los Angeles after vacationing there in early 1890. He joined the efforts of a group attempting to resurrect the Second Street Cable Railway, but persuaded them to electrify the line instead. He acquired the line in October, 1890 and renamed it The Belt Line Railroad Company.[3]

Sherman created an Arizona corporation called the Los Angeles Consolidated Electric Railway Company (LACE) on November 12, 1890 with Sherman as President and Clark as General Manager. Frederick Eaton was chosen as Chief Engineer. The firm was incorporated in Arizona because it had certain advantages over California incorporation.[5]

In the fall of 1890, the so-called 5-block law was passed, which enabled a street railway company to use another company's rails for up to five city blocks. This would help Sherman immensely with his plans for LACE.[3]

Sherman and Clark began work immediately. In 1891 alone, they accomplished the following:[6][3]

Pacific Railway’s problems were such that the company was thrown into receivership in 1891, with James F. Crank appointed as receiver.[3]

Los Angeles Consolidated Electric streetcar  at Pico Heights, decorated for Washington's Birthday, c. 1892.
Los Angeles Consolidated Electric streetcar at Pico Heights, decorated for Washington's Birthday, c. 1892.

In 1892, they electrified the Depot Line, and opened it on August 1.

They also started a line up North Spring and North Broadway Streets, but were forced to build a bridge over the Los Angeles River and Santa Fe rails, which postponed the opening of the line to East Los Angeles (Eastlake Park) until September 26, 1893.[4]

The growth of the electric lines put severe pressure on the Pacific Cable Railway, which also faced other difficulties. The two rail companies began negotiations to possibly combine in August, 1892.[3] On October 4, 1893, the sale of the Pacific Cable Railway was completed, and LACE acquired all of the assets, including their cable and horsecar lines.[7] LACE was now the largest street railway operator in Los Angeles, owning about 90% of all lines.[8]

In 1894, Sherman and Clark began an inter-urban line between LA and Pasadena, The Los Angeles and Pasadena Railway, and acquired all the street railways in Pasadena.[8] But in 1895, Sherman and Clark faced difficulties themselves. In April, 1894 LACE missed a scheduled bond payment.[9] The bondholders, unhappy with Sherman and Clark management and their attention to their new interurban railway, secured control of the company. Sherman managed to retain 49% of the outstanding stock, but he and Clark no longer had any management responsibilities.[10] The bondholders created a new corporation called the Los Angeles Railway (LARy) and March 23, 1895 LARy acquired all of LACE’s assets, except for the Los Angeles and Pacific Railway and the Pasadena street railways.[4][8]

The new management purchased new cars began converting all the existing horsecar and cable lines to electricity, a task completed by June, 1896.[4]

LARy 1898 Route Map
LARy 1898 Route Map

The system was purchased by railroad and real estate tycoon Henry E. Huntington in 1898. At its height, the system contained over 20 streetcar lines and 1,250 trolleys, most running through the core of Los Angeles and serving such neighborhoods as Crenshaw, West Adams, Leimert Park, Exposition Park, Echo Park, Westlake, Hancock Park, Vernon, Boyle Heights and Lincoln Heights.


Los Angeles Railway route map (cover), 1942
Los Angeles Railway route map (cover), 1942

The system was sold in 1944 by Huntington's estate to American City Lines, Inc., of Chicago, a subsidiary of National City Lines, a holding company that was purchasing transit systems across the country.[11] The sale was announced December 5, 1944, but the purchase price was not disclosed.[12] National City Lines, along with its investors that included Firestone Tire, Standard Oil of California (now Chevron Corporation) and General Motors, were later convicted of conspiring to monopolize the sale of buses and related products to local transit companies controlled by National City Lines and other companies[n 1] in what became known as the General Motors streetcar conspiracy. National City Lines purchased Key System, which operated streetcars systems in Northern California, the following year.

The company was renamed as Los Angeles Transit Lines.[13] The new company introduced 40 new ACF-Brill trolley buses which had originally been intended for the Key System streetcar system in Oakland which was being converted by National City Lines to buses in late 1948.

Many lines were converted to buses in the late 1940s and early 1950s.[13]

Public ownership and finale

The last remaining lines were taken over by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (a predecessor to the current agency, The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro)) along with the remains of the Pacific Electric Railway in 1958. The agency removed the remaining five streetcar lines (J, P, R, S and V) and two trolley bus lines (2 and 3), replacing electric service with diesel buses after March 31, 1963.[14]

List of routes

This section may require cleanup to meet Wikipedia's quality standards. The specific problem is: Line names changed routings several times over the history of the railway's operation, which are not reflected here. Please help improve this section if you can. (March 2021) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Map of the post-1921 numbered routes
Map of the post-1921 numbered routes

Rolling stock

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Unit #1407, one of 250 streetcars built for the LARy by the St. Louis Car Company, turns up Marmion Way. The air-operated folding doors were added in the 1930s to permit one-man operation.
Unit #1407, one of 250 streetcars built for the LARy by the St. Louis Car Company, turns up Marmion Way. The air-operated folding doors were added in the 1930s to permit one-man operation.

Beginning in 1937, Los Angeles Railway began purchasing PCC streetcars to replace the old rolling stock on lines which were too popular to convert to bus operations.[15]

Many cars were simply scrapped after service ended. In 1956, 41 Type H-4 cars were sent to Seoul and Pusan, South Korea as part of an aid program.[1]


The railway was well known for its distinctive yellow streetcars.[15][16] Initially cars had a two-tone yellow paint scheme with a lighter shade for the roof.[16] Under NCL a three-color "fruit salad" scheme was adopted, with a yellow body, a white roof, and a sea-foam green midsection.[15]

See also


  1. ^ a b Walker 2007
  2. ^ "The Street Railway Journal". McGraw. April 9, 1904. Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Swett 1951, p. 35
  4. ^ a b c d Post 1989, p. 29
  5. ^ Post 1989, p. 105.
  6. ^ Swett 1962, p. 3.
  7. ^ Post 1989, p. 120.
  8. ^ a b c Swett 1951, p. 36.
  9. ^ Post 1989, p. 128.
  10. ^ Post 1989, p. 129.
  11. ^ "Finding Aid for the Los Angeles Railway Corporation Legal Records and Correspondence". Archived from the original on 2021-03-01. Retrieved 2012-11-19. the controlling interest remained part of the Huntington estate until 1945 when the Fitzgerald Brothers purchased those shares. LARy became part of the National City Lines, was renamed the Los Angeles Transit Lines, and eventually the streetcars were phased out, replaced by motor buses.
  12. ^ "Chicago Firm Buys L. A. Streetcar Line". The San Bernardino Daily Sun. Vol. 51. San Bernardino, California. 6 December 1944. p. 5. icon of an open green padlock
  13. ^ a b "Book Review: Los Angeles Railway Yellow Cars". Archived from the original on 2013-08-13. Retrieved 2010-10-26. By the end of World War II, the Huntington estate sold its majority interest to Chicago-based National City Lines. LARY became the Los Angeles Transit Lines, and bigger changes were in store. Many lines were converted to bus operation through the late forties and fifties. Never mind that NCL was partially owned by bus, tire, and gasoline suppliers. Though Federal antitrust action was taken against NCL, the damage was already done. Los Angeles was officially in love with the automobile.
  14. ^ "Vintage Photos of the Last Day of the LA Yellow Car | Untapped Cities". 4 February 2013. Archived from the original on 26 November 2020. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  15. ^ a b c "No.1080 Los Angeles Transit Lines". Market Street Railway. Archived from the original on 23 January 2021. Retrieved 23 January 2021.
  16. ^ a b "No.1052 Los Angeles Railway". Market Street Railway. Archived from the original on 23 January 2021. Retrieved 23 January 2021.


  • Post, Robert C. (1989). Street Railways and the Growth of Los Angeles. San Marino, CA: Golden West Books. ISBN 0-87095-104-1.
  • Swett, Ira (1951). Los Angeles Railway; Interurbans Special #11. Los Angeles, CA: Interurban Press.
  • Swett, Ira (1962). Los Angeles Railway Pre-Huntington Cars 1890-1902; Interurbans Special #22. Los Angeles, CA: Interurban Press.
  • Walker, Jim (2007). Los Angeles Railway Yellow Cars. Arcadia Publishing Library Editions. ISBN 978-1531629410.


Further reading

  • Bottles, Scott (1991). Los Angeles and the Automobile: The Making of the Modern City. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-07395-9.
  • Copeland, P. Allen (2002). California Trolleys In Color, Volume 1: San Diego and Los Angeles. Scotch Plains, NJ: Morning Sun Books, Inc. ISBN 1-58248-076-1.
  • Easlon, Steven L. (1973). Los Angeles Railway Through the Years. Anaheim, CA: Easlon Publications.
  • Fogelson, Robert (1967). The Fragmented Metropolis Los Angeles: 1850-1930. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
  • Freidricks, William B. (1992). Henry Huntington and the Creation of Southern California. Columbus, OH.: Ohio University Press. ISBN 0-8142-0553-4.
  • Hendricks, William O. (1971). Moses Sherman: A Pioneer Developer of the Pacific Southwest. Corona Del Mar, CA: The Sherman Foundation.
  • Longstreth, Richard (1997). City Center to Regional Mall: Architecture, the Automobile, and Retailing in Los Angeles, 1920-1950. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
  • Moreau, Jeffrey (1964). The Los Angeles Railway Pictorial. Los Angeles, CA: Pacific Bookwork.
  • Perry, Louis B. & Richard S. Perry (1963). A History of the Los Angeles Labor Movement, 1911-1941. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.
  • Post, Robert C. (September 1970). "The Fair Fare Fight: An Episode in Los Angeles History". Southern California Quarterly. Historical Society of Southern California. 52 (3): 275–298. doi:10.2307/41170300. JSTOR 41170300.
  • Sitton, Tom (2005). Los Angeles Transformed: Fletcher Bowron's Urban Reform Revival, 1938-1953. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.
  • Sitton, Tom (1992). John Randolph Haynes; California Progressive. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • Squier, Gerald (October 2013). "Los Angeles Railway". Motor Coach Age. Motor Bus Society.
  • Squier, Gerald (January 2015). "Los Angeles Transit Lines". Motor Coach Age. Motor Bus Society.
  • Stimson, Grace Heliman (1955). Rise of the Labor Movement in Los Angeles. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  • Swett, Ira (1952). Los Angeles Railway All-time Roster; Interurbans Special #12. Los Angeles, CA: Interurban Press.
  • Swett, Ira (1964). Die Day In LA; Interurbans Special #35. Los Angeles, CA: Interurban Press.
  • Thorpe, James (1994). Henry Edwards Huntington: A Biography. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520082540.
  • Walker, Jim (1977). The Yellow Cars of Los Angeles. Glendale, CA: Interurban Press. ISBN 0-916374-25-4.
  • Walker, Jim (2007). Images of Rail Series: Los Angeles Railway Yellow Cars. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing.
  • Wilson, Jane (1990). Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Lawyers: An Early History. Torrance, CA: Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.