A Streetcar Named Desire

In 1946, soon after GM formed a partnership with Firestone Tire Corporation, Standard Oil of California, and the Mack Truck Co., Captain Edward J. Quinby mailed out a 36-page detailed letter to the public “outting” GM’s plan. “There is a carefully, deliberately planned campaign to swindle you out of your electric street cars system.” The Department of Justice took notice and brought GM to court but since there were no Anti-Trust laws on the books at that time, the government’s hands were tied. GM claimed the company’s partnerships had “no influence” on National City Lines decision to transition from street cars to buses. (See: General Motors streetcar conspiracy) Nonetheless, NCL and GM were found guilty of “conspiracy to monopolize local transit systems.” The penalty? A whopping $1 fine to the Chief Financial Officer who orchestrated the plan. The US Department of Justice would, to no avail, spend the next 25 years trying to keep the ever-expanding power of GM under control.


The Key System (or Key Route) was a privately owned company which provided mass transit in the cities of Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda[1], Emeryville, Piedmont, San Leandro, Richmond, Albany and El Cerrito in the eastern San Francisco Bay Area from 1903 until 1960, when the system was sold to a newly formed public agency, AC Transit.

The Key System consisted of local streetcar and bus lines operating solely in the East Bay, and a network of commuter rail and bus lines connecting cities and neighborhoods in the East Bay to San Francisco by way of a ferry pier extending out into San Francisco Bay, and later, via the lower deck of the Bay Bridge. At its height during the 1940s, the Key System had over 66 miles (106 km) of track that connected the communities of Richmond, Albany, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Leandro with each other and to San Francisco. The local streetcars were discontinued in 1948 and the commuter trains to San Francisco were discontinued in 1958. The Key System’s original territory is today served by BART and AC Transit bus service.

The Key System’s famed commuter train system was dismantled in 1958 after many years of declining ridership as well as the effort by National City Lines, a General Motors affiliate which had bought up the system in the late 1940s to petition the public utility board to abandon the last rail lines. In 1949, a Federal Court convicted General Motors, Standard Oil of California, Firestone Tire and others of criminally conspiring to monopolize the sale of buses and related products to their subsidiary transit companies throughout the U.S. They were fined $5,000.[4] State planners anxious to embrace California’s postwar love for the automobile also pushed to have the track across the Bay Bridge and street rights of way removed to increase highway and street capacity. Local governments in the East Bay attempted to purchase the Key System, but were unsuccessful. The last run for the Key System’s rail system was on April 20, 1958. In 1960, the newly-formed, publicly owned AC Transit took over the Key System’s facilities.

Most of the rolling stock was scrapped, and some of the rest sold and shipped off for operation in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Several streetcars, interurbans and bridge units were salvaged for collections in the United States. Of the large bridge units, three are at the Western Railway Museum near Rio Vista, California[5] while another is at the Orange Empire Railway Museum in southern California.

– wikipedia

2 thoughts on “A Streetcar Named Desire

  1. nes says:

    shit is crazy!

  2. AC Transit says:

    Great post. That is a history not commonly known. AC Transit’s You Tube page has a video, “Taken for a Ride” which documents this. Check it out at http://www.youtube.com/rideact

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