University of Arizona

A History of Tucson's Street Cars

A History of Tucson's Street Cars

Sun Link Tucson Streetcar service kicks off this week connecting downtown, 4th Ave and the University of Arizona, providing another public transportation alternative. However, streetcars are not a new idea in Tucson. Since 1897, Tucson has used street cars to move people through the business and residential areas near downtown and the University of Arizona. 

While several attempts to create a street car line had been made beginning in the 1880s, it wasn’t until the University of Arizona was established that lines were implemented for both downtown and the University. In 1897 the first horse/mule drawn streetcar was introduced in Tucson. While electric lines were common by this time, inadequate power supply and higher cost convinced the Tucson Street Railway Company to use horse/mule drawn cars. Routes expanded through town and eventually 10 cars were in use by 1906. Bought by Tucson Rapid Transit Company, electric streetcars were installed and in 1906 a ceremonial procession retiring the horse/mule drawn streetcars occurred on June 1. The new electric streetcars ran until December 31, 1930 when they were replaced by buses. A fundraising campaign tied to the University of Arizona Centennial celebration brought back the streetcar and it was operated by Old Pueblo Trolley from 1993 to 2011 when it closed for the construction of the modern streetcar. The opening of the Sun Link Tucson Streetcar will be the continuation of 100 years of streetcar service in Tucson.

To find out more information about horse/mule drawn and electric streetcars in Tucson see UA online book exhibit Hooves & Rails: A History Of The Tucson Street Railway (1897-1906) by W. Eugene Caywood in collaboration with Keith Glaab and more about Sun Link can be found at http://www.sunlinkstreetcar.com/.

View from the Arizona State Museum of the electric streetcar travelling down University Boulevard, 1929