While doing some research on Washtenaw County, Michigan, for my next book - The Rainy Day Murders - I came across an interesting tidbit of history about the Ypsi-Ann trolley which linked the campus of Michigan State Normal College in Ypsilanti with the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor some nine miles away.
This early mass transit service was popular, and at its height served approximately 600 people a day. Trains operated every ninety minutes at an average speed of eight miles per hour. The original fare was a thin dime. Despite frequent breakdowns and delays in its schedule, the line got plenty of use from U of M students, who were mostly young men--and from the Normal College students, who were mostly young women. It was said that on the weekends, a rough parity was achieved.
Established in 1889, this extension of Detroit's longer Interurban line was steam powered. Because Ypsilanti's population could not support its own streetcar system, a seven and a half mile line was built the following year connecting Ypsilanti's downtown with the outskirts of Ann Arbor. Ypsi-Ann trolley owners petitioned the Ann Arbor Common Council to extend the line into the city. The steam powered engine was designed to look like a street car on wheels, so it would not scare the horses. It could haul as many as four trailers.
But Ann Arbor residents opposed the noisy and dirty steam locomotives. Arrangements were made with the Ann Arbor Street Railway Company for its cleaner and quieter electric cars to meet the Ypsi-Ann at the city limits and transfer passengers. In November of 1896, the Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor route was fully electrified opening a direct connection between the cities without a transfer.
The trolley service continued to operate until 1929. As the trolley made horses obsolete, cars and bus service made the trolley obsolete. Most of the line's tracks were pulled up in World War II for scrap metal drives. It was believed all of the Ypsilanti tracks were removed, but in 2004, road construction crews found a stretch of track on Washington Street buried under the pavement.
Today, anyone who drives down Washtenaw Avenue can attest to the congested traffic between the cities. Too bad an old idea can't be made new again--or maybe it can. What about a solar powered mono-rail with electromagnets or some hybrid energy backup built over existing right of way?
America needs new technology. Why shouldn't Washtenaw County be the developmental center for a new age in transportation? Ann Arbor has the technical resources and Ypsi has the manufacturing facilities and know how. Create the new technology, build it in the old Ford plant, and ship it across the country and the world.
This could be the hottest commercial venture for the area since the development of the Ypsilanti union suit with the flap in the back--a well-known and sought after product across America in the nineteenth century. Look to the future.