The Interurban Railways

A big red interurban car grumbled past.--The Big Sleep, Chapter 4

I turned the car and slid down a slope with a high bluff on one side, interurban tracks to the right, a low straggle of lights far off beyond the tracks, and then very far off a glitter of pier lights and a haze in the sky over a city.--The Big Sleep, Chapter 23

A Pacific Electric Railway Car

Beginning in 1911, when developer Henry E. Huntington consolidated several smaller railways into one company, the "big red cars" of Pacific Electric Railway provided street car service for the greater Los Angeles area. The rail lines ran outward from downtown, connecting the central business district with outlying residential areas. Fare on most lines was a nickel.

The Pacific Electric's business peaked around World War I, when it was the largest streetcar system of any American city. Soon, cars and motorized buses began competing against it. Profits declined throughout the 1920s and the Depression. The company began abandoning unprofitable lines in the 1930s, and by the time Chandler was writing his novels the system was used by only a small percentage of the city's residents. (This decline is reflected in Marlowe's repeated descriptions of abandoned tracks.) The Hollywood line ceased operation in 1955, and the last Pacific Electric car was retired in 1963.

For more information: The Pacific Electric Page from The Electric Railway Historical Association of Southern California