The Passenger Train in the Motor Age

California’s Rail and Bus Industries, 1910–1941

Gregory Lee Thompson

Historical Perspectives on Business Enterprise



248 pp. 6x9

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In his insightful study, Gregory Lee Thompson examines the demise of passenger trains and the rise of buses in California and demonstrates that railroad management's shortsighted response to the growing use of automobiles contributed to its own decline.

After peaking about 1910, the use of intercity passenger trains rapidly gave way to the onslaught of the automobile. For the next three decades, railroad managers tried, but failed, to adapt the passenger train to the new competition. Although previous studies have suggested that regulation and a conspiracy between rail and bus management played a significant role in the decline of the industry, Thompson reaches a different conclusion. Focusing on the California operations of two major railroads and the largest intercity bus company in the United States, he demonstrates that railroad management failed to accurately assess the demand for its service and the costs of providing it. According to Thompson, railroad management's faulty planning and its misleading accounting system eventually did the passenger train in, while the superior corporate planning within bus companies led to their success.

Based on previously unseen data, The Passenger Train in the Motor Age offers an illuminating portrait of a critical time in railroad history.

Gregory Lee Thompson is assistant professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Florida State University and is the author of several articles about rail and bus management and urban transit planning.