The History of AMTRAN
Altoona & Logan Valley Electric Railway Company
On July 4, 1882, the first public transportation system for the city of Altoona began operation. Starting with $40,000 in company capital, the "City Passenger Railway Company of Altoona, PA" opened business with 18 horse cars. The company operated horse cars from a car barn and stable at First Street down Chestnut Avenue and Eleventh Avenue, across from the 17th Street Bridge, and up Eighth Avenue to Seventh Street, a 3.5 mile trip requiring 72 minutes.
Due to the expense of the horses' feed and general care, the mode of power was switched to electric in 1891. In 1892 the Altoona & Logan Valley Electric Railway Company was developed with 18 electric cars. The advent of electric cars allowed for the development of suburban property. Passengers no longer needed to live within walking distance of their jobs.
During this period, the company began a pattern of sustained growth that would continue for approximately 40 years. In 1893, the service was expanded to Hollidaysburg. The following year, service was extended to Bellwood, expanding the total area to nearly 20 miles. The electric railway company developed Lakemont Park and began its operation in 1894. By 1894 smaller companies had developed to provide services in Hollidaysburg, Bellwood, and Tyrone. At that time, the average motormen and conductors earned about 12.5 cents an hour.
With construction of a route along Sixth Avenue to 58th Street in the Eldorado neighborhood in 1906, the Altoona trolley system was completed. The line comprised nearly 54 miles of track, mostly single-tracked with passing sidings but with double track on the main route of travel of Hollidaysburg through Altoona's Central Business District and on to Juniata. Much of this route was on private right-of-way with both tracks on the same side of the road.
By 1907, several of the smaller companies merged together. The "other railroad," as they were nicknamed, had a total of 91 cars. Within 10 years, demand for service had grown to the point that the service was making customer stops every five minutes from 5:30 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. As ridership increased, so did the number of employees, cars, and buildings. Most of the property was located along Sixth Avenue in Altoona between the former Country Garden Market and Roaring River Mills. By 1918 the operation spanned nearly 55 miles, operated 105 motor cars and another 14 trailer cars.
The growth of the company had an influence on the development of the city of Altoona. Altoona Suburban Company, Inc. promoted their property in the suburbs. Due to the availability of street car service, the city of Altoona was able to establish and enlarge the residential areas around Logan Boulevard, Mansion Park, and Plank Road.
In June of 1923, the Logan Valley Electric Railway Company incorporated to become the Logan Valley Bus Company. One month later the first bus ran on the pleasant Valley Route. The fare for a railway car was seven cents while the fee for the bus was ten cents. During this period, employees of the Pennsylvania Railroad were the company's major customers. Hundreds of employees arriving for work would depart from the buses while railroad workers completing their shift would crowd onto the buses and head home. Because the PRR shops worked around the clock, the street railway provided all-night service; once an hour to Hollidaysburg, once an hour on an Eldorado-East Juniata route that only ran at night, and once every 90 minutes to Tyrone. There was another special owl car designated "City Night Car via Juniata" that ran every 40 minutes.
By the 1930's, several factors, including the advancement of the automobile and bus, severely impacted the company. By 1934, the number of street cars decreased to 67. In 1937, the company lost the Bellwood route when a flood destroyed a bridge on that line.
The company did make a strong comeback in the early 1940s due to the outbreak of World War II. Gas rationing plus the heavy wartime demands on the Pennsylvania Railroad's construction and repair plant brought unprecedented traffic and property to the Altoona & Logan Valley. In 1943, the few hundred shareholders received a dividend of $5 per share, the largest ever paid by the company. In 1946, more than 15 million passengers were carried, and in 1947 figures were slightly higher. However, by the late 1940s, ridership again declined as automobiles and gasoline became plentiful. By 1950, the coverage area had decreased to about 25 miles.
After 63 years of service, the Altoona & Logan Valley Electric Railway Company's last trolley run occurred on August 7, 1954. In December of 1956, the Altoona & Logan Valley Electric Railway announced that it had filed with the Public Utilities Commission to terminate bus service and cease operation on March 31, 1957 due to ongoing operating losses.
In order to protect public interest, on May 27, 1958, the city of Altoona and Logan Township voted to create the first public transportation authority in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Transportation & Motor Buses for Public Use Authority. This new authority took over the public bus operation from Logan Valley on November 1, 1959. From 1958 through 1977, the authority was generally known as the Altoona & Logan Valley Bus Authority.
In 1977 the Bus Authority adopted the business name of AMTRAN (for Altoona Metro Transit). AMTRAN is celebrating its 60th Anniversary in 2018.