Getting You Where You’re Going
By Jackson Turner
Senior Times Staff
PARAGON CITY, April 6 — Perry Cooper, 67, had been a railway conductor, engineer, inspector and supervisor for the Paragon Transit Authority (PTA) for over forty years. Retired in 2002, he’s writing a book chronicling the history of Paragon City’s transit system—a history that dovetails neatly with that of his own family. “I’ve been a train enthusiast since I was about 4,” he says. “My dad was an engineer on the old Red Line and his dad was with the Paragon Rail Company. It’s been a family vocation since the Civil War.” When asked if any of his children are in the train business, Mr. Cooper shakes his head and smiles. “I do have a son, but he has no interest in trains. He’s a hero. Calls himself Iron Horse. Fighting crime is what he does best. Maybe it’s the start of a new family tradition.”
Today’s PTA is a fully automated and computer controlled transit system utilizing the latest in light rail technology. The precursor of the PTA, the Rhode Island Horsecar Company, used horse drawn railcars 140 years ago. “It was a step up from the omnibus (traditional horse drawn cars),” says Mr. Cooper. “While the omnibus could go anywhere in the city, the horsecar, by virtue of being on rails, could haul larger and heavier loads of passengers, and weather wasn’t an issue. Years later, of course, with the advent of electricity, horsecars were replaced by electric streetcars.” It was these early electrified rail lines, laid down throughout the city, that established many of the routes used today. “The oldest and most extensive line was called the Red Line simply because the cars were painted red. In time, the Red
Line would become the most widely used and famous of the three lines (Red, Yellow and Green) under the ownership of the Paragon Rail Company.”
While the evolution of Paragon City’s early transit system seems straightforward, it was not without its share of problems. Chiefly among the issues involved were the ownership rights of the lines (or portions thereof). Mr Cooper explains, “There was no central controlling entity before the formation of the Paragon Rail Company in 1912. City rail lines and cars were owned in part by private individuals or their companies, who proposed routes, funded construction and collected fees.”
In such an environment, corruption and graft were unfortunately very common. Fares were not regulated and competition for passengers was fierce. From 1880 to 1896 over a dozen companies claimed ownership over sections of the rail system. By the turn of the century, after years of intimidation, strikes, mergers and buyouts, three companies, the McQueen Red Line, the East Bay Green Line, and the South End Rail Company, would emerge as the predominate controllers of Paragon City’s transit system. It was only a matter of time before the competition between these three companies would turn openly violent, culminating in what became known as the South End Rail Riot of 1911.
Mr. Cooper’s grandfather was an engineer for the McQueen Red Line, which controlled roughly 1/3 of the line through central Paragon City. “It began on June 15, 1911, when the South End Rail Company, who owned both the southern commuter line and the Red Line through much of the city’s south side, attempted to seize control of over half of the line—starting with the section owned by McQueen.”
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The South End Rail Company’s plan was simple. Other companies had done it before but not on such a large scale. They would strike, refusing service on their controlling sections, and throw the city into turmoil. Transportation throughout the city—to and from the city as well—ground to a halt. Heated discussions between the line owners turned physical and spilled onto the streets, where rail company workers and outraged citizens joined in a rapidly escalating brawl that soon involved the city’s police and even federal troops. Dozens were either killed or injured. The end result of this tragedy was a blow not just for McQueen but for South End Rail as well. The General Court of Rhode Island passed the Railway Consolidation Act, which effectively ended private ownership of the rail lines and led to the creation of a single operating body known as the Paragon Rail Company (PRC).
At the time of its inception, the greatest challenge faced by the PRC was the consolidation of the three major rail lines—which had become an inefficient and tangled confusion of stations and sidings from years of private manipulation; extensions and detours could be bought by the highest bidder. A major redesign was the PRC’s first priority. Extraneous rail sections were dismantled or rerouted. Portions of each line were merged. From 1912 to 1922, the transit system was completely overhauled. The Red and Yellow Lines now served the inner city areas and the Green Line the outer. It’s this same design that can be seen on today’s PTA system.
The 1930s and 1940s brought another problem to the transit system—that of congestion and traffic due to the increased popularity of the automobile. “Many of the sections ran through heavily populated areas,” says Mr. Cooper. “My dad, who ran the Garment District section in Kings Row during the late 1930s, would complain endlessly about the traffic—the gridlock, you’d call it today—that these trains created.” A special commission was created in 1940 to investigate possible solutions to the problem. After much discussion, including serious consideration of creating a subway system—a consideration suddenly rejected after special (and mysterious) input from Statesman—a commission member named Harold T. Bradbury, a former Chicago transit supervisor, suggested an elevated system. On September 4, 1941, the commission voted unanimously to recommend an elevated railway. Unfortunately, the recommendation was shelved due to the events of December 7. It was not until late 1946 that the recommendation was resubmitted and finally approved by the city.
“The idea was to keep the established routes, wherever feasible, but to raise the rails up above the streets,” says Mr. Cooper. By 1951, the new elevated rail system was in place and with it a revamped Paragon Rail Company—now renamed the Paragon Transit Authority. “By the time I came on board in 1958,” says Mr. Cooper, “the PTA was operating one of the most efficient transit systems in the country. A year later we became a partner with the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA).”
The 1950s and 1960s saw modifications to each line. The Green Line added Eastgate and Independence Port to its schedule. Part of the Red Line through Skyway City was transferred to the Yellow Line. It was
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also during this time period that the PTA became very interested in the monorail system—the ALWEG monorail was just then being implemented in Sweden with plans to include a system at Disneyland by 1959. After the success of Seattle’s ALWEG system, created for the World’s Fair in 1962, the PTA recommended a limited trial run to be established on the Red Line. On October 12, 1964, the Red Line’s first monorail cars began their service. The public’s reaction was loud and clear—the cars were faster, more comfortable and quieter than any train they had ever ridden. The PTA was encouraged. The monorail cars were efficient, low maintenance, and cost effective. Ridership reached a high not seen since the early 1940s. By 1970 all three lines had been converted to the monorail system—a system that has served Paragon City well to this day.
“By the time I was a supervisor in 1980,” Mr. Cooper says, “The lines were well established; our carrying capacities were exceeding expectations, our scheduling metrics for on-times were nearly perfect. The PTA was operating an exceptional rail service and that reputation was maintained for over twenty years.”
May 23, 2002 changed all that. The Rikti knew exactly what they were doing. The city’s major transportation systems were among the first targets. “They hit all the lines,’ remembers Mr. Cooper. “But the most devastated line was the Red. It was the Red Line that channeled many of the reinforcements into the inner city battle zones. The Rikti took out over 70% of that line. Most of the casualties, both civilian and hero, that we had occurred on the Red Line—the ‘Hero Line’ as we called it at the time.”
After the invasion, the PTA decided to incorporate what was left of the Red Line into the Yellow Line. “It was felt that we needed to get the system back up as fast as possible and having the Yellow Line take over the devastated sections of the Red Line was the real solution. It was a tough call but it had to be made.”
If you look at the trains running throughout the city, you’ll notice that they all have a Red Line designation. “It’s to honor that great old line,” say Mr. Cooper. “It’s so we never forget.”
Today, the PTA stands as one of the best transit systems in the country. Whether transporting heroes on their way to a mission or civilians to their homes, the PTA has a record of efficiency and safety second to none. As their motto says: “We get you where you’re going.”