Trolleys In Pittsburgh Throughout the Years

Trolleys on Federal
 Street coming from the park.

Trolleys were the main form of transportation in Pittsburgh for over 100 years. The tracks of the West End Traction Company, Souther Traction Company, Monongahela Railways Company, Pittsburgh Railways Company and finally the Port Authority of Allegheny County, ran just about everywhere throughout the city and to the suburbs beyond. At the peak of the rail era, there were nearly 60,000 miles of track. Now only a few routes remain, using the new "T" light rail system.

Castle Shannon Boulevard.    Smithfield Street Bridge.

The rail network is still a convenient way to get around town, although they are no longer visible to pedestrians on the downtown streets. The tracks are now beneath the surface in the subway. For those who remember the above-ground tracks on Smithfield and Wood Streets, who can ever forget the site of the "Terrible Trolley", the Gateway Clipper Triple Treat, the Bicentenial "Spirit of America," the Mod Desire Psychedelic trolley or the one that looked like a Clark Bar on wheels.

The Mod Desire Psychedelic Trolley    The Pittsburgh Steeler's Terrible Trolley
The Mod Desire Psychedelic trolley and the Pittsburgh Steeler's Terrible Trolley.

Artwork by Doug Brendel.

Related Links

<Pittsburgh & Castle Shannon Railroad (1871-1912)>
<The Pittsburgh Railways South Hills Junction - 1904>
<South Hills Junction to Brookline Boulevard in 1912>
<Reconstruction of West Liberty Avenue in 1915>
<Reconstruction of Brookline Boulevard in 1935>
<A Short History on Trolleys in Pittsburgh>
<History of Pittsburgh Railways Company>
<Pittsburgh Railways Company Records>
<Pittsburgh Light Rail Photo Gallery>
<Pennsylvania Trolley Museum>
<Trolley Parks in Pittsburgh>
<The Skybus Project in the 1960s>
<The "T" Light Rail Transit System>
<Pittsburgh's Old Inclines>
<Streetcars In Brookline>

American Motor Coach Association of Pittsburgh
Transit History Links

<The Formation of PAT (1956-1964)>
<The Early Years At PAT (1964-1972)>
<Pittsburgh Area Transit History Index>

Photos Of Trolleys In And Around Pittsburgh

PRC#4817 in 1921.

Citizens Passenger Railway
East Liberty - 1859     Horse-Drawn Trolley - 1880s.

Horse-Drawn Trolley on Herron Hill.     PRC Trolley first used in 1896.

Citizens Traction Company Cable Car - 1889     Citizens Traction Company Cable Car - 1889

PRC Trolley in 1921.     PRC Trolley in Arlington.

PRC#4817 in 1921.

Bicentennial Trolley     Gateway Clipper Trolley

Pittsburgh Symphony Special     Mohawk Airlines Trolley

Chevrolet Trolley     Channel 53 Trolley

Clark Bar Trolley     U.S. Army Trolley

Trolley crossing the Smithfield Street Bridge
to Carson Street before heading to the junction

Channel 4 Action News Trolley     Spirit of America Trolley

Point Park College Trolley     Budweiser Trolley

Electro-Air Trolley     Allegheny County Fair Trolley

WW2 WAC Recruiting Trolley     WW2 Marine Recruiting Trolley

Trolley exiting the Trolley Tunnel
at the South Hills Junction.

Shannon-Library Trolley at Library Loop     Knoxville Trolley on Warrington Avenue

Allentown Trolley on Warrington Avenue     Shannon-Drake Trolley at Drake Loop

Neeld Ave Trolley on Broadway in Beechview     Library Trolley exiting South Hills Junction

Hamilton Trolley     South Hills Village Trolley

West Liberty Avenue in Mount Lebanon.



West View Trolley     Knoxville/Arlington Trolley


Mt. Washington Trolley

Shannon/Drake at South Hills Junction     Shannon/Drake at Drake Loop

Mt. Lebanon Trolley on Palm Garden Tressel     Dormont Trolley on Palm Garden Tressel

McKinley Bridge     Palm Garden Tressel

Trolley at Glenbury Street in Overbrook     Bausman Street Bridge

Sixth Avenue downtown - 1908

Trolley scales Arlington Avenue     Carrick Trolley on Brownsville Road

Trolleys at the entrance to West View Park.   Trolley at the entrance to Kennywood Park.

Brookline Trolley  Brookline Trolley

Brookline Trolley.  Brookline Trolley on West Liberty Avenue

Brookline Trolley at West Liberty Avenue ramp

Are They Called Streetcars Or Trolleys?

There is some debate over whether the proper term for the vehicles that ran the rails on Pittsburgh streets were called "Streetcars" or "Trolleys." The answer is ... both! The official answer might sound a bit strange:

A TRAM (also known as a tramcar; a streetcar or street car; and a trolley, trolleycar, or trolley car) is a rail vehicle which runs on tracks along public urban streets (called street running), and also sometimes on separate rights of way. Trams powered by electricity, which were the most common type historically, were once called electric street railways. Trams also included horsecar railways which were widely used in urban areas before electrification.

For a more detailed history of trams, visit Wikipedia (Trams).

An old Car Stop sign.
One of the old-time Car Stop signs that hung
along overhead wires around Pittsburgh.

A Short History On Trolley Service In The City Of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh's trolley history dates to the 1850s when the State Legislature passed a law allowing "motor power companies" to operate passenger railways by cable, electrical or other means. The first passenger service was a horse-drawn trolley that operated in East Liberty in 1859. Since then, the city has been at the forefront of trolley transportation.

Cable Trolley on Warrington Avenue in Allentown     Horse-drawn trolley in 1859 making
its way up Warrington Avenue.
A cable trolley in Allentown (left) and a horse-drawn trolley on Warrington Avenue in 1859.

JUNE 1887: Pittsburgh Traction Company constructs a cable line beginning at the foot of Fifth Avenue and running east along Shady, Penn and Highland Avenues, a distance of 5.5 miles. The line opens for passengers on September 12, 1889. Various cable lines operate in the City of Pittsburgh until 1897.

Brookline's Pothole to the Past.
The Pittsburgh Traction Company's cable line loop, located at
Fifth and Liberty Avenues in 1890.

THE LATE 1890's: The first electric line is constructed from South 13th and Carson streets to Knoxville Borough. That is followed by development of successful and consistent electric trolley service on the North Side and the South Side. In the ensuing years, competing lines are built by 190 trolley operators in the city. The wooden trolley cars have four wheels.

"It was really a hodgepodge," says Scott Becker, executive director of the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington, near the Meadowlands.

Rare Stock certificate - West End Traction Company    Rare Stock certificate - Consolidated Traction Company

Rare Stock certificate - Duquesne Traction Company

Rare Stock certificate - Pittsburgh,
Allegheny and Manchester Traction Company    Rare Stock certificate - Pittsburgh and
Allegheny Valley Traction Company

JANUARY 1, 1902: Pittsburgh Railways Company is formed as a result of several companies consolidating their operations. There are 1100 trolleys in operation along 400 miles of single track. Yearly ridership totals 178.7 million passengers with revenue of $6.7 million.

The standard turn-of-the-century streetcar has eight wheels, high steps and narrow doors. This makes traveling slow and cumbersome, particularly for women whose clothes don't allow them to negotiate the cars.

A map referencing the 1st and 2nd Wards in Brookline
A 1905 Freehold Real Estate advertisement that shows the new trolley line running to Brookline.

1912: Pittsburgh's trolley network is growing fast and the number of passengers increasing. Because of the over-crowded conditions during peak times, P.N. Jones, head of Pittsburgh Railways, leads the effort to produce a standard car. The city tries out double-decker cars. About a dozen were built between 1912 and 1924, but they never really catch on here.

Pittsburgh Railways Double Decker Trolley
Pittsburgh Railways Double-Decker.

1915: Pittsburgh Railways decides that the new, low-floor Jones Car, built in McKees Rocks, with its sloping floor is going to be its standard car. The company purchases 1000 of them between 1915 and 1927. The steel cars run on 600 volts of direct current and feature rattan seats, beautiful woodwork, windows that open and shaded light bulbs. The cars are well-received by the public.

The trolleys are painted orange but their color fades to yellow, prompting most people to call them yellow trolleys. They are used in Pittsburgh until the mid-1950s, when many trolleys are phased out in favor of buses.

In the ensuing years, Pittsburgh Railways experimented readily with a variety of cars, testing aluminum, fiddling with control systems and trying a number of options with wheels.

Conductor Owen Richard McCaffrey Sr. of Overbrook.    Conductor Owen Richard McCaffrey Sr. of Overbrook.
Long-time Pittsburgh Railways conductor Owen Richard McCaffrey Sr. of Overbrook, pictured in the early 1920s.

1926: Pittsburgh Railways operates 590 miles of single track; carries 396,679,675 passengers a year and has revenue of $21.7 million.

1928: Pittsburgh Railways begins producing high speed trolleys for its lines that run to Washington, Pa., and Charleroi. The company makes fifteen cars that are painted red and feature bucket seats.

Portions of the Charleroi line remained in service until September 4, 1999 as the Port Authority's Library Light Rail Transit line. A portion of the Washington line survived as the Drake line, service that ended in the late-80s and will pick up again in the year 2004.

President's Conference Committee streetcar diagram

THE 1930s: Pittsburgh, like the country, is in the depths of the Depression. Pittsburgh Railway is losing ridership, but the company does not lose its tradition of supporting innovation. The company is enthusiastic about the ideas for a new car being developed at the request of the American Electric Railway Association Advisory Council.

The plan for the car's development is overseen by the Electric Railway Presidents Conference Committee, which turns to Pittsburgh's Westinghouse Company for help designing the revolutionary new car.

The inside of a PCC car looking towards the front.    The inside of a PCC car looking towards the rear.
The inside of a PCC car, looking towards both the front and rear.

JULY 26, 1936: The first Presidential Conference Committee car, # 100, goes into service in the city. Pittsburgh Railways, trying to lure Depression-weary riders back to the trolleys, promotes the car in newspaper advertisements and on sandwich boards and with demonstration rides. It becomes the first PCC car to carry passengers for a fare on September 26, 1936, when it covered the 50-Carson Street Route.

A7 model President's Conference Committee streetcar diagram

Over the next twelve years, Pittsburgh Railways orders 666 of the cars, at a cost of $28,000 apiece, from the St. Louis Car Company to replace the oldest trolleys in the fleet, which still included several of the original high-floor trolleys. The new PCC streetcars were painted in a red and cream color scheme.

1939: Due to the growing vehicular congestion at the busy intersection of West Liberty Avenue and Saw Mill Run Boulevard, a new trolley ramp was constructed along the lower end of West Liberty Avenue. This diverted the 39-Brookline and 38-Mount Lebanon trolleys from the crowded junction and on to the line used by Dormont and Beechview trolleys.

The first inbound trolley to the West
Liberty Avenue trolley ramp was
photographed on August 15, 1939.
The first inbound trolley to use the West Liberty Avenue
trolley ramp was photographed on August 15, 1939.

The cost of the new ramp was $347,000. It opened to traffic in August 1939. The Brookline and Mount Lebanon trolleys now used the West Liberty ramp to connect to the Palm Garden Trestle on their way towards the South Hills Junction.

1949: The Pittsburgh Railways PCC trolley fleet is the 2nd largest in the country. Only Chicago, which operates 683 cars, is bigger.

A Jones Car along Smithfield Street.
A Jones Car along the Brookline route on Smithfield Street in downtown Pittsburgh (circa 1945).

SUMMER, 1953: Interurban trolley service, which had boomed during the World War II and Korean War years, is scaled back to the border of Allegheny County.

1960 Map of South Hills Trolley Lines
Map of South Hills Trolley Lines.

MARCH, 1964: The Port Authority of Allegheny County is formed to unify public transit services. Despite the declining trolley use, the authority inherits 283 PCC trolley cars and 219 buses.

1964 to 1967: Many rail routes are converted to bus routes, including the 38-Mount Lebanon and the 39-Brookline route, which made its final run on September 3, 1966.

1968: The Port Authority is operating fifty-eight miles of track, only ten percent of the Pittsburgh Railways network that was in operation forty years earlier.

The 38-Mt.Lebanon spur line was replaced.
The rails and passenger kiosks intersecting
West Liberty Avenue were eventually removed.
Many South Hills lines were replaced with bus service, including 38-Mt.Lebanon.
The rails and passenger kiosks intersecting the roadways were removed.

1972: The ninety-five remaining PCC cars servicing the South Hills get new paint jobs, including one that gets a psychedelic look.

LATE-1970s: An attractive feature that was introduced at the time was a new advertising scheme. Trolleys could be sponsored and then decorated at will. Soon, many of Pittsburgh's trolleys took on a new look. Some of the memorable designs that stood out were the Pittsburgh Steeler's trolley, the Clark Bar trolley and the Gateway Clipper Tripple Treat.

The Pittsburgh Steeler's Terrible Trolley    The Pittsburgh Steeler's Terrible Trolley
The Pittsburgh Steeler's Terrible Trolley.

1981: The Port Authority decides to try to refurbish forty-five PCC trolleys. The $763,000 cost is prohibitive and only twelve are done before the program is abandoned in 1987.

JULY 3, 1985: Trolley street operations in the Golden Triangle cease when the downtown subway, part of the new Light Rail "T" System, is opened. All above ground tracks in downtown are eventually removed or paved over.

The only rail routes that remain in operation are part of the new Light Rail System. They are the Beechview/South Hills Village line, the Warrington/Arlington line and the Library extension. Soon, the only route still using the old PCC trolley cars was the Library line.

PCC Trolley at Wood Street Subway Station.
A PCC trolley at the Wood Street Subway Station in 1985.

AUGUST 1, 1988: thirty-six PCC cars are removed from operation because of deteriorated electrical wires. Twenty-seven of those are retired and used to supply parts for the ones that remained in operation along the Library line.

SEPTEMBER 4, 1999: The final PCC car makes the 4.4 mile Library extension run before the route was retired forever, being replaced by a shuttle bus. The three remaining functional PCC cars, all having logged well over 2,000,000 miles, were donated to trolley museums.

PCC Trolley on display at museum.
PCC Trolley at Museum - 2007.

2000 AND BEYOND: Pittsburgh no longer has hundreds of miles of trolley track lining our streets, but we still have a state-of-the-art Light Rail system servicing the downtown area, Warrington Avenue/Arlington Heights, Castle Shannon, Library and the South Hills.

The Port Authority completed reconstructing the old Shannon Drake line in 2004 and the subway now extends under the Allegheny River to stations on the North Side near PNC Park, Heinz Field and the River's Casino.

A modern light rail car painted to
resemble an old PCC Car - 2014.
In 2014, a few of the modern light-rail cars were painted to resemble the old PCC streetcars
as part of the Port Authority's 50th Anniversary celebration.

Pittsburghers love their trolleys. From the horse-drawn carriages of the 1800s to the new "T" Light Rail cars that carry us into the 21st Century, our proud city will always have a rail system to ferry passengers to and from the downtown area.

For more information on the history of trolley service in Pittsburgh, visit the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum at the Meadowlands. The number to call for information is 877-PA-Trolley or 724-228-9256.

Pittsburgh Railways Company Records - Historic Pittsburgh

PCC Cars like those that ran the Pittsburgh streets still operate in San Francisco's Old Harbor.

* Copied from the Post-Gazette, and slightly edited, in 2004. *

Some Tragic Trolley Accidents in Pittsburgh

Bus-Trolley Accident - February 10, 1978.

On the morning of February 10, 1978, one of Pittsburgh's most horrific public transit accidents occurred near the Palm Garden Bridge along the Port Authority's recently completed South Busway.

A near head-on collision between an inbound 41D-East Brookline bus and an outbound Mt.Lebanon/Beechview streetcar resulted in the tragic toll of four dead and twenty-eight injured, most of whom lived in Brookline.

These photos were taken by Post-Gazette photographer James Klingensmith, who arrived on the scene as paramedics were busy removing victims from the wreckage. The newspaper reported the accident on the Post-Gazette front page the following day.

Bus-Trolley Accident - February 10, 1978.

The probable cause of the violent collision was a faulty switch along the rail line leading out of the South Hills Junction car yard. The outbound streetcar reached the switch, which suddenly flipped to the left turn position leading to a loop off of the main line. The trolley veered directly into the path of the oncoming bus.

Upon impact, the bus, which was filled to capacity with over fifty rush hour commuters, veered to the right off of the busway. It sheered off a utility pole and came to rest partially atop a parked car. The incident happened so suddenly that there was no time for either the bus or trolley driver to react.

The bus driver and three passengers seated near the front of the vehicle suffered fatal blunt trauma injuries. The driver died at the hospital and the three passengers were pronounced dead on arrival. The trolley car was empty except for the motorman who suffered only minor injuries.

Although a moment of panic ensued among the stunned and injured passengers on the bus, the calm and quick thinking of several male passengers aided in an orderly evacuation of the vehicle.

"Blood was everywhere," reported Michael Robbins, a passenger treated at Mercy Hospital. "There was no screaming. Most everyone kept their cool. It was just a lot of moaning and groaning."

Bus-Trolley Accident - February 10, 1978.

The driver of the bus was Brookline resident and long-time PAT employee Anthony Petrusky, 55, of 1621 Fiat Street. Others who suffered fatal injuries were Brookline's Elva Semon, 54, of 2136 Plainview Avenue, Donna Louise Harmon, 21, of 5870 Irishtown Road, Bethel Park, and Monica Ewansik, 40, of 2447 Saranac Avenue in Beechview.

Brookline travelers with severe to mild injuries that were transported to local hospitals included Marie Schafer, Patricia Burgess, Ruth Ann Fabrizio, Mary Pilarski, Linda March, Marjorie Mitchell, Carla Arpgaus, Aileen Brown, Robert Dunlap, Bernadette Harris, Sandra Horne, Patricia McDonald, Carol Rosipal, Francis Schell, Lynetta Talak, William Zwick, Patty Diven, Mila Coccimiglio, Alice Skiba, Michael Robbins, Mary Ellen Glandville, Frank Lanzetta, James Budd and John Raymond.

Others injured in the crash were Tracy Lappert and Patricia Goedert of Beechview, Frank Dixon of St. Clair Village and trolley driver Robert Ray of Bethel Park.

Bus-Trolley Accident - February 10, 1978.

The South Busway had been opened in December of 1977. At that time concerns were raised about the safety of having both buses and trolleys passing with such frequency along the same narrow roadway.

With this accident happening so soon after the opening, transit safety along the busway was once again a major concern. Bus traffic was suspended until a thorough investigation was conducted.

In the aftermath of the investigation, which yielded inconclusive results, additional safety devices were installed to prevent any sudden switch malfunctions. Also, procedures were put in place to eliminate the possibility of vehicles passing so close together in the vicinity of a switch.

Map of crash site - February 10, 1978.

Third Worst Crash In Pittsburgh Transit History

The fatal bus/trolley collision on February 20, 1978 was the third worst commuter transit tragedy on record in the City of Pittsburgh.

The worst accident in Pittsburgh's mass transit history came on Christmas Eve, 1917, when a runaway Knoxville streetcar roared through the Mount Washington Trolley tunnel and overturned at Carson Street. Twenty-one people were killed and scores of others were injured.

Pittsburgh Trolley Crash - December 24, 1917.
Pittsburgh Railways streetcar lies overturned at Carson and Smithfield Street - December 24, 1917.

On November 14, 1944, five people were killed and thirty-five injured when two Pittsburgh Railways streetcars collided in a heavy fog near the old Munhall Junction.

The outbound Homestead/East Pittsburgh streetcar, one of the old-style Jones Cars, slammed into the back of a East Liberty/Homestead PCC car. The impact came with such force that the older trolley, which was loaded with war workers, telescoped itself over the rear of the PCC car.

Pittsburgh Trolley Crash - November 14, 1944    Pittsburgh Trolley Crash - November 14, 1944
The wreckage of two Pittsburgh Railways trolleys that collided near Munhall Junction - November 14, 1944.

Another fatal crash that fell to fourth in terms of human tragedy occurred on March 10, 1959, when a Brentwood Motor Coach bus careened into a rush hour crowd at Forbes Avenue and Smithfield Street after brake failure. Two pedestrians were killed and sixteen injured in the accident.

Other Mass Transit Accidents Since 1978

On September 12, 1980, the South Hills Junction was the scene of another collision, this time between two trolleys. An outbound Dormont trolley suddenly veered off the main line towards a storage barn. The car began to rocking and nearly tipped over.

It swayed into another trolley coming in the other direction. The two cars made sideswiped each other. The second car, which had no passengers, actually righted the teetering car and prevented it from falling. Four people were injured in the second switching mishap at the busy junction.

On Friday, June 26, 1986, the Washington Observer-Reporter covered a head on collision between two trolleys along West Carson Street near McKees Rocks. Along a single-track section of line, the trolleys were traveling slowly in opposite directions around a siding when the crash occurred.

As the cars approached the siding, an obstruction blocked the view of the motormen. This led to the collision slow-speed collision where the drivers and twelve passengers were taken to local hospitals after suffering minor injuries.

The following year, almost a decade after the deadly February 1978 bus/trolley collision noted above, another potentially disastrous trolley accident occurred near downtown. The incredible crash occurred in almost the same location as the Christmas Eve 1917 disaster.

Pittsburgh Trolley Crash - October 28, 1987.
A runaway streetcar came to a halt along Smithfield Street after crashing into the P&LERR terminal building.

On October 28, 1987, during the morning rush hour, an inbound streetcar suffered brake failure as it entered the Mount Washington Transit Tunnel. After emerging from the lower tunnel portal, the speeding car jumped the tracks.

The streetcar skid across the crowded Carson Street intersection, sideswiping a bus and a PAT Transit truck before slamming into the landmark P&LERR terminal building along Smithfield Street.

Although thirty-three passengers were injured in the crash, no lives were lost due to the quick thinking of the motorman, John Stromple, who calmly moved everyone to the rear of the car and shielded them. Stromple, along with seven other PAT employees, also suffered injuries in the accident.

<Historical Facts> <> <Brookline History>