Bus Service in Brookline
Last Updated: March 31, 2020
Just as Pittsburgh's Heinz Corporation became synonymous with the number 57 for it's fifty-seven varieties of products, for over half a century, from 1905 through 1966, the community of Brookline became synonymous with the number 39.
For public transit riders, which for many years made up the bulk of daily commuters to downtown Pittsburgh, thirty-nine was the designation of the Pittsburgh Railways local trolley route: 39-Brookline. The rail service did, however, have limitations that were overcome with the addition of bus service in the 1930s.
The Brentwood Motor Coach Company
Beginning in 1937, an alternative for Brookliners to the standard Pittsburgh Railways streetcar line was independent bus line, the Brentwood Motor Coach Company, that established two local routes through the community.
The Brentwood Motor Coach Company, established in 1929, was based in Brentwood along Saw Mill Run Boulevard. It began as a feeder line to Pittsburgh Railways and eventually established its own routes into downtown Pittsburgh. The company continued to grow in size, eventually running ten distinct routes through the South Hills area.
The Brentwood buses were mostly FitzJohn coaches painted in a three-color, plus striping, paint scheme with all the proper signage. They also operated General Motors "metropolitan" style buses.
The local Brookline bus routes serviced areas of the community that were detached from the Pittsburgh Railways right-of-way. Residents in locations like Ebenshire Village, along Whited Street, Fordham and Pioneer Avenues, benefited from the convenience of this service.
Neighborhood girls and those from across the city that attended Elizabeth-Seton High School found the Brentood bus a particularly convenient way to get to school. The bus stopped at the school entrance along Pioneer Avenue on both the inbound and outbound route, carrying Seton students in both directions in the morning and later that afternoon.
The Brentwood Motor Coach Company was acquired by the Port Authority on March 4, 1964. The two long-established Brookline bus routes were left in place and redesignated as 41D Brookline and 46E East Brookline via Whited Street.
The Allegheny County Port Authority
The Allegheny County Port Authority was founded in 1956 to allow for the creation of port facilities in Pittsburgh. The charter was amended in 1959 to allow for the state-funded agency to purchase transit companies that served the Pittsburgh area.
In April 1963 the County Commissioners authorized the purchase of the Pittsburgh Railways trolley company and over thirty privately-owned transit companies, including the firm that operated the Brookline Bus. This vast array of streetcar and bus lines were consolidated into one public transit system.
On March 1, 1964 Port Authority Transit officially began operations in Pittsburgh. Many aging and abandoned trolley lines gradually phased out as P.A.T. entered a new age in motorized public transportation. Bus service offered a great deal of flexibility in servicing the many neighborhoods in and around Pittsburgh.
Brookline Goes From 39 To 41
In September 1966, the 39-Brookline trolley route was discontinued. Port Authority bus service throughout the community of Brookline was established. Local commuters had to learn a a new number, forty-one.
That was the designation given to the new Brookline route. 41-Brookline soon became the neighborhood call sign among transit riders, and remained so for nearly half a century.
Several new routes were established in Brookline. These included Brookline, East Brookline, Ebenshire Village, Pioneer Avenue and the morning rush hour fliers. Each was given a letter (A through G) to denote the particular route.
These routes covered the community much more thoroughly than former trolley line, which was bound by the limitations of its right-of-way. PAT buses regularly traveled these new backstreet routes.
However, along with convenience came traffic. In neighborhoods around the city, including the South Hills communities, the lumbering buses often became mired in the rush hour jams. Their stop and go patterns only added to these frequent delays, not to mention the frustation of fellow motorists.
During the 1960s, the Port Authority experimented with new technology in an effort to eliminate the few remaining streetcar routes and reduce the need for bus service in the city. The Westinghouse Transit Expressway, or "Skybus", was a 92-mile revolutionary automated People Mover system that was tested in South Park.
After over a decade of investment and trials, the Skybus proposal was shelved in favor of an integrated network of dedicated bus lanes, private busways and the creation of a modern Light-Rail System, known as the "T", which included a downtown subway. One of the private transitways was the South Busway, built along the existing trolley right-of-way through the Saw Mill Run Corridor. This busway became part of the Brookline route in 1977.
The transit expressway runs along the southern hillside of Saw Mill Run. It runs north-to-south beginning at Glenbury Street in Overbrook and continuing, parallel to Saw Mill Run Boulevard, to the South Hills Junction. It then passes through the refurbished Mount Washington Transit Tunnel to downtown Pittsburgh.
The 41-Brookline routes entered and exited the South Busway via the refurbished trolley ramp near the northern end of West Liberty Avenue. Some other local routes used the entrance along Pioneer Avenue.
In addition to the busways, the Port Authority was granted rights-of-way in downtown Pittsburgh along Wood Street and Smithfield. These dedicated lanes allowed for a much quicker loop through the Golden Triangle. Once through town, the buses traveled back across the Smithfield Bridge for the return trip back to Brookline.
The Downsizing Of PAT
At the dawn of the new millenium, as Pittsburgh's population and transit ridership declined, the Port Authority faced numerous financial burdens. The result of these was a series of changes in the services offered.
In Brookline this meant the consolidation of the numerous local routes into just one, along with a decrease in the number of buses and hours of service. The realigned route still covers most of the same streets as in the past. The most significant change was the service hours.
Another major change was that the Brookline route no longer travelled along West Liberty Avenue to the Brookline Junction. Buses now follow the old Pioneer Avenue route from the South Busway to Brookline Boulevard.
From the intersection of the Boulevard and Pioneer, buses head down the main street and veer off on Chelton Avenue to cover the Ebenshire Village area. The winding route returns to the boulevard at Breining Street and proceeds east to a looping drive along Altmar and Reamer Streets.
All things considered, the Port Authority is still a reliable transportation alternative. For a base fare, with a Connect Card, of $2.50 to downtown and an additional $1.00 transfer, or a one-way cash fare of $2.75 (no cash transfers) a commuter can travel to town and back, or transfer to one of the many connecting routes and get just about anywhere in the Pittsburgh Metro Area.
The Return Of The 39-Brookline
Then, in 2011, during the downsizing of the transit Authority, Brookline's bus route designation was changed back to the number 39.
For many, the change came and went without much thought. The old-timers in the community, however, felt a sense of reminiscence when the familiar buses rolled up and down Brookline Boulevard emblazened with a brightly lit 39-Brookline across their brow.
Taking public transportation to and from work, or to another travel destination, is still a popular choice. Crowded buses during rush hour are ample proof of that. For Brookliners, that trip once again begins on the 39-Brookline.
The End Of The Line For An Old Thirty-Nine
American Motor Coach Association
A Tragic Day For Brookline Transit Riders
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.
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."
The driver of the bus was Brookline resident and long-time PAT employee Andrew 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.
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.
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.
On November 14, 1944, seven 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.
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.
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.
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