Pittsburgh's trolley history dates
to the late-19th century when the state Legislature passed a law allowing
"motor power companies" to operate passenger railways by cable,
electrical or other means. Since then, the city has been at the forefront
of trolley transportation.
JUNE 1887: Pittsburgh Traction Co.
constructs a cable beginning at the foot of Fifth Avenue and running east
on Shady, Penn and Highland avenues. The distance is 5.5 miles and it
opens for passengers on Sept. 12, 1889. Cable lines are operated until
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.
JANUARY 1, 1902: Pittsburgh
Railways Company is formed as a result of several companies consolidating
their operations. There are 1100 trolleys in operation in the city and
the turn-of-the-century car has eight wheels, high steps and narrow doors
making travelling slow and cumbersome, particularly for women whose
clothes don't allow them to negotiate the cars easily. Pittsburgh
Railways has 400 miles of single track; carries 178.7 million passengers
a year and has revenues of $6.7 million.
1912: Pittsburgh's trolley system
is big and P.N. Jones, head of Pittsburgh Railways, heads 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
1915: Pittsburgh Railways decides
that the new, low-floor trolley with its sloping floor is going to be its
standard car. The company builds 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
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
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 15 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
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 Westinghouse for help designing the car.
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.
Over the next 12 years, Pittsburgh
Railways orders 666 of the cars - at $28,000 apiece - from the St. Louis
Car Company to replace the oldest trolleys in the fleet, the high-floor
trolleys and the yellow trolleys. The PCC's were painted red and
SUMMER, 1953: Trolley service,
which had boomed during the World War II and Korean War years, is
scaled back to the border of Allegheny County.
MARCH, 1964: Allegheny County's
Port Authority Transit is formed to unify public transit services.
Despite the declining trolley use, the Port Authority inherits 283 PCC
trolley cars and 219 buses.
1964 to 1967: Many rail routes are
converted to bus routes, including the 39 Brookline Route, which made its
final run on September 3, 1966.
1968: The Port Authority is
operating just 58 miles of track.
1972: The 95 remaining PCC cars
servicing the South Hills get new paint jobs, including one that gets a
1981: The Port Authority decides
to try to refurbish 45 PCC trolleys. The $763,000 cost is prohibitive and
only 12 are done before the program is abandoned in 1987. One attractive
feature of the trolleys was a new advertising scheme. Trolleys could be
sponsored and then decorated at will. Some that stood out were the
Terrible Steeler trolley, the Pirates Family trolley, Point Park
College's trolley and the Gateway Clipper trolley.
JULY 3, 1985: Trolley street
operations in the city cease when the Downtown subway, servicing the new
Light Rail "T" cars, is opened. The only rail lines left in operation,
part of the new Light Rail System, are the Beechview/South Hills Village
line, the Warrington/Arlington line and the Library extension, the only
route still using the old PCC trolley cars.
AUGUST 1, 1988: 36 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 on 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
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 and plans are underway to extend the downtown subway
line to the North Side near PNC Park and Heinz Fields.
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 trolleys in Pittsburgh,
visit the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum at the Meadowlands. The number to
call for information is 877-PA-Trolley or 724-228-9256.
Reprinted from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 30, 1999 *
Edited slightly by Clint Burton, August 2004