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There Used To Be Trains - PCC Cars, Past and Present





PCC Cars, Past and Present

      In the late 1920's many of the country's electric railways found themselves with aging equipment rosters and plummeting ridership. The old streetcars with their coal stoves, poor lighting and hard rattan seats were no competition for the personal automobile and its door-to-door convenience. Management from the larger lines formed a group to come up with a faster, sleeker, universal streetcar design that would bring riders back while keeping maintenance costs down. In 1929, the Electric Railway Presidents' Conference Committee was formed to address this issue. The resulting car design would later become known as the 'PCC' car. The cars were manufactured by several of the major car makers of the time and some of the basic patents for motor controls and power trucks are still in use today on streetcars and light rail vehicles built around the world.


Photos by Transit System:



Cleveland Transit System - Cleveland, Ohio

      In 1946 the Cleveland Transit System purchased 50 all-electric street car type PCCs from The Pullman Standard Company of Chicago Illinois. The cars, numbered 4200-4249, were equipped for multiple-unit service as evidenced by the trolley style couplers. In 1952, after street car operations were discontinued, they were sold to the Toronto Transit Commission where they saw regular service into the 1970's. In 1976 the Cleveland Transit System and the Shaker Heights Rapid Transit System were brought together by a county wide referendum and the newly formed Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (commonly referred to as the RTA) took over operations of both systems.
      Finding itself left with an aging fleet of the Shaker's venerable PCCs, the line purchased a handful of the former Cleveland Transit System cars back from Toronto where they had been retired and placed them into service on the former Shaker lines. They actually saw little service outside of rush hour as their narrower street car design meant that the steps of the car were several inches farther away from the boarding platforms than those of their wider interurban style cousins on the Shaker.
      The RTA purchased a fleet of pantograph-equipped LRVs in the early 1980's and rebuilt both Shaker routes to modern light rail standards with cantenary style overheads, bringing PCC service to an end in Cleveland.

      The photos below were taken at The Northern Ohio Railway Museum in August of 2002. The first three are of CTS 4230, which later became TTC 4655. The last photo is CTS 4231 which later became TTC 4656, another car of the same set. Although the cars bore the RTA logo in their short life on the ex-Shaker lines, they retained their Toronto paint scheme until retirement. Car 4230 has since been moved indoors to await restoration. Car 4231 will be used for parts to aid in the project.

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Philadelphia Transportation Company - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

      The Philadelphia Transportation Company had a large number of PCC cars. PTC Car 2711 was purchased in 1947 from the St. Louis Car Company for use on the Germantown Avenue Line where it saw many years of service. It was configured for two man operation due to the heavy ridership on the line. Many of the cars were overhauled in the 1980's by SEPTA. After retirement from SEPTA the car was acquired by the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in 2000 and modified for handicapped service at the Museum.

      The photos below were taken in 2007 at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum.

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Pittsburgh Railways Company - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

      At one time the Pittsburgh Railways Company had the third largest fleet of PCC cars in the North America. Starting in 1936 with the purchase of the second PCC car produced, the line would go on to amass a collection of over 650 units by the time the last car was purchased in 1949. All of the Pittsburgh cars were produced by the St. Louis Car Company. Facing stiff competition from a number of private bus lines throughout the post war years, revenues for the company continued to fall, resulting in line closures in many areas of the city. By the early 1970's there were only about 100 cars left on the roster, serving a few routes from downtown into the South Hills area.
      Unlike other large cities that had abandoned rail transit in favor of buses, Pittsburgh undertook a major rebuilding of the main lines to the south in the 1980's. The project included the purchase of a fleet of modern LRVs which would replace the venerable PCC cars on most of the city's remaining rail routes. By the end of PCC service in 1999 the once vast fleet had dwindled to a couple of dozen cars, most of which had been rebuilt with pantographs to accommodate the overhead cantenary on the portions of the line they shared with the new LRV's.

      Only a handful of these cars survived the scrapper's torches and now reside at Museums. The first photo below shows car 1644, part of an order built in 1945 and 1946. The cars were of the pre-war design and featured air brakes and large sealed passenger windows. The other two photos are of Car 1711 from the last order built in 1948 and 1949. These cars were of the post-war design and featured modern improvements like standee windows and electric dynamic braking.

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Port Authority Transit - Allegheny County, Pennsylvania

     In the early 1960's the Port Authority of Allegheny County was formed to bring the regions transit resourced under one umbrella. In 1964 acquired the Pittsburgh Railways Company and the last remaining rail lines were incorporated into the Port Authority Transit system. The conversion of the two main routes to modern LRV service in the 1908's made most of the remaining PCC cars superfluous and by the early 1990's the Drake Shuttle route was the only portion of the line remaining that the newer (wider and heavier) LRVs could not navigate.
      In the 1980's the line rebuilt 16 of the 1700 post-war series St. Louis cars constructed in 1948-49. A dozen of these were retained to serve this route. The cars were equipped with pantographs to allow them to operate under the overhead cantenary system in place at the north end of their route which they shared with the LRVs. Service on the Drake Loop ended Sept 4 1999, bringing the Trolley era to an end in Southeast Pennsylvania.

      The photos below show Port Authority Transit PCC 4009 in service on the Drake Shuttle route in the mid 1990's.

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      Port Authority Transit PCC 4004 is now preserved at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum where it sees regular service on their demonstration railway line. The photos below were taken at the Museum in the fall of 2007.

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Shaker Heights Rapid Transit - Shaker Heights, Ohio

      The Shaker Heights Rapid Transit system started life in 1913 as the Cleveland Interurban Railroad. The line was built by two Cleveland Real Estate entrepreneurs, Oris and Mantis Van Sweringen, to provide a transportation link from the Downtown area to their planned community of Shaker Heights to the east. The first section of the line opened for service in 1920 between Shaker Heights and East 34th Street where the cars would enter the city streetcar tracks to finish their journey. By 1930 the brothers had acquired the additional land to finish the double track private right of way all the way into Cleveland.
      In the process of completing their electric rail line they would purchase controlling stock in the 513 mile Nickel Plate Railroad to secure the last five miles of right of way and build the Cleveland Union Terminal complex. The latter was intended to bring together several of the city's Steam and Electric Interurban Railroads at one central terminal on the southwest corner of Public Square. By the time the terminal complex was completed in 1930 and the first Cleveland Interurban Railroad cars rolled in the Interurban era in Cleveland was drawing to a close. For many of the lines that had already seen their ridership, and revenues, plummet with the increasing popularity of the private automobile in the great financial crash of 1929 was the final blow.
      In 1944 the electric rail line that was at the center of the once vast Van Sweringen financial empire was taken over by the City of Shaker Heights and became known by many as the Shaker Rapid. In 1947 the city started replacing the aging fleet of cars that it had inherited with the line with modern PCC cars. The first group of PCC cars came from the Pullman Standard Company. All 25 of the cars were equipped with an unusual left side center door intended for use on a Downtown subway route which was never built. Between 1953 and 1978 the line would purchase an additional 43 PCC cars bringing the total fleet to 68 units. Most were outfitted for multiple unit operation, although several of the cars acquired second hand were not. The last of the PCC cars on the Shaker were replaced by modern LRVs in the early 1980s after the line was absorbed into, and then rebuilt by, the newly formed Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.

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On the Shaker Lines.


Preserved Cars.


Gone but not forgotten.

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Toronto Transit Commission - Toronto, Ontario

      In the late 1930's the city of Toronto turned to the PCC as an answer to the growing maintenance problems it was having with its aging collection of steel Peter Witts and older wooden cars. In the early years of the PCCs reign the line purchased several sets of cars new from the Canadian Car & Foundry Company. These cars were built from body shells provided by the St. Louis Car Company which were then shipped to Canada for the installation of mechanical components and interiors. The early pre-war cars were of the air-electric design, with brakes and doors operated by compressed air. Those purchased in later years were of the newer all electric variety and featured the same improvements of other post-war PCCs including standee windows and electric regenerative braking.
      While many American cities converted their streetcar lines to bus service after World War II, the city found it more economical to continue its heavily patronized streetcar service than convert to the newer rubber tired busses. Unable to meet the increasing prices of new equipment, the TTC began augmenting its fleet of PCC cars with second hand cars from other cities as they discontinued streetcar service. By the 1950's the city would have the largest fleet of PCC cars in North America. The fleet would continue to serve the city until the 1970's when a program was initiated to replace them with modern CLRVs, although a few of the venerable PCCs remained in service on a handful of lines into the early 1990's.

      The photos below were taken in August of 1974 on a family vacation. The first was taken downtown and the rest are at the Roncesvalles yard on the west side of the city. The cars I am able to identify by number are from the 4400 series of A-7 class all electrics purchased form Canadian Car & Foundry in 1948. The Car House remains today but the PCC cars are long gone, having been replaced by the modern CLRVs which are still in service today.

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Last Page Update: 40/10/2010



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