Trolley Service in Brookline

39-Brookline moves down the Boulevard

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<Brookline Trolley Photos>     <Related Links>     <Pittsburgh Trolley History>

A Short History on Trolley Service in Brookline

Trolley service in the City of Pittsburgh dates back to the mid-1800s, when horses pulled cars along rails that ran through some city neighborhoods. In 1887, the first motorized service began in downtown Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Railways Company was formed in 1902 as a consolidation several independant operators.

For residents of the South Hills in the late-1800s and early-1900s, the only way to Pittsburgh by rail was via the Pittsburgh and Castle Shannon Railroad, which offered passenger service from 1871 to 1915. Boarding stations at Glenbury Street and Whited Street provided access to Brookliners. This train took travelers as far as Warrington Avenue, where they still had to transfer to two inclines to reach Carson Street in Pittsburgh.

By 1902, a horse-drawn streetcar line ran the length of West Liberty Avenue, extending to Mount Lebanon. This single-track line passed the Brookline Junction, at West Liberty Avenue and Hunter Avenue (Brookline Boulevard). This made travel easier for South Hills residents, but there was still no direct link to the city, except for the long trip over Mount Washington.

South Hills Junction - 1906  39-Brookline heads towards the Fleming Stop,
up the Boulevard from West Liberty Avenue.
The South Hills Junction in 1906 (left) and an old-style trolley car passing Brookline's Fleming Stop in 1928.
On the left is an outbound P&CSRR train on the hillside above the South Hills Junction.

Trolley service was expanded from Carson Street to the South Hills Junction with the construction of the Trolley Tunnel in 1904. From the Junction, new electric trolley lines soon branched out to the developing southern neighborhoods, including Overbrook, Beechview, Dormont, Mount Lebanon and Brookline.

In 1905 the Pittsburgh Railway Company laid the first single-track trolley line through Brookline. This one-way line came from downtown and up West Liberty Avenue to the Brookline Junction. It went along the looping right-of-way and along the length of Brookline Boulevard to Breining Street, then extended through the wooded ravine to Fairhaven, where it connected to an abandoned Pittsburgh and Castle Shannon Railroad coal mining spur line that once served a mine in the valley. The route passed under a West Side Belt railroad tressel and then along the Saw Mill Run corridor back to Pittsburgh. The new route was designated 39-Brookline.

Two 39-Brookline trolleys approaching
Capital Avenue in August, 1915.
Two inbound 39-Brookline trolleys on West Liberty Avenue approaching Capital Avenue in August, 1915.

The Brookline route was terminated at Edgebrook Avenue in 1909*. A year later, in 1910, rapid residential development necessitated that the line be extended back into East Brookline. Rather than taking the valley route, a short looping turn-around was built along the 1400 block of Brookline Boulevard, near Witt Street. At this time the Brookline route was upgraded to a double-track line from West Liberty Avenue to Breining Street. In 1915, the entire length of the rail line was upgraded along West Liberty Avenue.

* When the West Side Belt Railway upgraded it's Pittsburgh lines in 1909, the Overbrook tressel, that carried the trains over the cut, was replaced with the present Overbrook Tunnel. With the existing valley floor Brookline trolley line in mind, engineers placed metal hooks on the tunnel walls to hold the electric guide lines. Some of these pins are still visible today.

Real Estate Brochure from the early 1920s

The trolley service greatly contributed to the continued growth and development of Brookline and the other southern neighborhoods. For many years it was was the primary mode of transportation to and from downtown Pittsburgh and beyond. Pittsburgh's many communities were linked by thousands of miles of trolley lines.

Additional improvements were made in 1935, when the exclusive trolley right-of-way from West Liberty to Brookline Boulevard and Pioneer Avenue was expanded and paved with belgian block. Brookline Boulevard was permanently re-routed onto the widened, looping roadway, which could be used for both vehicular and rail traffic.

A 39-Brookline trolley at the Fleming
Car Stop near Kenilworth in 1935.
An inbound 39-Brookline trolley on Brookline Boulevard at the Fleming Car Stop, near Kenilworth, in 1935.

The first trolley cars were the old wooden cars, then the yellow "box cars". In 1936, the sleek new Presidents Conference Committee, or PCC cars, were introduced. They soon became the standard cars in Pittsburgh's fleet. Nearly 700 of these cars served the city from 1940 through the 1990s, when only a handful were in operation along the southernmost section of the Library route. The PCC Cars were completely phased out in 2002.

39-Brookline trolley passes Triangle Park
at the intersection with Queensboro Avenue.  39-Brookline approaches the turn-around loop.
Trolleys provided public transportation for the Brookline community for sixty-one years, from 1905 through 1966.

In Brookline, trolley service was discontinued in September 1966 and replaced by Port Authority bus service. The old tracks that ran down the center of Brookline Boulevard for sixty-one years were paved over. The era of rail traffic in Brookline had come to an end. The old tracks remain under the asphalt roadway and occasionally make themselves visible when a deep pothole emerged. They will be removed completely when Brookline Boulevard is renovated and repaved in the spring of 2014.

The trolley's may be gone, but they will never be forgotten. They were a part of Brookline's past that always stir nostalgic memories. Railcar enthusiasts still yearn for the thrill of riding the rails. The sight of the red and cream-colored PCC cars, labeled 39-Brookline, making their way past the Boulevard shops, are like a Norman Rockwell slice of Americana.

PCC trolley car approaches Edgebrook Avenue
on its way towards the commercial district.  39-Brookline heads up Brookline Boulevard
from West Liberty Avenue intersection.
Red and cream colored PCC trolley cars travel along Brookline Boulevard during the 1960s.

For those who still have an itch to ride the rails, the Port Authority's "T", a modern light rail system, still operates along the old Shannon-Drake, Shannon-Library, Beechview and Mount Lebanon routes. The Potomac Station in Dormont is just a brisk walk from Brookline, making the "T" a viable alternative for Brookline commuters. Subway service connects these the light rail routes with locations throughout downtown Pittsburgh and the North Shore. A quiet ride to South Hills Village or a run to the suburbs is reminiscent of the old days.

A last note on the PCC cars of the old Pittsburgh fleet. Many are sitting in Trolley Museums around the country, and some are still operating in the San Francisco Bay Area, ferrying passengers through the Old Town to the harbor.

39-Brookline trolley approaching the loop.  39-Brookline at the turn-around loop.
39-Brookline trolleys at the turn-around loop at the end of the Brookline route.

Photos of the 39-Brookline Trolley in and around Brookline

A Jones Car marked for the 39-Brookline route
stands at the South Hills Junction in 1948.
A 40-foot, double-ended Jones Car at the South Hills Junction in 1948. The trolleys were made from 1915 to 1927.
Originally maroon with gold trim, in 1925 the Pittsburgh fleet was painted a chrome orange to increase visibility.
Pittsburgh pollution soon faded the color to a yellowish tint and the trolleys became known as "yellow cars."
This model trolley remained in service with the Pittsburgh Railways Company until phased out in 1954.

An old Jones Car approaches the Stebbins
Avenue Car Stop on Brookline Boulevard in 1933.  A PCC car comes off the newly constructed
West Liberty Avenue trolley ramp in 1940.
A 39-Brookline trolley approaches the Stebbins Avenue Car Stop along Brookline Boulevard (left) in 1933,
and a new PCC car comes off the newly constructed West Liberty Avenue streetcar ramp in 1940.

A PCC Car passes the Fleming Car Stop in 1940.  An outbound 39-Brookline trolley passes
Kenilworth Avenue in the late-1950s.
A new PCC car passes the Fleming Car Stop (left) as it heads inbound towards West Liberty Avenue in 1940,
and an outbound trolley passes Kenilworth Avenue, heading towards Pioneer Avenue in the late-1950s.

Two trolleys pass at Flatbush Avenue in 1965.
Two trolley cars, one inbound and one outbound, pass near Flatbush Avenue along Brookline Boulevard in 1965.

A trolley approaches Flatbush Avenue in 1965.  A conductor checks in at
the trolley loop in 1965.
An outbound 39-Brookline trolley approaches the intersection with Flatbush Avenue (left), and a conductor
checking in at the Brookline trolley loop, marking the end of the route, in 1965.

An outbound 39-Brookline approaches Pioneer Avenue.  An outbound 39-Brookline trolley
passes Glenarm Avenue in 1965.
Outbound 39-Brookline trolley cars approach the intersections with Pioneer (left) and Queensboro Avenue in 1965.

Outbound 39-Brookline head towards
Breining Street and the trolley loop.
Outbound 39-Brookline passes Whited Street heading towards Breining Street and the loop.

Coming down the West Liberty trolley ramp.  Crossing the Palm Garden Trestle
heading towards the Junction
39-Brookline on tht West Liberty trolley ramp (left) and crossing the Palm Garden tressel to the South Hills Junction.

At the intersection with Birchland
Street approaching the Trolley Loop.  At the intersection with Kenilworth
heading towards Pioneer Avenue.
At the intersection with Birchland Street heading towards the loop (left) and at Kenilworth Street.

39-Brookline exits the Palm Garden Tressel
on it's way towards the South Hills Junction
An in-bound 39-Brookline exits the Palm Garden Tressel on it's way towards the South Hills Junction.

Two trolleys at the Brookline Loop.  Making the return trip towards
Brookline Boulevard from the loop.
Two trolleys at the Brookline Loop (left) and making the return trip back towards Brookline Boulevard.

Heading past Pioneer Avenue
towards Kenilworth Avenue.  Passing Kenilworth Avenue and
heading to West Liberty Avenue.
39-Brookline passes Pioneer Avenue (left) and Kenilworth Avenue (right) enroute to West Liberty.

Inbound 39-Brookline approaching Flatbush Avenue.
An in-bound 39-Brookline approaching Flatbush Avenue on Brookline Boulevard in the Summer of 1966.

Passing Kenilworth enroute to Brookline Boulevard.  Entering the trolley ramp on West Liberty Avenue.
Passing Kenilworth enroute to Brookline Boulevard (left) and entering West Liberty trolley ramp (right).

39-Brookline at the Trolley Loop.  39-Brookline at the Trolley Loop.
Trolley cars at the Brookline Loop along the 1400 block of Brookline Boulevard. This was the end of the line.

Inbound 39-Brookline heading towards Capital Avenue
An in-bound 39-Brookline on West Liberty Avenue heading towards Capital Avenue in the mid-1960s.

Outbound 39-Brookline passing Cape May Avenue.  39-Brookline at Mellon Plaza on Smithfield Street.
Outbound 39-Brookline passing Cape May on West Liberty Avenue (left) and at Mellon Plaza on Smithfield Street.

39-Brookline at the South Hills Junction  39-Brookline approaching Breining Street.
39-Brookline at the South Hills Junction (left) and approaching Breining Street after making the loop.

39-Brookline at West Liberty trolley ramp.
39-Brookline entering the trolley ramp on West Liberty Avenue.

Related Links

<The 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 of Trolleys in Pittsburgh>
<History of Pittsburgh Railways Company>
<Photos of Trolleys Around Pittsburgh>
<Pittsburgh Light Rail Photo Gallery>
<The "T" Light Rail Transit System>
<The Skybus Project in the 1960s>
<PAT Bus Service in Brookline>
<Trolley Parks in Pittsburgh>
<Pittsburgh's Old Inclines>
<Pennsylvania Trolley Museum>
<Port Authority Transit History>
<Wikipedia: Pittsburgh Light Rail>
<Wikipedia: Pittsburgh Railways Company>
<Wikipedia: Port Authority of Allegheny County>

The Palm Garden Tressel led to the Junction.  39-Brookline at the top of the trolley ramp
heading towards the merge with West Liberty Avenue.
The Parm Garden Tressel (left) and a 39-Brookline at the top of the trolley ramp heading towards West Liberty.

39-Brookline passes the City County
Building on Grant Street.
A 39-Brookline passes the City County Building on Grant Street in downtown Pittsburgh.

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).

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 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 1897.

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.

Rare Stock certificate for
the West End Traction Company

"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 here.

Pittsburgh Railways
 Double Decker Trolley
Pittsburgh Railways Double-Decker.

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 bulbs.

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 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 2004.

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.

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

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 cream.

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.

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.

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.

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 psychedelic look.

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.

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

PCC Trolley at Wood Street Subway Station.
Trolley at Wood Street Subway Station.

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 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 and plans are underway to extend the downtown subway line to the North Side near PNC Park and Heinz Fields.

39-Brookline heading at the trolley loop
along the 1400 block of Brookline Boulevard.
A 39-Brookline at the trolley loop along the 1400 block of Brookline Boulevard.

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.

Models of the 39-Brookline and South Hills Junction

39-Brookline    39-Brookline
A replica of the 39-Brookline trolley made by Dr. Michael Brendel.

Scale model layout of the South Hills Junction
A model layout of the South Hills Junction by Bob Dietrich. For more Junction model photos, click here.

We are always looking for old photos and information on trolleys in Brookline.
If you have something to share, please contact us via our

* Compiled from various sources, including the Post Gazette - Last Updated: May 22, 2012 *
* Several of the Brookline trolley photos are from the collection of Tom Castriodale *

39-Brookline drawing by Doug Brendel.

<Brookline History>