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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
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.
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
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
* 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 trolleys at the turn-around
loop at the end of the Brookline route.
of the 39-Brookline Trolley in and around Brookline
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.
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 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 trolley cars, one inbound and one outbound,
pass near Flatbush Avenue along Brookline Boulevard 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,
Outbound 39-Brookline trolley cars approach
the intersections with Pioneer (left) and Queensboro Avenue in 1965.
Outbound 39-Brookline passes Whited
Street heading towards Breining Street and the loop.
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
heading towards the loop (left) and at Kenilworth Street.
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 (left)
and making the return trip back towards Brookline Boulevard.
39-Brookline passes Pioneer
Avenue (left) and Kenilworth Avenue (right) enroute to West Liberty.
An in-bound 39-Brookline approaching Flatbush
Avenue on Brookline Boulevard in the Summer of 1966.
Passing Kenilworth enroute to Brookline
Boulevard (left) and entering West Liberty trolley ramp (right).
Trolley cars at the Brookline Loop along the
1400 block of Brookline Boulevard. This was the end of the line.
An in-bound 39-Brookline on West Liberty Avenue
heading towards Capital Avenue in the mid-1960s.
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
(left) and approaching Breining Street after making the loop.
39-Brookline entering the trolley ramp
on West Liberty Avenue.
<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
<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 Parm Garden Tressel (left) and a
39-Brookline at the top of the trolley ramp heading towards West Liberty.
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.
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
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
Long-time Pittsburgh Railways conductor
Owen Richard McCaffrey Sr. of Overbrook, pictured in the early 1920s.
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.
Map of South Hills Trolley
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
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.
Many South Hills lines were replaced with
bus service, including 38-Mt.Lebanon.
The rails and passenger kiosks intersecting the roadways were
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.
The Pittsburgh Steeler's Terrible
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.
Trolley at Wood Street Subway
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
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.
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
A replica of the 39-Brookline trolley made
by Dr. Michael Brendel.
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 guestbook.
* 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 *