An outbound 39-Brookline moves along the
700-block of Brookline Boulevard, approaching the Flatbush Avenue Car Stop.
History Of Trolleys In Brookline
Take A Ride On The "T"
Brookline Trolley Photos
Streetcars or Trolleys
Digging Up The Past
Pittsburgh Trolley History
Models Of The 39-Brookline Trolley
And South Hills Junction
Click on images
for larger photos
An Outbound 39-Brookline passes Cape
May Avenue heading south along West Liberty Avenue in May 1966.
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 of the city's busier districts. There
was also a cable car service that ran along Warrington Avenue, serving
the Allentown, Knoxville, Beltzhoover and Mount Oliver neighborhoods
as early as 1859. Cable lines were in service throughout Pittsburgh
In the 1890s, the first
electrified service began in downtown Pittsburgh. Soon, there were
over one hundred separate trolley companies operatoring within the
city limits. These independent operators merged into larger traction
companies in the mid-1890s. The Pittsburgh Railways Company was formed in 1902 as a consolidation
several independant traction companies throughout the city.
South Hills Transportation
- The Early Years
For residents of the South Hills
in the late-1800s and early-1900s, the only way to travel to Pittsburgh
by rail was via the Pittsburgh and Castle Shannon
offered passenger service from 1871 to 1912.
A P&CSRR train runs through Fairhaven (left)
and a turn-of-the-century Pittsburgh Railways Co. horse-drawn trolley.
Boarding stations at Glenbury
and Whited Streets provided access to Brookliners. The train took
travelers as far as Warrington Avenue, where they had to transfer
to a pair of inclines to scale Mount Washington and reach Carson Street
in downtown Pittsburgh.
By 1902, a horse-drawn streetcar
line ran the length of West Liberty Avenue, extending south to Mount Lebanon.
This single-track route passed the Brookline Junction at West Liberty
Avenue and Hunter Avenue (Brookline Boulevard).
This made travel easier
for early South Hills residents, but there was still no direct link to the
city, except for the long trip over Mount Washington.
The Mount Washington Transit Tunnel was
constructed in 1904 and brought streetcar service to the South Hills.
Electrified service was expanded
from Carson Street to the South Hills Junction with the construction of the Mount
Washington Transit Tunnel in 1904. From the Junction, new high-speed trolley
lines soon branched out to the developing southern neighborhoods, including
Overbrook, Beechview, Dormont, Castle Shannon, Mount Lebanon and
Freehold Real Estate Company advertisement
from June 27, 1905 highlighting Brookline's high-speed traction line.
In 1905 the Pittsburgh Railways
Company laid the first single-track trolley line through Brookline.
This one-way line came from downtown Pittsburgh across the Smithfield
Street Bridge, then passed through the transit tunnel and on to Warrington
Avenue. The line turned at West Liberty Avenue and continued to the
The streetcar passed on to the
looping right-of-way and ran along the length of the present-day Brookline
Boulevard loop to Pioneer Avenue. At that time the loop was for rail traffic
only. Vehicular traffic turned left and followed the route of present-day
Bodkin Street, then designated Brookline Boulevard, to Pioneer
The line ran the length of Brookline
Boulevard to Breining Street, where it exited the roadway and passed on
to a right-of-way that extended through the wooded ravine towards Fairhaven
(Overbrook). It connected to an old Pittsburgh and Castle Shannon
Railroad spur line that
once served a coal mine entrance in the valley.
The route passed under a West Side
Belt railroad tressel (present-day Overbrook Tunnel) and merged with the
Charleroi line that ran along the Saw Mill Run corridor. From there the
streetcar headed back to Pittsburgh. The line was a continuous loop to and
from Pittsburgh. This new route was designated 39-Brookline.
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.
Route Terminated At
When the West Side Belt Railway
upgraded it's Pittsburgh lines in 1909, the Overbrook trestle that carried
trains over the cut was replaced with the present-day Overbrook Tunnel.
This construction work caused a disruption in the Brookline route.
Unable to access the Charleroi connection
at Saw Mill Run, the Brookline route was terminated at Edgebrook Avenue.
Conductors ran the streetcar to the end of the line and stopped. They then
had to exit the vehicle and move the electical guide wire to face in the
The drive controls were moved to
the other end of the trolley to face forward, then all of the seat backs
were changed to face in the proper direction. Once the car was prepared,
the driver engaged the motor and began the inbound trip back through
Brookline towards West Liberty Avenue and on to downtown Pittsburgh.
The Overbrook Tunnel was constructed in
1909 by the West Side Belt Railway. Shown here in 2013,
the tunnel was originally built as a pass-through for the 39-Brookline.
Anticipating that the route would
return to the valley floor right-of-way after the railroad upgrade was
completed, engineers placed metal hooks on the Overbook Tunnel walls for
the trolley's electric guide lines. Some of these pins are still visible
today. In the end, the streetcar line was rerouted and never returned to
the Overbrook valley.
Permanent Two-Way Looping
A year later, in 1910, rapid residential
development necessitated that the line be upgraded to two-way traffic. Pittsburgh
Railways abandoned the continuous loop route. Instead, the line was extended
from Edgebrook Avenue through to the 1400 block of Brookline Boulevard, near
Witt Street, where a looping turn-around was constructed.
The Brookline route was upgraded to a
double-track, dual-direction line from West Liberty Avenue to Breining Street,
with a single-track extension leading towards the loop in East Brookline.
Another major upgrade occurred in 1915, when the entire length of the trolley
line was reconstructed along West Liberty
The frequent and reliable streetcar
service greatly contributed to the rapid growth and development of Brookline
and the other southern neighborhoods. For many years, the trolleys were the
primary mode of transportation to and from downtown Pittsburgh and
beyond. Hundreds of miles of rail lines now linked all of Pittsburgh's
communities, and interurban routes stretched far beyond the reach of
the metropolitan area.
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 would be used for
both vehicular and rail traffic.
Trolleys Used In Brookline
The first generation of electrified
trolley cars were old wooden cars covered in steel-sheeting, referred to as
"box cars." They were built by the St. Louis Car Company and introduced in
Pittsburgh in 1902.
These four-wheelers had high floors,
narrow doors and wooden seats. Although they served reliably for many years,
these early streetcars were deemed uncomfortable by passengers and eventually
phased out in the early-1920s.
Two inbound 39-Brookline streetcars
on West Liberty Avenue, approaching Capital Avenue, in September 1915.
These were the original eight-wheeled "box cars" that made up the bulk
of the Pittsburgh fleet at the time.
From 1915 to 1927, Pittsburgh Railways
contracted with the Pressed Steel Company, located in McKees Rocks, for 1000
of the their new steel-framed Jones Cars. The forty-foot, double-ended, eight-wheel
streetcars featured cushioned rattan seats, a lower-floor, fine woodwork and
windows that opened to let in fresh air. They were quite an upgrade in passenger
safety and comfort. Additional seating capacity helped ease
The original Jones Car color scheme
was maroon with gold trim. In 1925 the Pittsburgh fleet was painted
chrome orange to increase visibility in the "Smokey City." Pittsburgh
pollution soon faded the color to a yellowish tint and the trolleys
became commonly known as "Yellow Cars." This model remained in service
until phased out in 1954.
A Jones Car marked for the 39-Brookline route
stands at the South Hills Junction in 1948.
In 1936, the St. Louis Car Company
introduced the sleek new Presidents Conference Committee (PCC) cars.
Considered revolutionary in their time, these ultra-modern red and cream
colored vehicles soon became the standard cars in the Pittsburgh Railways
Nearly 700 of these cars served the
city and the surrounding suburbs for half a century, beginning in 1940. By
the 1990s, only a handful of PCC cars were in operation. These vehicles
served only along the southernmost section of the Shannon-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.
These President's Conference Committee models carried Brookline commuters
for twenty-seven years.
Riding The Streetcar To
South Hills High School
The Pittsburgh Public School
Board opened South Hills High School, in 1917. Located along Ruth Street in Mount
Washington, the high school served students from Mount Washington,
Banksville, Beechview and Brookline for sixty years, until 1977.
Conveniently located on the hill above
the Pittsburgh Railways South Hills Junction, the school board provided students
from the southern neighborhoods with passes to ride the streetcar to and from
school. From the Junction, a set of city steps led up the hill to Paur Street.
A short walk led to Ruth Street and the school building.
Streetcars line up at the South Hills
Junction in 1935 to transport South Hills High School students home to
Brookline and Beechview (left); An outbound 39-Brookline streetcar
approaches the Junction transit stop.
For the generations of Brookline
teenagers who attended South Hills High School, their school days were filled
with many memories. One remembrance that most look back on with fondness was their
daily ride on the 39-Brookline, especially the trip home from school.
Brookline Streetcar Route
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 divided section of the road
from Edgebrook Avenue to Breining Street was widened to a broad,
The era of rail traffic through
the heart of the Brookline community had come to an end. Brookline's Port
Authority route designation was changed to 41-Brookline and the PAT bus
became a reliable and convenient replacement for the vintage
Red and cream colored PCC trolley cars travel
along Brookline Boulevard during the 1960s.
Reminders Of Yesteryear
The trolleys may have disappeared
from the Brookline landscape, but the old rails remained buried under the
asphalt. They occasionally made themselves a visible reminder of the
the community's streetcar past when a deep pothole emerged.
The old tracks were briefly exposed,
in their entirity, during the reconstruction of Brookline Boulevard in 2014. When the aging asphalt was milled
down to the base, the four lines of steel tracks once again stretched down
the center of the boulevard.
For a brief time, Brookliners could
once again gaze at these historic remnants of the community's railway heritage.
After just two days above ground, the tracks were again hidden under eight
inches of black top.
39-Brookline trolleys at the turn-around
loop at the end of the Brookline route.
Another throwback to yesteryear came
in 2011. During a reorganization of Port Authority bus service, Brookline's
route designation was changed back to number thirty-nine. When a bus
now makes the local run, the marquee is emblazened with the
A Slice Of Americana
Brookline's trolleys may be gone,
but they will never be forgotten. The four-wheel box cars, the yellowish
Jones Cars, the red and cream PCC Cars, and the steel rails will forever
be a part of Brookline's transportation heritage that evoke nostalgic
Urban rail car enthusiasts still yearn
for the thrill of riding the rails through the city landscape. Photos of the
39-Brookline trolleys, making their way past the Boulevard shops, are like a
classic Norman Rockwell slice of Americana.
An inbound 39-Brookline approaching Flatbush
Avenue on Brookline Boulevard in the Summer of 1966.
A last note on the PCC cars of the old
Pittsburgh fleet. A few are scattered about in Trolley Museums around the country,
and others are still operating in the San Francisco Bay Area, ferrying
passengers through the Old Town to the harbor.
Take A Ride On The "T"
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 short drive or a brisk walk for
most Brookliners, making the "T" a viable alternative for local commuters.
Light rail cars pass the Station
Square stop at Carson and Smithfield Streets.
The Port Authority's subway system
connects these southern light rail routes with locations throughout downtown
Pittsburgh and the North Shore. A quiet ride to South Hills Village or a run
to the Library suburbs is reminiscent of the old days.
Light-Rail Service Comes To
Although Brookline lost it's direct
streetcar route in September 1966, residents of East Brookline could still
walk down the Jacob Street Steps and through the Overbrook Tunnel to a car
stop along the Shannon-Drake line. This was the only streetcar stop located
within the confines of the Brookline community.
The Port Authority's Shannon-Drake
line ran along the route of the old Pittsburgh and Castle Shannon Railroad.
In the Saw Mill Run valley it passed through Bon Air and Carrick on the
northern side, then crossed over to the southern side of Saw Mill Run at
The line then passed through a small
section of Brookline, where the local Car Stop stood near Overbrook Elementary
School. This long-serving streetcar line, one of the oldest in the South
Hills, was discontinued in 1993.
South Bank Station is a light-rail
transit stop located within the Brookline community.
After the turn of the century, the
Port Authority began a reconstruction project along the length of the
Shannon-Drake route to convert it to the modern light-rail system. Due to
elevation changes in the new line, the Overbrook station was
When the refurbished rail line
opened in 2004, a passenger platform was installed near Jacob Street.
between Whited Street and the lower end of Brookline Boulevard. It is
located the portion of the route that is shared by the rail line and the
Known as South Bank Station, the
bus stop had been in existence since 1977, when the South Busway opened.
Now doubling as a bus and light-rail station, South Bank has become a popular
car stop for residents living in the East Brookline part of the
Of The 39-Brookline And Streetcar Service
Downtown Pittsburgh To Brookline
Downtown Pittsburgh ** South Hills Junction
West Liberty Avenue
- West Liberty To Pioneer
- The Commercial District
- Edgebrook to the Loop
An inbound 39-Brookline on the Smithfield Street
Bridge (left) and another heading outbound at Carson Street.
Outbound 39-Brookline on the Smithfield
Street Bridge heading towards Carson Street and the transit tunnel.
39-Brookline at Mellon Plaza on Smithfield
Street (left) and another passing the City County Building on Grant Street.
South Hills Junction
A 39-Brookline PCC passes an old Jones Car as
it approaches the South Hills Junction.
39-Brookline trolleys crossing the Palm
Garden tressel on their way toward the South Hills Junction.
A 39-Brookline trolley passing through
the South Hills Junction yard in 1959.
An outbound 39-Brookline at the Junction Car
Stop (left) and an inbound approaches the transit tunnel entrance.
Streetcars picking up students from South
Hills High School, which can be seen atop the hill in the distance in
The Parm Garden Tressel (left) and a
39-Brookline at the top of the trolley ramp heading towards West Liberty.
An inbound 39-Brookline passes the outbound
Junction loading platform on the way to the transit tunnel.
West Liberty Avenue
Two inbound 39-Brookline streetcars approach
the Capital Avenue on West Liberty Avenue (left), and a
well-dressed family wait for a streetcar at the Capital Avenue
Car Stop in September 1915.
West Liberty Avenue in 1916, looking north from
the Brookline Junction (left) and the intersection of Ray Avenue.
Prior to 1940 and the construction of the
trolley ramp, the Brookline route ran the length of West Liberty Avenue
to Saw Mill Run Boulevard. From there it turned onto Warrington
Avenue, then entered the South Hills Junction.
The trolley ramp was built to ease traffic congestion at the Liberty Tunnels
intersection. The ramp led to
a junction with the Beechview line and proceeded over the Palm Garden tressel
to The Junction.
The two photos above show the busy intersection in 1930 (left) and again in
A 39-Brookline PCC comes off the newly
constructed West Liberty Avenue streetcar ramp in 1940 (left) and in
A 39-Brookline enters the West Liberty trolley
ramp (left) and an outbound car passes Cape May Avenue.
An inbound 39-Brookline approaches Capital
Avenue (left) and another inbound car enters the trolley ramp.
An outbound 39-Brookline passes Brookside
Avenue (left) and another outbound approaches Capital Avenue.
A 39-Brookline heading outbound along the West
Liberty Avenue trolley ramp (left) and another
making the inbound trip, approaching Capital Avenue in 1966.
Pioneer Avenue to West Liberty Avenue
A 1909 view taken from Brookline Boulevard (Bodkin
Street) and Pioneer Avenue showing the Pittsburgh Railways
streetcar right-of-way that would one day become part of
the Boulevard Loop. At that time the Brookline
route was only a single-track line. The homes in the
distance are on Espy Avenue in Dormont.
The Brookline Junction (left) at West Liberty
Avenue in 1909, and the 39-Brookline tracks passing the front
of Harley's Express Moving and General Hauling, located at the
Brookline Junction, in 1915.
West Liberty Avenue at the intersection
with Brookline Boulevard, called the Brookline Junction, in March 1915.
The narrow dirt roadway was paved only along the trolley line, which
doubled as a pedestrian walkway.
West Liberty Avenue, at the intersection
with Brookline Boulevard and Wenzel Avenue, in June 1916 (left) and
an inbound trolley, a Jones Car, on Brookline Boulevard at the
Fleming Car Stop, near Kenilworth, in 1935.
Two 1935 views showing the construction
of the Boulevard Loop from Pioneer Avenue to West Liberty Avenue.
The boulevard was rerouted off of present-day Bodkin Street onto the
To the left is a view of the Fleming Car Stop and to the right
a view towards Pioneer.
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.
Outbound 39-Brookline trolley cars passing Kenilworth
Street on the way up hill towards Pioneer Avenue.
Inbound 39-Brookline streetcars pass Pioneer
Avenue (left) and Kenilworth Avenue (right) enroute to West Liberty.
A chartered outbound trolley passes Kenilworth
Avenue enroute to Brookline Boulevard in 1966.
Brookline Boulevard - The Commercial District
Pioneer Avenue to Edgebrook Avenue
Brookline Boulevard in 1910, at the
corner of Chelton Avenue. The Freehold Real Estate office is located on
the corner island where present-day Triangle Park and the Veteran's Memorial
stand. A vintage
39-Brookline four-wheel box car can be seen to the left
passing Queensboro Avenue.
A 1916 view of Brookline Boulevard, looking
towards Stebbins Avenue (left) and Brookline Boulevard, in 1924,
looking along the streetcar rails in the direction of Creedmoor
A view of the rails along Brookline Boulevard,
taken from Pioneer Avenue in 1928 (left) and a 39-Brookline
Jones Car approaches the Stebbins Avenue Car Stop along Brookline Boulevard in
Inbound and outbound trolley rails cut a
path along Brookline Boulevard, near Castlegate Avenue, in 1924.
Two views of Brookline Boulevard in 1933,
near Glenarm Avenue (left) and Flatbush Avenue.
The Brookline Boulevard commercial
district (left), looking west from Chelton Avenue and Veteran's
Memorial Park, and the Car Stop passenger island at Pioneer Avenue in
Two trolley cars, one inbound and one outbound,
pass near Flatbush Avenue along Brookline Boulevard in 1965.
An inbound 39-Brookline trolley approaches
the intersection with Flatbush Avenue (left) and an
outbound car passes the intersection of Glenarm Avenue in 1965.
Outbound and inbound streetcars approaching
Castlegate Avenue (left) and two inbound cars near Stebbins Avenue.
Edgebrook Avenue To The Brookline Trolley Loop
An outbound 39-Brookline approaches Breining
Street (left) and a conductor checking in
at the Brookline Trolley Loop, marking the end of the route, in 1965.
An outbound streetcar passes the intersection
with Birchland Street (left) and another approaches the trolley loop.
Two trolleys at the Brookline Loop (left)
and another beginning the inbound trip back along Brookline Boulevard.
An inbound 39-Brookline passes Birchland Street
heading towards the Breining Street Car Stop.
Trolley cars at the Brookline Loop along the
1400 block of Brookline Boulevard. This was the end of the local route.
Two images showing the 39-Brookline trolley cars
at the Brookline Loop in 1966.
The Brookline Loop was built in 1910 when the
local route was double-tracked. Prior to that, the Brookline route
ran into the Overbrook Valley to Saw Mill Run, where it intersected
with the Shannon and Charleroi lines.
<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>
<Brookline Junction Trolley Accident - 1930>
<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>
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!
terminology 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).
One of the old-time Car Stop signs that hung
along overhead wires around Pittsburgh.
Original Brookline Souvenirs
In 1907, during the initial residential
building boom in Brookline, the Freehold Real Estate Company offered solid sterling
silver commemorative spoons to homebuyers. With respect to the Pittsburgh
Railways streetcar line that brought this new prosperity to the emerging community,
the ornate spoons featured an image of a trolley along with the name
A few of these spoons, now over a century
old, have survived the test of time, like the one shown here. These spoons were
the very first commemorative Brookline souvenirs ever offered, and a prized piece
of our community's streetcar heritage.
The Brookline Herald was a Pittsburgh Press
insert that ran for a few weeks in October 1907. The Herald ran a small contest in
the October 20 issue, and some of the prizes offered were commemorative spoons
like the one shown above.
The contest winners were published in the
October 27 issue. Both editions are shown below. Could the spoon shown above have
been one of those lucky spoons?
The October 27 issue of the Herald also reminds
readers that Brookline is only fifteen minutes from downtown Pittsburgh via the
transit tunnel, and the new high-speed electric railway will cut that time in
half. What an excellent reason to invest in Brookline!
Digging Up The
Past - 2014
Beginning in February 2013, Brookline
Boulevard has been the site of a major reconstruction and renovation effort.
The project includes infrastructure improvements like new sidewalks, lighting
and signage. The highlight of the project will be the repaving of Brookline
Boulevard, from Starkamp Avenue to Pioneer Avenue.
Although the reconstruction effort,
when it's completed, is expected to yield a picturesque new boulevard, the
process of getting to that point has been a difficult and frustrating
experience for the merchants and motorists.
Work was halted in November due to the
onset of winter, and by the spring of 2014 the cold months had taken quite a
destructive toll on the boulevard. Enormous potholes turned the road surface
into a veritable moonscape. Mastery in the Art of Pothole Dodging has become
a pre-requisite to anyone brave enough to run the gauntlet.
In the midst of this urban chaos
came one award-winning pothole. The old-school strut-shocker was
spotted on April 7, 2014. It wasn't the size that made it stand out. Although
it was large, it paled in comparison to some of the truly abyss-like crevices
Brookline Boulevard's Pothole to the
What gave this pothole character was
the old red paving brick road surface and the trolley track. This historic
part of Brookline Boulevard has been in place since the early 1900s. In 1966,
when the trolley line was discontinued, it was paved over in asphalt.
Forty-seven years and five inches of
asphalt later, the forces of nature, accompanied by liberal amounts of rock
salt, brought this bygone part of Brookline Boulevard back into the light of
day, if only for a few days. The following day it was paved over with cold
The old bricks and tracks were
brought back to the surface in June 2014.
In late-June the reconstruction
project reached it's final phase, and the roadway was completely milled down
to the bricks, exposing the complete length of the trolley tracks that ran down
the center of the boulevard. Once again, the old red bricks and tracks were
After this brief glimpse back to the
glory days of Brookline's transit history, the paving company out a fresh layer
of asphalt on the boulevard and, just like that, the tracks were once again
buried. It may take another fifty years before they see the light of
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 Company
constructs a cable line beginning at the foot of Fifth Avenue and running east
along Shady, Penn and Highland Avenues, a distance of 5.5 miles. The line
opens for passengers on September 12, 1889. Various cable lines operate in the
City of Pittsburgh until 1897.
The Pittsburgh Traction Company's
cable line loop, located at
Fifth and Liberty Avenues in 1890.
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 along
400 miles of single track. Yearly ridership totals 178.7 million passengers
with revenue of $6.7 million.
The standard turn-of-the-century
streetcar has eight wheels, high steps and narrow doors. This makes traveling
slow and cumbersome, particularly for women whose clothes don't allow them
to negotiate the cars.
1912: Pittsburgh's trolley network
is growing fast and the number of passengers increasing. Because of the
over-crowded conditions during peak times, P.N. Jones, head of Pittsburgh
Railways, leads 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.
1915: Pittsburgh Railways decides
that the new, low-floor Jones Car, built in McKees Rocks, with its sloping
floor is going to be its standard car. The company purchases 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 cars are well-received by the public.
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 fifteen cars that are painted red and feature
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 Pittsburgh's Westinghouse Company for help designing the
revolutionary new car.
The inside of a PCC car, looking
towards both the front and rear.
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 twelve years, Pittsburgh
Railways orders 666 of the cars, at a cost of $28,000 apiece, from the St. Louis
Car Company to replace the oldest trolleys in the fleet, which still included
several of the original high-floor trolleys. The new PCC streetcars were painted
in a red and cream color scheme.
1939: Due to the growing vehicular
congestion at the busy intersection of West Liberty Avenue and Saw
Mill Run Boulevard, a new trolley ramp was constructed along the
lower end of West Liberty Avenue. This diverted the 39-Brookline and
38-Mount Lebanon trolleys from the crowded junction and on to the
line used by Dormont and Beechview trolleys.
The first inbound trolley to use the
West Liberty Avenue trolley ramp
was photographed on August 15, 1939.
The cost of the new ramp was $347,000.
It opened to traffic in August 1939. The Brookline and Mount Lebanon trolleys
now used the West Liberty ramp to connect to the Palm Garden Trestle on their
way towards the South Hills Junction.
1949: The Pittsburgh Railways PCC trolley
fleet is the 2nd largest in the country. Only Chicago, which operates 683 cars,
SUMMER, 1953: Interurban trolley service,
which had boomed during the World War II and Korean War years, is scaled back to
the border of Allegheny County.
Map of South Hills Trolley
MARCH, 1964: The Port Authority of
Allegheny County is formed to unify public transit services. Despite the
declining trolley use, the authority inherits 283 PCC trolley cars and 219
1964 to 1967: Many rail routes are
converted to bus routes, including the 38-Mount Lebanon and the 39-Brookline
route, which made its final run on September 3, 1966.
1968: The Port Authority is
operating fifty-eight miles of track, only ten percent of the
Pittsburgh Railways network that was in operation forty years
Many South Hills lines were replaced with
bus service, including 38-Mt.Lebanon and 39-Brookline.
The rails and passenger kiosks along West Liberty Avenue were
1972: The ninety-five remaining
PCC cars servicing the South Hills get new paint jobs, including one that
gets a psychedelic look.
LATE-1970s: An attractive feature that
was introduced at the time was a new advertising scheme. Trolleys could be
sponsored and then decorated at will. Soon, many of Pittsburgh's trolleys
took on a new look. Some of the memorable designs that stood out were
the Pittsburgh Steeler's trolley, the Clark Bar trolley and the Gateway
Clipper Tripple Treat.
The Pittsburgh Steeler's Terrible
Trolley and the Gateway Clipper Triple Treat.
1981: The Port Authority decides
to try to refurbish forty-five PCC trolleys. The $763,000 cost is prohibitive
and only twelve are done before the program is abandoned in 1987.
JULY 3, 1985: Trolley street
operations in the Golden Triangle cease when the downtown subway, part of
the new Light Rail "T" System, is opened. All above ground tracks in
downtown are eventually removed or paved over.
The only rail routes that remain
in operation are part of the new Light Rail System. They are the
Beechview/South Hills Village line, the Warrington/Arlington line and the
Library extension. Soon, the only route still using the old PCC trolley
cars was the Library line.
A PCC trolley at the Wood Street
Subway Station in 1985.
AUGUST 1, 1988: thirty-six 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 along 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
A PCC car stands outside
the trolley museum in 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 in 2004 and the subway now
extends under the Allegheny River to stations on the North Side near PNC
Park, Heinz Field and the River's Casino.
In 2014, a few of the modern light-rail
cars were painted to resemble the old PCC streetcars
as part of the Port Authority's 50th Anniversary celebration.
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
For more information on the history of
trolley service in Pittsburgh, visit the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum at the Meadowlands.
The number to call for information is 877-PA-Trolley or 724-228-9256.
A 39-Brookline streetcar approaches the
Brookline trolley loop in 1966.
* Copied from
the Post-Gazette, and slightly edited, in 2004. *
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: December 26, 2014 *
* Several of the Brookline trolley photos are from the collections of Tom Castriodale
and George Gula *