Trolley Service in Brookline

Outbound 39-Brookline moves along the
boulevard in the direction of Flatbush Avenue.
An Outbound 39-Brookline moves along the 700-block of Brookline Boulevard approaching the Flatbush Avenue car stop.

<Brookline Trolley Photos>      <Related Links>      <Streetcars or Trolleys>

<Souvenir Spoon>    <Digging Up The Past>    <Pittsburgh Trolley History>

Click on images for larger photos

Inbound 39-Brookline passing Cape May
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 busier neighborhoods. Cable cars were also in service for several years. In 1887, the first electrified service began in downtown Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Railways Company was formed in 1902 as a consolidation several independant operators throughout the city.

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 Railroad, which offered passenger service from 1871 to 1912. Boarding stations at Glenbury Street and Whited Street provided access to Brookliners. This 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.

P&CSRR train travels through Fairhaven.    PRC#4817 in 1921.
A P&CSRR train runs through Fairhaven (left) and a turn-of-the-century Pittsburgh Railways Co. horse-drawn trolley.

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 South Hills residents, but there was still no direct link to the city, except for the long trip over Mount Washington.

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 trolley lines soon branched out to the developing southern neighborhoods, including Overbrook, Beechview, Dormont, Castle Shannon, Mount Lebanon and Brookline.

Brookline's First Streetcar Route

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 tunnel and on to Warrington Avenue. The line turned at West Liberty Avenue and continued to the Brookline Junction.

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 Avenue.

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. It connected to an abandoned Pittsburgh and Castle Shannon Railroad spur line that once served a coal mine entrance in the valley.

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.

The route passed under a West Side Belt railroad trestle (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. This new route was designated 39-Brookline.

The Brookline route was terminated at Edgebrook Avenue in 1909. Conductors would change the guide wire to face in the other direction, move to the other end of the car and begin the inbound trip in the opposite direction.

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. With the valley floor streetcar right-of-way in mind, engineers placed metal hooks on the tunnel walls for the electric guide lines. Some of these pins are still visible today.

Permanent Two-Way Looping Route Established

A year later, in 1910, residential development necessitated that the line be extended back into East Brookline. Rather than using the entire valley route to Saw Mill Run, a looping turn-around was built along the 1400 block of Brookline Boulevard, near Witt Street. The Brookline route was upgraded to a double-track line from West Liberty Avenue to Breining Street. In 1915, the entire length of the line was upgraded along West Liberty Avenue.

Real Estate Brochure from the early 1920s

The frequent and reliable streetcar service greatly contributed to the rapid 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. Hundreds of miles of rail lines now linked all of Pittsburgh's communities, and interurban routes stretched far beyond 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 could 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 eight-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 39-Brookline trolleys approaching
Capital Avenue in August, 1915.
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 streetcars (shown below) 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 overcrowding.

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.
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 trolley fleet.

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.

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.
These President's Conference Committee models carried Brookline commuters for twenty-five years.

Brookline Streetcar Route Discontinued

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, four-lane avenue.

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 streetcars.

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.

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 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.

Brookline's trolleys may be gone, but they will never be forgotten. The eight-wheel box cars, the Yellowish Jones Cars and the red PCC Cars will forever be a part of Brookline's transportation heritage that evoke nostalgic memories. South Hills High School students can never forget riding the streetcar to and from the Junction.

Urban railcar enthusiasts still yearn for the thrill of riding the rails through the city landscape. Photos 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.

Inbound 39-Brookline approaching Flatbush Avenue.
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. 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.

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.

The Station Square Passenger Station
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.

Trolley Service Returns To Brookline

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 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 Whited Street.

The line then passed through a small section of Brookline until reaching a Car Stop near Overbrook Elementary School. This long-serving streetcar line, one of the oldest in the South Hills, was discontinued in 1993.

South Bank Station.    South Bank Station.
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 line to convert it to the modern light-rail system. Due to elevation changes in the new line, the Overbrook station was eliminated from the route.

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, along the portion of the route that is shared by the rail line and the South Busway.

Known as South Bank Station, the stop has been in existence since 1977 when the South Busway opened. It is the only light-rail stop located within the confines of the Brookline community. South Bank has become a popular car stop for residents living in the East Brookline part of the neighborhood.

Photos Of The 39-Brookline Streetcar In And Around Brookline

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

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.

Outbound 39-Brookline at the Smithfield
Street Bridge and Carson Street.
Outbound 39-Brookline on the Smithfield Street Bridge heading towards Carson Street and the transit tunnel.

Inbound 39-Brookline exiting the Smithfield Street Bridge.    Outbound 39-Brookline at Carson Street.
An inbound 39-Brookline on the Smithfield Street Bridge (left) and another heading outbound at Carson Street.

39-Brookline heading towards the Brookline Loop.    39-Brookline passing through the South Hills Junction.
39-Brookline approaching the Brookline Loop (left) and another heading towards the South Hills Junction.

39-Brookline passing through the
South Hills Junction in 1959.
39-Brookline passing through the South Hills Junction in 1959.

Outbound 39-Brookline approaching
Castlegate Avenue in 1966.
An outbound 39-Brookline on Brookline Boulevard approaching Castlegate Avenue, while an inbound car
approaches Castlegate from the other direction, in 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 approaching Breining Street.
Outbound 39-Brookline passing Cape May on West Liberty Avenue (left) and inbound approaching Breining Street.

39-Brookline at the Brookline loop.    39-Brookline at the Brookline loop.
Two images showing the 39-Brookline trolley at the Brookline Loop in 1966.

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

Artwork by Doug Brendel.

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>

39-Brookline Schedule - June 1966

More Photos Of The 39-Brookline

Two inbound 39-Brookline streetcars approach Capital Avenue.
Two inbound 39-Brookline streetcars approach the Capital Avenue Car Stop on West Liberty Avenue in September 1915.

39-Brookline at the South Hills Junction    39-Brookline at Mellon Plaza on Smithfield Street.
39-Brookline at the South Hills Junction (left) and downtown at Mellon Plaza on Smithfield Street.

39-Brookline passes the City County
Building on Grant Street.    39-Brookline passes the City County
Building on Grant Street.
A 39-Brookline passes the City County Building on Grant Street in downtown Pittsburgh (left), and an inbound
39-Brookline approaches Belle Isle Avenue on West Liberty Avenue in 1963.

An outbound 39-Brookline exits the Mount
Washington Transit Tunnel at the Junction.
An outbound 39-Brookline exits the transit tunnel at the South Hills Junction.

Outbound 39-Brookline at Capital Avenue in 1966.    Two outbound 39-Brookline trolleys
near Stebbins Avenue on Brookline Boulevard.
An outbound 39-Brookline at Capital Avenue (left) and two inbound cars near Stebbins Avenue on Brookline Boulevard.

39-Brookline heading at the trolley loop
along the 1400 block of Brookline Boulevard.    39-Brookline on the West Liberty trolley ramp.
A 39-Brookline at the Brookline loop (left) and another shown heading outbound on the West Liberty trolley ramp.

Outbound 39-Brookline passes the Brookside
Car Stop on West Liberty Avenue.
An outbound 39-Brookline passes the Brookside Car Stop on West Liberty Avenue.

Inbound 39-Brookline approaches
Capital Avenue in 1966.    39-Brookline at the Brookline Loop.
An inbound 39-Brookline on West Liberty Avenue approaches Capital Avenue in 1966 (left) and a car at the Brookline Loop.

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.

An inbound 39-Brookline passes the outbound
loading platform at the South Hills Junction.
An inbound 39-Brookline passes the outbound loading platform at the South Hills Junction.

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).

An old Car Stop sign.
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 "Brookline."

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.

Freehold Brookline Commemorative Spoon - 1907.

Freehold Brookline Commemorative Spoon - 1907    Freehold Brookline Commemorative Spoon - 1907

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 nearby.

Brookline's Pothole to the Past.
Brookline Boulevard's Pothole to the Past.

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 patch.

Brookline's Pothole to the Past.
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 exposed.

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 day.

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.

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.

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 first inbound trolley to the West
Liberty Avenue trolley ramp was
photographed on August 15, 1939.
The first inbound trolley to the West Liberty Avenue
trolley ramp was photographed on August 15, 1939.

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 to reroute the 39-Brookline and 38-Mount Lebanon trolleys away from the crowed junction and on to the line used by the Dormont and Beechview trolleys. The cost of the new ramp was $347,000. The Brookline and Mount Lebanon trolleys now used the Palm Garden Trestle on the way to the South Hills Junction.

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.

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

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 38-Mount Lebanon and 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
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.

A modern light-rail car painted to
resemble an old PCC streetcar - 2014.
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 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: July 29, 2014 *
* Several of the Brookline trolley photos are from the collections of Tom Castriodale and George Gula *

39-Brookline drawing by Dan Bridy.

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