Streetcar 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.

The History Of Streetcar Service In Brookline

Streetcar service in 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 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 until 1897.

In the 1890s, electrified service began in downtown Pittsburgh. Soon, there were over one hundred separate trolley companies running within the city limits. These independent operators merged into larger traction companies in the mid-1890s. Pennsylvania's Focht-Emery Bill of 1901 led to a major expansion of the network and the creation of the Pittsburgh Railways Company formed in 1902 as a consolidation of most traction companies within the city.

♦ South Hills Early Years
♦ Focht-Emery Bills of 1901
♦ The Charleroi Short-Line
♦ Street Railways Companies
♦ The Finest Traction Road
♦ Proposed Route Extension
♦ Trolleys Over The Years
♦ The Streamline PCC Cars
♦ Riding the Trolley to School
♦ Brookline Route Discontinued
♦ Reminders of Yesteryear

A Slice of Americana ♦
Take a Ride on the "T" ♦
Related History Links ♦
Streetcar or Trolley? ♦
The Original Souvenir ♦
Digging Up The Past ♦
Model Scale Replicas ♦
Trolleys In Pittsburgh ♦
Transit Tragedies ♦
The Transit Tunnel ♦
Brookline Bus Service ♦

♦ 39-Brookline Photo Gallery ♦

* Last Updated - April 29, 2021 *

Inbound 39-Brookline passing Cape May.
An outbound 39-Brookline at Cape May Avenue heading south along West Liberty in May 1966.

South Hills Transportation - The Early Years

Through the late-1800s, travel from the South Hills boroughs to Pittsburgh, mostly farmers taking their products to market, was a long and arduous journey over dirt roads that scaled what seemed like mountains. The trip over Mount Washington alone could take over an hour.

Beginning in the 1870s, an alternative for some travelers was a ride on the passenger cars pulled by the narrow-gauge steam locomotives of the Pittsburgh and Castle Shannon Railroad, which offered passenger and freight service from 1871 to 1912.

Boarding stations at Glenbury, Whited and Edgebrook streets provided access to Brookliners. The train took travelers as far as Warrington Avenue, where they transfered to a pair of inclines that scaled Mount Washington to reach Carson Street. The Castle Shannon South and Castle Shannon No. 1, once in operation, also offered considerable convenience for South Hills wagon, freight and pedestrian traffic.

P&CSRR train travels through Fairhaven.
A Pittsburgh & Castle Shannon Railroad train runs through Fairhaven in nearby Overbrook.

Focht-Emery Transit Bills

Pennsylvania's Focht-Emery Bills were signed into law by Governor William A. Stone on June 7, 1901. The bills were the result of ruthless transporation competition in the city of Philadelphia between corporations like the United and Consolidated Traction Companies, and much lobbying by powerful interests throughout the state, including the Olivers and Mellons of Pittsburgh, wishing to construct electrified traction lines to compete with established passenger railroads. The following day the Pittsburgh Railways Company was founded.

The Emery Bill amended the act of May 14, 1899, which further amended the Transit Laws passed by the Pennsylvania legislature in 1895 relating to the establishment and consolidation of street railways. The bill provides that, whenever a charter shall hereafter be granted to build a road, no other charter to build a road on the same streets, highways, bridges, or property shall be granted to any other company "within the time during which, by the provision of this act, the company first securing the charter has the right to commence and complete this work." The right was further given the companies incorporated under the act "to take, hold, purchase, operate, lease, and convey such real and personal property, estate, and franchises as the purposes of the corporation shall require."

Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette - June 8, 1901.

The legislation outlined the conditions under which the new companies could use the tracks of existing corporations. It gives the former the right to use tracks and all streets for which franchises have been granted, but which are not "in constant daily use," and not more than 25,000 feet " of the single or double tracks of, or the streets, highways, and bridges occupied by, any other passenger railway company or companies, incorporated under this or any general or special act, whether the said corporation owning the said tracks shall or shall not have the exclusive right to lay tracks in said street or highway, either by virtue of their charter or any legislation claiming to confer such exclusive privilege," provided that the consent of the local authorities for such use of the tracks is first secured.

It also requires that the consent of local authorities shall first be obtained before any company shall have the right to construct a road, and that the route shall be continuous. Another section requires that the application to the local authorities must be made within two years from the date of incorporation, and that the road must be completed within five years thereafter. The companies are given the right "to acquire property, either by purchase or otherwise," but are forbidden to connect their tracks with steam-railroad tracks.

Pittsburgh Post - June 9, 1901.

The Focht Bill is entitled "An act to provide for the incorporation and government of passenger railways either elevated or underground, or partly elevated and partly underground, with surface rights." After providing for the requirements of incorporation and defining the powers and privileges of companies incorporated under it, this bill confers the right of eminent domain upon them. The act, which is a companion to the Emery act, has similar provisions as to the consent of local authorities, and the time within which such application must be made and within which the work must be completed. Moreover, the franchises were to be exclusive and perpetual, and the companies were to have unlimited powers to borrow money on bonds.

Called "Ripper" bills, the legislation led to rampant stock fraud by numerous entities in the region as outlined by Mayor William A. Magee a decade later. These charges were published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on December 4, 1910.

History has proven that the Focht-Emery Bills, which were rushed through the legislature by politicians and financial magnates that benefited greatly from the vast property and financial powers granted in the acts. By 1906, the Pittsburgh Railways Company had grown into a consolidation of over 280 separate corporations, either owned or leased.

Pittsburgh Railways Company

♦ The 280 Companies That Made Up Pittsburgh Railways ♦
(as of October 25, 1906)

In 1918, Pittsburgh Railways filed for bankruptcy as interest on numerous subsidiary bond issues were in default and general mismanagement doomed the transit giant. The Pittsburgh Railways Agreement of January 1922 between the company and the City of Pittsburgh, which was ratified in 1924, cleared up much of the financial and management issues, keeping the $62.5 million transit company solvent. Another bankruptcy claim followed in 1938, and the company was eventually purchased by the Port Authority of Allegheny County in 1964.

Despite their many flaws, the Focht-Emery Bills did lead to the creation of a modern electrified railway system that brought public transportation throughout the city of Pittsburgh and surrounding suburbs into the 20th century and led to unprecedented growth in the region.

Charleroi Short-Line Railway

The 39-Brookline trolley route had roots in the Charleroi Short Line Railway. In the late-1890s, the Mellon family made large capital expenditures in new electrified interurban traction lines. Their great system of modern railways would feature brightly colored yellow cars that carried a new type of braking system developed by the Westinghouse Company.

In 1901, work began on three new lines: East Pittsburgh to Pitcairn, Wilkinsburg to Oakmont, and West Liberty to Charleroi. The southern line would utilize the existing Pittsburgh and Birmingham Traction Company tracks to reach Pittsburgh.

Advertisement for lots in Paul Place - 1904.
This June 18, 1904 real estate advertisement illustration shows how vital the trolley line was to development
in Brookline. West Liberty Elementary School, atop the hill along Pioneer Avenue, had just been enlarged.
In this image Oakwood Avenue is Capital Avenue. Paul Place was one of the original Brookline subdivisions.

The Charleroi Short Line was a 27 1/2 mile traction line running from downtown Pittsburgh to Fayette City in Washington County. The path chosen for this modern high-speed southern railway would be perhaps the most significant development for the history of communities like Brookline, Beechwood, Dormont and Mount Lebanon.

Beginning downtown at the Union Station, single-truck cars would pass over the Smithfield Street Bridge to Carson Street, then up Brownsville Road (Arlington Avenue) to a junction with Warrington Avenue. Once at the Knoxville Incline Station, passengers transferred from the single-truck cars to the double-truck Mellon interurban cars. This transfer was necessary because it was deemed unsafe to take the larger double-truck cars along the sharp curves on Brownsville Road. From there it was down Warrington to the South Hills Junction.

October 1902

It was from the South Hills Junction that twenty-six miles of new traction line extended to the south. The route would take the interurban cars along West Liberty Avenue past Brookline, Beechwood and Dormont to Mount Lebanon. The line continued on to the south, passing the P&CSRR repair yard along Castle Shannon Boulevard on the way to Washington County.

Beginning in the spring of 1901 Pittsburgh Railways began running traction cars along the initial single-track line to Castle Shannon and back. It was these trolley cars that are shown in the early advertisements for homes in Brookline's initial Fleming Place, Hughey Farms and Paul Place housing developments.

Pittsburg Post - September 28, 1903.

On September 28, 1903, the Pittsburgh Daily Post announced the formal opening of the entire traction line Pittsburgh to Charleroi. After nearly two years and a cost of $1 million, the high-speed electrified line was a major time saving alternative to steam locomotive travel, running exclusively on a private right-of-way through several large boroughs.

One of the major components of the Charleroi Short Line was the Mount Washington Transit Tunnel, which when complete would eliminate the trip over Mount Washington and the need to switch cars, thus significantly slashing travel time even further and fueling the first South Hills commercial and residential development boom.

Mount Washington Transit Tunnel - 1935
The Mount Washington Transit Tunnel opened in December 1904 and led to rapid development in the South Hills.

West Liberty Street Railway Company

The history of the electrified railway systems in Pittsburgh and Allegheny really took off in the 1890s, when hundreds of traction companies were formed, many of which were up and running when leased or acquired, then consolidated by the Pittsburgh Railways in January 1902.

One of these was the WEST LIBERTY STREET RAILWAY COMPANY, incorporated on October 13, 1899, to construct a line running from the intersection of Warrington and Beltzhoover Avenues to West Liberty Avenue, then south to the Mount Lebanon Cemetery and back. The company began with an initial stock valuation of $12,000, which was increased in June 21, 1900, to $400,000. This was funded with a bond issue to cover "construction of the lines and the acquisition of Rights of Ways."

On August 9, 1900 the company entered into a consolidation agreement with the long-running Pittsburgh and Birmingham Traction Company, a subsidiary of the state-wide United Traction Company. All were controlled by the powerful transit conglomerate, the Philadelphia Company.

Rare Stock certificate - United Traction Company

The deal consolidated their lines as part of a continuous track system extending from Mount Lebanon to the Union Depot in downtown Pittsburgh. This combined line would become the northern leg of the 27 1/2 mile Charleroi Short Line Railway. Under the agreement, the West Liberty Street Railways Company became a subsidiary of the Pittsburgh and Birmingham Traction Company.

The West Liberty Street Railway Company's tracks were operational by the spring of 1901, spurring residential and commercial development all along its path. The company's assets were then leased by Pittsburgh Railways Company. The company itself remained an active corporation until 1964, when Pittsburgh Railways was acquired by the Port Authority of Allegheny County. The West Liberty Street Railway Company is still on the books, over 120 years after forming.

West Liberty Avenue - 1904
A Pittsburgh Railways Mount Lebanon trolley car on West Liberty Avenue, just north of Brookside Avenue.
From 1901 to 1905 the new electric railway had only a single track laid along West Liberty Avenue.
These tracks were leased to Pittsburgh Railways by the West Liberty Street Railway Company.

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West Liberty Street and Suburban Railway Company

Another such traction company was the WEST LIBERTY AND SUBURBAN STREET RAILWAY COMPANY, formed on February 20, 1905. In anticipation of the upcoming West Liberty Improvement Company development of the soon-to-be Brookline community, investors formed this transit corporation with $6000 in capital stock to acquire property rights for the establishment of a one-mile spur line that would branch off of the original West Liberty Street Railway Company tracks.

The route of the proposed electrified traction line would be as follows (reprinted verbatim from the company Articles of Association):

Beginning on West Liberty Avenue at the intersection with Hunter Avenue in West Liberty Borough, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania; thence along Hunter Avenue to Lang Avenue; thence along Lang Avenue to Knowlson Avenue; thence along Knowlson Avenue to the Hughey Road, all in West Liberty Borough; thence continuing along Knowlson Avenue in Baldwin Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, to the township road (sometimes called Fairhaven Street) leading to Fairhaven, and thence returning by the same route to the place of beginning, with the necessary sidings, turnouts and switches, forming a complete circuit with its own tracks; said road to be double track road.

Locals would know this route as: 39-BROOKLINE.

The only difference in the Brookline route as described above and what was installed shortly afterward was that instead of running up steep Hunter Avenue (Bodkin) to Lang Avenue (Pioneer), a looping right-of-way was acquired that circled on a gradual grade through the Fleming Place Plan to Lang Avenue.

The West Liberty and Suburban Street Railway Company was acquired shortly afterwards by Pittsburgh Railways and is still on the books, over 115 years after incorporating.

As the Pittsburgh Railways network quickly grew to its peak in the 1920s, hundreds of these short-lived corporations were formed to cover extensions in existing routes. Pittsburgh Railways history is a huge, interlocking maze of mergers, leases and acquisitions.

♦ Pittsburgh Light Rail Transportation History ♦
(including video of the Brookline Route)

Pittsburgh Railways Inspector Badge

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Library and West Liberty Street Railway Company

One other traction company that established a line significant to Brookline was the LIBRARY AND WEST LIBERTY STREET RAILWAY COMPANY, formed on January 6, 1905. This route followed the old Pittsburgh and Castle Shannon Railroad right of way to Castle Shannon, then continued on to Library PA. This route was first opened to trolley traffic in July 1909 after the existing railroad line and bridges were modified for use by electrified traction cars.

When the Shannon-Library line went into service the larger interurban cars of the Charleroi Short Line were routed off of West Liberty Avenue and onto this new suburban line, which intersected with the existing Charleroi line at Willow Avenue in Castle Shannon. Like the other two local traction companies, the Library and West Liberty Street Railway Company is still on the books as a county orphan corporation.

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Early Electrical Issues Along West Liberty Avenue

The Pittsburgh Daily Post, on July 10, 1901, reported that the Postal Telegraph and Cable Company went to court with the West Liberty Street Railway Company asking for an injunction to restrain the transit company from interferring with the poles and lines of the telegraph company in West Liberty Borough and Scott Township.

It was said that in grading West Liberty Avenue for the streetcar tracks the ground was dug away from the telegraph poles in such a manner as to endanger their safety and use.

The company was also alleged that the traction company placed their poles and wires in such a way as to interfere with the operations of the telegraph lines. The complaint charged that the heavy current running the trolleys burned out the appliances of the telegraph company. It was noted that on two seperate occasions fourteen individual telegraph lines had been completely disabled since the traction line began operation.

The communications company agreed to remove their poles and relocate their equipment to utility poles along streets without traction lines. The outcome of the court case is unknown, but the Postal Telegraph and Cable Company poles were eventually moved.

South Hills Junction - 1906
The South Hills Junction in 1906. Note the outbound P&CSRR train on the hillside above the complex.

Freehold Real Estate
Advertisement - June 27, 1905
Freehold Real Estate Company advertisement from June 27, 1905 highlighting Brookline's high-speed traction line.
Click on picture to see the details in a high resolution image of the trolley scene.

In March 1905 work began on a double-track trolley line through Brookline. To access the emerging neighborhood, an outbound car from Pittsburgh followed the single-track Charleroi line along West Liberty Avenue to the Brookline Junction. From there the trolley car turned left onto an exclusive double-tracked right-of-way that wound its way along an orchard and the Fleming Place plan of homes up a steady grade to Pioneer Avenue.

From Pioneer Avenue, the Brookline route was double-tracked all the way along Brookline Boulevard to the city line at Edgebrook Avenue. The two tracks continued for a short distance into Baldwin Township to Fairhaven Road (Breining Street), where the tracks merged into a single line that led to a loop along what is now the 1400 block of Brookline Boulevard.

Freehold Real Estate
Advertisement - October 17, 1905
An October 17, 1905 illustration depicting the double-tracking of West Liberty Avenue.

Once at the loop the conductor had to get out of the car and check in on a call box before beginning the 15-minute return trip to town following the same route. Before the switches were automated, the conductor was also responsible for manually activating a track switch at both the Brookline Junction and Fairhaven Road. By the end of 1905, West Liberty Avenue was also double-tracked.

Designated Route Number 39 on the Pittsburgh Railways books, the Brookline route remained unchanged until 1966.

39-Brookline approaching Breining Street.
An inbound 39-Brookline passes Birchland Street after the turn-around at the Brookline Loop.

Proposed Route Extension

In 1905, the Pittsburgh Railways Company leased the Pittsburgh and Castle Shannon Railroad line with plans to convert the steam powered line into part of the Charleroi interurban line, eliminating travel on the increasingly congested West Liberty traffic corridor.

Early community planners envisioned two distinct Brookline streetcar routes. One was the traditional route that ran to the loop along the 1400 block of the boulevard and then headed back in the opposite direction. The additional route would switch off to the right near present-day Birchland Street and continue along a one-way single track line through the Fairhaven Valley to Saw Mill Run along following the path of an old Pittsburgh and Castle Shannon Railroad spur line that ran along the valley floor.

From there the tracks would merge with the main Pittsburgh & Castle Shannon Railroad line, the tracks of which were scheduled to be modified for use by electified traction cars and in service by 1909. Once this Brookline/Fairhaven extension merged onto the Castle Shannon line the trolley the inbound route followed the Saw Mill Run corridor to the South Hills Junction. The proposed route would be a continuous wider ranging single-direction loop from downtown to Brookline intended to serve the planned East Brookline and Brookdale developments.

In anticipation of this alternate Brookline/Fairhaven route, the Pittsburgh Railways Company acquired the right-of-way through the valley. This extended route is prominently displayed on old real estate advertisements appearing in the first few years of the community's development. The Fairhaven extension is also shown on Hopkins Plot Maps as late as 1940.

The Overbrook Tunnel - 2013
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.

When the West Side Belt Railway upgraded it's Pittsburgh lines in 1909, the Overbrook trestle that carried trains over the Fairhaven valley was replaced with the present-day Overbrook Tunnel and a solid earth abutment. Anticipating that the trolley route would one day pass through the tunnel engineers placed metal hooks on the tunnel walls for the trolley's electric guide lines. Some of these pins are still visible today.

In April 1909, Pittsburgh Railways began electrifying and converting the P&CSRR rail gauge to accommodate the light rail traffic. Standard streetcars and the larger interurban cars began running along that line in July of that year. The entire project, including the retrofitting of four bridges, was completed in December 1910 at a total cost of $161,000.

Freehold Real Estate Brochure from 1924.

It is unknown exactly why planners decided to abandon the route through the Fairhaven Valley to Saw Mill Run, but despite repeated efforts over the years to improve that land (known to planners as the Brookdale development), the concept never materialized and the Brookline Loop near Witt remained the furthest extent of the 39-Brookline route for the next half century.

The frequent and reliable streetcar service became, for many years, the primary mode of transportation to and from downtown Pittsburgh, or maybe just from one end of the community to the other. 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.

Workers installing new double-track rails
 during the West Liberty Avenue reconstruction project in August 1915.
Workers installing new double-track rails during the West Liberty Avenue reconstruction project in August 1915.
The view is looking north from near Belle Isle Avenue towards Pauline and on to the bend leading to Capital.

A major upgrade to the Brookline route occurred in 1915, when the entire length of the traction line was reconstructed along West Liberty Avenue. Twenty years later, in 1935, another significant improvement was the reconstruction of Brookline Boulevard, 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.

Then, in 1939, streetcars were diverted away from the congested West Liberty Avenue/Saw Mill Run Boulevard intersection with the construction of a trolley ramp built slightly north of Pioneer Avenue. The trolley line then merged with the Beechview line and crossed the Palm Garden Trestle to enter the South Hills Junction complex.

West Liberty Avenue Trolley Ramp - 1939.
August 9, 1939 - work proceeds on the West Liberty Avenue Trolley Ramp. In one week it would open to traffic.

Trolleys Used In Brookline

The first generation of electrified trolley cars used here in Brookline were old wooden cars covered in steel-sheeting, referred to as "box cars." They were built by the St. Louis Car Company at a cost of $6000 each and introduced in Pittsburgh during the winter of 1902.

These eight-wheelers were forty-seven feet long and powered by four fifty-horse power motors. The cars had high floors, narrow doors and sat forty-four passengers on wooden seats. They could be driven from either side of the vehicle by moving directional controls and electrical guide wire from one end to the other. Although reliable, these early streetcars were deemed uncomfortable by passengers and 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, sixteen-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, and the 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." The elements, combined with the ever-present pollution from surrounding industry soon faded that color to a dull, yellowish tint. Here in Pittsburgh, this generation of trolley cars became commonly known as "Yellow Cars." This model remained in service until phased out in 1954. Modified Jones Cars remained in the fleet as maintenance and support vehicles into the 1960s.

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, at the request of the American Electric Railway Association Advisory Council, the St. Louis Car Company, with help from Pittsburgh's Westinghouse Company, introduced the sleek new vehicles. Since the project development was overseen by the Electric Railway Presidents Conference Committee, the design was branded with that name.

Considered revolutionary in their time, these ultra-modern red and cream colored vehicles would soon become the standard cars in the Pittsburgh Railways fleet. The first Presidents Conference Committee (PCC) car arrived in Pittsburgh that year. Car #100 entered service on September 26, 1936, and was used on all routes to promote ridership around the city.

Pittsburgh Press - April 2, 1940.

Pittsburgh Railways ordered 666 of the Presidents Conference Committee cars, at a price of $28,000 apiece. They entered the fleet in 1937 and served the city and surrounding suburbs for a half century.

On April 2, 1940, the company took delivery of the third shipment of 100 cars, bringing the fleet total to 301. The PCC cars began running regularly on the Brookline route. By the 1990s, only a handful of PCC cars were left in operation, running only along the southernmost section of the Shannon-Library route. The remaining three PCC cars were retired in September 1999.

39-Brookline trolley passes Triangle Park
at the intersection with Queensboro Avenue.    39-Brookline approaches the turn-around loop.
President's Conference Committee models carried Brookline commuters for twenty-seven years.

Presidents Conference Committee Cars

Below is a five-page feature that ran in the Pittsburgh Press on February 2, 1937. This was the day that the first shipment of 100 Presidents Conference Committee (PCC) cars went into service for the Pittsburgh Railways Company. The associated articles detail the many technological improvements made in the new traction cars and the contributions of Pittsburgh industry towards their development.

Pittsburgh Press - February 4, 1937    Pittsburgh Press - February 4, 1937

Pittsburgh Press - February 4, 1937    Pittsburgh Press - February 4, 1937

Pittsburgh Press - February 4, 1937

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The following two page feature was published in the Pittsburgh Press on April 2, 1940. This was the day that the third installment of 100 PCC trolley cars went into service with the Pittsburgh Railways network. One of the articles announces the beginning of PCC car service along the 39-Brookline route and the others detail the many improvements made in the motor and braking systems of this latest model. These were designed and manufactured here in Pittsburgh by the Westinghouse Company.

Pittsburgh Press - April 2, 1940    Pittsburgh Press - April 2, 1940

* Click on newspaper images for larger readable version *

Outbound 39-Brookline on Brookline Boulevard.

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.

Pittsburgh Press clipping - October 29, 1934.
A Pittsburgh Press clipping from October 29, 1934, touting new transportation arrangement for Brookline students.

Streetcars line up at the South Hills
Junction in 1935 to transport South Hills HS
students home to Brookline and Beechview.    A gathering of students boarding a
streetcar at the Junction in 1963.
Streetcars line up at the South Hills Junction in 1935 to transport South Hills High School students home to
Brookline and Beechview (left); A gathering of students boarding a streetcar at the Junction in 1963.

Conveniently located on the hill above the Pittsburgh Railways South Hills Junction, the Brookline Board of Trade and the Pittsburgh School Board provided students from the southern neighborhoods with passes to ride the streetcar to and from school for the price of a nickel. From the Junction, a set of city steps led to Paur Street. From there it was a short walk to Ruth Street and the school building.

A Brookline trolley is ready to pick
up students from South Hills High School.
A Brookline trolley stands second in line ready to pick up students from South Hills High School circa 1961.

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 Discontinued

The last run of the 39-Brookline streetcar took place on September 3, 1966. Trolley enthusiasts gathered for one final trip on a chartered PCC car that made a ceremonial run along the sixty-one year old Brookline route. When the trip was completed, John Damerson, Director of the Port Authority, signed the final transfer slip to mark the occasion.

Transfer from the final run
of the 39-Brookline streetcar.

Transfer from the final run
of the 39-Brookline streetcar.

The following day, Port Authority bus service replaced the old trolley service and the local route was given a new designation, 41-Brookline. Within a few months, the old tracks that ran down the center of Brookline Boulevard were paved over. The divided section of the road from Edgebrook Avenue to Breining Street was widened to a broad, four-lane avenue.

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 in 1966.

The era of rail traffic through the heart of the Brookline community had come to an end. Many Brookliners lamented the loss of the vintage streetcar service. However, as time went on, they embraced the new Port Authority bus service as a reliable and convenient public transportation alternative.

Pittsburgh Railways Day Pass.

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.

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

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.

Outbound 39-Brookline passing Kenilworth Avenue.
An outbound 39-Brookline passes Kenilworth Avenue in August 1966.

Another throwback to yesteryear came in 2011. During a reorganization of the Port Authority bus service here in Pittsburgh, Brookline's route designation was changed back to number thirty-nine, a number not scene in the neighborhood since 1966. When a bus now makes the local run, the marquee is emblazened with the vintage 39-Brookline.

Pittsburgh Railways trolley tokens.

One final reminder of the era of Pittsburgh Railways and the trolleys that played a part in the birth of Brookline are located here and there, mostly in collector albums or attic drawers. These are the various fare tokens issued by Pittsburgh Railways over the years. The most common are the 1922 variety, a 3/4 inch brass token emblazened with an image of a Jones Car and distinguishable by the triangle cut in the center.

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

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 memories.

An outbound Brookline trolley
approaching Queensboro Avenue in 1965.
An outbound Brookline trolley at the Queensboro Avenue crosswalk in 1965.

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.

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.

A final historical note on the PCC cars of the old Pittsburgh fleet. A few are scattered about in Trolley Museums around the country. Others were sent to the San Francisco Bay area, where they provided much-needed replacement parts for vintage PCC cars that remain in operation, 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.

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Light-Rail Service Comes 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 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 Whited Street.

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

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 South Busway.

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 neighborhood.

Real Estate Advertisement - October 11, 1905.

Brookline Streetcar Photo Gallery
(Downtown Pittsburgh to the Brookline Loop)

♦ Downtown Pittsburgh ♦     ♦ South Hills Junction ♦

♦ West Liberty Avenue to the Brookline Junction ♦

♦ Brookline Boulevard from West Liberty to Pioneer ♦

♦ Brookline Boulevard Commercial District ♦

♦ Brookline Boulevard from Edgebrook to Breining ♦

♦ Breining Street to the Brookline Loop ♦

Timetable for the 39-Brookline - June 1966.

♦ Pittsburgh Light Rail Transportation History ♦
(including video of the Brookline Route)

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Downtown Pittsburgh

Inbound 39-Brookline crosses Carson Street
onto the Smithfield Street Bridge.
Inbound 39-Brookline crosses East Carson Street onto the Smithfield Street Bridge.

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.

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.

39-Brookline at Mellon Plaza on Smithfield Street.    39-Brookline passes the City County
Building on Grant Street in 1963.
39-Brookline at Mellon Plaza on Smithfield Street (left) and another passing the City County Building on Grant Street.

Outbound 39-Brookline makes the turn off
 the First Street ramp onto the Smithfield Street Bridge.
Outbound 39-Brookline makes the turn off the First Street ramp onto the Smithfield Street Bridge.

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South Hills Junction

The approach to the South Hills Junction - 1918.
Looking from atop South Hills High School along Ruth Street down at the southern approaches to the South Hills
Junction in 1918. The Shannon and Charleroi lines come in from the left and the Brookline, Beechview, Dormont
and Mt. Lebanon lines to the right. Homes along Warrington Avenue can be seen to the left.

39-Brookline passing through the South Hills Junction.
A 39-Brookline PCC passes an old Jones Car as it approaches the South Hills Junction.

39-Brookline at the South Hills Junction    An outbound 39-Brookline exits the Mount
Washington Transit Tunnel at the Junction.
An outbound 39-Brookline at the Junction Car Stop (left) and an inbound approaches the transit tunnel entrance.

39-Brookline in line at the South Hills Junction.
A 39-Brookline PCC stands in line waiting to take to the tracks South Hills Junction.

Crossing the Palm Garden Trestle
heading towards the Junction    39-Brookline exits the Palm Garden Trestle
on it's way towards the South Hills Junction
39-Brookline trolleys crossing the Palm Garden trestle on their way toward the South Hills Junction.

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

An outbound 39-Brookline exits the Mount
Washington Transit Tunnel at the Junction.    A 39-Brookline passes through the
car yard at the South Hills Junction.
An outbound 39-Brookline exits the transit tunnel (left) and another passes the car barn at the Junction.

39-Brookline passing through the South Hills Junction.
A 39-Brookline PCC passes through the South Hills Junction.

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.
Inbound 39-Brookline trolleys pass the outbound Junction loading platform on the way to the transit tunnel.

39-Brookline passing through the South Hills Junction.
A 39-Brookline PCC passes through the South Hills Junction.

The Palm Garden Trestle led to the Junction.    39-Brookline at the top of the trolley ramp
heading towards the merge with West Liberty Avenue.
A 42/38-Mt Lebanon/Beechview on the Parm Garden Trestle (left). The 39-Brookline streetcar used the bridge
from 1940 to 1966. To the right, a 39-Brookline enters the trolley ramp heading towards West Liberty.

39-Brookline at the top of the trolley ramp merging onto Beechview line.
An inbound 39-Brookline merges onto the Beechview line at the top of the West Liberty Avenue ramp.

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West Liberty Avenue

A trolley passes homes along West Liberty
Avenue, north of Brookside Avenue, in 1909.
A trolley car passes homes along West Liberty Avenue, north of Brookside Avenue (circa 1904).
By the end of 1905 the streetcar line along West Liberty Avenue would be double-tracked.

Outbound streetcar approaches
Brookside Avenue  - March 1915.    Inbound streetcar passing Stetson Street
heading towards Cape May - March 1915.
An outbound streetcar approaches Brookside Avenue and a billboard advertising lots in Brookline (left),
and an inbound streetcar passing Stetson Street heading north towards Cape May in March 1915.

Streetcar at Belle Isle Avenue - March 1915    Streetcar at Belle Isle Avenue - August 1915
An outbound streetcar approaches Belle Isle Avenue in March 1915 (left) and another at Belle Isle in August 1915.

An inbound 39-Brookline streetcar heads north towards Cape May Avenue in March 1912.

Two inbound 39-Brookline streetcars approach Capital Avenue.    A family waits for the streetcar
at the Capital Avenue Car Stop.
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.

Construction at the Brookline Junction - May 1915    Construction at the Brookline Junction - August 1915
Construction work at the Brookline Junction in May (left) and in August 1915, looking south towards the city line.

West Liberty Avenue at Stetson
Avenue - August 1915.
A man and three boys pass Stetson Street as they ride the rails south towards Capital in August 1915. The young
lad standing on the edge of the wagon is looking back at a streetcar coming up behind the wagon.

Inbound streetcar passes Pioneer Avenue - December 2015.    Outbound streetcar passes Cape May - December 2015.
An inbound streetcar passes Pioneer Avenue approaching the intersection with Warrington (left)
and another heading outbound past Cape May Avenue in December 1915.

From Brookline Boulevard looking north.    From Ray Avenue looking north
towards Capital Avenue.
West Liberty Avenue in 1916, looking north from the Brookline Junction (left) and the intersection of Ray Avenue.
The year-long reconstruction project is finished. The roadway was widened to four lanes and paved in Belgian
block. New sewers and electric has been installed as well as a complete upgrade of the streetcar line.

Looking north from the city line
towards the Brookline Junction - June 1916.
An outbound streetcar passes the Brookline Junction heading uphill towards the city line in June 1916.

West Liberty Ave looking south from Pioneer - 1918    An inbound trolley on Warrington Avenue after turning
off West Liberty Avenue in 1921.
A trolley car heading inbound approaches the Pioneer Avenue Car Stop (left) in 1918; An inbound
trolley on Warrington Avenue after turning off West Liberty Avenue in 1921.

Trolley at the south end of Pioneer Avenue - 1918.
An outbound streetcar at the southern end of Pioneer Avenue in 1918.

West Liberty Avenue and Saw Mill Run Boulevard
at the intersection with the Liberty Tunnels.    The Liberty Tunnels South Portal - 1936.
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 trestle to The Junction.
The two photos above show the busy intersection in 1930 (left) and again in 1936.

A PCC car comes off the newly constructed
West Liberty Avenue trolley ramp in 1940.    Coming down the West Liberty trolley ramp.
A 39-Brookline PCC comes off the newly constructed West Liberty Avenue streetcar ramp in 1940 (left) and in 1965.

A 39-Brookline passes Downtown Pontiac used car
 lot heading outbound towards the Ray Avenue Stop.
A 39-Brookline passes Downtown Pontiac's Used Car lot heading outbound towards the Ray Avenue Stop.

39-Brookline on the West Liberty trolley ramp.    39-Brookline at West Liberty trolley ramp.
A 39-Brookline heading outbound along the West Liberty Avenue trolley ramp (left) and another
making the inbound trip, entering the ramp in 1966.

Entering the trolley ramp on West Liberty Avenue.    Outbound 39-Brookline passing Cape May Avenue.
A 39-Brookline enters the West Liberty trolley ramp (left) and an outbound car passes Cape May Avenue.

A 39-Brookline pulls onto West Liberty
 Avenue from Brookline Boulevard.
An inbound 39-Brookline pulls onto West Liberty Avenue from Brookline Boulevard on May 22, 1962.

Inbound 39-Brookline heading towards Capital Avenue    Inbound 39-Brookline approaches Capital Avenue in 1966.
Inbound 39-Brookline streetcars approaching the Pauline Avenue (left) and Capital Avenue car stops.

Outbound 39-Brookline passes the Brookside
Car Stop on West Liberty Avenue.    Outbound 39-Brookline at Capital Avenue in 1966.
An outbound 39-Brookline passes Brookside Avenue (left) and another outbound approaches Capital Avenue.

An inbound trolley passes the Brookline Junction
along West Liberty Avenue in the mid-1960s.
An inbound 39-Brookline passes billboards at the Brookline Junction as it merges onto West Liberty Avenue.

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Brookline Boulevard
(West Liberty Avenue to Pioneer Avenue)

A view taken from Brookline Boulevard (Bodkin Street)
in 1909 showing the Pittsburgh Railways right-of-way
for streetcars and also some of the landscape in
Dormont, including new homes on Espy 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.

Brookline Boulevard and West Liberty Avenue - 1909    Wm J Harley's Express Moving and Hauling
near the Brookline Junction in 1915.
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 and Wenzel Avenue.    West Liberty Avenue at the intersection with
Brookline Boulevard and Wenzel Avenue.
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.

39-Brookline heads towards the Fleming Stop,
up the Boulevard from West Liberty Avenue.
A vintage Jones Car passing Brookline's Fleming Car Stop in 1928.

The old right of way in July 1935.
The old trolley right-of-way at Shawhan Avenue in July 1935, before the reconstruction of Brookline Boulevard.

Brookline Boulevard Reconstruction - November 1935.    Brookline Boulevard Reconstruction - November 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 streetcar right-of-way.
To the left is a view of the Fleming Car Stop and to the right a view towards Pioneer.

The web of overhead wires and the Car Stop
sign at the Fleming Car Stop.
A web of overhead wires and the Car Stop sign that hung at the Fleming Place stop.

West Liberty Avenue at the intersection with
Brookline Boulevard and Wenzel Avenue.    A 39-Brookline trolley at the Fleming
Car Stop near Kenilworth in 1935.
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.

Trolley passing from West Liberty Avenue
onto Brookline Boulevard.
An outbound 39-Brookline makes the turn from West Liberty Avenue onto Brookline Boulevard.

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.

At the intersection with Kenilworth
heading towards Pioneer Avenue.    At the intersection with Kenilworth
heading towards Pioneer Avenue.
Outbound 39-Brookline trolley cars passing Kenilworth Street on the way up hill towards Pioneer Avenue.

39-Brookline passing Jillson Street.
An outbound 39-Brookline passes Jillson Street heading towards West Liberty Avenue on on May 19, 1963.

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

Heading outbound off of West Liberty Avenue.    Heading outbound off of West Liberty Avenue.
Outbound 39-Brookline streetcars head up Brookline Boulevard after turning off of West Liberty Avenue in 1966.

Passing Kenilworth enroute to Brookline Boulevard.
A chartered outbound trolley passes Kenilworth Avenue enroute to Brookline Boulevard in 1966.

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Brookline Boulevard - The Commercial District
(Pioneer Avenue to Edgebrook Avenue)

Brookline Boulevard, 1910
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.

Brookline Boulevard, looking towards Stebbins Avenue, in 1916.    Brookline Boulevard in 1926, looking in the
direction of Creedmoor Avenue.
A 1916 view of Brookline Boulevard, looking towards Stebbins Avenue (left) and Brookline Boulevard, in 1926,
looking along the streetcar rails in the direction of Creedmoor Avenue.

Streetcar tracks at the bottom
 of Creedmoor Avenue - 1919.
Looking down Creedmoor Avenue, from Clippert to Brookline Boulevard and the streetcar tracks in 1919.

Brookline Boulevard, 1928.    A Jones Car approaches the Stebbins
Avenue Car Stop on Brookline Boulevard in 1933.
A view of the rails along Brookline Boulevard, taken from Pioneer Avenue (left) and a 39-Brookline Jones Car
approaches the Stebbins Avenue Car Stop along Brookline Boulevard in 1933.

Brookline Boulevard - 1926.
Inbound and outbound trolley rails cut a path along Brookline Boulevard, near Castlegate Avenue, in 1926.

Brookline Boulevard, 1933.    Brookline Boulevard, 1933.
Two views of Brookline Boulevard in 1933, near Glenarm Avenue (left) and Flatbush Avenue.

Brookline Boulevard, 1936.    Brookline Boulevard, 1936.
The Brookline Boulevard Commercial District (left), looking west from Chelton Avenue and Veteran's Memorial Park.
Two streetcars are passing near Stebbins Avenue. To the right is the passenger island at Pioneer Avenue in 1936.

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.    An outbound 39-Brookline trolley
passes Glenarm Avenue 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.

Inbound trolley approaching the island at Pioneer Avenue in 1965.
An outbound 39-Brookline passing the Texaco station at the corner of Pioneer Avenue and Brookline Boulevard on June 28, 1965.

Outbound 39-Brookline approaching
Castlegate Avenue in 1966.    Two inbound 39-Brookline trolleys
near Stebbins Avenue on Brookline Boulevard.
Outbound and inbound streetcars approaching Castlegate Avenue (left) and two inbound cars near Stebbins Avenue.

Inbound trolley on Brookline Boulevard in 1965.
An inbound trolley moves with traffic along Brookline Boulevard on June 26, 1965.

A trolley passes Flatbush Avenue in 1965.    An outbound 39-Brookline trolley
at the Pioneer Avenue intersection in 1965.
An inbound 39-Brookline trolley passes the intersection with Flatbush Avenue (left) and an
outbound car at the intersection of Pioneer Avenue in 1965.

Inbound trolley approaching the island at Pioneer Avenue in 1965.
An inbound trolley approaching a passenger waiting on the island at Pioneer Avenue in 1965.

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Brookline Boulevard
(Edgebrook Avenue To Breining Street)

39-Brookline at Whited Street.
An inbound 39-Brookline approaches a passenger waiting to board at Whited Street on May 19, 1963.

39-Brookline heading towards Whited Street.
An outbound 39-Brookline passes Edgebrook Avenue heading downhill towards the Whited Street Car Stop.

Outbound 39-Brookline heading downhilltowards Whited Street.    Outbound 39-Brookline head towards Breining Street.
Outbound cars approaches Whited Street (left) and Breining Street.

39-Brookline approaching Breining Street.
An outbound 39-Brookline passes Whited Street heading downhill towards the Breining Street Car Stop.

Outbound 39-Brookline approaching Breining Street.
An outbound 39-Brookline approaches Breining Street while an inbound heads uphill towards Whited Street in 1966.

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Brookline Boulevard
(Breining Street To The Trolley Loop)

39-Brookline approaches the turn-around loop.
A 39-Brookline streetcar at the trolley loop preparing for the return trip up Brookline Boulevard.

Two trolleys at the Brookline Loop.    Making the return trip towards
Brookline Boulevard from the loop.
Two trolleys at the Brookline Loop (left) and another beginning the inbound trip back along Brookline Boulevard.

39-Brookline outbound at Breining Street.    39-Brookline outbounde approaches Breining Street.
Two outbound 39-Brookline trolleys approaching Breining Street on September 4, 1953 (left) and September 1, 1966.

View of Brookline Boulevard - 1958
A 39-Brookline waits for automobile traffic to pass at the intersection of Breining Street in January 1958.

Conductor checking in at the Brookline Loop.    Outbound trolley approaches the loop.
Conductor checking in at the Brookline Loop (left) and an outbound car approaching the loop.

At the intersection with Birchland
Street approaching the Trolley Loop.    39-Brookline heading towards the Brookline Loop.
An outbound streetcar passes the intersection with Birchland Street (left) and another approaches the trolley loop.

39-Brookline at the Trolley Loop.
A 39-Brookline waits at the Brookline Loop to begin its inbound run.

39-Brookline at the Trolley Loop.
A 39-Brookline waits at the Brookline Loop to begin its inbound run.

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 local route.

39-Brookline at the Brookline loop.    39-Brookline at the Brookline loop.
Two images showing the 39-Brookline trolley cars at the Brookline Loop in 1965.

39-Brookline at the Trolley Loop.
A 39-Brookline makes the turn at the Brookline Loop in January 1965.

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

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

39-Brookline at the trolley loop.
A 39-Brookline at the Brookline Trolley Loop.

Artwork by Doug Brendel.

Related Links

<The Pittsburgh & Castle Shannon Railroad (1871-1912)>
<The Pittsburgh Railways South Hills Junction - 1904>
<The Mount Washington Streetcar Tunnel - 1904>
<South Hills Junction to Brookline Boulevard - 1912>
<Reconstruction of West Liberty Avenue in 1915>
<Reconstruction of Brookline Boulevard in 1935>
<Reconstruction of Brookline Boulevard in 2013>
<Brookline Junction Trolley Accident - 1930>
<West Liberty Avenue Trolley Ramp - 1939>
<A Short History of Trolleys in Pittsburgh>
<A Tragic Bus/Trolley Collision - 1978>
<Pittsburgh Railways Company Records>
<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>
<Wikipedia: Pittsburgh Light Rail>
<Wikipedia: Pittsburgh Railways Company>
<Wikipedia: Port Authority of Allegheny County>

39-Brookline at Pioneer Avenue - August 1965

♦ Pittsburgh Light Rail Transportation History ♦
(including video of the Brookline Route)

American Motor Coach Association of Pittsburgh
Transit History Links

The Formation of PAT (1956-1964)
The Early Years At PAT (1964-1972)
Pittsburgh Area Transit History Index

Transit Companies That Made Up Pittsburgh Railways

Pittsburgh Railways Company Books
History of the Southern Traction and Underlying Companies
History of the Suburban Rapid Transit and Underlying Companies
County Railway Companies Incorporated Under Focht-Emery Bills - Vol I
County Railway Companies Incorporated Under Focht-Emery Bills - Vol II
County Railway Companies Incorporated Under Focht-Emery Bills - Vol III
Allegheny County Street Railways Extending Service (6/8/01-10/1/03)
History of the Consolidated Traction and Underlying Companies - Vol I
History of the Consolidated Traction and Underlying Companies - Vol II
History of the United Traction and Underlying Companies - Vol I
History of the United Traction and Underlying Companies - Vol II
History Street Railway Companies (6/8/01-2/25/02)
History of Pittsburg Railways and Underlying Companies

♦ List of the 280 Companies That Made Up Pittsburgh Railways ♦
(as of October 25, 1906)

39-Brookline Schedule - June 1966

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 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).

An old Car Stop sign.
One of the old-time Car Stop signs that hung
along overhead wires around Pittsburgh.

Just to throw a further element into the "streetcar" or "trolley" debate, many of the old turn-of-the-century advertisements for Brookline speak of the Transit Line and the fine "transit cars" that helped link the neighborhood to the city of Pittsburgh. So, when in doubt, the best and most correct answer is "Tram." However, depending upon the present company one could choose "transit car," "trolley" or "streetcar" and fit right in with the crowd.

Inbound 39-Brookline streetcar approaches Carson Street
An inbound 39-Brookline streetcar approaches Carson Street in 1963.

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 - 1905.

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?

Brookline Herald - October 20, 1907    Brookline Herald - October 27, 1907

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 was the site of a seventeen month reconstruction and renovation effort. The project included infrastructure improvements like new sidewalks, overhead lighting and signage. The highlight of the project was the repaving of Brookline Boulevard from Starkamp Avenue to Pioneer Avenue.

Although, in the end, the reconstruction effort unveiled a picturesque new boulevard, the process of getting to that point was 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 June of 2014 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.

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During the early 1900s, the U.S. Post Office Department operated Railway Post Offices (RPOs) on streetcars in several cities, including Pittsburgh, to carry mail between post office branches. Postal clerks were stationed aboard the cars to sort the mail and speed processing at the post offices. Some interurban routes also served as RPOs.

A trolley passenger counter.

People could deposit mail on these cars, sometimes via slots in their sides. The clerks would postmark that mail on the spot while the car rolled. Shown here is an example of one such postcard with a Pittsburgh Streetcar RPO cancellation stamp postmarked Dec 24, 1912, that was found in an old scrapbook by former Brookline resident Bill Mullen.

It is unknown if a Railway Post Office was ever attached to the 39-Brookline route, but the postcard above is an interesting sliver of Pittsburgh Railways history.

A trolley change maker and transfer holder.

There was a time when conductors would issue change for fares. Streetcars were equipped with a standard coin dispenser and transfer holder. The policy of conductor's carrying loose change ended in 1968.

A trolley passenger counter.

A couple years ago, Jeff Wilinski called to say he'd come across this streetcar passenger counter in an old box when preparing to move. It still worked, and rather than throw it away he donated it to the Brookline Historical Society. It's just another example of the many places where we can find our hidden past. Let's dig it up, folks.

Pittsburgh Railways Police badge.

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 Press and Post Gazette - Last Updated: April 20, 2015 *
* Several of the Brookline trolley photos are from the collections of Tom Castriodale and George Gula *

39-Brookline drawing by Dan Bridy.

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 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 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.

Pittsburgh Traction Company.
A Pittsburgh Traction Company cable line loop, located at
Fifth and Liberty Avenues in 1890.

"It was really a hodgepodge," says Scott Becker, executive director of the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington, near the Meadowlands.

JUNE 1901: Pennsylvania's Focht-Emery Transit Bills are signed into law, opening a rush of investors wishing to form new transit companies throughout the region to compete with the established passenger railways. The sweeping domain and financial powers granted under the new legislation fuel the expansion and modernization of Pittsburgh's public transportation system. The bills also led to rampant stock fraud.

JANUARY 1, 1902: Pittsburgh Railways Company, a subsidiary of the Philadelphia Company, is formed on June 8, 1901 as a result of the transit bills to consolidate the increasing number of transit companies in Allegheny County. 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.

Rare Stock certificate - West End Traction Company    Rare Stock certificate - Consolidated Traction Company

Rare Stock certificate - Duquesne Traction Company

Rare Stock certificate - Pittsburgh,
Allegheny and Manchester Traction Company    Rare Stock certificate - Pittsburgh and
Allegheny Valley Traction Company

The first generation electrified traction cars were wooden cars covered in steel-sheeting, sometimes referred to as "box cars." They were built by the St. Louis Car Company at a cost of $6000 each and introduced in Pittsburgh during the winter of 1902.

The eight-wheelers were forty-seven feet long and powered by four fifty-horse power motors. The cars had high floors, narrow doors and sat forty-four passengers on wooden seats. They could be driven from either side of the vehicle by moving directional controls and electrical guide wire from one end to the other.

1902 model trolley cars in Beechwood.

DECEMBER 1, 1904: The Mount Washington Transit Tunnel a 3,500 foot bore through Mount Washington, opens to traffic. The tunnel, from the South Hills Junction to Carson Street, was built at a cost of $875,000. The inner walls were lined with 12,000,000 bricks. This tunnel, along with the Corliss Tunnel (1914) on the West End, led to real estate booms in both the South Hills and Sheridan areas, respectively.

A Philadelphia Company executive called it "one of the greatest works ever undertaken in the street railway business. The project will be the making of the South Hills." He was correct. In a span of just one year, three farms in Brookline increased in valuation from $68,000 to $1.3 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.

A map referencing the 1st and 2nd Wards in Brookline
A 1905 Freehold Real Estate advertisement that shows the new trolley line running to Brookline.

OCTOBER 1906: Company records indicate that there are over 280 subsidiary companies either owned or leased by Pittsburgh Railways.

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 in Pittsburgh.

Jones Car Diagram

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.

Pittsburgh Railways
 Double Decker Trolley
Pittsburgh Railways Double-Decker.

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.

1918 - The Pittsburgh Railways Company files for bankruptcy. Negotiations with the City of Pittsburgh drag on for six years. Valued at $62.5 million, the companies credit obligations are settled and a city Board of Advisors appointed to oversea the company management. The Pittsburgh Railways Agreement goes into effect in April 1924 to keep the streetcars rolling.

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 interurban lines that run to Washington and Charleroi. The company makes fifteen cars that are painted red and feature bucket seats.

Portions of the Charleroi Short 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" or Overbrook line, service that ended in the late-80s and began again in 2004.

A7 model President's Conference Committee streetcar diagram

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.

President's Conference Committee streetcar diagram

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. Car #100 becomes the first PCC car to carry passengers for a fare on September 26, 1936, when it covered the 50-Carson Street Route.

FEBRUARY 4, 1937: The first 100 PCC enter the Pittsburgh fleet. The new cars were used on the 38-Mt. Lebanon route.

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.

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 1902 model high-floor trolleys. The new PCC streetcars were painted in a red and cream color scheme.

1938: The financially struggling Pittsburgh Railways Company files for bankruptcy. The reorganization effort between the transit agency and the City of Pittsburgh drags on for thirteen long years.

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

A Jones Car along Smithfield Street.
A Jones Car on Smithfield Street in downtown Pittsburgh (circa 1945).

APRIL 2, 1940 - Pittsburgh Railways receives a shipment of 100 new cars from the St. Louis Car Company, bringing the fleet total to 301, the largest single fleet in the nation. Seventy-two of the new cars were equipped with the latest Westinghouse motor and braking systems. The cars enter continual service for the first time on the 39-Brookline and 42-Dormont/Beechview routes.

1949: The Pittsburgh Railways PCC trolley fleet is the 2nd largest in the country. Only Chicago, which operates 683 cars, is bigger.

Pittsburgh Railways Route Map - 1926 (updated for 1954)

JANUARY 1951: Pittsburgh Railways, the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County reach an agreement to end the thirteen year company reorganization. The cars keep rolling, but changes in public transportation will soon threaten the existence of the mighty rail network.

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.

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

MARCH, 1964: The Port Authority of Allegheny County is formed to unify all public transit services. Despite the declining trolley use, the authority inherits the Pittsburgh Railways fleet of 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.

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 earlier.

The 38-Mt.Lebanon spur line was replaced.
The rails and passenger kiosks intersecting
West Liberty Avenue were eventually removed.    39-Brookline on West Liberty Avenue approaches
the Belle Isle Avenue Car Stop in 1963.
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 removed.

1972: The ninety-five remaining PCC cars servicing the South Hills get new paint jobs, including one with a psychedelic look.

LATE-1970s: An attractive feature that was introduced at the time was a new advertising scheme. Trolleys could be corporate sponsored and 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 Terrible Trolley, the Bicentennial Spirit of America, the Clark Bar and the Gateway Clipper Triple Treat.

The Pittsburgh Steeler's Terrible Trolley     South Hills High School Trolley

1981: The Port Authority plans to refurbish forty-five PCC trolleys for use on the city's new "T" Light Rail System. The $763,000 cost is prohibitive and only twelve are completed 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 Light Rail "T" System, is opened. All above ground tracks in downtown Pittsburgh 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 aging PCC trolley cars was the Library line.

PCC Trolley at Wood Street Subway Station.
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 few 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 trolley museums.

PCC Trolley on display at museum.
A PCC car stands outside the trolley museum in 2007.

JANUARY 2000: Pittsburgh no longer has hundreds of miles of trolley track lining the streets, but the city still boasts a state-of-the-art Light Rail system servicing the downtown area and South Hills, including Beechview, Dormont, Warrington Avenue/Arlington Heights, Castle Shannon, Bethel Park and Library.

JUNE 2004: The Port Authority completes the four-year reconstruction the old Shannon Drake line, bringing light-rail service back to Bon Air, Overbrook, Brookline and along Library Road in Castle Shannon. Three bridges along the route were completely rebuilt.

MARCH 2012: The downtown subway's North Shore Connector, beginning at Gateway Station and including a twin tunnel bore under the Allegheny River, opens to traffic. Passenger stations are located near PNC Park, Heinz Field and the Rivers Casino.

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 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.

The 39-Brookline streetcar crossing Breining Street.
An inbound 39-Brookline streetcar crosses the intersection at Breining Street headed for the trolley loop in 1966.

A Tragic Day For Brookline Transit Riders

Bus-Trolley Accident - February 10, 1978.

On the morning of February 10, 1978, one of Pittsburgh's most horrific public transit accidents occurred near the Palm Garden Bridge along the Port Authority's recently completed South Busway.

A near head-on collision between an inbound 41D-East Brookline bus and an outbound Mt.Lebanon/Beechview streetcar resulted in the tragic toll of four dead and twenty-eight injured, most of whom lived in Brookline.

These photos were taken by Post-Gazette photographer James Klingensmith, who arrived on the scene as paramedics were busy removing victims from the wreckage. The newspaper reported the accident on the Post-Gazette front page the following day.

Bus-Trolley Accident - February 10, 1978.

The probable cause of the violent collision was a faulty switch along the rail line leading out of the South Hills Junction car yard. The outbound streetcar reached the switch, which suddenly flipped to the left turn position leading to a loop off of the main line. The trolley veered directly into the path of the oncoming bus.

Upon impact, the bus, which was filled to capacity with over fifty rush hour commuters, veered to the right off of the busway. It sheered off a utility pole and came to rest partially atop a parked car. The incident happened so suddenly that there was no time for either the bus or trolley driver to react.

The bus driver and three passengers seated near the front of the vehicle suffered fatal blunt trauma injuries. The driver died at the hospital and the three passengers were pronounced dead on arrival. The trolley car was empty except for the motorman who suffered only minor injuries.

Although a moment of panic ensued among the stunned and injured passengers on the bus, the calm and quick thinking of several male passengers aided in an orderly evacuation of the vehicle.

"Blood was everywhere," reported Michael Robbins, a passenger treated at Mercy Hospital. "There was no screaming. Most everyone kept their cool. It was just a lot of moaning and groaning."

Bus-Trolley Accident - February 10, 1978.

The driver of the bus was Brookline resident and long-time PAT employee Anthony Petrusky, 55, of 1621 Fiat Street. Others who suffered fatal injuries were Brookline's Elva Semon, 54, of 2136 Plainview Avenue, Donna Louise Harmon, 21, of 5870 Irishtown Road, Bethel Park, and Monica Ewansik, 40, of 2447 Saranac Avenue in Beechview.

Brookline travelers with severe to mild injuries that were transported to local hospitals included Marie Schafer, Patricia Burgess, Ruth Ann Fabrizio, Mary Pilarski, Linda March, Marjorie Mitchell, Carla Arpgaus, Aileen Brown, Robert Dunlap, Bernadette Harris, Sandra Horne, Patricia McDonald, Carol Rosipal, Francis Schell, Lynetta Talak, William Zwick, Patty Diven, Mila Coccimiglio, Alice Skiba, Michael Robbins, Mary Ellen Glandville, Frank Lanzetta, James Budd and John Raymond.

Others injured in the crash were Tracy Lappert and Patricia Goedert of Beechview, Frank Dixon of St. Clair Village and trolley driver Robert Ray of Bethel Park.

Bus-Trolley Accident - February 10, 1978.

The South Busway had been opened in December of 1977. At that time concerns were raised about the safety of having both buses and trolleys passing with such frequency along the same narrow roadway.

With this accident happening so soon after the opening, transit safety along the busway was once again a major concern. Bus traffic was suspended until a thorough investigation was conducted.

In the aftermath of the investigation, which yielded inconclusive results, additional safety devices were installed to prevent any sudden switch malfunctions. Also, procedures were put in place to eliminate the possibility of vehicles passing so close together in the vicinity of a switch.

Map of crash site - February 10, 1978.

Third Worst Crash In Pittsburgh Transit History

The fatal bus/trolley collision on February 20, 1978 was the third worst commuter transit tragedy on record in the City of Pittsburgh.

The worst accident in Pittsburgh's mass transit history came on Christmas Eve, 1917, when a runaway Knoxville streetcar roared through the Mount Washington Trolley tunnel and overturned at Carson Street. Twenty-one people were killed and scores of others were injured.

Pittsburgh Trolley Crash - December 24, 1917.
Pittsburgh Railways streetcar lies overturned at Carson and Smithfield Street - December 24, 1917.

On November 14, 1944, five people were killed and thirty-five injured when two Pittsburgh Railways streetcars collided in a heavy fog near the old Munhall Junction.

The outbound Homestead/East Pittsburgh streetcar, one of the old-style Jones Cars, slammed into the back of a East Liberty/Homestead PCC car. The impact came with such force that the older trolley, which was loaded with war workers, telescoped itself over the rear of the PCC car.

Pittsburgh Trolley Crash - November 14, 1944    Pittsburgh Trolley Crash - November 14, 1944
The wreckage of two Pittsburgh Railways trolleys that collided near Munhall Junction - November 14, 1944.

Another fatal crash that fell to fourth in terms of human tragedy occurred on March 10, 1959, when a Brentwood Motor Coach bus careened into a rush hour crowd at Forbes Avenue and Smithfield Street after brake failure. Two pedestrians were killed and sixteen injured in the accident.

Other Mass Transit Accidents Since 1978

On September 12, 1980, the South Hills Junction was the scene of another collision, this time between two trolleys. An outbound Dormont trolley suddenly veered off the main line towards a storage barn. The car began to rocking and nearly tipped over.

It swayed into another trolley coming in the other direction. The two cars made sideswiped each other. The second car, which had no passengers, actually righted the teetering car and prevented it from falling. Four people were injured in the second switching mishap at the busy junction.

On Friday, June 26, 1986, the Washington Observer-Reporter covered a head on collision between two trolleys along West Carson Street near McKees Rocks. Along a single-track section of line, the trolleys were traveling slowly in opposite directions around a siding when the crash occurred.

As the cars approached the siding, an obstruction blocked the view of the motormen. This led to the collision slow-speed collision where the drivers and twelve passengers were taken to local hospitals after suffering minor injuries.

The following year, almost a decade after the deadly February 1978 bus/trolley collision noted above, another potentially disastrous trolley accident occurred near downtown. The incredible crash occurred in almost the same location as the Christmas Eve 1917 disaster.

Pittsburgh Trolley Crash - October 28, 1987.
A runaway streetcar came to a halt along Smithfield Street after crashing into the P&LERR terminal building.

On October 28, 1987, during the morning rush hour, an inbound streetcar suffered brake failure as it entered the Mount Washington Transit Tunnel. After emerging from the lower tunnel portal, the speeding car jumped the tracks.

The streetcar skid across the crowded Carson Street intersection, sideswiping a bus and a PAT Transit truck before slamming into the landmark P&LERR terminal building along Smithfield Street.

Although thirty-three passengers were injured in the crash, no lives were lost due to the quick thinking of the motorman, John Stromple, who calmly moved everyone to the rear of the car and shielded them. Stromple, along with seven other PAT employees, also suffered injuries in the accident.

Brookline Trolley Jumps Tracks On Smithfield Street Bridge

39-Brookline jumps the rails at Smithfield
and Water Streets 10/4/43.

On October 4, 1943, the Pittsburgh Press reported an inbound 39-Brookline trolley's rear tracks split a switch at Smithfield and Water Streets and spun the car around. Ten persons were hospitalized while forty others were shaken up when the car spon and struck a small safety island. The spinning car struck Julia Lacko, of Library, who was standing on the safety island. She was taken to Mercy Hospital for treatment of lacerations of the left leg. Passengers taken to the hospital were not injured seriously.

<Brookline History>