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Pittsburgh Railways

History - Page 5

Trolleys: Back from the Brink
By the early 1970s, fewer than 100 PCCs plied the remaining South Hills routes to Mount Lebanon, Castle Shannon, Library and Drake. The remaining routes had survived chiefly because of the quick ride they offered out of downtown via the Mount Washington trolley tunnel, probing deep into the South Hills suburbs mostly on private-rights-of- way. Their future was threatened, however, by PAT's interest in replacing them with the experimental "Transit Expressway" or "Skybus" automated transit system. South Side also-rans included 53 Carrick, 47 Carrick via Tunnel, 44 Knoxville and the outer ends of the former 48 and 49 lines. Carrick lasted the longest, bowing out in November 1971.

There was one other survivor. Route 49 Arlington-Warrington had been created in 1971 by combining portions of the surviving 48 Arlington and 49 Beltzhoover lines. The route climbed uphill from downtown on the surface tracks of Arlington and Warrington avenues. Its chief virtue was that it provided an alternative route between downtown and the South Hills if the Mount Washington tunnel was blocked. This was amply demonstrated during tunnel reconstruction projects in the 1970s and 1990s. The line survived into the light rail era, and was rechristened 52 Allentown in 1984.

Rolling through Allentown, March 22, 1999.

But the trolleys would have a reprieve. Changes in management personnel and philosophy coincided neatly with the growth of the light rail movement. In those energy-conscious times, electric transit became progressive again -- a point that was not missed in Pittsburgh, anxious for its newly-blue skies in the wake of an infamous history of air pollution. That, and the unproven Skybus concept had garnered its fair share of enemies, including South Hills residents who vocally supported the idea of upgrading the existing trolley lines. Skybus died an unceremonious death in 1975.

In the meantime, PAT's battered PCC cars soldiered on, and with replacements nowhere in the near future, a modest rebuilding program was begun. Between 1972 and 1979, 25 1600-series air cars (built 1945-46) were given intensive overhauls and were assigned numbers from scrapped 1700-series cars. A handful were subjected to novel modifications including back-up controllers and modernised LRV-style end caps. Such actions seemed to confirm that PAT was was finally thinking ahead to a new era, which would include trolleys, albeit vastly different trolleys than the Steel City had ever seen.

Renumbered and rebuilt, 1789 started life as a 1600-series car. It is seen at Clearview Loop, Mt. Lebanon, in Dec. 1976. Ken Josephson photo.

Another encouraging sign was PAT's move to repaint many cars. There seemed to be endless variations on PAT's new paint scheme of three vertical stripes, but more exciting by far was the return of all-over advertising cars. "Billboard cars" had been popular during the PRC era, but seemed to have disappeared during the early years of PAT's administration. In the 1970s, the practice returned with a vengeance. Psychedelic 1730, known as the "Mod Desire" car, even caught the admiring eye of the New York Times.

All-electric PCC 1702 wears one of the many vertical stripe designs applied to PAT PCCs in the 1970s. Photo by an anonymous friend in Pennsylvania; print in Roger DuPuis Collection.

Stage I Begins
PAT, working with community representatives and government officials, undertook a detailed study on the future of the South Hills trolley lines, resolving to transform these valuable, high-density transit corridors into a modern LRT system. The resulting Stage I LRT plan achieved a comprehensive reconstruction and upgrading of the 10.5 mile "main line" between downtown and the suburbs of Bethel Park and Upper St. Clair via Mount Lebanon and Beechview -- basically following the Skybus alignment. The crowning achievement was to be a 1.1 mile downtown subway, eliminating the trolleys' slow, street-running loop through Pittsburgh's Golden Triangle.

The Shannon-Overbrook, Library and Drake lines, which reached the suburbs via the precarious side-of-the-hill Overbrook tracks, also were retained. But they were not to be part of the Stage I program; their conversion to LRT was postponed indefinitely. In the interim, federal funding was secured for basic infrastructure repairs on these lines. While LRVs would provide primary service on the Stage I LRT system, PAT planned to rebuild 45 all-electric 1700-series PCCs (built 1948-49) to serve the rehabbed Overbrook routes.

Stage I construction began at the outer ends of the line, working toward the middle. The first phase kicked off December 10, 1980, with groundbreaking for the South Hills Village Rail Operations Center. The 60-acre facility, along with a new passenger station and 200-space parking lot were built adjacent to the popular South Hills Village shopping mall. The Skybus maintenance facility had been slated for the site.

Branching westward immediately south of the Dorchester stop, an all-new half-mile spur connected the existing tracks of the Drake line with with the new South Hills Village complex via a a bridge spanning busy Fort Couch Road. The new complex would replace the aging former PRC shop and yard facilities at South Hills Junction, south of the Mount Washington tunnel.

Trackage at the southern end of the system, from South Hills Village to Castle Shannon, was re-opened on April 15, 1984, with PCC 1769 doing the honors. Through service to Drake and Library, closed south of Castle Shannon since 1982 due to construction, resumed the same day. PCCs from downtown reached the outer terminals via the Overbrook line.

The Subway
Subway construction began in 1982. The new alignment routed trolleys off the aging Smithfield Street Bridge and onto the disused PRR Panhandle span. That bridge formerly carried Pennsy's long-distance St. Louis trains and commuter runs across the Monongahela River and into the downtown Pennsylvania Station via a short tunnel. Rebuilt for the new light rail line, this corridor was intended to carry the cars to Penn Station, where riders could transfer between LRVs and PAT's Martin Luther King, Jr. East Busway.

But the Panhandle-Penn Station alignment was somewhat removed from the commercial heart of Pittsburgh's Golden Triangle, which remained the focal point of surface transit services. To bring the cars downtown, an entirely new subway branched off of the railroad tunnel at the new Steel Plaza subway station, running below Sixth and Liberty avenues. Midway along the tunnel, Wood Street station was built under the Sixth-Liberty-Wood intersection. Turning south under Liberty Avenue, the line terminated at Gateway Center station, under the Liberty-Stanwix intersection. Turnback facilities there consisted of a large loop, negotiable by PCCs and LRVs.

Pittsburgh's new subway opened in July 1985. A downtown tradition ended July 7, when 125 years of surface streetcar operations in the Golden Triangle wrapped up with a late-night PCC fan trip.

LRV 4109 pauses at the Wood Street subway station, circa 2000.

Goodbye, 42/38
April 15, 1984 -- the day the southern end of the system re-opened -- was a watershed day in the history of Pittsburgh transit. On that day, service on the 42/38 Mt. Lebanon-Beechview route ended with festivities along Washington Road in Mt. Lebanon. Denizens of that suburb had reason to celebrate: Stage I would remove congested Washington Road, placing them undeground.

The 3,000-foot-long, double track Mt. Lebanon-Dormont tunnel was bored between Shady Drive and McFarland Road. There are no stations inside the tunnel. Dormont Junction and Mt. Lebanon Stations are located outside its north and south portals, respectively. The latter is situated at roughly the same location as the former Clearview loop, used by the erstwhile 42/38 cars.

Soon after 42/38 service was withdrawn, reconstruction of the route between South Hills Junction and Castle Shannon -- the middle section of the system -- began with removal of the existing track and overhead. While the basic right-of-way alignment was retained, its transformation was remarkable. An antiquated, suburban trolley line with conventional jointed rail, aging overhead and single track segments was reborn as a wholly double track light rail line with welded rail and modern catenary.

The line still winds around some sharp curves and through residential neighborhoods, cutting across the yards of some homes in the process. Conventional street running was retained on Broadway through Beechview, where passengers board LRVs at safety islands in the center of the street.

Street running in Beechview, May 20, 2000.

Enter The T
Within its first year of operation, the subway carried six million passengers, with overall system ridership averaging 18,000 daily passengers. Initially, LRVs were used in shuttle service between the subway and Station Square while the remainder of the line was under construction. On average, 4,300 passengers rode the free downtown shuttle service daily. A commemorative grand opening ceremony in May 1987 marked the formal completion of Stage I.

Regular service to Penn Station -- Penn Park in PAT nomenclature -- began a little over a year later. Short turn runs were using the branch for layovers prior to that time. Under-utilized since its opening, Penn Park was served by a free shuttle from Steel Plaza until 1993.

Stage I was up and running, and the new system was dubbed "The T." By the 1980s, rapid transit planners tended to avoid the word subway, fearing it would evoke in the public mind, rightly or wrongly, images of crime- and graffiti-Laden systems such as New York's. Euro-chic Metro was the pre-ferred term used by many new systems, but it just didn't seem to fit in Pittsburgh. The nickname T, used successfully in Boston, was adopted in Pittsburgh as modern-speak for trolley, that time-worn bit of Pittsburghese. The distinctive circle- T logo designed for the LRT system (and initially used only on LRVs) is reminiscent of Boston's MBTA logo.

PAT introduced operation of two-car LRV trains in peak hours and had experimented with LRV express runs, such as the short-lived 43S. PCCs still held down service on the unrebuilt lines. LRVs and PCCs mingled between Gateway Center and South Hills Junction, and between Castle Shannon and South Hills Village. Regular operation saw the two fleets otherwise segregated from one another.

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