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Pittsburgh Railways

History - Page 7

Farewell to PCCs: September 1999

Car 4008 pauses outbound at Lytle stop on the Library line during the PCC farewell fan trip, Sept. 5, 1999.

August 1999
Its death warrant made public at last, average weekday ridership on the Drake Shuttle rose to 78 -- higher than the usual total, but still weak for light rail. Crush loads would prevail in the final days, due in part to Port Authority's generous gift of free rides during the last week, August 30 to September 4. Newspaper stories and television coverage of the PCCs' impending demise likely generated interest among the general public. Of course railfans knew what was coming, and those from points distant began flocking to Pittsburgh. Most were North Americans, although I recall being told by an operator of at least one British tram buff who came to pay his respects during the last week.

The small clique of regular riders and railfans who had enjoyed Drake's sylvan solitude it its last years thus had to share their trolleys with crowds of well-wishers, including out-of-town railfans and sentimental locals. Parents and grandparents arrived with carloads of youngsters, who delighted in taking their last -- and sometimes first -- rides on a genuine Pittsburgh trolley. Port Authority trolley operators may have given birth to a new generation of railfans as they cheerfully answered the children's many probing questions about the cars and the line.

Riders line up to board 4004 on the last day of PCC operation, Sept. 4, 1999.

Some families stayed aboard the cars for hours, gleefully riding back-and-forth while crowds of would-be riders thronged the small auxiliary PCC platforms at Washington Junction and Castle Shannon. The cars were not just crowded, but hot. Temperatures during the last days of service reached the upper 80s. Inside, the PCCs, with their sealed windows, got to be very warm indeed. The heat and the crowds may have deterred some riders, but courtesy prevailed, and most people found a seat eventually.

Saturday, September 4, 1999
Sixty-three years of Pittsburgh transit history were set to end this night, as the Drake PCCs make their final runs -- the last regular PCC service over Port Authority rails. (The term revenue service seems a misnomer, as the rides were free. But it was the last regularly-scheduled, public passenger service.)

Crowded car 4008 rolls past Casswell, Sept. 4, 1999.

Car 4008 held down yeoman duty for most of Saturday. It was retired as dusk settled on Pittsburgh, leaving 4004 to perform the obsequies. Still crowded, the atmosphere aboard 4004 became subdued as its passengers -- mostly hardcore railfans -- reminisced about and era that was now all but ended.

The last scheduled arrival at Drake Loop was at 9:53 p.m. Shortly after 10, car 4004 eased down the hill and screeched into the loop, bathed in the glare of television cameras and flashbulbs. After what seemed an interminable pause to those of us inside, the doors folded closed, and the car swung out of the loop, back up the hill and into history.

No one seemed quite sure where, or when transit officials would ask everyone to leave the car. Most passengers disembarked at Washington Junction, where more TV cameras were on hand. Turning on the adjacent loop, 4004 headed back toward South Hills Village. Most of the roughly 15 people still aboard left the car at South Hills Village Station.

Only a handful of riders, myself among them (woo-hoo!) remained aboard for the short run from South Hills Village Station up the hill into the South Hills Village Rail Center yard. The operator waited patiently while several of us hurriedly snapped photos of one another beside the car, paused at the yard's brick portal. Euphoric and melancoly, we stepped back from the tracks as 4004 chimed a final salute before moving effortlessly away from us toward the shops. One of my lasting memories is how its white shell glistened under the soft rain which had begun to fall.

Sunday, September 5, 1999
Speaking for myself, the next day's farewell fan trip seemed almost an anti-climax. The brilliant sun of previous days had given way to overcast skies and intermittent drizzle. But, as traction fans know, abandonments have an uncanny tendency for attracting depressing weather -- the Newark City Subway PCC farewell two years later, under sunny skies, was a notable exception.

The three chartered PCCs were dressed simply, carrying a few balloons on their pilots and commemorative messages in their destination boxes: "A PCC Finale" (4004), "Farewell PCC's" (on 4008, and yes, I know the comma doesn't belong there) and "Goodbye Friends" (4009). By the end of the trip, the balloons had either either gone limp or blown away.

The farewell fan trip pauses at Drake Loop, Sept. 4, 1999.

The trip opened at noon. The first, closely-supervised photo stop was in the yard at South Hills Village, where two lonely PCCs (4007 and 4001, the latter's number blacked out), their long careers finished, rested on a far track.

Photo runs on both the Library and Drake lines ensued, topped off by "speed runs" on each line before the sad procession returned to South Hills Village. There, railfans diembarked, said their goodbyes, and most climbed into private autos. Few were seen riding away on LRVs, and probably none boarded the Drake line's replacement bus for the trip home.

The dreaded interloper! Seen here is one of the buses which initially replaced Drake trolleys, on the first day of bus service, Sunday, Sept. 5, 1999.

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