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From Montreal, Quebec, an open sightseeing car built by Montreal Street Railway in 1906. Only 4 of these cars were ever built. Photo by Dave Cremins. (Click on the photo for a larger image)

PCC #2709 from the SEPTA system. Now in service at Seashore Trolley Museum. Photo by Dave Cremins.
(Click on the photo for a larger image)


Fighting Back

Evolution of the Trolley - Article 8

During the heyday of the trolley the cars ran everywhere. With few other ways for the average person to get around the trolley was, for most people, the only choice. And if you choose to, you could travel great distances by trolley, not only saving some money in comparison to the fares charged by the steam railroads but also you could reach many places not served by the steam railroads. It would certainly take a lot longer to make a journey by trolley because you had to make many changes from one line to another, but it could be done. As an example, one could travel from Boston to New York by trolley and had it not been for a couple of 20-mile missing pieces one could have traveled all the way to Chicago by trolley.

The trolley car companies were quite creative in the ways they used to generate traffic on their lines. Nights and weekends the cars sat idle in the barns. Efforts to increase use of the trolleys on these off-hours were many. One of the most popular methods used to generate the off hours traffic was to build a park, amusement area or other entertainment site, usually outside the city or town, in an area that would require you to ride the trolley to get there. Many of these "Electric Parks", as they were often called, survive today as amusement parks, without any signs that a trolley line had ever existed there. Other lines operated touring cars, encouraging people to simply "ride" the cars.

With the improvements in the automobile, and the roads, as well as other alternative means of transportation, in the 1920's the trolley lines were in a fast decline. In some ways the companies were even hurting themselves. The declining profits meant less was being spent on maintenance. The comfort of riding the trolley was getting worse while the other means of transportation were all getting better. As early as 1921 the AEREA (American Electric Railway Engineering Association) was urging adoption of certain ideas more or less as a standard. For the most part the companies had little use for these ideas and were reluctant to set any sort of standard. Despite the objections of the operators the car builders pushed for a standard car design. Finally in late 1929 the groundwork was laid for the formation of a committee to look into car design standards.

Over the next five years the committee, that became known as the Electric Railway's Presidents Conference Committee, set about researching, developing and testing a radically new trolley, or PCC car as it was soon to become known as. Finally, in 1932, using a car body borrowed from the Brooklyn & Queens T.C. the first PCC was tested. While the car body had yet to be determined, this car did allow the testing of the newly designed trucks and controls. Two years later, 1934, the type B PCC was assembled using an entirely new design car body from Pullman Co. The committee was now able to put forward a set of specs for a production car. The S t. Louis Car Company finished the development work and started production of the PCC car. With its totally new streamlined design, with fast acceleration and deceleration and improved braking, quiet, smooth riding, the PCC car was a big hit. The first order of cars was for 100 for the Brooklyn & Queens T. C., in 1935. Production peaked in 1946 with 800 cars being manufactured, and continued until 1951. By then almost 5000 had been produced in the U.S. and Canada.

The new PCCs did help bring some of the business back to the trolley companies and when the Second World War was being fought the traffic was again increased but in the end the cars and the busses were winning out. The trolley companies either abandoned their lines or switched to busses. Only in a few on the larger cities did the trolley (PCC) survive and even today there are still a few around, still in service.

Not all of the car companies or operators opted for the PCC cars but instead tried their own, although similar designs. Most notable among them was the Brill Company's "Brilliner"

Copyright 1999 Dave Cremins, Delphi Railroading Forum

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