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Transit 101 is an occasional series that will focus on the history and technology of modern-day public transit systems.
Streetcar technology actually began with that most American form of transit in the 19th Century, the stage coach, or omnibus: a passenger coach pulled by a team of horses. In most cases, electrical power was provided by a single overhead wire, with the ground return carried through the running rails in the street.
The first streetcar line in the United States was the Fourth Avenue Line in New York City, which was operated by the New York and Harlem Railroad (now MTA Metro-North) along Fourth Avenue and the Bowery.
In some cases, streetcars acted as modes of transit between cities, running on city streets within the urban area but running on their own rights-of-way through rural areas. In 1929, the Electric Railway Presidents’ Conference Committee commissioned the design of a modern, standardized streetcar they hoped would fend off competition from buses and the automobile. The development of the PCC streetcar proved to be inadequate to stop the forces conspiring to kill streetcar service in most American cities during the post-war era, though. Likewise, in Philadelphia, the Subway-Surface streetcar lines travel in tunnels downtown while operating on the surface as trolleys in the outer neighborhoods, while the Media, Norristown, and Sharon Hill lines operate as feeders into the Market-Frankfort rapid transit line at its 69th Street terminal. The success of these new streetcar systems in the Pacific Northwest has sparked interest in cities across the nation, with 22 cities either building or designing new streetcar lines. On older streetcar systems, fares were paid in the form of cash or a token, and collected on board the vehicle by the motorman or a conductor. Unlike other forms of rail transit, streetcars generally operate in mixed traffic, sharing the right-of-way with automobiles, buses, and bicycles. The streetcar, since it operates in shared traffic at relatively slow speeds, is convenient as a neighborhood circulator within a compact urban area, but less effective for regional travel. Update: Due to an extended power outage on Monday and other time commitments, the schedule for the Transit 101 series has been revised. This article may require cleanup to meet Worldwide Trams Wiki's quality standards.Please improve this article if you can. The PCC (Presidents' Conference Committee) streetcar (tram) design was first built in the United States in the 1930s. The unusual name comes from the fact that the car was designed by a committee, formed in 1929, representing various electric street railways. It turned out that, unlike many other things produced by committees, the PCC streetcar was a very good basic design. Production continued in North America until the early 1950s, with 4978 units built; thousands more PCCs and direct descendants were produced in Europe through the 20th century. The early pre-World War II versions of these vehicles were known as air-electric cars and used a belt-driven air compressor to open the doors and operate brakes. The first European PCC cars were probably the ones developed in 1942 by Italian Fiat for the Madrid tramway system. CKD Tatra of Prague also bought a PCC licence, and built thousands of PCC based streetcars. Another Eastern European company producing PCC cars (though not licensed) was Polish Konstal in Chorzow, Upper Silesia.
These three all operated East European versions of the original PCC design and specifications. Some PCC cars were also exported throughout the world, and in Latin America, although not in great numbers, to Mexico and Buenos Aires particularly, in Buenos Aires they ran through exclusive right of ways on the suburban Urquiza Line for a while, these were modified at the ends to operate in two, three or four-sectioned articulated formations like most modern LRVs.
In North America, most PCC-based systems were dismantled in the post-war period in favor of bus-based transit networks. The first PCC cars in Canada were operated by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) in 1937. As of 2005, there are still a few places in North America where transit agencies employ PCCs in true revenue service (as opposed to short-run or intermittent heritage railway service). The Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line in Boston is a light-rail extension of the MBTA's heavy Red Line. The F Market Line (historic streetcar service) in San Francisco, opened in 1995, runs along Market Street from The Castro to the Ferry Building, then along the Embarcadero north and west to Fisherman's Wharf. The Kenosha Electric Streetcar in Kenosha, Wisconsin, has been operating five PCCs acquired from Toronto since 2000, although service has sometimes been intermittent because of funding issues. SEPTA restored trolley service to the Route 15 Girard Avenue line in Philadelphia in September 2005 after a 15-year "temporary" suspension of trolley service in favor of diesel buses. One of the PCC cars from the Tandy Center Subway has been restored and is in service on the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority in Dallas, Texas.
As many cities contemplate new transit projects, PCC-based streetcar lines are an attractive option as they are relatively low cost and can serve as a tourist attraction in and of themselves, especially on routes through historic city centers.

Pre-war tram networks remain largely intact in a number of European cities, and many still use PCCs as part or all of their rolling stock. The tram system of Sofia, Bulgaria has 16 lines totaling 221 km served by 190 trams, some of which are Tatra PCCs. In Romania, Bucharest's extensive tramway network features a large fleet of Tatra T4R PCCs. Several tramways in the Czech Republic and Slovakia still use Tatra PCC cars, while many in Poland still operate Konstal PCCs. Although few cities have run PCCs since 1960, they are still quite identifiable as streetcars and, because of their 1930s-era deco, streamlined design, quite aesthetically pleasing.
In late 2007 and early 2008, a PCC car is seen passing by in the background of a Restylane TV commercial. In Toronto, one subway station, Eglinton West, has two enamel murals, facing each other, depicting PCC streetcars in motion, although these had never served the station. In this first article of the series, we will explore the history and technical aspects of one of the most basic forms of rail transit, the streetcar and interurban, and by the end of the series, we will have worked our way up to high-speed trains that can traverse hundreds of miles in a matter of minutes.
Operators soon discovered that, with the decreased friction provided by metal wheels running on metal rails embedded in the streets, the same number of horses could pull a far greater number of passengers.
Cincinnati’s original streetcar system was unique in that it operated on two overhead wires, one for the electrical supply and the other for the ground return. Over time, streetcars became the dominant mode of public transit in most American cities, including Cincinnati, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
These lines became known as interurbans, with the rolling stock often times built larger than typical streetcars, with amenities for intercity travel such as more comfortable seats and on-board lavatories. The so-called PCC streetcar featured a number of improvements in ride quality over the previous generations of streetcars, and became an icon of 1930’s industrial design.
The federal government explicitly favored highway construction and suburban development over public transit, while a front company known as National City Lines served as a means for General Motors, Firestone, and Standard Oil to buy up streetcar lines throughout the United States, dismantle them, and replace the streetcars with buses built by GM.
The last Green Line streetcars in Northern Kentucky had been replaced by buses years earlier.
This is in addition to a number of transit and railway museums throughout the country that maintain and operate their own historic streetcar rosters. Portland, Oregon became the first American city to build a new streetcar line in the post-war period, using articulated low-floor vehicles similar in nature to those used on many light rail lines. Among Midwestern cities, Cincinnati is at the forefront of this movement, with most funding now in place and construction expected to begin on our own streetcar line this fall. The center two-thirds of the vehicles have a low floor that is even with the platform height, enabling easy boarding by passengers with disabilities. On modern systems, fare collection is usually via a proof-of-payment system in which a ticket is purchased and validated before boarding the vehicle. The physical infrastructure for the streetcar is minimal, consisting of the track, power supply, maintenance facilities, and the stations. For longer-distance travel at higher speeds, a dedicated right-of-way and larger vehicles are required. Part II of the series is tentatively scheduled for next Monday, August 23rd, with additional installments appearing each Monday through September 6th. The design proved successful in its native country, and after World War II was licensed for use elsewhere in the world. The Electric Railway Presidents' Conference Committee, or ERPCC, was tasked with producing a new type of streetcar that would help fend off competition from buses and automobiles.
Many railways altered the car in various ways to fit their own needs, but most cars retained a standard appearance.
The cars were very sturdy and many lasted a long time; well into the 1970s the majority of surviving North American streetcar systems used PCC cars, the systems which closed often selling their cars secondhand to the surviving operators. Later "all-electric" models were entirely electric, replacing the noisy compressor and air brakes with electrically activated brakes on the motor shafts. Due to the progression of World War II, delivery of the units from Italy had to be stopped, and eventually 110 cars were built in Spain to the Fiat design, either by CAF (Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles) in Beasain or MMC (Material Movil y Construcciones) in Zaragoza . Most successful was type Tatra T3, 13 991 units were sold worldwide, mainly in former eastern bloc countries. Of the rail transit systems that survived this period, most had replaced their PCCs with modern light rail vehicles (LRVs) by the early 1980s. By 1954 Toronto had the largest PCC fleet in the world, including many purchased second-hand from U.S. A shuttle between a mall and its parking lot, the system used a number of PCCs, but their exteriors were heavily modified in the 1970s, making them largely unrecognizable.

This line is run by a mixture of PCC cars built between 1946 and 1952, and earlier pre-PCC cars. PCC streetcars were featured prominently in a Dockers ad campaign in which two PCC cars operating on San Francisco's Embarcadero Line pass each other, and a man and woman, after making eye contact, each jump out of their seats, miss the streetcar on the other track only to find that they are united as the cars pull away.
Most streetcar systems operated with two crew members per car: a motorman to drive the vehicle, and a conductor to collect fares (usually in the form of cash or a token). The Portland streetcar has been a resounding success story, and the neighboring cities of Tacoma and Seattle have built their own modern streetcar lines. The cars are powered via a single 750V DC overhead wire, which is designed to blend in with the urban context in an unobtrusive manner. The ticket allows unlimited travel within a certain time period, with enforcement taking place through the use of random spot checks. The stations themselves are usually little more than raised curbs with shelters and ticket vending machines. Such rapid transit systems fall into two broad categories, heavy rail and light rail, which we will explore in the next installment of this series.
Tagged Horsecar, Interurban, Light Rail, MBTA, Metro-North, PCC Streetcar, Portland Streetcar, SEPTA, South Shore Line, Streetcar, Transit History. The PCC car has proved to be a long lasting icon of streetcar design, and PCC cars are still in service in various places around the world. The committee produced a high-performance design that was commonly used in the following decades.
Pittsburgh Railways took "delivery of # 100, which was by most all accounts, the first delivered PCC car in the world"[1]. A handful still remain in service alongside modern vehicles, though most of the PCC cars functional today are operated by museums and heritage railways. CKD had begun marketing to the rest of the world until 2000, when the company faced a bankruptcy and reorganization.
The line was shut down for reconstruction from June 24, 2006 until December 22, 2007, but PCC cars have resumed operation since the line's bridges can not support heavier light rail vehicles (LRV) operated on the MBTA's Green Line. When the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority bought the PCC car in February 2003, it was named "Winnie" for its resemblance to a Winnebago.
Clint Eastwood's character, Inspector Callahan, of SFPD, rode on such a streetcar (livery was typical MUNI green and cream of the early 1970's) on the K-line in a brief scene in Dirty Harry to the Forest Hill Station in San Francisco while attempting to deliver ransom money to a kidnapper.
The vast majority of streetcar lines ran in shared traffic on city streets, although there were exceptions. Boston’s streetcars survived because they travel in tunnels downtown, where diesel-powered buses cannot operate.
The cars were popular because of their distinctive streamlined design and smooth acceleration and braking, sometimes quoted as soft ride. PCC's streetcars had conduit plows which collected current from a slot between the rails into which the plow dipped, contacting positive and negative rails under the street on either side.
The tram business was sold to Siemens SKV, who discontinued these products in favor of Siemens-designed models. After many modernizations, the upgraded type Konstal 105Na and later versions based on it are still produced (though with modern electronic equipment) by Konstal, which was bought by Alstom in 1997. Although it acquired new custom-designed streetcars in the late 1970s and 1980s, the TTC continued using PCCs in regular service until the mid-1990s, and retains two for charter purposes. In Fort Thomas, the Green Line streetcar ran on a dedicated right-of-way along what is now Memorial Parkway before reaching the bedroom suburb’s central business district. The design patents were held by a business called the Transit Research Corporation, who licensed features to various streetcar manufacturers.
In Boston, a streetcar tunnel through Back Bay and downtown was built in 1897, separating streetcars from surface traffic and creating America’s first subway line. The PCC technology was exported to Europe, with La Brugeoise et Nivelles (now the BN division of Bombardier) of Bruges, Belgium, building several hundred streetcars that saw service in Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, The Hague (Den Haag), Saint-Etienne, Marseille and Belgrade (the latter city buying vehicles initially used by the Belgian Vicinal railways).
SEPTA had originally planned to run modern Kawasaki trolleys along the line once service was restored, but a combination of economics and a desire to help revive the Girard Avenue corridor with a more "romantic" vehicle led to the agency restoring the old vehicles for about half the cost of new cars.

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