Philadelphia's PCC Streetcars

In the late 1970s, Philadelphia's fleet of PCC cars was the second largest in the western hemisphere, with 300 PCC trolleys remaining -- only Toronto Ontario had more trolleys. Philadelphia's fleet was comprised of two main classes: 102 prewar "air cars" built between 1940 and 1942, and 198 postwar "all-electrics" built in 1946 - 1948.

The streetcars operated from three depots over twelve routes, spread over most of the city. Five car lines ran on city streets and through a trolley subway under University City and Center City; the remaining seven ran entirely in city streets in traditional streetcar fashion.

(For more on where the cars ran, consult the Philadelphia Trolley Routes: By The Numbers page on this site.)

Much of the system has been paved over since then.

Today, the five routes that operate through the Subway Surface tunnel and in southwest Philadelphia are equipped with Japanese-built Light Rail Vehicles. Of the six North Philadelphia lines, only one, the Route 15 Girard Avenue, has been restored to streetcar service.

Until 1992, rebuilt postwar PCCs remained in revenue service on three lines, the 15, 23, and 56. PCC cars on these last three lines were "temporarily" replaced by diesel buses in September of that year, with most of the PCCs sold to transit operations and museums all over the country. The tracks and wires remain in place however, with both City Council and the mayor's office opposed to their removal (see City Council hearing article). SEPTA has restored service on Route 15, but has no plans to bring trolleys back to Routes 23 and 56. Portions of both Route 23 and Route 56 have been paved over.

During the late 1990s, between Thanksgiving and New Years, SEPTA operated three PCC cars through Center City and South Philadelphia over the idled Route 23 rails. Called the "Holiday Trolley," the PCCs operated four days a week on a twenty-minute headway, with some trips extending as far south as Snyder Avenue.

During the 2001 holiday season, with Center City inaccessible due to track reconstruction on Girard Avenue, SEPTA operated the Holiday Trolley in University City. Two PCC cars ran over the diversion tracks from 40th and Market Street to 49th and Woodland Avenue. The PCCs were run every 20 minutes from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Thursdays through Sundays until December 23.

SEPTA's recent removal of rail at 12th & Bainbridge Streets takes away any chance of trolley operation through Center City for the foreseeable future.

Click here to see an all-time roster of Philadelphia PCCs.

Click here to see Philadelphia trolley map.

You may click on any photo to view a high-resolution image.

Click on the PTC trolley image at the top of the page to see how that graphic was made.

PCC Survivors
Same Trolley Different Decade

2799 in the 1970s 'red arrow' 2799
It was hard to believe that there was much of a future for Philadelphia's PCCs in 1977 when this slide was made of PCC 2799 inside Woodland Depot. The car was thirty years old then, and a decade of deferred maintenance was really showing.

Finally overhauled in 1985, it was later repainted in an unlikely livery: that of the Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company, or Red Arrow Lines. In the photo at right, PCC 2799 turns onto Bainbridge Street from 12th St. in December 1996. The Holiday Trolley line had been re-activated for the month of December, budget courtesy of the Center City District. The diesel bus that replaced the Route 23 trolley is visible behind the turning streetcar.

Left: July 8, 1977; right: December 1996. photos © Mike Szilagyi

SEPTA 'gulf oil' 2728 on Wyoming Ave  'Philly cream cheese' 2728 on Noble St.
Route 50, running from far South Philly, past Independence Hall, to the Northeast, was another marathon trolley route, much like the Route 23. In this 1979 view 1947 PCC 2728 runs eastbound on Wyoming Avenue at 3rd St. The tracks to the left lead to the Courtland Shops.

In the 1990's, PCC 2728 was repainted in the 1938-40 silver and blue livery that had been originally applied to Philadelphia's first prewar PCCs. Here it is seen turning from Noble Street to 12th during the December 1996 revival of the Center City Welcome Line, aka the Holiday Trolley.

Left: June 30, 1979; right: December 1996. photos © Mike Szilagyi

graffitti-scarred 2732 2732 restored to PTC livery
PCC 2732 was one of one hundred trolleys ordered by the Philadelphia Transportation Company in July 1944 to displace ancient Near-side cars on the Route 23. It would take three years for St. Louis Car Company to fill the order. By that time, "only" 85 cars were sufficient for Route 23. In later years, 2700 series cars could be found all over the system, including at Callowhill Depot and here at Woodland.

Fortunately, this trolley survives to this day, and has been repainted into the classic PTC green and cream with maroon trim. PCC 2732 rounds the corner at 12th and Noble during the (nearly) perennial return of trolleys to 11th and 12th Streets, in the form of "Holiday Trolleys."

Left: August 8, 1977; right: December 1996. photos © Mike Szilagyi

Derailment 2785 at Germantown Gorgas

Derailment Here's PCC 2785 derailed on the 49th Street overpass in winter of 1981. Its right side was caved in after bouncing off a line pole. Fortunately, nothing was coming the other way (see how far the front of the car swung into oncoming traffic.) Two forklifts were brought from nearby Woodland Depot in an attempt to re-rail the trolley. (It didn't even budge.) Despite the crash damage, the PCC was not scrapped: in 1986 it was rebuilt at Woodland Shops as part of the PCC General OverHaul program. In 1992, it was selected to be repainted in PTC green and cream for service on the Chestnut Hill Trolley. It's seen here at Germantown Depot two weeks before the end of service.
Left: Winter 1981; right: May 1996. photos © Mike Szilagyi
2785 in Germantown depot
For a beautiful shot of this very same trolley in 1968, follow this link to Davesrailpix.
The photo appears to be of PCC 2785 occupying the short siding on Spring Garden St. at 11th.
( Notice how sharp the cars looked when the edges of the windshields were still stainless steel. )

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