The PCC Car - Not So Standard

From nycsubway.org



If you look over the various PCC links in this website you will find a vast variety of body styles which were all defined as PCC cars, as well as a few which are similar but not classed as PCCs. Although the PCC car was designed as a standardized high performance city streetcar, for various reasons some properties could not use the model designed by Dr. Hirschfield and the ERPCC. The article below is adapted from one printed in the Trolley Museum Dispatch, published by the Seashore Trolley Museum of Kennebunkport, ME, with permission. I hope it enlightens you as to why the PCC is not very standard.

To understand why this is so, you must consider two facts: first, the basic PCC design was very adaptable, and second, it was constantly evolving to become better. Many of the streetcar operators who bought PCC's were constantly tinkering with the design, resulting in almost every order being different in some manner. With out considering the mechanical differences among the cars, there were no fewer than 22 body styles, defined by only a few characteristics, those being single end versus double end, body length, windshield slope, window style, presence or absence of standee windows, and door locations. This article will look at some of those developments and provide links as needed.

The Pre-war Design

The pioneers of the PCC era were the pre-war cars built in 1936 for Brooklyn and Baltimore along with single units for Boston and Pittsburgh. These cars were the culmination of several years of development effort by the Electric Railway Presidents Conference Committee (ERPCC), a group charged with designing a streetcar which could compete with the private automobile. They were the forerunners of the largest single group of PCC's, numbering 1586 and including a number of Brilliners, which, although not PCC's by strict definition, did employ the same body style and control equipment. These single-end cars had wide side windows, an exit door at the center of the body, no standee windows, a 12 degree windshield slope and were 46 feet long. The standard PCC was purchased by Baltimore (275), Boston (1), Brooklyn (99), Detroit (2), Kansas City (24), Los Angeles (95), Montreal (18), Philadelphia (260), Pittsburgh (400), San Diego (28), Toronto (290) and Vancouver (36) while Brill's competitor was acquired by Atlantic City (25). Baltimore (1), Cincinnati (1), and Philadelphia (3).

28 cars ordered by Cincinnati in 1939-1940 were quite different in some respects, including different "head" lines, beginning on the front of the car rather than the sides; a much more pronounced tapering at the rear, producing a narrower rear end (this was most noticeable on the interior if one was sitting on the rear bench seat, which was extremely cramped for lack of space); and the side styling produced two windows in place of just the one curved top window as on the standard production, and the sum of the two windows on the Cincinnati cars produced a larger glassed area than on the standard cars.

The first variation from the standard design occurred right at the beginning, when Brooklyn ordered one car from Clark with standee windows. This turned out to be the rarest variant, with only one car being built to this spec. Another variant appeared before 1936 ended, a stretched version with center and rear doors built especially for Chicago. This variant, of which 83 were constructed, was not repeated.

In 1937, Washington, DC ordered its first PCC's, lopping one window off the rear half of the car to make it fit the transfer table in their shops. Although this variety was unique to Washington, it was reordered six times, for a total of 365 cars, making this the most common derivative of the standard pre-war body.

No new designs evolved in 1938, but in 1939 the first double-ended cars appeared. To accommodate the extra doors and underfloor equipment, the Chicago length was used, and the five cars produced for San Francisco were equipped with full width rear doors, owing to that city's staunch commitment to two-man operation. Brill took over the design in 1940 and produced 10 cars for the Philadelphia Suburban, but since that line was a one-man operation, the rear doors were single width. Neither of these groups of cars are considered true PCC's since no royalties were collected by ERPCC, yet they were the basis for all future double ended cars.

Another group of double-end cars arrived on the scene in 1940. These 30 cars, built for Pacific Electric, were also built to the Chicago length, but were equipped with center exit doors. All were sold to a line in Argentina following their retirement, and none are preserved in North America.

A far more important group of pre-war cars constructed in 1940 were those constructed for the St. Louis Public Service Co. Although mechanically far ahead of their time, these cars also sported a new windshield design which prevented the interior lights from reflecting back in the motorman's face by sloping the glass 30 degrees instead of the previous 12. These 100 cars are considered the starting point for the post-war design. Unfortunately, none were considered for preservation.

A year later, the Boston Elevated threw its hat into the PCC design ring. Because of the island platforms at various subway and surface stations, the El needed doors on the left side of the car. Since Boston could not accommodate a Chicago length body, the standard body was again redesigned. The exit door was pushed back one window space along with the MG set on the opposite side, and a left hand door was added in front of the MG. These 20 cars would serve as the starting point for Boston's large wartime fleet.

The next design change occurred in 1942, when a 24 degree windshield, which took up less inside space than the St. Louis design, was introduced in an order of 100 cars for Pittsburgh. That city ordered another 65 cars in 1944, and one car from the Pittsburgh order was diverted to Minneapolis as a demonstrator, for a total of 166 cars, the fourth largest sub group. Surprisingly, Pittsburgh went back to the standard design for its last pre-war order in 1945.

The Los Angeles Railways was the only company to receive new PCC's in 1943, yet that order was for yet another variant. LARy combined the offset door position used on the 1941 Boston cars with the 24 degree windshield for its 30 car order. This design would not proliferate further, but in the following year, Boston also adopted the 24 degree windshield along with its left hand door, and eventually ordered 225 such cars, creating the second largest group of non-standard cars. When the last cars were delivered in 1946, they marked the end of the line for the pre-war single end design.

Washington adopted the 24 degree windshield in 1944, but also dusted off the plans for the Clark car, adding standee windows to its otherwise standard short body. Like the Clark car, the roof line was altered to adapt the body to the standee windows, and the rear window was enlarged. 125 of these cars were added to Washington's fleet in 1944 and 1945, making this the third largest non standard group.

Three more variations on the pre-war body appeared on the scene from 1945 on, all double-ended varieties. The most unique were the 25 standard length cars built for Dallas in 1945, the only double ended cars to use the standard footprint. A single width exit door was located right behind the operator. Many of these cars, which found their way to Boston in 1959 and 1960, are preserved at various museums. San Francisco dusted off its 1939 design in 1946 and added the St. Louis 30 degree windshield to its order for 10 cars. Again, Philadelphia Suburban picked up the idea, ordering 14 similar cars but again with smaller exit doors. The final variation was found in the the eight cars built without exit doors for the Illinois Terminal in 1949.

The Post-war Cars

As one can easily see, many of the features embodied in the post-war PCC appeared in various pre-war and wartime configurations, including standee windows, the 30 degree windshield, and offset exit doors. However, the most significant change was respacing the window posts to bring each seat next to a window. This change also appeared before wartime restrictions on design changes set in, in a group of 100 cars built for St. Louis in 1941. These cars, though employing the standard pre-war shell, featured the respaced windows with standee windows above and also the 30 degree windshield. The exit door remained in the center of the car, necessitating two half-windows on either side of the door. Likewise, the use of the standard body resulted in thinner standee windows and the retention of the original rear window. These could rightfully be considered the first cars of post-war design, though they were still one step away from what would be the final standard. A second order of 100 cars was placed during the war, but didn't reach the erecting floor until 1945 due to the various restrictions. Most of this order found its way to San Francisco in later years, with others ending their lives in Cleveland.

While they were constructing the St. Louis order in 1945, the St. Louis Car Co. approached the Pittsburgh Rys. about the idea of building one of their 100 car order to a new set of specs based on the St. Louis body. Pittsburgh agreed and the new design found its way to reality in the form of Pittsburgh 1600. The roof profile of the Washington standee window cars was adopted, allowing the use of the larger rear window and a taller windshield. To maintain the 30 degree slope with the taller windshield, the front platform was lengthened by six inches, also allowing for wider doors. To the rear, the exit door was moved to the offset position, eliminating the half windows. The posts were made narrower, permitting the wider doors to be used here too. This one car became the forerunner of 1115 standard post-war cars.

The post-war design was ordered by Birmingham (48), Cincinnati (25), Cleveland (50), Detroit (184), Johnstown (17), Los Angeles (40), Louisville (25), Mexico City (1), Minneapolis (140), Philadelphia (210), Pittsburgh (101), San Francisco (25), and Toronto (250). Some of the Detroit cars were one window longer but otherwise standard. When Toronto entered the used PCC market in the 1950's, that city added the Birmingham, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Louisville fleets to its own cars, for a total of 398 cars. Today, one still can ride these cars in Newark, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco, though their use is limited in all cities but Newark.

Variations on the post-war design were less common than on the pre-war cars, since these cars represented an amalgamation of the most common variations in the pre-war cars. The most striking were the 160 cars built for Kansas City, which dispensed with the standee windows on its otherwise standard cars. Chicago again lengthened the body, this time providing a huge rear platform with triple width doors, on a mammoth 600 car order which was split between two builders. Boston, of course, needed left hand doors, and these were provided on 25 cars delivered to that system in 1946. The Shaker Heights Rapid Transit Co. in Cleveland ordered 25 similar cars (one window longer) in 1948.

The last redesign of the PCC body was made by Transit Research Corp. (successor to ERPCC) in 1949. The basic post-war body shell was retained, but the individual windows were eliminated, and replaced with taller panes of safety glass extending over two of the previous spaces. Only one order for this design was placed, by Boston with left hand doors as usual. The last two orders for standard cars were placed by Toronto in 1951 and San Francisco in 1952, and both were for the 1945 model. Thus the 1949 design exists only as a variation; the standard model was never built!

Rapid Transit Cars

In addition to the streetcar production, ERPCC and TRC licensed rapid transit cars for Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, and Cleveland. Brooklyn was the earliest player in the PCC rapid transit game, ordering two experimental articulated trainsets during the development process and several production units prior to 1940. The absorption of the BMT into the city owned system in that year put an end to that company's dabbling in PCC technology, and only a few trainsets lasted into the 1960's.

Chicago also purchased 4 articulated PCC trains in the late 1940s, followed by two production orders totalling 200 units in married pairs closely resembling surface PCC's in 1950. Pleased with these, the CTA traded in 570 of its post-war PCC streetcars on similar rapid transit cars, with the last 50 coming as double-ended, single units. These three fleets lasted into the 1980's.

Boston was the next to enter the PCC rapid transit market in 1951, when 40 cars were purchased for the East Boston Tunnel. These bore a resemblance in layout to the Chicago cars but featured picture windows and sliding doors. The MTA added 100 more cars using some of the PCC patents in 1957 and 1958 for its Roxbury to Everett elevated line. Both fleets were retired in the early 1980's.

Cleveland purchased 88 PCC rapid transit cars in 1955 and 1958, completely equipping its only line. These cars also survived into the 1980's before being replaced with new cars.

In Conclusion

From its inception in a Brooklyn Carbarn in the early 1930s to its widespread production in Europe in the 1950s and 60s, the PCC car was truely an adaptable solution to many city's transit needs. It prospered because it could adapt, and may have continued in development and production had initiatives such as that in San Diego happened before the gas crisis. Indeed many of todays Light Rail Vehicles are descended from the European PCC cars of the 60s.

The Styles

1936-45 Pre-War Standard 1586 Baltimore


1936 Brooklyn - Clark 1 Brooklyn
1936 Chicago Pre-war 83 Chicago
1937-42 Washington Pre-war 365 Washington
1939-40 Double End Standard 15 San Francisco
1939-40 Cincinnati Pre-War 28  
1940 Double End Center Door 30 Pacific Electric
1940 St. Louis Pre-war 100 St. Louis
1941 Boston Pre-war 20 Boston
1942-44 Standard 24 Deg. Windshield 166 Pittsburgh
1943 LA 24 Deg. Windshield 30  
1944-46 Boston 24 Deg. Windshield 225 Boston


1944-46 Washington Standee 125 Washington
1945 Dallas Double End 25 Dallas
1946-48 Double End 30 Deg. Windshield 24 Philadelphia
1949 Double End No Exit Door 8 Illinois Terminal (in Cleveland)
Total Pre-war2802
1941-46 St. Louis Standee 200 St. Louis (Now San Francisco)
1946-52 Post War Standard 1116 Minneapolis (Now Newark)

San Francisco (Last PCC Built in U.S.)

1947-48 Chicago Post War 600 Chicago
1947-48 Kansas City No Standee 160 Kansas City
1946-48 Boston/Shaker Post-War 50 Shaker Heights
1951 Boston Picture Window 50 Boston
Total Post-war2176
Grand Total4978


Baltimore: PCC Streetcars in Baltimore

Brooklyn: PCC Streetcars in Brooklyn

Boston: PCC Streetcars in Boston

Chicago: PCC Streetcars in Chicago

Fort Worth: Fort Worth, Texas

Kenosha: Kenosha, Wisconsin

Los Angeles: PCC Streetcars in Los Angeles

Newark: Newark, New Jersey Light Rail/City Subway

Philadelphia: PCC Streetcars in Philadelphia

Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

San Francisco: PCC Streetcars in San Francisco

Toronto, Ontario, Canada: PCC Streetcars in Toronto

Washington, D.C.: PCC Streetcars in Washington, D.C.

PCC Streetcars in Other Cities

Page Credits

By Gerry O'Regan

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