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The PCC (Presidents' Conference Committee) streetcar (tram) design was first built in the United Statesmarker in the 1930s. The design proved successful in its native country, and after World War II was licensed for use elsewhere in the world. 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 PCC name comes from the design committee formed in 1929 representing the Presidents of various electric street railways. 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. The committee conducted extensive research, prepared a detailed research program, built and tested components, made necessary modifications, and produced a high-performance design that was commonly used in the following decades. The cars were popular because of their distinctive streamlined design and smooth acceleration and braking, sometimes quoted as soft ride. The design patents were held by a business called the Transit Research Corporation, who licensed features to various streetcar manufacturers.

It turned out that the PCC streetcar was a very good design. The standard car was long and wide with later models long and wide. Chicago, Detroit, Illinois Terminal, Pacific Electric, and San Francisco had longer cars, as long as . Washington, D.C., had shorter cars ( ) because of transfer table clearances. Many railways altered the car in various ways to fit their own needs, but most cars retained a standard appearance.

Although a participant in Committee meetings, trolley manufacturer J. G. Brill and Company brought a competitive design—the Brilliner—to market in 1938. With a Raymond Loewy designed exterior, very similar to the PCC look, the Brilliner attracted no large orders, serving most conspicuously with Atlantic City Transit. Fewer than 50 were sold.

A significant contribution to the PCC design was Noise Reduction with extensive use of rubber in springs and other components to prevent rattle, vibration, and thus noise and to provide a level of comfort not known before. Wheel tires were mounted between rubber sandwiches and were thus electrically isolated so that shunts were used to complete ground. Resilient wheels were used on most PCC cars with later heftier cousins known as Super-Resilient.

Gears were another source of considerable noise solved by employing hypoid gears which are mounted at a right angle to the axle where three of the six teeth constantly engaged the main gear which reduces play and noise. All movable truck parts employed rubber for noise reduction as well. "Satisfactory Cushion Wheel of Vital Importance; Develop New Truck Design; Generous Use of Rubber" are headings within a paper that Chief Engineer Hirshfeld both presented and published.

Pittsburgh Railways (PRCo) took delivery of PCC #100 in June 1936, the fourth order for a PCC car but the first PCC car delivered and the first in revenue service in the world. 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 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. A handful still remain in service alongside modern vehicles, though most of the PCC cars functional today are operated by museums and heritage railways.

The first order of 99 cars was built in 1936 for Brooklyn, New Yorkmarker, by the St. Louis Car Company. The second order built (27) was for Baltimoremarker and the third order went to Chicago, all by St. Louis Car Company. Clark Equipment Company built only one PCC, #1000, and the only aluminum PCC at that; this car completed the 100-car order for Brooklyn.

Washington, DCmarker, PCCs were unique because of 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. At the city limits were "plow pits" where the plow was dropped and removed, the trolley raised, and the car continued utilizing overhead wire; the process was reversed in the opposite direction into Washington.

"The PCC car was not just another modular vehicle but the result of the only systems engineering approach to mass producing a rail car." Research into passenger comfort resulting from vibrations, acceleration, lighting, heating and cooling, seat spacing, cushion height, space for arms, legs, standing passengers, economies of weight affecting maintenance, cost of power, reduced wear of components and track. Dimensions were established to fit the majority but could easily be changed for special situations. Windows were spaced to match seating.

While some of the components in the PCC car had been used before—resilient wheels, magnetic braking, sealed gears, and modular design to name a few—the ERPCC redesigned, refined, and perfected many of these while developing new acceleration and braking controls and put them all in one package. The PCC is far more than a good design, it is an excellent design with modern transit rail vehicles essentially upgrading the design with the most recent technology.


PCC cars were initially built in the United Statesmarker by the St. Louis Car Company (SLCCo) and Pullman Standard. Clark Equipment built the only aluminum-body PCC as well as all narrow gauge B1 trucks for Los Angeles, all the standard and wide gauge B2 trucks both air- and all-electric, and the B2B trucks used under PRCo 1725–1799 and Toronto 4500–4549. SLCCo built all B3 trucks, both standard and wide gauge. PCC cars for Canadianmarker cities were built jointly by St. Louis Car Co. and Canada Car and Foundry in Montrealmarker, Quebecmarker.

Westinghouse Electric, Westinghouse Air Brake, and General Electric supplied the electrical packages and brake components which were designed and built in cooperation with the ERPCC. The customer specified which equipment to install. Since Westinghouse was home based near Pittsburgh, PRCo ordered 75% of its PCC fleet with Westinghouse equipment, the balance with GE. Indeed, PCCs are often identified as either Westinghouse or GE.

The PCC technology was exported to Europe, with La Brugeoise et Nivelles (now the BN division of Bombardier) of Brugesmarker, Belgiummarker, building several hundred streetcars that saw service in Brusselsmarker, Antwerpmarker, Ghentmarker, The Haguemarker, Saint-Étiennemarker, Marseillemarker and Belgrademarker (the latter city buying vehicles initially used by the Belgian Vicinal railways).

The first European PCC cars were probably the ones developed in 1942 by Italian Fiatmarker for the Madridmarker tramway system. 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 Beasainmarker or MMC (Material Móvil y Construcciones) in Zaragozamarker . These units worked very successfully in Madrid until 1972.

CKD Tatra of Praguemarker also bought a PCC licence, and built thousands of PCC-based streetcars. Most successful was type Tatra T3, 13 991 units were sold worldwide, mainly in former eastern bloc countries. CKD had begun marketing to the rest of the world until 2000, when the company faced a bankruptcy and reorganization. The tram business was sold to Siemens SKV, who discontinued these products in favor of Siemens-designed models.

Another Eastern European company producing PCC cars (though not licensed) was Polish Konstal in Chorzówmarker, Upper Silesia. The Konstal 13N type was a copy of the CKD Tatra T1 (but with Belgian electric equipment) and is still used in Warsawmarker. Newer Konstal 105N types, produced since 1973, had the PCC electrical set. 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. 105Na generation cars are still used in all tram-towns in Poland.

The last PCC streetcars built for any North American system were a batch of 25 for the San Francisco Municipal Railway, manufactured by the St. Louis Car Company and delivered in 1951-2.


Westinghouse developed the XD-323 rotary accelerator with 99 points; it was installed in the first PRCo car, #100, and minor modifications allowed use in the last PCCs produced in North America for San Francisco in 1952. Resistance ribbons were mounted to each point around the outside edge of the accelerator. An arm rotating in the center had rollers on either end which cut out resistance alternately as it rotated approximately 180 degrees. This same accelerator was also used for dynamic braking; when the power pedal was released the accelerator sought optimum braking for the speed which prevented a lag when the brake pedal was depressed. "General Electric Developed a control system for PCC cars that mirrored the Westinghouse scheme in function, although not in simplicity or maintainability. With the GE commutator motor controller operating by air pressure, it had to be redesigned with the advent of the All-Electric PCC. Acceleration was variable between 1.5- and 4.75-mph per second depending upon the depression of the power pedal with the accelerator advanced automatically by a low-voltage pilot motor. Service braking was also variable and the maximum dynamic application decreased speed by 4.75-mph/s; pressing the brake pedal into emergency also brought the friction and magnetic brakes into play providing a maximum deceleration of 9.0-mph/s. Compared to a maximum of 14 points on old time equipment, the PCC was considerably smoother.

Most PCCs employed three pedals with a dead man's switch to the left, brake in center, and power pedal on the right. Depressing the brake about half way and then releasing the deadman pedal put the PCC in 'park.' Lifting the deadman alone would apply all brakes, drop sand, and balance the doors so they could be pushed open easily. Chicago used 'bicycle-type levers' for power and brake but converted some cars to two pedals. St. Louis Public Service Co. (SLPS) used two pedals, both with heel interlocks. The right pedal is the brake; depressing this pedal about half way while lifting away from the heel applied 'park.' Once the brake is released the heel need not be engaged with the interlock (although a professional driver is to cover the brake at all times.) The left pedal applied the power and the heel interlock had to be engaged at all times since it was the deadman; only when the brake is in 'park' could the deadman be disengaged.

SLPS is unique in that all 300 of their PCCs are All-Electric with the 1500s ordered in late 1939, the 1600s ordered late 1940s and the 1700s in January 1945. SLPS was the rolling laboratory for All-Electrics and what was learned here was applied to the post-WW2 All-Electric Demonstrator in the Fall of 1945.

From 1936 to 1945, PCC cars were 'Air-Electrics' with friction brakes, doors, and windshield wipers operated by air pressure. PRCo PCC 1600 of 1945 was the post WW2 All-Electric Demonstrator which eliminated the air compressor and associated piping while incorporating such features as standee windows, a sloped windshield to eliminate night time glare, redesigned back end, forced air ventilation, and other features. Dynamic brakes were the service brake on all PCCs; when almost stopped, friction brakes completed the stop and held the car in 'park.' Dynamic brakes slowed the 'Air' cars to 3.0-mph at which point a lock out relay allowed automatic application of air applied friction brakes against each of the eight wheels. On All-Electric cars the dynamics were effective to 0.75-mph where the lockout relay then allowed a spring applied friction brake to engage a drum on each of the four motor drive shafts; this completed the stop and held the car in park. Drum brakes were released by an electric solenoid operating from low voltage battery power; a power failure would prevent the drums from releasing which would prevent power application, a fail-safe feature. Drum brakes were quite popular and greatly reduced maintenance thus some 'air' cars were retrofitted with drums. Four magnetic brakes, one between the wheels on each side of each truck, applied additional braking for emergency stopping where all brakes were generally employed.

"These performances [acceleration and braking] enable the P.C.C. car to out-pace the average automobile which, in America, is of substantially higher performance than the typical British vehicle."

Largest fleets

The following are 1983 figures (2008.09.13:)

  • St.-Petersburg, Russia (formerly Leningrad,) had the largest fleet of PCCs in the world—over 2,000. At that time, older equipment was still needed to fill schedules.

  • Moscow had over 1,600;
  • Kharkhov had about 1,050;
  • Not a few Russian cities had hundreds of PCCs.

  • Prague had over 1,130.

  • Warsaw had 945.

  • Chicago had 683 PCCs in 1948. Many of these cars were converted to CTA 6000 and 1-50 series rapid transit cars by 1958.

  • Pittsburgh had 666 PCCs in 1949;
    • lost 11 to Homewood fire in May 1955;
    • 609 in 1959;
    • 595 in 1960;
    • 457 in 1961.

  • Toronto Transportation Commission 540 new PCCs by 1951, 225 second hand by 1957 for a total of 765 PCCs.
    • TTC now owns and operates only 2 PCC cars for private charter—nos. 4500 and 4549.

PCCs still in active service

North America

In North America, most PCC-based systems were dismantled in the post-war period in favor of bus-based transit networks. Of the rail transit systems that survived this period, most had replaced their PCCs with modern light rail vehicles (LRVs) by the early 1980s. A few sites have only recently concluded operation with PCCs:

  • The first PCC cars in Canada were operated by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) in 1937. By 1954 Torontomarker had the largest PCC fleet in the world, including many purchased second-hand from U.S. cities that abandoned streetcar service following the Second World War. 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 (#4500 and #4549) for charter purposes. These vehicles occasionally enter revenue service to mark special occasions. Recently they have been showcased on the Harbourfront Line on weekends during the summer . A number of different models of Toronto PCC cars are on display at the Ontario Electric Railway Historical Society museum, the Halton County Radial Railwaymarker, near Rockwood, Ontario. Several are in operating condition and rides are available to the public. Toronto sold their earlier PCCs to Alexandria, Egyptmarker from 1966 to 1968. These cars remained in operation until 1984.

  • The unique Tandy Center Subway in Fort Worth, Texasmarker, shut down in 2002. 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.

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). Of these, only one has been in service continuously since the PCC's glory days:

Not considered historic equipment, the PCC cars in use on the Mattapan-Ashmont line represent the oldest cars still in revenue service, originally built between 1943 and 1946. These cars are also the only air-electric PCCs still in regular service in North America. Several retired PCCs from Boston are now at the Seashore Trolley Museummarker.

Beginning in the late 1990s, several cities began to make use of historic PCCs to serve historic streetcar lines that combined aspects of tourist attractions and transit:

  • The F Market Line (historic streetcar service) in San Franciscomarker, opened in 1995, runs along Market Streetmarker from The Castromarker to the Ferry Buildingmarker, then along the Embarcaderomarker north and west to Fisherman's Wharf. This line is run by a mixture of PCC cars built between 1946 and 1952, and earlier pre-PCC cars. (Although San Francisco had removed PCCs from revenue service when the city's light rail was transformed into the Muni Metro system in 1980, they had made occasional festival trips in the ensuing years before being returned to full-time service.)

  • The Kenosha Electric Streetcar in Kenosha, Wisconsinmarker, has been operating five PCCs acquired from Toronto since 2000. The Kenosha Electric Streetcar is unique among modern PCC operations in that that PCCs had not run in the city before 2000—the original rail system was shut down in 1932 before any PCC cars had been built. One of its cars is still painted in its original TTC colours, while the rest have been re-decorated in the liveries of several U.S. cities including Pittsburgh, Johnstown, Chicago and Cincinnati.

  • SEPTA restored trolley service to the Route 15 Girard Avenue line in Philadelphiamarker in September 2005 after a 15-year "temporary" suspension of trolley service in favor of diesel buses. The line uses restored and modernized (by the Brookville Manufacturing Company) PCC cars, known as PCC-II's, painted in their original green and cream Philadelphia Transit Company livery, rather than SEPTA's white with red and blue stripes. Modernization included all-new control systems, modern turn markers, HVAC system (which accounts for the noticeably larger roof enclosure), and ADA compliant wheelchair lifts. The line runs from Haddington to Port Richmond down the median of Girard Avenue. It crosses both the Broad Street Subway and the Market-Frankford Line, and stops at the Philadelphia Zoomarker, among other landmarks. 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. SEPTA uses Kawasaki vehicles on the rest of its trolley lines, including the Subway-Surface Green Line linking West Philadelphia with Center Citymarker.

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. Late-model PCCs remain in use in Belgiummarker. The vehicles used in Antwerpmarker and Ghentmarker vehicles are metre gauge, while those used in Brusselsmarker are standard gauge. One of the peculiarities of the Brussels PCC vehicles is that some of them have been equipped with bogies and electric motors acquired second-hand in the United States from decommissioned streetcars from Kansas City, Missourimarker, and Johnstown, Pennsylvaniamarker.

The tram system of Sofiamarker, Bulgariamarker has 16 lines totaling 221 km served by 190 trams, some of which are Tatra PCCs.In Romania, Bucharestmarker'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. Some in the former East Germany also still use them, but many have been extensively modified.


Some PCC trams are still in use in Cairomarker, Egypt suburban systems, see Trams in Egypt.

Latin America

PCC cars were also exported to Latin America, although not in great numbers, to Mexico and Buenos Airesmarker 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. See List of town tramway systems in Argentina

PCCs in popular culture

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. 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, both jump out of their seats, miss the streetcar on the other track only to find that they are united as the cars pull away. Clint Eastwood's character, Harry Callahan, of SFPD, rode on such a streetcar (livery was typical MUNI green and cream of the early 1970s) on the K-line in a brief scene in Dirty Harry to the Forest Hill Station in San Franciscomarker while attempting to deliver ransom money to a kidnapper.

In late 2007 and early 2008, a PCC car is seen passing by in the background of a Restylane TV commercial.

In Torontomarker, one subway station, Eglinton Westmarker, has two enamel murals, facing each other, depicting PCC streetcars in motion, although these had never served the station.

In the movie A Christmas Story a PCC car can be seen in the downtown scenes, and when Ralphie and his family are choosing a Christmas tree.

See also


  1. Carlson & Schneider (1980), pp.117–119.
  2. C.F.Hirshfeld, Ch.Engr., PCC; (October 1933) "Electric Transit and Bus Journal", pp.321–325, 331.
  3. Carlson & Schneider (1980), pp. 76, 91 (top photo caption).
  4. Carlson & Schneider (1980), p. 59.
  5. Carlson & Schneider (1980), pp. 59–61.
  6. Kashin, S.; Demoro, H. (1986). An American Original: The PCC Car, p. 79. Glendale (CA): Interurban Press, ISBN 0-916374-73-4.
  7. Carlson & Schneider (1980), p. 149.
  8. Carlson & Schneider (1980), pp. 98–100.
  9. H.G. McClean, B.Sc, M.I.E.E., M.I.Loco.E.; December 14, 1945, "Passenger Transport Journal:" The American P.C.C. Car, p. 348.
  10. Dr. Harold E. Cox (1963) PCC Cars of North America.
  11. Toronto's 'Boomer' PCCs
  12. Philadephia Trolley Track
  13. Coches Eléctricos para servicios urbanos de la Línea Urquiza (Spanish) includes photo gallery

  • Carlson et al. (1986), The Colorful Streetcars We Rode, Bulletin 125 of the Central Electric Railfans' Association, Chicago, Il. ISBN 0-915348-25-X
  • Kashin, S.; Demoro, H. (1986), An American Original: The PCC Car, Interurban Press, ISBN 0-916374-73-4

  • López Bustos, Carlos, Tranvías de Madrid, Aldaba Ediciones, Madrid 1986, ISBN 84-86629-00-4

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