PCC (Presidents' Conference
Committee) streetcar (tram) design was first built in the United States in the 1930s.
The design proved successful
in its native country, and after World War
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.
name comes from the design committee
1929 representing the Presidents
street railways. The
Electric Railway Presidents' Conference Committee
, was tasked with producing a new type of
streetcar that would help fend off competition from buses
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
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
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
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.
wheels were used on most PCC cars with
later heftier cousins known as
Gears were another source of considerable noise solved by employing
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.
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
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
order of 99 cars was built in 1936 for Brooklyn, New
York, by the St. Louis
Car Company. The second order built (27) was for Baltimore and the third order went to Chicago, all by St.
Louis Car Company. Clark
built only one PCC, #1000, and the only
aluminum PCC at that; this car completed the 100-car order for
Washington, DC, 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
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
, 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
were initially built in the United States by the St. Louis
Car Company (SLCCo) and Pullman
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.
for Canadian cities were
built jointly by St. Louis Car Co. and Canada Car and Foundry in Montreal, Quebec.
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.
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, Saint-Étienne, Marseille and Belgrade (the latter city buying vehicles initially used by
the Belgian Vicinal
European PCC cars were probably the ones developed in 1942 by
Italian Fiat for the
Madrid 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 Beasain or
MMC (Material Móvil y Construcciones) in
These units worked very successfully in
Madrid until 1972.
CKD Tatra of Prague 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
SKV, who discontinued these
products in favor of Siemens-designed models.
Eastern European company producing PCC cars (though not licensed)
was Polish Konstal in Chorzów, Upper Silesia.
Konstal 13N type was a copy of the CKD
Tatra T1 (but with Belgian electric equipment) and is still used in
Newer Konstal 105N
since 1973, had the PCC electrical set. After many modernizations,
the upgraded type Konstal 105Na
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
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
Developed a control system for PCC cars that mirrored
the Westinghouse scheme in function, although not in simplicity or
. 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
the accelerator advanced automatically by a low-voltage pilot
motor. Service braking
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
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
, a sloped windshield to eliminate night time glare,
redesigned back end, forced air ventilation, and other features.
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
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
"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
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.
- 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.
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
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
(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 Toronto 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 .
of different models of Toronto PCC cars are on display at the
Ontario Electric Railway Historical Society museum, the Halton
County Radial Railway, near Rockwood,
Ontario. Several are in operating condition and rides
are available to the public. Toronto sold their earlier PCCs to Alexandria,
Egypt from 1966 to 1968. These cars remained in
operation until 1984.
unique Tandy Center Subway in
Texas, 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
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
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
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:
F Market Line (historic streetcar service)
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. 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.)
Streetcar in Kenosha, Wisconsin, 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
- 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. 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
Zoo, 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
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 Belgium.
vehicles used in Antwerp and Ghent vehicles are
metre gauge, while those used
in Brussels 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, Missouri, and Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
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. Some in
the former East Germany also still use them, but many have been
trams are still in use in Cairo, Egypt
suburban systems, see Trams in
were also exported to 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.
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
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
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 Francisco while attempting to deliver ransom money to a
In late 2007 and early 2008, a PCC
car is seen
passing by in the background of a Restylane
Toronto, one subway
West, has two enamel murals, facing each other,
depicting PCC streetcars in motion, although these had never served
In the movie A Christmas
car can be seen in the
downtown scenes, and when Ralphie and his family are choosing a
- Carlson & Schneider (1980), pp.117–119.
- C.F.Hirshfeld, Ch.Engr., PCC; (October 1933) "Electric Transit
and Bus Journal", pp.321–325, 331.
- Carlson & Schneider (1980), pp. 76, 91 (top photo
- Carlson & Schneider (1980), p. 59.
- Carlson & Schneider (1980), pp. 59–61.
- Kashin, S.; Demoro, H. (1986). An American Original: The
PCC Car, p. 79. Glendale (CA): Interurban Press, ISBN
- Carlson & Schneider (1980), p. 149.
- Carlson & Schneider (1980), pp. 98–100.
- 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.
- Dr. Harold E. Cox (1963) PCC Cars of North
- Toronto's 'Boomer' PCCs
- Philadephia Trolley Track
- 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