Famous Locomotives

The PCC Car

Most of the 75,000 streetcars running around the United States in the 1920s were old and tired, and it seemed the way to revitalize the industry was to design a new type of streetcar-one that would replace the boxy and rattling old traditional streetcars and bring the image of modern comfort and design to the street railroad industry.

A planning group formed late in 1929 to study the problem. Representatives of railroads and the manufacturing industry collaborated to evaluate everything about the streetcar, from controllers and brakes to the shape of seats and exterior appearance. Their new design, named the PCC (after the President's Conference Committee) Car, was modern in appearance and featured innovations that made it lighter, smoother riding, more comfortable, and more durable than earlier cars.

The first was placed in service in Brooklyn during early 1936, and lines in Baltimore and Chicago soon placed orders. Almost 5,000 PCC cars were built, most of them ending up in perhaps 30 cities across North America.

The PCC did not save the street railroad industry, but it helped slow the inevitable decline. The PCC car's durability and relatively low maintenance cost allowed several transit operations to survive during the postwar period, and these venerable streetcars can still be seen serving transit riders in Philadelphia, Boston, Pittsburgh, Newark, and Toronto.