Father Pitt

Why should the beautiful die?

150 Years of Light Rail

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Father Pitt has learned that the city of Phoenix in Arizona, a largely mythological state, has just begun to enjoy the many benefits of a modern light-rail transit system—or, to use a better and more descriptive term, streetcars. Seeing that cheering news, old Pa Pitt tried to remember how long Pittsburgh has had light-rail transit. After jogging his memory, he came up with an answer: exactly 150 years. The first streetcar tracks were laid in 1859.

One hundred fifty years of streetcars! This seems like a momentous occasion, an anniversary to celebrate with fireworks and cake. Those first cars were drawn by horses, of course. After them came cable cars, much like the ones in San Francisco. They lasted only a short time before they were replaced by electric traction, which is what we still use today.

Many things have changed since then. Much of the street trackage has been replaced by buses, although streetcars still run on the street in Allentown and Beechview. In the 1980s, the streetcars downtown finally moved into the subway that Pittsburghers had been clamoring for since the turn of the twentieth century or before. But  “light rail” service in one form or another has been continuous since before the Civil War, which is an enviable record few American cities can match. Here is a wonderful collection of pictures of Pittsburgh streetcars, mostly from the PCC era.

So to the citizens of Phoenix, Father Pitt sends his warmest greetings: Welcome to the mechanical age! Based on his experience over the last century and a half, Pa Pitt thinks you’re going to like it here.

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