An outbound Red Line car on Broadway in Beechview passes Hampshire Avenue.
A friend from Beechview was complaining that no one believes streetcars still run in Pittsburgh. Pittsburghers from between the rivers know there’s a subway, but they seem entirely unaware that the subway fans out into various lines that meander through the city neighborhoods south of the Monongahela and far out into the South Hills. The next time you run into a doubter, you may offer this photographic proof that streetcars (as people in Beechview still call them) still run on the street in Pittsburgh. This is a Red Line car stopping at the outbound Hampshire stop in Beechview, and then continuing around the bend past the Beechview Community Center.
A southbound Red Line car leaves the Mount Lebanon subway station, as seen from the Alfred Street crossing.
The entrance to the Mount Lebanon station on the Red Line. The station is at the end of a winding subway tunnel cut through the rock (although Pittsburghers never call it a “subway,” reserving that epithet for the downtown section of the system). To get to the station from the Washington Road business district, you have to enter here, go down a flight of stairs (or an elevator), cross an alley, and go down another flight of stairs (or another elevator). Below we see the alley crossing and the station beyond it.
This entrance was built in the fashionable postmodernist style of the 1980s, when the streetcars were moved from Washington Road into the subway. Old Pa Pitt is impressed by the architect’s forethought in providing for the entrance to be tightened with a giant screwdriver if it should ever start to come loose from the ground.
A 4300-series CAF trolley leaves First Avenue on its way into the old railroad tunnel that leads to Steel Plaza. Pittsburghers count First Avenue as part of the “subway” section of the system (which in Pittsburgh terminology includes the stations from Station Square to Allegheny), but it is an elevated station; not until further in does the line actually go underground.
The Gateway station is full of fascinating geometries. These pictures were taken shortly after the station opened in 2012.
You used to come down these stairs from the street to enter Gateway Center, and if you were lucky you would hear the sound of wheels squealing around the loop, indicating that you were just in time.
The old Gateway Center station closed forever on October 30, 2009, as the new line to the North Side was under construction. These pictures were taken on the old station’s last night in service. A new Gateway (not Gateway Center) station, much larger and more pleasant, is open now, but the old Gateway Center is still there as a ghost station, almost unchanged since the day it was abandoned. If you are leaving Gateway headed for Wood Street, you can see the old station on the right side of the car.
Approaching the platform…
The last time old Pa Pitt glanced out the window at the ghost station, those posters on the right were still there.
There was only one platform. Gateway Center was the end of the line, so the cars came in from the east (above), passed the station, went around a squealy loop, and came back in from the west. Watching the car pass straight through the station often gave out-of-town visitors a moment of panicked confusion.
Here we are looking toward the loop, listening to the squealing wheels as our car comes around for us.
At last our car enters the station. Note the lower-level platform, blocked off by this time, that was built to accommodate the old PCC cars, some of which ran in Pittsburgh until 2003. (Some of those same cars, completely rebuilt, are now running in San Francisco.) These lower-level platforms can still be seen at Steel Plaza and Wood Street. The PCC cars were also the reason for the loop: the more modern Siemens and CAF trolleys are double-ended, but PCC cars went in only one direction.
We board our car for the very last time, knowing that we will never hear that loop squeal again.
For some time after the new station opened, the announcements on the cars were still clearly the old recorded announcements, but truncated: the professional announcer voice said “Approaching Gateway C—” as the car rolled into the station. Those announcements have now been re-recorded, but old Pa Pitt secretly enjoyed them. Many cities have ghost stations in their subways, but Pittsburgh was the only city with a ghost sibilant.
A passenger waits for a Red Line car on the Belasco safety island on Broadway, the main street of the Beechview neighborhood. His wait will not be long.
This 4200-series car rolled up seconds after the earlier picture was taken.
Pittsburgh used to be full of safety islands like these; wherever there was a broad street, the streetcars usually ran in the middle of it, avoiding the chaos of parking and double-parking along the edges. Broadway is the only street that has kept its safety islands, since elsewhere the streetcars mostly have their own right-of-way. (Warrington Avenue, used by the Brown Line when it is active, is narrow enough that passengers board from the curb.) There are three stops along the street trackage in Beechview; two others were eliminated a few years ago. Now Belasco is scheduled to be replaced with a platform-level station, which will be a boon to handicapped riders in Beechview. That will leave only the safety islands at Shiras and the single safety island at Hampshire (outbound passengers there board from the curb).
Above we can see the inbound safety island on the left. Behind the outbound stop, incidentally, is a typical Pittsburgh cliff house: a house whose street entrance is on the top floor, with the rest of the house clinging to a steep slope down from the street.
Although the Brown Line through Allentown is no longer in regular service, the Port Authority keeps it active for use as a detour when the Transit Tunnel under Mount Washington is closed. For several weeks in August of 2019, the tunnel was under construction, and all Red Line and Blue Line cars had to go over the Brown Line route. This is a simple record of what you see out the right-hand window on a car inbound from South Hills Junction to Steel Plaza. We go up Warrington Avenue and down Arlington Avenue, over the Panhandle Bridge, and into the subway.
If you are not a trolley geek, this may possibly be the dullest video you have ever encountered. If you are a trolley geek, you are already panting and drooling, so go to the Wikimedia Commons hosting page..