Philadelphia Trolley Routes: By The Numbers
Abandonments and conversions to buses of Philadelphia streetcar routes did not
begin in earnest until after the National City Lines bought Philadelphia Transportation
Company in 1955. (See the 1953 PTC Trolley Routes
By 1958, almost one thousand trolleys and thirty-five
trolley routes had been scrapped, replaced by a fleet of as many new General
Motors diesel buses (GM owned National City Lines). The remaining fleet of about
500 PCC trolleys served the fourteen surviving routes, including the five lines
that utilized the city's new extension to the Subway-Surface tunnel.
The trolley system continued largely intact
until the 1968 conversion of the Route 47, which ran from Fifth and Godfrey Avenue in Olney, through
Center City to South Philadelphia. Ten more years would pass before another bus substitution, this
time the Route 60 on Allegheny Avenue. Both had operated from Luzerne
Depot in the Hunting Park section of the city.
In 1981, a fleet of 112 new SEPTA-designed, Kawasaki-built LRVs arrived for service on the five
routes that operate through the Subway-Surface tunnel and the streets of Southwest Philadelphia. At
that time, the new Elmwood Depot was completed and a new trolley maintenance shop replaced
the Civil War-vintage Woodland Carbarn. The future of the Southwest Philadelphia Subway-Surface
trolley network seemed secure.
The North Philadelphia streetcar system saw no such investment in infrastructure,
aside from sporadic track replacements. On the other hand, SEPTA did rebuild one hundred and
twelve 1947-48 PCCs for the North Philadelphia streetcar lines. Output of "GOH" PCCs was as
SEPTA General OverHaul PCC rebuilding project
Table showing quantity of cars rebuilt, by year
1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 total
---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- -----
1* 6 16 23 19 14 14 14 5 1 112
*PCC 2715 was the pilot GOH car, and was not included in the total count.
PCCs completed through 1984 were rebuilt at Courtland Shops.
PCCs completed starting in 1985 were rebuilt at Woodland Shop.
Despite this large fleet of renewed PCCs, SEPTA management seemed to give up on
the North Philadelphia trolley network. The Route 50 saw its last streetcar in
1980. By 1986, the Routes 6 and 53 were dropped. In 1992, only the routes 15,
23, and 56 remained, and in August of that year, the city administration dropped
its opposition to SEPTA's plan to "temporarily" operate these last three routes
with diesel buses. As part of the deal with the City, SEPTA promised to purchase
new light rail vehicles for those lines, with a target date of 1997. Instead,
four hundred diesel buses were purchased, and Luzerne Depot slated for demolition.
Most of the fleet of recently rebuilt GOH PCCs was dispersed across the country
to museums, and to cities that still see some value in the cars, notably,
San Francisco's Municipal Railway.
In September 1997, faced with the City's threat to withhold its share of funding
for SEPTA, the transit authority promised to rebuild the Route 15 Girard Avenue
trolley to "light rail standards." Since then, budget constraints have curbed
the "light rail standards" ideal back to a traditional streetcar line restoration.
Furthermore, after bids for a small fleet of twelve new low-floor LRVs proposed
a price tag in the vicinity of a staggering $3 million per car, it was decided
that the mothballed fleet of postwar PCCs might be rebuilt instead. As of this
writing, the reconstruction of Route 15 is complete and the new fleet of rebuilt
streetcars has been delivered. Route 15 service, however, continues to be provided
by diesel buses.
These colors coincide with the legend used on the Philadelphia
- Trolley Lines Abandoned
during the 1980's
- Trolley Lines Suspended
- Subway-Surface Trolley
Lines (in service)
| Route 6
Route 6 was a remnant of the suburban line that once ran to Willow Grove. After the June 1958
cut-back, Route 6 ran between Cheltenham Shopping Center and Olney terminal, running along
wide Ogontz Avenue.
Despite objections from the City, the SEPTA board voted to convert Route 6 to a diesel bus line.
The last day for streetcar service was January 11, 1986. That SEPTA would convert this viable streetcar line to
diesel buses indicated how bleak the future was for the North Philadelphia trolley network.
ex-Birmingham, ex-Toronto Pullman PCC 2302 on Park Avenue at Olney
Avenue. June 1981 photo by Mike Szilagyi
| (Route 6 to Willow Grove)
The streetcar line connecting Philadelphia to PTC's amusement park at Willow Grove was completed in
1907. The double-track line operated on private right-of-way, with some center-of-the-road,
reserved median trackage, and some street running in Glenside and Abington Township. The suburban
Montgomery County portion of the line was abandoned in 1958. This left only the street trackage on
Ogontz Avenue in Philadelphia (see above). This photo shows the last car, in the first light of
Sunday June 8, 1958, at the terminal at Willow Grove Park.
1948 PCC 2134, Last Car to Willow Grove, on June 8, 1958
| Route 10
Route 10 runs from West Overbrook to University City, and then through the Subway-Surface
tunnel, looping at Juniper St. under city hall. A new depot, heavy maintenance shop,
and 110 new LRVs
were furnished for the five Subway-Surface lines in the early 1980's, insuring
their survival. 1948 PCC 2095 southbound on 36th St. approaching the portal near Market
St. October 1979 photo by Mike Szilagyi
| Route 11
Subway-Surface Route 11 streetcars run beneath Center City, then on Woodland Avenue to Darby
Borough in Delaware County. Pre-war "air cars" such as 1940 PCC 2562 mixed with postwar PCCs
until the Kawasaki LRVs replaced them. Westbound PCC 2562 on Woodland Avenue
near 72nd Street. June 1981 photo by Mike Szilagyi
| Route 13
Route 13, the Chester Avenue line, was re-routed through the Subway-Surface
tunnel when the extension opened in 1956. PCC 2050,
delivered to Philadelphia in February 1941, leaves the subway portal for street
running at 40th Street. The "superblock" dormitories of the University
of Pennsylvania campus loom in the background. May 1981 photo by Mike Szilagyi
| Route 15
Operating out of West Philadelphia's Callowhill Depot, Route 15 runs from the West Philadelphia
neighborhood of Haddington, across North Philadelphia on Girard Avenue, to Port Richmond near
I-95. One of three routes made "temporary bus" in
September 1992, work is now underway to restore rebuilt PCC cars to service on this line. The
rail pictured here, as on Erie Avenue, had already been
rebuilt and placed in a raised, reserved center median, before the lines were suspended in 1992.Westbound PCC 2716 meets PCC 2710 on Girard Avenue
at Philadelphia Zoo. June 1979 photo by Mike Szilagyi
| Route 23
Route 23, Philadelphia's (and maybe the world's) the longest streetcar route, was
one of three "suspended" by
the SEPTA board in 1992. Running from South Phila, through Center City on 11th and 12th Streets,
the 23 continues north on Germantown Avenue through North Phila to Chestnut Hill. Bunching of
trolleys caused by delays on the narrow streets made headways difficult to manage. 1940 PCC
2501 with follower
northbound on Germantown Avenue near Erie Avenue. July 13, 1977 photo by Mike Szilagyi
| Route 34
Route 34, the shortest of the West Phila Subway-Surface lines, runs from the Delaware County line
at Cobbs Creek, along Baltimore Avenue en route to Center City. As the line approaches the
subway portal at 40th Street, it passes through the newly designated "Streetcar Suburb" historic
district, west of University City. Penn now offers a $15,000 grant to university employees
who purchase homes in this area.
1942 PCC 2658 heads toward Center City on Baltimore Avenue near 48th St., May, 1981 photo
by Mike Szilagyi
| Route 36
Route 36 begins at the Penrose Plaza shopping center, near Philadelphia Int' Airport,
and uses the reserved median of Island Avenue for about one mile before running as a
streetcar on Elmwood Avenue. The Island Road trackage once served the giant Hog Island Shipyard
during World War 1, and later, the Chester Short Line. Access to Center City is via the 40th
Street portal to the Subway-Surface tunnel.
1947 PCC 2766 on Elmwood Avenue, crossing trackwork for Elmwood Depot, then
under construction. May, 1981 photo by Mike Szilagyi
| Route 50
Route 50 ran from the northeast Phila neighborhood of Lawndale, down Rising Sun Avenue
and 4th and 5th Streets to far South Phila. This line saw the use of the Blackpool England
"Boat Car" trolley during the Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence in 1976. Trolleys
stopped running in 1980, and despite
denials by SEPTA management, crews ripped up track on 5th near Girard Avenue in 1983.
The SEPTA board sealed the line's fate in 1985.
Here's what the Philadelphia Daily News had to say, on October 24, 1985:
SEPTA DERAILS 2 TROLLEY LINES
"In a meeting marked by debate and public criticism, the SEPTA board yesterday reluctantly voted
to close two Philadelphia trolley car lines so they could be converted to bus operations.
'I abhor this vote,' said Judith E. Harris, one of Philadelphia's two representatives on the
11-member board. Harris said board members should be more concerned with improving public transit than destroying
Still the conversions continued.
(above right) 1942 PCC 2600, formerly a two-man car, on 5th
Street near Independence Hall. December 17, 1977 photo by Mike Szilagyi
| Route 53
Route 53 connected fashionable West Mount Airy on Wayne Avenue, to North Philadelphia, with
the east end of the line
looping on the grounds of Luzerne Depot. In 1938, the first fleet of twenty PCCs were placed in
service on this line. SEPTA abruptly tore down overhead wires on the Route 53 in 1989, four years
after classifying the line "temporary bus".
1942 PCC 2636 crosses Hunting Park Avenue at
Simon Gratz High School, July 8, 1977 photo by Mike Szilagyi
| Route 56
When this streetcar entered service in 1948, the PTC scheduled sixty-four trolleys to handle the
thousands of riders who lived and worked along Route 56. By the
end of service in 1992, only about 18 cars were needed for the line, which runs from Nicetown,
along Erie Avenue and Torresdale Avenue to Tacony. Although SEPTA promised, in 1992, to buy
new LRVs for this line, they have no intention of doing so. SEPTA tried to change the status
of Route 56 from "temporary bus" to "permanent bus" in early 1997, but backed down after vocal
opposition from the City, DVARP, and the Philadelphia Trolley Coalition.
Freshly overhauled 1948 PCC at 5th Street and Erie Avenue in May 1981. photo by Mike
| Route 60
| Allegheny Avenue's Route 60 was the first domino to
fall, in SEPTA's abandonment of the North Philadelphia trolley network.
Route 60 connected East Falls with Port Richmond and the Route 15
trolley. Without public hearings, SEPTA replaced streetcars with diesel
buses in 1977. In 1983 a City Water Department crew tore out 700
feet of trolley track between Amber Street and Frankford Avenue. A Daily
News article at the time quoted an official as saying "We were told
the rails were deteriorated, and trolley cars wouldn't be using Allegheny
Avenue any more."
Ex-Kansas City PCC on Allegheny Avenue
at Kensington in July 1971. Photo taken during a fan trip by M. Harrington