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Pittsburgh's Last PCC Streetcars:
The Drake Shuttle (Route 47D)


On 4 September 1999, Pittsburgh's rail route 47D, the "Drake shuttle", had its last day of regular operation. On this route ran the last survivors of Pittsburgh's once-vast fleet of over 600 PCC-type streetcars built from 1936 to 1949.

The Drake route was originally built in 1909 as part of an interurban line from Pittsburgh to Washington PA. It branched from a previously existing interurban to Charleroi, at a point called (appropriately enough) Washington Junction. The entire route from Washington Junction to Washington was single-track with passing sidings. The Charleroi and Washington interurbans lasted until 1953, when Pittsburgh Railways cut them back to the Allegheny County line, at Library and Drake respectively. They continued to run until the 1980s as routes 35 Shannon-Library and 36 Shannon-Drake.

In the 1980s, Port Authority Transit (the successor to Pittsburgh Railways) built a subway to replace the remaining surface streetcar tracks in downtown Pittsburgh. Route 42/38 (Mt. Lebanon via Beechview) was upgraded to modern light rail standards, connected to the Library/Drake routes at Castle Shannon, and extended about halfway along the Drake route to a new terminal near the South Hills Village shopping center. Part of the Drake route (from Castle Shannon through Washington Junction to Dorchester) was double-tracked and upgraded, and a short spur was built from Dorchester to South Hills Village. The outer portion of the Drake route, from Dorchester to Drake, about 1.2 miles, was left untouched. Also left untouched was the section from South Hills Junction (at the south end of the Mt. Washington tunnel) to Castle Shannon, the "Overbrook route."

The full Drake route continued to operate as route 47D until 1993, using refurbished PCC streetcars. It ran via the downtown subway and shared the section between Castle Shannon and Dorchester with the modernized light-rail route 42S (South Hills Village via Beechview). Some PCCs also ran to South Hills Village as route 47S. In 1993, the route was cut back from downtown Pittsburgh to Castle Shannon because of the poor condition of the Overbrook route, which was partly single track with passing sidings, clinging to the side of a valley, with several old trestles.

After 1993, route 47D operated as a shuttle between Castle Shannon and Drake. Passengers had to transfer between 47D and either 42L or 42S at Castle Shannon or Washington Junction to travel to or from downtown Pittsburgh. Service was about every 40 minutes throughout the day. This route still used PCC cars originally built in 1949 for use on the Charleroi and Washington interurbans. The high-platform stations on the light rail line and the downtown subway had short low-platform sections to accommodate them.

Near the end, the PCC fleet dwindled to three operable cars (4004,8,9). I understand that another car (4007) was out of service but repairable, and another one was unusable (kept for spare parts, perhaps). Although they had been almost completely rebuilt in 1987, they became increasingly difficult to keep in operating condition and were prone to breakdowns. Ridership averaged about 50 passengers per day. The last day of revenue service was on 4 September 1999, followed by a fantrip the next day, and the PCC era in Pittsburgh came to an end. A new minibus route (35A) took over passenger service in the area through which route 47D ran.

The Last Printed Schedule

Route 47D shared a schedule with bus route 46S (Shannon-Overbrook), which replaced the downtown and Overbrook sections of route 47D in 1993.

A Pictorial Tour of the Route

These pictures were taken in mid-August 1999, a few weeks before service ended. During my visit, cars did not operate to Castle Shannon, but turned instead at Washington Junction, because a recent storm had knocked out power for the signals and switches at the Castle Shannon loop. I did see all three of the then-operating cars.

These pictures were all re-scanned from negatives in August 2007.

[picture] Car 4008 rounds the loop at Washington Junction.

[picture] Car 4008 passes the outbound high-level platform at Washington Junction, without stopping.

[picture] At Washington Junction, two passengers prepare to board outbound car 4004 at the track-level pedestrian crossover, as advised by the sign.

Proceeding outbound from Washington Junction, the 47D cars first traversed the upgraded section of the route, and passed several stops (shared with route 42S) that had been rebuilt with concrete platforms and Plexiglas shelters.

[picture] Car 4009 inbound at Casswell.

[picture] Car 4008 inbound at Bethel Village.

[picture] Inbound car 4004 has just left the unimproved single-track section and is approaching the junction at Dorchester. The tracks at the right carry light rail route 42S to South Hills Village.

[picture] A motorman prepares to take over car 4009 from one of his colleagues at Bethel Church.

[picture] At Fort Couch, inbound car 4004 emerges from the tunnel under Fort Couch Road, a busy four-lane highway.

Beyond Fort Couch, the line ran along the bottom of a valley. To the left (outbound) was Bethel Church Road, and to the right was the Brookside Farms neighborhood; but they were mostly invisible from the line because they were up on the sides of the valley and hidden by trees. This outer section of the line still had much of the atmosphere of a rural interurban.

[picture] The next landmark was Pittsburgh's last passing siding on a single-track line. Although only one car at a time used the siding in its final years, cars still always took the right-hand branch. Here car 4004 poses on the inbound track.

[picture] Inbound car 4008 at Brookside Boulevard.

[picture] Inbound car 4004 stops for a passenger at Brookside Farms. The road to the left climbs to nearby Bethel Church Road.

[picture] Inbound car 4009 passes Walthers, seen from the rear.

Finally, the line left the original interurban right-of-way via a sharp S-curve (5 mph, with shrubbery scraping the car windows), descended a short hill and arrived at Drake Loop.

[picture] Car 4008 waits at Drake to begin its next inbound trip.

[picture] Your photographer poses with car 4004 at Drake. At least a few parts of this car are five years older than he is, and probably ran on the original interurban line to Washington, which was abandoned the year before he was born!

[picture] The interior of car 4008, looking towards the rear.

Off-site pictures

This page was last updated on 19 August 2007.

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