Above: In 1963, the #13 Emsworth via California Avenue T pouses at the intersection of Federal Streeet and East Ohio. (Photo courtesy Edward Miller)
Early in January 2012, the North Shore Connector T traveled through the new tunnels below the bed of the Allegheny River. It passed through the unfinished North Side Subway Stationnear PNC Park before emerging onto the elevated trackway which parallels Heinz Field leading to the new Allegheny T Station.
This discreet test run of the controversial North Shore Connector marked a rather overlooked footnote in Northside history. It marked the first time in 46 years since a powered electric trolley car traveled on tracks on Pittsburgh’s Northside.
Who would have believed back in April 1966, when the last of the Northside’s great T system was shut down, that a new-age system would be reborn almost 50 years later? Countless Northsiders grew up here with no concept of the vast T system that once existed.
Before the mid-1960s, electric T lines were operating throughout much of the Northside, North Hills and far beyond. Trolleys ran on tracks once found on the 6th, 7th, 9th and 16th street bridges. These T links reached up into Troy Hill, Mount Troy, Spring Hill, Perry Hilltop and Brighton Heights. Other T lines carried the trolleys to Spring Garden, the Charles Street Valley, Woods Run and out to West View, Etna and far beyond. It was a system of fast, energy-efficient and non-polluting rapid transit.
One of the country’s earliest electric T lines was opened in Allegheny City in 1888. You could say it was the original North Shore Connector.
It connected lower Federal Street with the Perry Hilltop. The success of this speedy line led to many others during the 1890s. Let me add that this new North Shore Connector’s track gauge—that is the distance between the rails on which the wheels sit on the track—is exactly the same 5-footo2 ½ inch as the original North Side trolleys of decades ago.
The steepest regular T line in all of The United States was also found right here for many decades. The track that carried T Route 21-Fineview from Federal Street up the 12.9 percent grade of Henderson Street was steeper than any other US trolley grade without cables or cog-tracks.
Over a century ago, the area where today’s Heinz Field and River’s Casino now sit, was a segment of Allegheny City known as Old Rebecca. There was actually a T route called the Route 20-Rebecca until 1951. It ran over the Manchester Bridge, the pier of which now houses the Fred Roger’s statue, and ran through Rebecca to the Manchester T Yards.
This new T line has the best potential for future extensions further into the Northside, the North Hills and to the West Hills and airport corridor. Likewise, a dedicated source of funding for transit operations is vital for this region’s future well-being.
Let me further add that the original web of T lines were lost not because they were out dated or old fashioned as some people think. They were lost due to the influence of the anti-rail efforts of the oil and auto industry on the political powers, especially after World War II.
While Pittsburgh’s Northside said goodbye to the original trolleys through the mid-1960’s, ultra-modern new systems were being reborn all over Europe and Asia.
Bryant Schmude is a descendent of the Schmudes who settled in the Woods Run Valley in the 1890s. He currently works at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum Railway, 1 Museum Road, Washington, Pa. 15301. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .