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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Second, Third and even Fourth Hand Trams

One of the remarkable aspects of the most successful US tram design ever - the PCC car of the 1930s was its commonality of features and operating functions. Even though there were obvious differences between cars built by St Louis Car and Pullman Standard - the overall functions remained very much the same to the extent that both single ended and double ended versions were clearly compatible. This commonality aided the later sales of cars from one city to another as closure of routes and systems offloaded still robust and reliable trams at hefty discounted prices.

Most notable among the many examples in the US was that of the Louisville, Kentucky system which actually took delivery of some twenty five completed cars in the postwar era only to decide shortly after their arrival (of several) that they preferred buses after all. The complete order was then sold on to Cleveland's large city system with several being shipped direct from the builder. The Louisville cars never entered service in their home city but had been painted in a very smart dark green with cream relief and frontal vee not unlike Blackpool's tram livery. The current San Francisco Market Street has reproduced this delightful example on one of their PCC fleet.

Similarly Kansas City sold its PCC fleet to Cleveland with most examples then getting a third operating life in Toronto which scooped up many second hand PCC bargains in the 1950s and 1960s. Even this was not the end of the line as both San Francisco and Philadelphia's SEPTA operation purchased many of the Kansas City exiles in Canada as a result of depot fires and replacement needs. Birmingham's PCC cars (no: not that city in the Midlands but the one in the deep south in Alabama) were given a second life in Toronto and some being further sold on back to the US.

San Diego's PCC cars were bought by El Paso to operate the unique cross border service into Mexico and I managed to see them in later life stored in the El Paso depot with dry heat keeping them relatively in good condition. Newark sold two cars to the Shaker Heights suburban line running out of Cleveland when the latter urgently needed more capacity. Most of Newark's cars having now gone far and wide to museums and of course several 'heritage' lines in the US. I made a point of riding them regularly during my years in New York - starting in their dour grey New Jersey colours. They were kept in immaculate condition by a dedicated team in the line's sub level storage depot under Newark Penn Central Station.

PCC cars were exported in large numbers to Barcelona after a restriction on US trade with Spain under Franco's regime was relaxed. Further examples went to Sarajevo to operate until the tragic civil war engulfing former Yugoslavia. One more example went to Belgium in the immediate postwar period to serve as a test car for the Vicinal system. Components for two further examples would go on to The Hague setting off a long standing succession of similar PCC cars built in Belgium for that operation. I had the pleasure of sampling the final weekend of PCC car operation when three car coupled units were placed in service to the delight of hundreds of enthusiasts from all over Europe (and North America). None of course reached these shores. The nearest being the hybrid 'VAMBAC' control units in Blackpool, Glasgow (1) and Leeds (1). A serious collaborative effort by several UK tram operators, notably Blackpool, Liverpool Glasgow and Leeds, pursued a joined up design build order for single deck PCC cars in the aftermath of the war. However differing track and operating conditions precluded what could have been a renaissance for UK tramways (or some remaining) and the efforts were kicked into the long grass. The nearest the UK came to PCC car operation has been the acquisition by the Crich museum of both a former Hague classic example, together with a Czech built double ended Tatra car for the Merseberg interurban line in east Germany. CKD Tatra acquiring the PCC license rights from the US in the aftermath of the war and going on to build the largest number with this technology - ever.

UK second hand tram sales were far fewer and individual deals. The largest of course being the 90 odd Felthams acquired by Leeds in the early 1950s. Glasgow was in the market for interim capacity and grabbed if that is the right term, 40 odd Liverpool bogie streamliners, finding them less than satisfactory on delivery. Manchester managed to unload its entire fleet of 38 'Pilcher' cars to four different UK tramways (Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Leeds and Sunderland). Is that a record? Southampton also surprisingly was able to sell off a sizeable number of its low height double deck cars to Leeds, many of which ended up on countryside farms in Yorkshire without reaching Leeds. Hull also made a success of selling its somewhat narrow bodied trams, also to Leeds together with a works car which survives. One of the Hull trams eventually returned to the city and is on display there. No Pilcher cars survive - definitely apt given its namesake Manager's antipathy towards trams in general.

Grimsby and Immingham acquired ex Newcastle and Gateshead single deckers for its industrial line. Sheffield was obliged to acquire both Newcastle and Bradford trams in the dark days of the War (the second one); whilst neighbouring Rotherham prudently acquired a single Leeds double decker to augment workmen specials.

The UK today pursues exactly the same individualist rolling stock policy for light rail operation - with no two systems having similar types of cars and the small cabal of European manufacturers picking off contracts as they appear in the EU register of public tenders. No change there then - but possibly some light on the horizon post Brexit when enterprising UK companies could well kickstart a domestic programme with new jobs not dissimilar to aerospace and defence sectors. One can but hope.

Former Kansas City PCC car in Toronto TTC livery but operating in service on Market Street, San Francisco during the 1980s. A second car heads out of the centre. Below : A Newark NJ Public Service PCC in its original grey colours at Franklin Avenue terminus. Right : Former San Diego PCC cars slumber outside their El Paso, Texas, depot in two contrasting livery styles the furthermost being the final one before closure of the line.

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