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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

American PCCs in Europe

The US styling of its 1930s modern streetcar as marketed as the 'PCC Car' found a fulsome market in North America but was less appreciated when applied in Europe. In fact only the Belgian national tram system 'Vicinal' and the Dutch city of 'Den Haag' accepted the same bodywork design (albeit to a narrower specification) as the US original. Europe in the early postwar era desperately needed to refresh (if that is the right term) its myriad urban tram systems. The PCC license had already been secured by the Fiat Company in Italy and the Belgian leading tram builder. In the UK an amended application of control equipment was developed by Crompton Parkinson under the 'VAMBAC' branding, whilst Maley & Taunton had acquired licence for new bogies well removed from the pre-war equipment familiar to operators still retaining trams.

A complete PCC car was shipped across to Belgium following the end of the war and tested on the Belgian coastal line and a section of the Brussels system which allowed for wide bodied trams to operate. Two body shells also delivered from the States were adjusted to produce a narrower version of the same style and placed in service on new PCC trucks in Den Haag - complete with standee windows in cream and green colours they were revolutionary in style and performance. So much so that they set a precedent for several tranches of similar US styled deliveries through two decades - giving the city's transport operator (HTM) a unique American flavour in Europe.

The Belgian Vicinal system similarly ordered a batch of all new PCC cars to a narrow version suited to metre gauge. After shortened experience on an interurban service running into Brussels, the class were transferred to the Vicinal lines in Charleroi's extensive network. Here they lasted until sale to Belgrade where they gained two liveries (not both together) in the Serbian / Yugoslavia capital. One of these finally made it back to Belgium for preservation where it forms part of the excellent running museum close to Charleroi at Lobbes-Thuin once part of the original Vicinal network.

Den Haag - PCC Farewell Weekend : Images by John Woodman

A trio of PCC portraits taken at the Tram Depot Museum - displayed for visitors to the Farewell Weekend Celebrations.

The traditional cream and green conservative livery of HTM of the 1950s and later gave way to a makeover in bright yellow during the final years of service.

The Dutch PCC style fleet was maintained in service into the 1980s before final withdrawal and replacement by articulated cars. An extravagant PCC weekend attracted thousands of enthusiasts from all over Europe, including the author, to sample the rare sight of a triple set operating on the line to the coast at Scheveningen - as well as a profusion of preserved examples retained for the excellent tram museum housed in a former depot. The system now runs a 'heritage tram' service for visitors during much of the summer season months and special weekends. Other US PCC cars could also be found in Barcelona augmenting that amazing tram system's homebuilt lookalikes and a wide variety of Spanish designs. The US models were acquired from Washington DC joining further expatriates sold to the Sarajevo undertaking. One Dutch PCC car was acquired by the UK tram museum in Crich - in preference to a somewhat wornout Boston car from the double ended Dallas fleet. It can be seen on display resplendent in the green and cream livery of the Dutch capital of former times.

Below : Not quite Little Bispham loop ! A triple set of PCCs on tour at Scheveningen circle.

Inside a Den Haag PCC car with its forest of standee poles throughout the car - rather marring the flavour of these marvellous vehicles. A not dissimilar approach was found in the Newark Subway line 7 former Twin-Cities PCC fleet which operated this remarkable line up to the 1990s.

Another view of the three car PCC set - a first for the system (on the final day of PCC car operation).

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