Streetcars Return to DC

ex-DC Transit 1053 at the National Capital Trolley Museum on May 5, 1985. Unfortunately, this rare pre-PCC car was destroyed in a fire on September 28, 2003. (Photo by Ray DeGroote)

ex-DC Transit 1053 at the National Capital Trolley Museum on May 5, 1985. Unfortunately, this rare pre-PCC car was destroyed in a fire on September 28, 2003. (Photo by Ray DeGroote)

For the first time in more than 50 years, a streetcar has returned to the streets of Washington, DC. While actual revenue service is still a ways off, at least one car is on the rails for testing. You can read about it here.

Street railways operated in the District of Columbia for a century prior to their final abandonment on January 27, 1962. They have had a long and storied history, which is covered quite well on a Wikipedia page.

As streetcars undergo a renaissance in many cities across the United States, more and more modern trolleys are returning to streets where they once ran a half-century ago or more. Compared to the old cars, the modern trolleys have low floors for handicapped access, and are longer, and can carry more passengers than before.

Since overhead wire was banned in the District, the old streetcars used a conduit system for power, with a trough between tracks somewhat resembling a cable car operation. For the new streetcar, the DC Council approved a bill allowing overhead wires on the H Street-Benning Road line, and created a process to authorize additional lines (although not on the Mall or Pennsylvania Avenue).

When DC Transit was formed in the late 1950s, and took over Washington’s trolleys, owner O. Roy Chalk wanted to continue streetcar service, but was required by Act of Congress to eliminate them by 1963. Since the DC system retained some older equipment right up to the end, it was a fan favorite, with lots of fantrips showing off these “museum pieces” in beautiful settings.

The National Capital Trolley Museum has the most preserved equipment from the old system, but unfortunately some cars that survived the 1962 abandonment, such as the pre-PCC 1053 and the “Silver Sightseer” 1512, which had air conditioning, were later destroyed by fire.

To celebrate the streetcar’s return, we present a potpourri of classic views of past DC streetcars.

-David Sadowski

In 1935, Capital Transit ordered 20 modern pre-PCC streetcars, splitting the order between Brill and the St. Louis Car Company. Car 1006, shown here when new, was a Brill product. The Brills had riveted sides, while the St. Louies had fluted sides. (Photographer unknown)

In 1935, Capital Transit ordered 20 modern pre-PCC streetcars, splitting the order between Brill and the St. Louis Car Company. Car 1006, shown here when new, was a Brill product. The Brills had riveted sides, while the St. Louies had fluted sides. (Photographer unknown)

DCT 1053 on an ERA fantrip near the end of service in January 1962. (Photographer unknown)

DCT 1053 on an ERA fantrip near the end of service in January 1962. (Photographer unknown)

PCC 1521 on the #40 line in September 1959. (Photographer unknown)

PCC 1521 on the #40 line in September 1959. (Photographer unknown)

DCT 766 at the Capitol Hill Tunnel on October 15, 1961 (Route 40). (Photographer unknown)

DCT 766 at the Capitol Hill Tunnel on October 15, 1961 (Route 40). (Photographer unknown)

Last-day trolley 766 at the Bureau of Engraving on January 27, 1962. (Photographer unknown)

Last-day trolley 766 at the Bureau of Engraving on January 27, 1962. (Photographer unknown)

Car 766 at Union Station on the last day, January 27, 1962. (Photographer unknown)

Car 766 at Union Station on the last day, January 27, 1962. (Photographer unknown)

DCT 1053 at 7-Florida NE (Gallaudet College) on January 14, 1962. (Photographer unknown)

DCT 1053 at 7-Florida NE (Gallaudet College) on January 14, 1962. (Photographer unknown)

DCT 766 meets two other trolleys at 8th & Pennsylvania SE on January 27, 1962, the last day. The old Hine Junior High School is in the background, on the NW corner of the intersection. (Photographer unknown)

DCT 766 meets two other trolleys at 8th & Pennsylvania SE on January 27, 1962, the last day. The old Hine Junior High School is in the background, on the NW corner of the intersection. (Photographer unknown)

DCT 766 at Union Station on December 2, 1961, the last day for routes 40 and 42. (Photographer unknown)

DCT 766 at Union Station on December 2, 1961, the last day for routes 40 and 42. (Photographer unknown)

DCT 766 on the last day, January 27, 1962. (Photo by Frank S. Novak)

DCT 766 on the last day, January 27, 1962. (Photo by Frank S. Novak)

DCT 1053 at 7-Florida on January 14, 1962. (Photographer unknown)

DCT 1053 at 7-Florida on January 14, 1962. (Photographer unknown)

DCT 1053 at 4-Pennsylvania SE on January 14, 1962. (Photographer unknown)

DCT 1053 at 4-Pennsylvania SE on January 14, 1962. (Photographer unknown)

DCT 1479 at Wisconsin & P NW on September 9, 1959. (Photographer unknown)

DCT 1479 at Wisconsin & P NW on September 9, 1959. (Photographer unknown)

Car 766 at Barney Circle (Pennsylvania Ave and 17 St. SE) on the last day, January 27, 1962. (Photographer unknown)

Car 766 at Barney Circle (Pennsylvania Ave and 17 St. SE) on the last day, January 27, 1962. (Photographer unknown)

DC Transit 1053 at 2-Upshur NW on November 8, 1959. The car is facing east. (Photographer unknown)

DC Transit 1053 at 2-Upshur NW on November 8, 1959. The car is facing east. (Photographer unknown)

DC Transit 1053 at Union Station on January 14, 1962. (Photographer unknown)

DC Transit 1053 at Union Station on January 14, 1962. (Photographer unknown)

Car 303 at 14-Colorado in November 1960. (Photographer unknown)

Car 303 at 14-Colorado in November 1960. (Photographer unknown)

DC Transit 766 and 1053 at the SW Mall on August 15, 1959. (Photographer unknown)

DC Transit 766 and 1053 at the SW Mall on August 15, 1959. (Photographer unknown)

DC Transit 1489 is on Route 50, leaving the Bureau of Engraving tunnel (headed to 14th and Colorado), on October 22, 1961. (Photographer unknown)

DC Transit 1489 is on Route 50, leaving the Bureau of Engraving tunnel (headed to 14th and Colorado), on October 22, 1961. (Photographer unknown)

DC Transit 766 under wire on April 28, 1957. (Photographer unknown)

DC Transit 766 under wire on April 28, 1957. (Photographer unknown)

PCC 1101 at the National Capital Trolley Museum on June 14, 1987. (Photo by Ray DeGroote)

PCC 1101 at the National Capital Trolley Museum on June 14, 1987. (Photo by Ray DeGroote)

Dc Transit 1053 at Calvert Street Loop on December 15, 1961. (Photographer unknown)

Dc Transit 1053 at Calvert Street Loop on December 15, 1961. (Photographer unknown)

PCC 1553 on route 20 on August 16, 1959. (Photographer unknown)

PCC 1553 on route 20 on August 16, 1959. (Photographer unknown)

Capital Transit 766, a 1918 deck-roof standard car, is seen at 14-E Capitol on December 2, 1961. This car is now preserved at the National Capital Trolley Museum in Colesville MD. (Photographer unknown)

Capital Transit 766, a 1918 deck-roof standard car, is seen at 14-E Capitol on December 2, 1961. This car is now preserved at the National Capital Trolley Museum in Colesville MD. (Photographer unknown)

Car 1051 on a NRHS fantrip on September 4, 1954. (Photographer unknown)

Car 1051 on a NRHS fantrip on September 4, 1954. (Photographer unknown)

Capital Transit 1051, a pre-PCC car built by St. Louis Car Co. in 1935, is shown at the end of the Takoma Line (Butternut & 4th St. NW) on a fantrip on June 3, 1956. (Photographer unknown)

Capital Transit 1051, a pre-PCC car built by St. Louis Car Co. in 1935, is shown at the end of the Takoma Line (Butternut & 4th St. NW) on a fantrip on June 3, 1956. (Photographer unknown)

Former Capital Traction 303 is pulling trailer 1512 in this May 21, 1961 view at Mt. Pleasant Loop. Car 303 is on display at the Museum of American History. (Photographer unknown)

Former Capital Traction 303 is pulling a trailer 1512 in this May 21, 1961 view at Mt. Pleasant Loop. Car 303 is on display at the Museum of American History. (Photographer unknown)



Categories: News, Northeast

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8 replies

  1. This and all other articles you have done were put together with excellence. I am always impressed with your history. Keep the articles coming. Did you do one for Baltimore?. Their 50th anniversary of the end of streetcars was to the date Sunday Nov. 3rd. I was a very fitting ceremony with a re creation of the last ride at 6 :30 am Sunday Morning.

  2. As a kid on day trips to DC from Baltimore, I remember going underground at the Bureau of Engraving and around the loop, and seeing the sweaty Afircan-american men who worked in the pit manually removing the conduit shoes at Georgetown. I always thought that must be the most terrible job.

  3. “DCT 766 meets two other trolleys at an unknown location on January 27, 1962, the last day. (The slide says this is 8-Pennsylvania SW, but I’ve been informed this in not correct.) (Photographer unknown)”

    This photo (ninth picture down from the top) could be at 8th and Penna. Ave. SE as Pennsylvania Avenue “cuts” through only the northwest and southeast quadrants of Washington. The two PCCs would be on 8th st. and the older car in funerary bunting on Penna. Ave SE.

  4. Great photos – For the one that says, “DCT 766 meets two other trolleys at an unknown location on January 27, 1962, the last day. (The slide says this is 8-Pennsylvania SW, but I’ve been informed this in not correct.)” — That is 8th & Pennsylvania SE, and that is the old Hine Junior High School in the background (NW corner of intersection).

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