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Pittsburgh: Rehabilitated Overbrook LRT Line Opens

By Light Rail Now! Publication Team • July 2004

On 2 June 2004, Pittsburgh's Port Authority transit agency re-opened its 5.2-mile (8.4-km) Overbrook LRT line after a four-year major reconstruction project costing some US $115.8 million (part of the $386 million Stage II Light Rail Transit Project).
[Light Rail Transit Association, Urban Transit News, 2004/06/11; photo: Pittsburgh Channel]

Since 1984, the Port Authority has been operating a 25-mile (40.3-km) light rail system, called "The T", providing service to Downtown Pittsburgh and several suburban communities south of the city. The southern end of the T, between South Hills Village and Castle Shannon, opened in April 1984. The downtown subway opened on July 1985, and modernization of the line between South Hills Junction and Castle Shannon was completed in May 1987.
[Port Authority website, July 2004; map adapted from Port Authority map]

The T winds through Downtown Pittsburgh via a subway with three underground stations (Steel Plaza, Wood Street, and Gateway) and three above-ground stations (Station Square, First Avenue, and Penn Park), providing high-quality rail transit service to major destination points and business centers within Downtown Pittsburgh.
[Port Authority website, July 2004]

However, the original Overbrook branch had to be closed in 1993 due to increasing maintenance problems and the rising costs of renovations. Some of these maintenance problems apparently stemmed from the installation of worn-out second-hand rail in some sections; in addition, necessary improvements to replace obsolete structures and widen clearances forthe newer, wider light rail vehicles, were deferred.
[Port Authority website, July 2004; Light Rail Transit Association Urban Transit News, 2004/06/11; E. L. Tennyson, commentary, 2000/11/24]

The reopened Overbrook Line, upgraded to modern light rail standards as part of the authority's Stage II Light Rail Transit Project, now provides more efficient rail service from Castle Shannon to Downtown Pittsburgh. The Overbrook Line project included the replacement of five bridges and construction of six new bridges. The line's original 22 streetcar-style stops were replaced by 8 high-platform, ADA-compliant light railway stations. In addition, as part of the Stage II project, upgrades to the traction power network, Operations Control Enter, and signals and communications, plus the addition of 28 new light rail vehicles and rebuilding of 40 existing cars, were implemented, and altogether are expected to strengthen Pittsburgh's entire LRT system. The new cars all are expected to be in service by late September 2004.
]Light Rail Transit Association, Urban Transit News, 2004/06/11; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 2004/06/02]

The Stage II project is expected to attract approximately 13,000 weekday riders to the T by 2015. The project has supported more than 17,000 jobs and is projected to bring the region some $2.2 billion in economic benefits through consumer spending, investments, and the generation of business revenues, among other economic stimuli.
[PRNewswire, 2004/06/01; Port Authority News Release, 2004/05/29]

Four light rail transit lines to the South Hills – Allentown, South Hills Village, Overbrook, and Library – now provide thousands of people with convenient and efficient transit service to Downtown Pittsburgh and other destinations in southern Allegheny County each day. However, rail transit in Pittsburgh has gone through a rollercoaster ride of setbacks and advances over the past several decades.
[Photo: Peter Ehrlich]

In the early 1960s, Pittsburgh had the largest surviving streetcar system in the United States, with the privately owned Pittsburgh Railways Company operating more than 600 PCC cars on 41 routes. In 1964 the system was acquired by the Port Authority of Allegheny County, which rapidly converted most routes to buses. By the early 1970s, only a handful of streetcar routes remained, most of which used the Mt. Washington Tunnel just south of the Monongahela River to reach the South Hills area.
[Jon Bell website, July 2004]

At that time, Port Authority planners were determined to scrap the rail system entirely in favor of busways (now called "BRT") and an automated guideway transit system developed by Westinghouse Electric called Skybus. Community opposition rallied against the plan and in favor of retaining the electric rail trolley system and upgrading it into modern LRT. in the end, the LRT option was adopted, along with development of a busway ("BRT") system.

Today, the future of LRT in Pittsburgh looks increasingly brighter. Architects and engineers are currently working on plans to extend the LRT system across the Allegheny River and to the new convention center as part of the agency's North Shore Connector Project. Port Authority expects to break ground on the project in late 2004 or early 2005.
[Port Authority website, July 2004]

NOTE: Much of this report has been adapted from material published by the Light Rail Transit Association, Port Authority Transit, and Jon Bell's website.

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