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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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Light Rail Now! website