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What Became Of Los Angeles' Streetcars?

Where did the Streetcars/Trolleys of Pacific Electric and Los Angeles Railway Go?

The last “Red Cars” and “Yellow Cars” were retired when their lines' were converted to buses.  Most of the rail cars were cut up for scrap. 

The principal scrap value was the trucks and motors, as the latter contained much copper.  The streetcar bodies were a drag on the scrapyard since there was little profit due to the cost of cutting them up.  They often contained wood and other materials that could not be salvaged.  Strict air-pollution regulations prevented their being burned in the open, a traditional reduction method.

However, not all the streetcars were scrapped.  For reasons of economic value or historical worth, some escaped the scrapper’s torch.  Many types of rail cars that ran on the Pacific Electric (Red Car) and Los Angeles Railway (Yellow Car) systems still exist today at museums.

When the Echo Park Avenue line of Pacific Electric was converted to bus in 1950, 15 of the 100-class cars were sold for re-use to the local transit undertaking in Veracruz, Mexico. They were only 20 years old at the time; young by streetcar standards.  Stripped of complicated safety devices, they served that railway for many years.

The remaining Northern District rail service was converted to buses in 1951.  In 1952, all 50 of the 1100-class steel suburban cars were sold to the General Urquiza Railway, a suburban electric operation outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina.  They were in service there for many years, and some of them later ran as unpowered coaches in Paraguay.

The “Hollywoods” were a natural for re-use, so the General Urquiza Railway electric suburban line bought 28 of them in 1952.  Eight of the 600-class “Hollywood” cars were sold to the Portland (Oregon) Traction Co. in 1953 and served that system until it quit in 1958.  A couple of the cars survive at museums.

Pacific Electric had purchased 30 “PCC” streamliners in 1940.  Upon conversion of the Glendale-Burbank to buses in 1955, they were placed in storage inside the leaky former Pacific Electric subway in downtown Los Angeles.  The company wished to find purchasers of cars for re-use rather than selling them to scrap.  They finally found a buyer in 1959, the same General Urquiza Railway that had bought other Pacific Electric cars.  These streetcars also ran for many years in that system.

By the time the last “Red Car” line (to Long Beach) was converted to bus operation in 1961, the fleet of “Blimps” (as the owl-faced cars were dubbed) were worn out.  It was unlikely anyone would buy them for re-use, so they were all cut up for scrap, except for 4 cars that went to museums.

The “Yellow Car” Story

Many of the Los Angeles Railway (and successor) streetcars, minus their trucks and gear, were sold as houses until the late 1940s, when local ordinances put a stop to this practice.

In 1956, 60 of the H-class steel streetcars from the early 1920s were sold by a scrap dealer for re-use on the Seoul and Pusan systems of war-torn Korea.  Those systems happened to have the same peculiar 3-foot, 6-inch track gauge as Los Angeles Railway. These streetcars ran for there for some years but are now all gone.

When the final streetcar lines were converted to bus in 1963, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority put the remaining 164 streetcars, all “PCC” streamliners, into dead storage at Vernon Yard.  It was hoped that they still had resale value for re-use somewhere.  Four cars were taken to museums, one was destroyed in an accident in 1956, and two others were sold to individuals.

The remaining 158 "Yellow Cars" went to Cairo, Egypt (133) and Chile Mining (25).  Although Cairo’s track gauge was one meter (about 39 ¼ inches) it was found that the Los Angeles cars’ wheels could be machined to fit. The Chile Mining railway was 42 inches wide (a gauge used in many British colonies, as well as Japan).


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