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Historical Buses of NYC: St. Louis Trolley Coaches

 
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Q65A



Age: 60
Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 1634
Location: Central NJ

PostPosted: Mon Mar 24, 2008 4:00 pm    Post subject: Historical Buses of NYC: St. Louis Trolley Coaches Reply with quote

Surface transit planning in NYC during the post-World War II era was a particularly complex undertaking. The BMT’s surface transit subsidiary Brooklyn & Queens Transit (B&QT) operated numerous streetcar lines in Brooklyn and western Queens, many of which were heavily patronized, but much of the infrastructure needed to operate these routes was worn out from the heavy ridership and deferred maintenance encountered during the war years. Although the city fathers in NYC long had felt that street railways were outmoded and in need of replacement, the BOT was not yet prepared to completely motorize the vast B&QT streetcar network. The BMT and B&QT shared power generation facilities (i.e. the Kent Avenue power plant in Williamsburg plus a substantial network of substations and distribution lines) and curtailment of streetcar service would have created an underutilization of such assets. A plan was devised to retain streetcars for very busy routes, and to replace trolleys with buses on less busy car lines. For selected B&QT routes, trolley coaches became an attractive compromise between traditional streetcars and buses. The overhead wires formerly used by B&QT streetcars still could be used, albeit with modifications, while the high cost of track maintenance could be eliminated. B&QT already was an experienced trolley coach operator, having initiated service on the 23-Cortelyou Road line in July 1930 using 2 trolley coaches (B&QT 1000, an ACF-Brill unit, and B&QT 1001, a Twin Coach; both used Westinghouse electrical equipment). Pullman built 6 additional units (B&QT #’s 1002-1007) in 1932 and “trackless trolleys” worked this short route for more than 20 years. Some power distribution upgrades were needed before trolley coaches could begin to operate. Streetcars are steel wheeled vehicles running on steel rails, thus they typically use single trolley poles in contact with a single overhead wire; one rail normally serves as the return conductor to complete the traction power circuit. Conversely, trolley coaches have rubber tires that insulate them from ground, thus they require a “dual overhead” wiring arrangement (i.e. two trolley poles in contact with dual overhead wires). In 1947-1948, the BOT began stringing dual grooved overhead wires on 6 heavily traveled streetcar lines: 45-St. John’s Place, 47-Tompkins Avenue, 48-Lorimer Street, 57-Flushing Avenue, 62-Graham Avenue, and 65-Bergen Street. In 1948, the BOT ordered 200 trolley coaches from St. Louis Car Co., a manufacturer not traditionally associated with the bus industry. St. Louis Car Company was an old-line railway equipment manufacturer best known as a builder of electric trolleys and rapid transit cars. Along with J.G. Brill, Osgood-Bradley and other traction suppliers, St. Louis had built numerous streetcars in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries for Brooklyn Rapid Transit (BRT) and its successor Brooklyn Manhattan Transit (BMT), who operated surface car lines under its subsidiary Brooklyn and Queens Transit (B&QT). Perhaps the most famous modern NYC streetcars were B&QT #’s 1001-1099, PCC Cars built by St. Louis in 1936 (the streamlined, bus-like design of which allegedly was copied by GM, Mack, and perhaps other transit bus builders in the 1940’s.) St. Louis also had supplied the BMT and rival IRT with numerous subway cars over the years, and the company became the most dominant car builder for NYCTA from 1955 to 1972. Given their long-term relationship with NYC rapid transit operators, it was not unusual that St. Louis also would become the preferred builder of trolley coaches for the BOT. Following a procurement practice often used by BOT and NYCTA for subway car orders, these trolley coaches were delivered in two groups based according to their electrical equipment: BOT #’s 3000-3099 had GE electrical equipment, while BOT #’s 3100-3199 had Westinghouse electrical equipment. The units were 37’1.5’ long and rode a 240” wheelbase. They were 102” wide and seated 43 passengers. Perhaps due to the railway heritage of their builder, these were not lightweight units: at 21,500 lbs. they were the 2nd heaviest rubber-tired passenger vehicles operated by the BOT (the Bingham Macks were the heaviest BOT buses at 23, 125 lbs., but they were 40 feet long). Their body style reflected the Old Look era, with square side windows topped with small oblong standee windows. Dual curtain front destination signs were fitted (white on black for route # and name, white on red for destination), while a similar dual sign was installed in the first curbside standee window. Doors front and rear were 4-leaf jackknife type. Soft upholstered seats were used, and, in a departure from contemporary bus designs, fluorescent interior lighting was used (which had become a standard feature on postwar BOT subway cars). A round “Next Bus” lamp was installed at the right front corner, immediately adjacent to the right side of the front destination sign (this feature also appeared on BOT Twin Coach 41-S #’s 1400-1499). As with most buses of the era, a steel spring suspension and 10-stud cast steel disc wheels were used. They were delivered in the silver-over-green BOT color scheme, but later were repainted in the gray-over-green livery of the late 1950’s. The new trolley coach fleet was based at an equally new depot on Bergen Street just east of Tompkins Avenue in Bedford Stuyvesant; this location originally had been the site of an old B&QT surface car house that had closed in 1934. In April 1949, the old DeKalb Shops (the B&QT’s principal streetcar overhaul facility) were upgraded to handle trolley coach maintenance, and in July 1949, Crosstown Depot (located on the site on an old Brooklyn City R.R. surface car house on Commercial Street in Greenpoint) was opened to handle 122 trolley coaches. Clearly, the BOT appeared to have big plans in mind for their new trackless operations. Their ultimate goal was to convert 6 additional former streetcar lines in Brooklyn and western Queens, including 49-Ocean Avenue, 53-Metropolitan Avenue, 58-Corona Avenue, 63-Fifth Avenue, 69-McDonald & Vanderbilt Avenues, and 72-Junction Boulevard. Unfortunately, these plans did not materialize. Overhead wire maintenance costs became increasingly higher, and plans to convert the additional 6 car lines to trolley coach operations were abandoned. A major fire in Greenpoint in June 1952 damaged overhead wires near Crosstown Depot, forcing all trolley coaches to be relocated permanently to Bergen Street Depot. Between May and September 1954, trolley coach service on portions of the 45, 57, and 62 was reduced. Service on the last of the former B&QT streetcar lines (8-Church Avenue and 69-McDonald & Vanderbilt Avenues) ended on October 31, 1956. This situation made overhead wire maintenance and power generation for a small handful of trolley coach routes even more expensive. In 1959, NYCTA sold the former BMT Kent Avenue power plant to Con Edison, and all traction power for subways and trolley coaches was bought from Con Ed. Finally, on July 27, 1960, Brooklyn trackless services were discontinued. The St. Louis trolley coaches were replaced by Bingham Macks and brand new GM TDH-5301’s (NYCTA #’s 501-805); none of the trackless units were preserved. Bergen Street Depot was converted into a maintenance-of-way and sign making facility for the NYCTA subway system. Crosstown became a bus-only depot in the Brooklyn Bus Division. It operated as such until November 1981, when it was converted into a bus paint shop.
As a historical postscript, trolley bus systems had operated in many U.S. and Canadian cities in the early-middle 20th Century, and some continue to operate today: SF Muni (San Francisco), King County Metro (Seattle), MBTA (Boston), SEPTA (Philadelphia) and Miami Valley Regional Transit Authority (Dayton O) still operate trackless services on selected routes using modern trolley coaches built by New Flyer, Gillig, Breda, Neoplan, and Skoda.
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Q65A



Age: 60
Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 1634
Location: Central NJ

PostPosted: Fri Mar 28, 2008 12:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

For some good photos of Brooklyn trackless coaches, check out the following link:
http://www.trolleybuses.net/nop/nop.htm
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Q65A



Age: 60
Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 1634
Location: Central NJ

PostPosted: Fri Mar 28, 2008 12:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here the link to the Brooklyn trackless wire map:
http://images.nycsubway.org/maps/trlybusm.jpg
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Q65A



Age: 60
Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 1634
Location: Central NJ

PostPosted: Fri Mar 28, 2008 12:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

And one more link:
http://www.stationreporter.net/trolley_bus.htm
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Cyberider




Joined: 27 Apr 2007
Posts: 497
Location: Tempe, AZ

PostPosted: Fri Mar 28, 2008 1:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the interesting information, Bob. Too bad the trolley bus era didn't last in NY but it was interesting while it did.
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Q65A



Age: 60
Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 1634
Location: Central NJ

PostPosted: Sun Apr 16, 2017 9:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't have anything new to add to this thread, but since questions about Brooklyn trackless coaches recently came up, I thought I would resurrect this article I had composed some years ago.
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