SEPTA: Philadelphia Topside

Many of the stories that I have set in Philadelphia are set back in the 1970s, and nothing says mid-’70s (or earlier, or into the early ’90s) Philadelphia quite like a PCC trolley car.

I love trolleys, even though most of SEPTA’s current fleet are the boxy white Kawasaki trams that serve Center City and West Philly on the five Green Line Subway/Surface routes, but I especially love the old PCC cars and the refurbished PCC-IIs which run down Girard.  You can imagine my delight, then, when I stumbled across Philadelphia Trolley Tracks, a site devoted to SEPTA’s trolley lines past and present.  The site is filled with photos of trolleys, some of which date back as far as the 1920s, as well as historical maps and rosters of rolling stock.

So what’s the use, yeah?  The internet is absolutely wonderful for finding information on really specific topics, but there’s a lot of stuff to troll through.  Since I began writing my 1970s paranormal investigator character, I’ve spent a lot of time researching Philadelphia circa 1970 because there have been a lot of changes.  Transit tunnels are especially interesting to me, especially historical ones, but the information I’ve been able to find has been a bit sparse, especially in the picture department.  It turns out that nobody was running around with a digital camera taking thousands of pictures of random stuff back then.  Who knew?

I’ve been thinking about the kind of stories that happen in trolleys and in tunnels lately because I’ve been looking at this site, or I’ve been looking at this site a lot because I’ve been thinking about stories.  We’ll see how things develop, but I’ve got a lot of writing coming up in this, my last semester at Wilson.


About Hilary B. Bisenieks

Hilary B. Bisenieks (Biss-en-yex) n. 1. An author of fact, fancy, and opinion based out of Oakland, CA. 2. A graduate of the Creative Writing program at Warren Wilson college and Mary Robinette Kowal's Short Story Workshop. 3. A man unable to be trusted to update basic biographical information with any regularity. View all posts by Hilary B. Bisenieks

2 responses to “SEPTA: Philadelphia Topside

  • louis basara

    I have been disappointed by the move to modernise the city in 1955. They removed gas lights in our neighborhood on Napa St in the Strawberry Mansion area. In 1955 PTC removed the rt 54 trolleys on Lehigh Avenue. Later in1958 PTC substituted buses on rt 6 to Willow Grove Park, Both lines would have been excellent candidates for the ‘light rail’ with wide streets and as in rt 6 example private right of way. By 1976 I became disgusted and moved to rural West New York where one’s environment does not change too rapidly.

    • Hilary B. Bisenieks

      Though I was born in the 80’s and never saw the city before the changes you’ve described, I am also somewhat disappointed with certain aspects of Philadelphia’s development, most notably the downsizing of the trolley fleet. It’s a shame that SEPTA only runs a few trolley lines anymore and only one line uses PCC-II cars in the beautiful green-and-cream livery. Where I live now in the SF Bay Area, I see Philadelphian PCC cars more often than I ever saw them in Philadelphia, since the Muni uses them extensively in their trolley fleet.

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