Pacific Electric Railway PCC no. 5028 in El Segundo

By Donald Duke © 1974

Before the advent of the superhighway and freeways, the Pacific Electric Railway, operating in Southern California, became the nation’s – and the worlds – largest suburban electric railway system.

Prior to World War II, the PE systematically began an abandonment program of low profit passenger lines, leaving a surplus of old wooden interurban equipment. While passenger services were terminated, the lines were kept exclusively for freight service. Customers complained the “Red Cars” were old, although well maintained, and that patrons would return if new cars were purchased. After considerable urging on the part of the California Public Utilities Commission, the PE ordered 30 PCC type suburban cars from Pullman-Standard during March 1940. The design of the new cars followed the PCC makeup, with the major exception that these cars were double-ended and equipped with multiple-unit control.

Three of the new streamliners arrived on October 21, 1940, and tested on the entire system. Seventeen additional cars were placed in service on the Glendale – Burbank Line on November 24, (1940) and the balance of the order on the Venice Short Line. Poor track on the Venice Short Line proved a handicap to the new equipment. While the trucks were smooth riding, the spring suspension created a bounce and as they moved along the rails, bent trackage. The cars were then placed on the Glendale – Burbank Line until its abandonment on Sunday, June 19, 1955.

In this scene, photographed on February 22, 1953, one of the 5000-class streamliners pulls into one of the typical Pacific Electric suburban stations of El Segundo while on a rail enthusiast inspection tour of the western lines of the road.

Addendum: Since the original release of this post card in 1974 a few more details about this trip have come to light:

This railfan excursion was sponsored by a group from the San Francisco area known as the Bay Area Electric Railfans Association. During the last years of passenger operations of the Pacific Electric Railway, Metropolitan Coach Lines and the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority groups such as the BAERA sponsored many excursions on the system that gave railfans the opportunity to pose the cars in key locations for photographs. Many of the historic images seen today of the last years of electric railroading in Southern California come from excursions like these.

Generally speaking, these excursions took place on a Sunday. This was a time in which passenger and freight activity was minimal and gave the railfans the time necessary to detrain the cars, take photographs and reboard. These excursions could have as little as one car on the trip for the fans to ride in and photograph and up to as many as five cars, which was the record for such excursions. The fare for an excursion was about $5.00 for the entire day. Some trips even offered half-day fares.

The scene in this photo was a highly unusual event. PCC cars of this type were never used on this line in regular service. When the PE completed the line to El Segundo on August 10, 1914, 800- and 1000-Class cars became the standard equipment for passenger service. So, the advent of a modern PCC car at the El Segundo Station was unique event. A key feature of many of these railfan excursions was the use of unusual rail cars at locations where they didn’t normally appear. Since the El Segundo Line lost its passenger service on October 31, 1930, some 23 years before this excursion took place, perhaps makes this photo opportunity the grandest of all events with the use of non-standard equipment in an unusual setting.

The other areas of the system that PE 5028 toured that day were Santa Monica via the Air Line, Beverly Hills, and the Whittier Line.

As Donald Duke mentioned earlier, the PE retained many of their passenger lines for freight usage. The El Segundo Line was one of their premier freight revenue lines for many years until its closure in December 1976 by its parent company Southern Pacific.


Scanned, research, edited and updated by Steve Crise. © Steve Crise 2023.

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Pacific Electric Express Car 1464 at Huntington Beach.