Pacific Electric No. 5023: Buenos Aires-bound, for better or worse
By Ralph Cantos
Pacific Electric PCC no. 5023 shows the the terrible effects of 4 years storage in the dank confines of PE’s Subway Terminal tunnel. Some of the cars looked somewhat better, but the 5023 really got hammered with the lime drippings from the roof of the tunnel.
This was a shameful chapter in LA’s transit history. About a year before, when the PE sold its passenger operations to Metropolitan Coach Lines in October of 1953, all 30 PCCs went through Torrance Shop for a complete cosmetic overhaul. When the PCCs rolled out the doors of Torrance Shops, they were in top condition. Included in the overhaul were a 4 new doors, new interior and exterior paint and new seat covers where needed. All 30 cars were now in better than new condition.
For all practical purposes, they were ready for another 15 to 20 years of service here in LA. It was not to be.
Metropolitan Coach Lines management informed the populace of Los Angeles that ALL 7 remaining rail lines would be converted to “gutter liner” replacement bus service as soon as possible. The new paint on the PCCs had barely cured when they were stuffed into the Subway Tunnel after the June 1955 abandonment of the Glendale / Burbank Line. And there these fine cars would rot with the resulting effects displayed by the 5023.
All 30 cars were pulled out of the Subway Tunnel in September of 1959 and trucked to the LA Harbor. The cars were loaded aboard freighters and sent to South America.
Once the PCCs arrived in Buenos Aires they were extensively modified. The PCCs were used exclusively on a short suburban line for about 3 years and when that line was abandoned, the 30 PCCs, the most beautiful PCCs the world would ever see, vanished with out a trace. As of this date, NO ONE living or dead, seems to know just what became of them.
A traction mystery if ever there was one.
Ralph Cantos Collection
The PCCs were solid enough in construction to be rehabbed and put back into service (all of them) on the main line and the short branch line. For a variety of reasons they were not successful and were withdrawn. Unfortunately, none survived.
The PCCs only ran well on very smooth, well-maintained track.
The PCCs that were sent to Buenos Aires were used in a suburban line (Ferrocarril Urquiza) and it’s true that they had a short career, but not because the line closed (it still exists today) but because they were unsuitable for the kind of service that was required of them. They were all scrapped. Meanwhile, the line kept operating some Key-System articulated cars, Hollywood cars and old Brill four-axle streetcars. In 1973, Japanese cars started arriving and in 1974 the last streetcars were withdrawn.
Here is a website with more information about those PCC. It’s in Spanish.
Actually, the San Martin branch on which the cars operated closed in 1961, along with the retirement of the PCCs. The main line (on which the PCCs also made an appearance) remains to this day.
Looking at the website that Ricardo provides;
the interior view looks as if it is of one of the cars prior to being placed in service in Buenos Aires. I see the word “Confused” on the advertising poster at the extreme left and what may be a “Dolly Madison” ad next to it. Can just barely make out the words “No Smoking” centered at the end of the car. Looks like what the interior of the car looked like after its entombment in the subway.
That may be a PE photo taken after the cars came out of Torrance Shops in 1952, Notice all the window shades are nice and neat.
Recently saw an old Hollywood movie on the brain box (TV) dated for 1956 and filmed in the subway tunnels. The transit action was amazing. Was this stock film or was the subway still operational. Those escape routes seem to involve circular stairs leading to manholes in the city streets if this noir film shots were real. Were the covers later sealed?