The Start of a Trolley System in the Keystone State

February 23, 1910

A new trolley system serving the city of Johnstown in Pennsylvania’s Cambria County was incorporated. The Johnstown Traction Company (JTC) took over the street railway operations of the Johnstown Passenger Railway Passenger Railway Company, which had been launched in 1883 to provide horse car services.  (In the wake of the historic flood six years later that caused widespread damage to the community, the Johnstown Passenger Railway Company electrified its system as part of the overall rebuilding efforts.) 

JTC, in continuing the operations launched by that earlier company, inherited 108 cars and approximately 31 miles (49.9 kilometers) of track. By 1915, JTC covered 36 miles (57.9 kilometers) of track and transported a yearly average of 16 million passengers. This transit network served the area over the next several decades. 

Starting in the 1920s, JTC added motor bus lines to connect with its trolley routes. JTC increasingly found itself struggling to maintain an adequate level of ridership, however. This was temporarily remedied thanks to a transit boom during World War II. In 1951, JTC began including trackless electric trolley buses as part of its regular services.

The company’s rail-based operations continued until 1960. Johnstown, as a matter of fact, was one of the last small cities in the United States to terminate that type of transit service. This unique status was underscored by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Vince Johnson just a couple of years before those operations came to a complete halt in Johnstown.

“In Johnstown . . . [the trolley] is a moving part of the panorama of the city,” recounted Johnson in his article about traveling on one of the JTC cars. “To a Pittsburgher visiting Johnstown, it is a novelty to see housewives, bundles in their arms, climbing aboard a trolley with children clinging to their skirts. Once that was a prosaic Pittsburgh scene.”

In his article, Johnson also highlighted the activities of longtime trolley operator Ray Pheasant. “Strange, too, is the sight of a uniformed motorman sitting majestically on the driver’s seat and making change for passengers,” reported Johnson. “The clang of his gong, once a major traffic irritant, sounds like music now.”

JTC’s trackless electric trolley buses remained in use until 1967 before being replaced entirely by motor buses. JTC continued operating the buses until 1976, when the Cambria County Transit Authority (CCTA) — now called CamTran — took over that service. The following year, JTC was dissolved after CCTA purchased all of its assets.

Surviving JTC trolley cars are now maintained by various entities nationwide, including the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington, Pennsylvania; the Rockhill Trolley Museum in Rockhill Furnace, Pennsylvania; the Market Street Railway in San Francisco; and the Shore Line Trolley Museum in East Haven, Connecticut. (The above photo depicts Johnstown Traction 311, a JTC trolley car that is part of the Rockhill Trolley Museum’s collection.)

Additional information on the Johnstown Traction Company is available at https://www.johnstownpa.com/History/hist28.html

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