Photo of the Day – Brilliner in 1941

Brilliner1941With this, we inaugurate a new feature, a “photo of the day.” To get things started, here is a shot of brand-new Philadelphia Suburban “Brilliner” #1 at the end of the Sharon Hill line on August 24, 1941. (Photo from the Author’s Collection.)

The Brilliner was the “last gasp” of venerated Philadelphia railcar builder J. G. Brill, once the largest producer of streetcars and interurbans in the US. It was an attempt to produce a modern streetcar much like the PCC, but without paying any royalties for the use of its patents. The effort was not very successful, as only a few orders came in. Besides the 10 built for Red Arrow, there were 24 Brilliners sold to Atlantic City, three to Philadelphia, and one each to Cincinnati and Baltimore- nothing like the success of the PCC.

Unable to compete in the railcar business any longer, Brill merged with American Car and Foundry (ACF) in 1944 to create ACF-Brill, and continued to manufacture both motor and trolley buses for another decade. They ceased using the Brill name in 1956.

This is an interesting photo, since it was taken by the official photographer for Lehigh Valley Transit Co., which used the Red Arrow’s Norristown line for 14 miles of its 56 mile Liberty Bell Limited route between Philadelphia and Allentown. LVT was not in a position to buy new railcars in 1941 and their last used purchase (made that same year) was car #55 from the nearly defunct Indiana Railroad. With some assistance from Brill employees (either working as consultants or possibly moonlighting) LVT reconfigured car #55 into the venerable #1030, which is preserved today at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Maine.

So, while LVT was not going to buy any Brilliners, there was a business relationship with Brill, at least to some extent, and they naturally would have been interested in seeing the new Brill product.

The Brilliners were fairly successful in Red Arrow service and continued in use until 1982. Some have been saved in museums.

You can read more about the Red Arrow in CERA Bulletin 140. Pig & Whistle: The Story of the Philadelphia & Western Railway by Ronald DeGraw can be purchased through our web site here.b140_p&w

-David Sadowski

Brilliner #8, now in SEPTA colors, nears the end of service in this August 16, 1981 view on the Media trolley line by Elwood C. McEllroy (Author's collection)

Brilliner #8, now in SEPTA colors, nears the end of service in this August 16, 1981 view on the Media trolley line by Elwood C. McEllroy (Author’s collection)

Categories: Pennsylvania

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3 replies

  1. Are you inviting submissions for the “Photo of the Day”?  If so, what is the procedure for submission?   Chuck Crouse

  2. All types of submissions are welcome, whether they be photos, comments, or even new blog posts. We will try to use as much new material as we can. We would like to encourage as many people to participate as possible, thanks. You can send material to us at:

  3. Jeff Marinoff writes:

    There were three single end Brilliners “leased” as demonstrators to the PRT in Philadelphia in 1939. Those three cars were later purchased outright by the PTC. In addition, one sample car was sold to Cincinnati and one to Baltimore for evaluation purposes. One sample single end Brilliner car was sold to the Pennsylvania Railroad and leased to the Atlantic City & Shore Railroad in 1938, followed by a fleet of 24 more single end Brilliners in 1940. The Atlantic City & Shore Railroad originally wanted double end Brilliners for it’s Ocean City Division, the “Shore Fast Line”. When A C & S RR {Pennsylvania Railroad, owner} abruptly cancelled the order in 1940, Brill had already started to make the dies and patterns. The cars were modified and sold to the Philadelphia Suburban Trans. Company. After that fiasco, Brill gave up on the rail car business.

    Of interest are the reasons why J. G. Brill decided to design their own streamlined car called the Brilliner, rather than build PCC cars. Even though Brill was an original member of the President’s Conference Committee, they refused to pay royalties to anybody for car or truck designs. Brill had a monumental ego and felt that they were “the” premier street car and truck builder who didn’t need to be told how to build street cars or trucks. They took that as an insult. So they had discussions with their ‘friends’ at the Pennsylvania Railroad, who at that time owned the trolley system in Atlantic City. At that time, the Atlantic City & Shore Railroad leased the operation from the PRR. It was the PRR who actually ordered the 1938 sample Brilliner car and the 1940 fleet of 24 additional cars for Atlantic City {from actual Brill order books at Penna. Historical Society}. This was done over the objections of the local management of the A C & S RR in Atlantic City, who openly stated they wanted PCC cars. The PRR had their industrial designer Raymond Loewy work with J. G. Brill on the Brilliner car body design and paint layouts.

    It might be noted that J. G. Brill was sued over patent infringements on the 97 ER 1 Brilliner truck. Brill lost those lawsuits and had to pay.

    It might also be noted that shortly after WWII Atlantic City tried unsuccessfully to buy the sample Brilliner cars from Cincinnati and Baltimore.

    (We originally had written that Philadelphia had but one Brilliner, which was incorrect. I have updated this post to reflect Jeff’s corrections. Thanks, Jeff.)

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