The New Electric Railway
Journal – Winter 1993
The latest city to jump on the
vintage trolley bandwagon is Memphis, home of Beale Street and the Blues.
Correspondent Don Hutchinson files this report on a new Main Street and some old
Minus its trucks, Melbourne 417 awaits reconstruction at MATA’s garage facility.
In the early 1970s, the City of Memphis converted
portions of Main Street in the downtown area into the Mid-America pedestrian
mall, hoping that the change might solve the problems of a declining central
area. The ensuing development was to be the largest mall of its land in
the United States.
Fifteen years later, the pavement had deteriorated
due to an unstable sub-base, and the entire mall needed a facelift. It had never
been as successful as planned because of the lack of parking and the public
perception that it was too long to walk for convenient shopping or dining.
Following a number of studies and public hearings,
it was decided that a trolley line would enhance the mall by providing
transportation for trips too far for walking but too short for driving. Such an
electric trolley system, it was believed, could co-exist with pedestrians on the
mall with little conflict.
Construction began in May 1991; total cost will be
$33 million, a portion of which will be paid by federal funds. Concurrent plans
call for the erection of a clock tower and a Victorian-style Central Station in
Civic Center Plaza, and adding shade trees and more than fifty fountains
shooting water into the air along the mall. Funding is also being sought for
renovation of the classic railway station at which Amtrak trains call into an
phase of the trolley line, which will be operated by the Memphis
Area Transit Authority (MATA,
the local bus carrier), is along Main Street and the Mid-America
Mall between Auction and Calhoun Streets. The railway will be double-tracked for
the length of this segment, stubbing into single tracks at either end, where
cars can reverse direction. The single track will continue northward on Main
from Auction to Mill, where the maintenance facility is located. Tracks in the
Mall itself will be in the center of the street; away from the Mall they will be
near the curb.
The Riverfront Extension
extension of about the same length is planned to extend along the Mississippi
river front, using in part the present Illinois Central tracks. The extension
would bring the total mileage to 4.9, forming a loop north and south through the
central business district, linking the Pyramid, Mud Island, and the Memphis Cook
Convention Center with downtown hotels and businesses, the Civic Center,
Historic Beale Street, the National Civil Rights Museum and Central Station.
Oporto, Portugal double-end Brill cars are presently at the maintenance facility
across the street from MATA’s main garage; eight are single-truck, two
double-truck (one of the latter was purchased for spare parts). The cars are
numbered 187, 204, 156, 164, 194, 180, 157, 266, 268, and 197, built by Brill in
Philadelphia in the ‘Teens. All are similar to cars now in service in Detroit,
Yakima, and Dallas. Work is proceeding at present on the first two units,
187 and 204, by a subcontractor; four more are to follow, with the remaining
units to be rehabbed as funds permit. During renovation, each car will be
totally disassembled, reworked with replacement parts where necessary and put
back together again. During the rehab process, front platforms will have to be
extended to provide wheelchair accessibility. Electrical gear is being rebuilt
by another contractor. One car is close to completion as these words are written
in September, and three more will be needed for the planned January 1, 1993
inauguration of service. In addition, two Melbourne cars are on MATA property
minus their trucks.
summer, off-mall construction was nearly complete except for the stringing of
trolley wire, though a few hangers and cross spans were in place. Some track is
being laid in a concrete trench and most trackwork is complete; two separate
firms were responsible for tracklaying. Construction is also proceeding quickly
on the maintenance facility at Main and Mill.
Downtown Trolley is shaping up to be a first-class project. It will be primarily
tourist-oriented, but also serve as a functional transit system, serving an
attractively renovated Mail. The many traffic generators on the line should
provide the patronage that will be necessary for the service to be a success.
that the Riverfront extension is scheduled for construction in Fiscal Year 1994,
which begins on July 1, 1993. Phase III, an extension that runs eastward to the
Medical Center Complex, is also scheduled for construction in FY94. Phases
IV–VII are proposed for each fiscal year through FY98, which will extend the
rail system to the Fairgrounds, Fast Memphis, Germantown and Collierville,
respectively. All of these extensions are pending the availability of federal
author would like to thank Maury Miles Memphis Area Transit Authority's Senior
Grants and Contract Administrator, for help in the preparation of this article.
Don Hutchinson, a native of Missouri, is a
Birmingham-based free-lance writer and transit activist. This is his first piece
for The New
Electric Railway Journal.