The New Electric Railway
Journal – Autumn 1993
Real Streetcars Outdraw Fakes
eagerly pay a dollar to ride Tucson's historic streetcar line while a
rubber-tired "trolley bus" with a 25-cent fare gets hall the ridership.
Old Pueblo Trolley car 10 approaches the double-track passing section that rounds the curve to University Boulevard.
Car 255 cost OPT $820 to buy but $27,000 to ship from Osaka, Japan.
Starting on April 17, 1993, Tucson unwittingly began a test of whether riders
prefer genuine streetcars or rubber-tired ersatz trolleys. So tar the electric
choice seems to be well ahead. During May, the first full month of operation,
three times as many riders paid four times as much to ride half as far in the
newly restored rail line than they would have paid to ride m a modern “trolley”
A ride on the
historic line costs one dollar while the SunTran shuttle bus fare is twenty-five
cents. The trolley line is only one mile in length while the bus route is about
two miles and connects more activity centers including downtown Tucson and the
convention center. Further discouraging riders, the streetcar only runs three
days a week while the bus runs six days.
streetcar duplicates the university end of the bus route, operating hours are
such that Saturday daytime is the only period during the week that the two modes
directly compete. Current streetcar hours are Friday, 6 P.M. to midnight;
Saturday, 10A.M. to midnight; and Sunday, noon to 6 P.M. The dressed-up buses
operate Monday through Saturday, daytime only.
is blamed for cutting ridership from the May high of 4,227 to only 2,115 inJune. That is when Tucson’s hot summer weather began, keeping people inside.
Also, the university; which supplied many of the riders, closed for the summer.
Back to the Past
The two restored streetcars that began
operating in April were the first in Tucson since December 31, 1930. When the
streetcar rails were covered over with asphalt on Tucson’s University Boulevard
after the last car ran in 1930, no one thought that some day the very
same rails would be uncovered and streetcar service would resume.
Service began on April 17 with much
fanfare. Old Pueblo Trolley, Inc. was organized in 1983 to raise funds and
enthuse volunteers to get a trolley running. It was not easy as W. Eugene
Caywood would attest after his successful ten-year struggle as head of OPT.
Although the project was quickly endorsed by both the city of Tucson and the
state of Arizona, a bond issue failed in May, 1984. By then, however, a critical
mass of enthusiasm had been brought together which kept the project in forward
About a million dollars in aid, half
from the state of Arizona and half from corporate donations, contributed to the
effort. The state aid was intended as a light-rail demonstration. State Senator
Peter Goudinoff believes it maybe possible to build light-rail lines in the
Tucson area using San Diego’s system as a model. Caywood believes that if
SunTran, the local transit agency; were to decide to initiate light-rail
service, Old Pueblo Trolley would remain separate but share rails, such as in
San Jose, California.
In March 1985, a single-truck Birney
Safety Car was leased from the Orange Empire Railway Museum in California. The
former Pacific Electric car was very similar to those used by the old Tucson
Rapid Transit Company. The leased car was numbered 10, the number of a 1918 TRTBirney that had been the most modern of Tucson’s twelve cars.
Many of the wooden parts were replaced
as the frame, interior and roof were rebuilt. All mechanical and electrical
components were replaced or refurbished. With all the effort by OPT
volunteers and support received from other streetcar museums, Car 10 is now the
most completely restored Birney Car operating on urban right-of-way in the U.S.
right-of-way, all in city streets, consists of approximately a half mile on
University Boulevard from the entrance to the University of Arizona to Fourth
Avenue where the trolley route turns left to proceed another half mile to the
end of the line at the car barn. The route is single track except for a short
passing section at the Fourth Avenue-University Boulevard intersection.
Electric overhead was installed by
volunteer linemen who were members of the International Brotherhood of
Electrical Workers, Local 1116, using equipment loaned by Tucson Electric Power,
the local electrical utility. The overhead was designed by OPT vice
president and electrical engineer Dick Guthrie with the advice and assistance of
Galen Sarno of the San Francisco Municipal Railway.
OPT operates under an agreement
with the city, requiting that all cars be equipped with horns and turn signals
and that operators hold valid commercial driver licenses.
A Second Car
Deciding that more than one streetcar
would be needed to provide reliable service, the OPT board of directors
bought a second car in fully operable condition which was delivered from Osaka,
Japan in November of 1992. The car, manufactured in 1953, arrived with
Japanese advertising cards, all of which were still in place when the car
entered service in Tucson. Although the car was built in Japan, it is a design
based on cars built by Brill in Philadelphia in 1923.
Both cars have turned out to be quite
reliable although car 10 did go into the shops later on opening day for an air
leak. After repairs the next day the car has performed without breakdown. The
two cars have been alternating assignments so that both are on the street about
the amount same of time, although car 10 does not operate after 10 P.M.
because its noisy wheels and bearings might disturb residents.
Currently, trolleys run only three
days weekly. However, there are plans to expand both hours of service and route.
The most likely route extension would be to continue on Fourth Avenue into the
downtown transit center, adding about another mile of track, duplicating the
route of the SunTran “trolley” bus and possibly replacing it.
Ed Strauss is publisher of
Bus World magazine and a frequent contributor to The New Electric Railway