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Who Else Is Doing It?


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Who Else Is Doing It?

When you propose a new streetcar line for your city or town, someone will probably ask, “Is anyone else doing this?” The answer is yes. Lots of places are, so many it is hard to keep track of them all.

Other than the new streetcar in Portland, Oregon, all the existing lines use Heritage or Vintage equipment. To keep things simple, we will refer to them all as “Heritage lines” here. These Heritage lines are of two types: stand-alone operations, which are not integrated into the rest of the local public transit system, and integrated lines. All the lines covered here are “common carriers,” which people take to go somewhere, not just for a trolley ride.

The stand-alone lines operate mostly for tourists, although they do provide some local transportation to residents. They include:

  • Detroit, Michigan. This was the first purpose-built Heritage streetcar line in the U.S. It opened in 1976. The narrow-gauge line is 1.2 miles long, running through downtown Detroit from the Renaissance Center to Grand Circus Park. It has a wonderful collection of nine antique streetcars, including three built in the 1890s. The hours of operation are from 8 AM to 6 PM weekdays and 10 AM to 6 PM on weekends. The fare is 50 cents, and average daily ridership is about 150 in spring and summer and 60 in winter.

  • Tucson, Arizona. Tucson’s Old Pueblo Trolley runs for 1.1 miles from the main gate of the University of Arizona to downtown; many of its passengers are students at the university. This streetcar line is operated solely by volunteers, and has just one streetcar currently in service, a 1953 Hankai Electric Railway car from Japan. At present, service is offered only on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. However, the line is to be extended to the Rio Nuevo historical area, at which point daily operation is likely. Three more streetcars are being restored for service, including a 1936 tram from Brussels, Belgium and a 1912 American Car Company streetcar from St. Louis.

  • Charlotte, North Carolina.  At present, the non-profit Charlotte Trolley runs weekdays only over a 1.2-mile non-electrified line (the car tows a generator). But the city of Charlotte has invested $10 million in the operation, which will extend the line 1.5 miles through (literally!) the Convention Center and into downtown; the whole line will also be electrified. When the extension is completed, Charlotte’s five streetcars will operate seven days a week. The fleet includes a 1922 Birney Safety car, a 1927 Brill Birney, a 1949 St. Louis PCC, a 1927 Southern Public Utilities car and a 1914 United Electric Car from Preston, England. Amazingly, new apartment buildings, condominiums and restaurants are already being built with the streetcar line as the focus. Current ridership is about 200 people per day; that should increase substantially when the extension opens.

  • San Pedro, California. San Pedro will soon begin operation of one of the great icons from the streetcar era—the famous “Red Cars” of Pacific Electric. Intended to serve passengers from the cruise ships that dock in San Pedro, this 1.5-mile line will operate four days per week with three Pacific Electric cars—one original and two newly-built replicas. The planned fare is 25 cents, and the new line is to begin operations before the end of 2002.

  • Little Rock, Arkansas. Service is to begin in 2003 on a 2.2-mile line from North Little Rock to downtown. Three Heritage cars are being built by Gomaco in Iowa. Fares are likely to be 50 cents, operation will be seven days a week and ridership is estimated at 1500 daily.

  • Several cities that have Light Rail lines also operate Heritage streetcars over portions of the Light Rail route. MAX in Portland, Oregon, runs replicas of its famous “Council Crest” cars from Lloyd Center to Downtown Portland on Saturdays and Sundays from March through December. The fare is free and the cars carry around 6000 people each day. Two Council Crest cars also now operate on weekends on Portland’s new streetcar line. San Jose, California, also runs historic cars through the downtown, on the Light Rail tracks, charging regular Light Rail fares of $1.25.

In addition to these stand-alone streetcar lines, a number of cities have streetcar lines that are tied in with the regular transit system. Interestingly, some are “survivors”—streetcar lines that simply never quit or received new equipment, and with the passage of time now find themselves numbered among the Heritage lines. We have already touched on one of these, perhaps the most famous: New Orleans’ St. Charles Avenue line. That line, with its fleet of Perley Thomas streetcars built in the 1920s, is fully a part of the New Orleans transit system, carrying some 23,000 passengers each day for a fare of $1.25. It has also become one of New Orleans’ major tourist attractions, almost on a par with San Francisco’s famous cable cars.

Not only has the St. Charles Avenue line survived, it is so successful that it has sparked a general streetcar revival in New Orleans. In 1988, the city opened a new Riverfront line. Now, the Canal Street streetcar line is being restored. About five miles of new track with 23 replica Perley Thomas cars will run from the Esplanade stop of the Riverfront line to the famous New Orleans cemeteries (it will also connect with the St. Charles Avenue line). And when that is open, New Orleans intends to restore the famous “streetcar named Desire,” on a new line that will connect most of the city’s tourist attractions. Evidently, a city that thrives on tourism has found streetcars a good investment.

Another “survivor” Heritage streetcar line is to be found in Boston, Massachusetts. Many years ago, the “T,” as the Boston transit system is universally known, built what they called a high-speed trolley line, connecting the Ashmont Heavy Rail Red Line station with the community of Mattapan, about two-and-a-half miles away.  In the 1940s, the line was assigned a group of PCC cars. And then, as if by magic, it all just froze in time. The same PCC cars are still running today, from 4:30 AM every morning to 1:30 AM the next day, carrying about 7000 passengers daily. The T has tried for years to close the Ashmont–Mattapan line, but community pressure has stopped them every time. The people the line serves—who are mostly poor and mostly black—love their streetcars and are not about to let anyone take them away. Recently, the T relented and began rebuilding the old PCC cars, restoring their beautiful original color scheme and getting them ready for their second half-century of service.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia work is underway to restore an old streetcar line, Route 15-Girard Avenue, which has been served by buses since 1992. SEPTA, the Philadelphia transit system, has decided to use restored PCC cars rather than modern Light Rail Vehicles on Route 15, and it is now rebuilding about 20 PCCs. As in Boston, the “new” cars will be entering their second half-century of service. In addition to local neighborhoods, Route 15-Girard Avenue runs past a number of historic churches and the famous Philadelphia Zoo, so the restored line may serve tourists as well as residents.

In addition to survivors, a number of new streetcar lines are also fully integrated components of the local transit system. One of the most interesting is the new Heritage streetcar line in the small city (90,000) of Kenosha, Wisconsin. When the old American Motors plant right in the heart of downtown Kenosha closed and then was demolished, it left a potentially disastrous hole in the city. But a young city official named Joe McCarthy saw an opportunity. Guided by his vision, Kenosha built a Heritage streetcar line in the form of a loop that connects the train station and the waterfront, running alongside the vacant land. The line cost just $4 million, including five PCC streetcars.

And it is working! New housing developments are going up where the car factory once stood; their residents can take the streetcar from their doorstep to catch commuter trains to Chicago. A new museum has opened at the waterfront, and it has almost no parking; its visitors come by streetcar. Much of the downtown business district lies on or a short walk from the streetcar line. Most Kenosha bus lines interchange with the trolley.

Tragically, Joe McCarthy died of a heart attack just weeks after the streetcar line began service. But its success will be a memorial to him for many decades to come.

One of the first integrated streetcar lines is Seattle’s Route 99, the Waterfront line, which began operating in 1982. The 2.5-mile line has five former Melbourne, Australia streetcars built in 1927. It operates seven days a week from 7 AM to 11 PM, with cars running every twenty minutes. Fares are $1 to $1.25, depending on time of day, and Route 99 is fully integrated with the Seattle bus system. The southern end of the line is across the street from the International District station, which is a major terminal for the trolleybus subway. Commuters make up a portion of the 400 average weekday riders; Saturday ridership is about 800 and Sunday's approaches 600. Some downtown special events have seen the line carry several thousand people on a single evening.

Spring, 2002, is scheduled to see the opening of Tampa, Florida’s new Heritage streetcar line, the TECO line, named for the Tampa Electric Company that used to operate the city’s many streetcars. This 2.3 mile line, which will connect Tampa with the Ybor City entertainment district, is being built and will be operated solely with private funds. It will have eight replica Birney double-truck streetcars, plus two Vintage Birneys which are now being restored. The large fleet will enable the operators to revive an old streetcar motto, “Always a car in sight.”

The TECO line will run seven days a week, from 10 AM to 10 PM, with later service on weekends. Patronage is projected at 250,000 people per year, which may prove conservative as significant development is already taking place along the line. TECO intends to have a transfer arrangement with Tampa’s HARTline buses.

Perhaps the most successful of all the new integrated streetcar lines is San Francisco’s F line, also known as the Market Street Railway. Years ago, when San Francisco built a subway under Market Street, it left the streetcar tracks on the surface in place. In 1983, the Chamber of Commerce used those tracks for a Historic Trolley Festival, running a number of the city’s antique streetcars. The festival was so popular it was repeated in subsequent years. Then, in 1995, the old cars began regular service on Market Street, running from the Castro District downtown to the Financial District near the Ferry Terminal.

In the year 2000, a new line opened, the F line. Also using historic streetcars (Vintage cars, actual antiques), the F line continues the Market Street line on new trackage along the waterfront to Fisherman’s Wharf. The F line was an immediate huge success, carrying so many people the cars were crowded with standees. Today, ridership on the F line (a six-mile route, including Market Street) is 19,200 on an average weekday, 10,000 on Saturdays and 9,500 on Sundays. Service hours are 6:00 AM to 12:30 AM.

The F line’s fleet of Vintage streetcars is unique. Now made up of 25 streetcars in regular service, with 4 more undergoing restoration, it includes car 578-S, built in 1895 and one of the oldest operable streetcars in the world; Car No.1, the first streetcar bought by San Francisco’s municipally-owned streetcar system; and streetcars from Oporto, Portugal; Melbourne, Australia; Hiroshima and Osaka, Japan; Moscow, Russia; and Blackpool, England. The everyday operating fleet relies on Peter Witt cars (first developed in Cleveland, Ohio) from Milan, Italy and restored PCC cars. The latter are painted in the color schemes of cities across America that once ran PCCs on their own streetcar lines.

As a New York Times reporter wrote,

While the F line is fast becoming one of San Francisco's most popular tourist attractions, it may turn out to be much more. Day afier day, it is reminding visitors of something they may have forgotten: that trolleys are a good way to get around congested cities.6

Some of these streetcar lines are part of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), which are broad-scale efforts to bring back urban areas which have seen better days. BIDs are generally non-profit corporations which bring together volunteer efforts, city government and historic preservation groups to gain resources and provide direction to local rehabilitation movements. Streetcars are a natural “fit” with BIDs, because, like other rail transit, streetcars promote economic development.  As Greg Hnedak, one of the planners of Memphis’ Main Street Trolley put it, “Buses are cheaper, but when you put rails down, you have made a permanent commitment, and developers can see that commitment. Rail lines become development corridors.”7

As this survey illustrates, streetcar lines that are integrated into the local transit system are generally more useful and attract greater ridership than those which stand alone. Streetcars are, after all, real transportation, and should be treated like other transportation. They perform a real function for local residents, and should not be seen merely as a tourist attraction (though they do also attract tourists). This is true whether the streetcar line is actually owned and operated by the local transit authority, as in San Francisco, or is a separate entity. Separate need not mean disconnected, and should not. Both the streetcar operator and the transit system benefit when the two are integrated as if they were part of a seamless system, at least from the passenger's point of view.



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