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Charlotte - January 2004

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Charlotte, NC — Trolley Lease Dead

Rail Transit Online – January 2004

After months of intense and often frustrating negotiations between the Charlotte Area Transit System and Little Rock’s Central Arkansas Transit Authority, a planned lease of two replica historic streetcars has fallen through over liability issues.  CATA has taken delivery of three Birney trolleys from Gomaco but won’t need them until next fall, when construction of the River Rail line connecting the downtowns of Little Rock and North Little Rock will be completed.  CATS, on the other hand, will soon be ready to start service on its heritage line between the South End and uptown but will only have one operable piece of rolling stock, an original Charlotte car that has been restored.  CATS and CATA began talks aimed at leasing two of the latter’s trolleys to Charlotte until next summer, when Gomaco is expected to deliver three similar streetcars to the North Carolina city.  CATA would have earned $112,000, money that could have leveraged an additional $400,000 in federal funding (see RTOL, Dec. 2003).  “We never counted it,” CATA executive director Keith Jones told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.  “If it came in, it would have helped, but we never had it in our budget anywhere.”  But the issue of liability ¾ determining which agency would be responsible in the event of an accident ¾ could not be resolved.  In the end, CATS could not provide full legal safeguards to CATA.  “There are a number of types of events for which you cannot purchase insurance,” CATA attorney Hal Kemp told board members.  “So you bear that risk, or you move that risk over to the party you've contracted with.  Charlotte attempted to accommodate us in every possible way.”  But in the end, Kemp consulted with a North Carolina lawyer and found that CATA, which has full tort immunity above $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident in Little Rock, could possibly be liable for most of a lawsuit award if the cars were involved in an accident that occurred in Charlotte.  Several CATA members had been leery of the deal from the beginning and were relieved to see it fall through.  Chairman Bob Major said he was happy about the way things turned out in at least one respect: When the trolleys start running in Little Rock, they will still have “…that new trolley smell in them.”  

Back in Charlotte, meanwhile, officials have decided to start service with the restored trolley, 76-year-old No. 85, and not wait until the Gomaco cars arrive, although a date has not been set.  A round trip on the four-mile run will require between 45 min. and an hour.  CATS CEO Ron Tober says he won’t make an announcement until restoration of No. 85 is nearly finished, along with track and traction power work.  No. 85’s body will be original but much of the electrical and mechanical gear will be new or refurbished.  The opening is already about a year behind schedule, which helped convince Tober to begin operations with just one car.  “There is so much frustration out there because this has taken so long,” he told the Charlotte Observer.  Charlotte Trolley Inc., the volunteer group that operated an abbreviated vintage service before CATS took over, is now trying to find a sponsor to restore another old trolley, No. 407.  The group estimates the cost at between $200,000 and $250,000, about a third the price tag of a new replica. 


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