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Charlotte Trolley, Inc.

South End

Charlotte, NC


Charlotte Trolley, Inc. is a private, non-profit, volunteer driven organization dedicated to returning vintage streetcar operation to the streets of Charlotte. The organization and staff of one full time and two part time employees is supported by corporate and private donation. The temporary home of the trolley is an old cotton mill. A possible future home is along the trolley line and was the streetcar barn used by the original system until streetcars were retired in 1938.

The cars operate along a former stretch of railroad track that is currently being rebuilt to become the downtown stretch of Charlotte's initial light rail line. In the future, vintage trolleys will operate on the central segment of the light rail line, serving the new convention center, the South End entertainment and dining district, and other downtown points.

In June 1998, the Charlotte City Council approved $19.7 million to build a bridge over Stonewall Street, extend the line through the Convention Center, and install overhead wire. Until overhead wire is erected, a single car is operated, powered by a towed generator.

Seven day a week operation with four cars was planned to begin in the summer of 2002.

Subsequently, the Transit Authority determined that the heritage cars would be unsuitable for regular service on the inner city section of the planned light rail line. Consequently, three Gomaco double-truck Birney replica cars were ordered and saw service briefly before operation was suspended to allow completion of light rail construction. See the news notes for further details.


The volunteer operation initially had two complete streetcars and several others in various stages of restoration.

Operations were handled principally by Charlotte car 85. Car 85 was built in 1927 by the Southern Public Utilities Company, a predecessor of Duke Energy. The car served Charlotte until 1938 when it was the centerpiece of the last trolley ceremony, thus becoming the last car to operate in Charlotte. Streetcars were introduced to Charlotte in May 1891 and were essential to development of late nineteenth and early twentieth century Charlotte. Such early streetcar suburbs as Myers Park, Elizabeth, Dilworth, Plaza-Midwood, North Charlotte, Belmont-Villa Heights, and Wesley Heights bear lasting testimony to their impact.

In 1938 the stripped body of car 85 was sold for use as an office for the Air Guard, and it later served as a concession stand at a a railroad junction. Finally, it served as a rental housing unit until 1987 when it was purchased for restoration by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historical Landmarks Commission. The Commission subsequently raised approximately $250,000 to restore the car.

The second complete car owned by the system is a English-built single truck car that operated in the Athens port city of Piraeus. Between 1898 and 1993, the "little red car" was the symbol of the effort to establish vintage streetcar service in Charlotte. A local trucking firm transported it to events all over the city.

The third car is a four-wheel Birney car that originally served Richmond, Virginia, one of over 6,000 of this standard, lightweight, one-man operated style of car ordered nationwide. After the end of service in Richmond, the car was sold to Fort Collins, Colorado where it ran from 1946 until 1951. The car was then stored for 40 years until a Charleston, South Carolina utility purchased it and restored it cosmetically for a company anniversary. The car is currently being restored to running condition and is particularly appropriate as similar cars operated in Charlotte.

The fourth car owned by Charlotte Trolley is a 1949, St. Louis-built streamlined car ordered by the Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company. The car is similar in appearance to PCC cars operated in many cities. The car is currently undergoing extensive rebuilding including conversion of its trucks from Pennsylvania broad gauge to the standard gauge used in Charlotte.

The fifth car in the fleet is the stripped body of an Asheville, North Carolina car that was a modified Birney car. It was longer than standard Birneys and had double width doors in each corner. The nonprofit hopes to raise $100,000 to enable restoration of this car.


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