Lowell — Trolley Expansion Plan Set
Rail Transit Online, December 2011
A year-long feasibility study has been completed into expanding the 1.2-mi. (1.93 km) trolley line serving the Lowell National Historical Park into a viable 6.9-mi. (11.1 km) system. It would link all major local activity centers, attracting not just tourists but commuters and the students, faculty and staff of the University of Massachusetts' (UMass) Lowell campus.
According to the study report, the capital cost would be an estimated $66 million but the streetcar would attract around 830,000 annual riders and would create "...a broad array of social and economic benefits." The industrial heritage park, located 30 mi. (48.3 km) north of Boston, was established by the National Park Service (NPS) in 1978 to preserve the history of Lowell's part in America's industrial revolution using a group of abandoned 19th century textile mill buildings.
The trolley was opened by the NPS in 1984 using existing freight tracks that were electrified with trolley wire; four streetcars, three replicas from Gomaco and one restored antique from the Seashore Trolley Museum, are on the roster with daily service provided during the March through November season.
The expansion plan is strongly supported by a working group that includes local governments, UMass, the Seashore Trolley Museum and others. The study calls for the line to "...run through the Hamilton Canal District to downtown and the historical park ... then split into two branches: a short line
serving Middlesex Community College and the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center, and a longer main line serving the Tsongas Arena at UMass Lowell, LeLacheur Park, and UMass Lowell's East and South campuses." There would be "...little or no land-taking."
Once the project was completed, streetcars would operate all day and into the evening, year-round, on a 10-min. headway. Six new replica heritage cars would be acquired for base service and the three existing replicas would be upgraded and refurbished for supplemental use.
The study did not identify funding sources because it will be several years before the project would be ready to enter the construction phase. However, there are at least six federal programs that could be tapped including Small Starts, Urban
Circulator and Transit In Parks.
Meeting operational and maintenance costs will be more difficult, with the report describing that aspect of the scheme as "one of the biggest challenges." Among the sources mentioned are fares, sponsorships and advertising; funding now provided for bus transit service that would be made redundant by the expanded trolley; a special assessment district and various governmental and private-sector contributions.
The next steps would include establishing the assessment district, completing design work, obtaining the necessary permits and approvals, securing capital funding, creating an operating entity and, finally, construction, all of which would require an estimated six years.