Savannah — Self-Propelled Streetcar On Test
Rail Transit Online, December 2008
Testing and training is underway on a single-track, one-vehicle streetcar line along River Street, with regular service to seven stops scheduled to start in mid-December. The nearly one-mile (1.6 km) line adjacent to the Savannah River uses a former Melbourne, Australia, W5 streetcar that has been fitted with an on-board biodiesel generator to supply electricity to the traction motors, eliminating the need for expensive overhead wiring and power distribution systems.
The 47-ft. (14.3 meters) car is more than 70 years old and was on display at the city's Roundhouse Railroad Museum for seven years until officials decided to have
it restored last year. The entire project cost about $1 million, including almost $600,000
to buy the right-of-way, $100,000 for engineering and $207,000 for TranSystems in Pennsylvania to restore the car; it was returned to the Roundhouse by flatbed truck on Nov. 18.
Savannah has a long history of street railways, with the first horse cars starting operation in 1869 followed in 1890 by electric trolleys. The system closed on Aug. 26, 1946.
The updated W5 is state of the art, according to Tim Borchers, a streetcar specialist for TranSystems. "There's nothing else like it in the world," he told the Savannah Morning News. "Inside this old car is the highest-tech equipment you've ever seen."
The traction package was designed and installed by Electric Motor & Supply Inc.
(EM&S) of Altoona. "It is performing past our expectations, which were quite high," EM&S President Patrick Illig told the Altoona Mirror. "In the streetcar industry, there is a lot of interest in this. In a few months, when people see how this is working, we believe the phones will start ringing."
The concept was actually pioneered in North America 20 years ago by the Galveston Island Trolley in Texas, which is now 5.2 mi. (8.4 km) long and loops around downtown, then crosses the island to an area of beachfront hotels and entertainment venues known as the Seawall. Four diesel-electric replica vintage cars built by Miner Railcar operate the line.