Options for returning the streetcars to service

From Tom Gibbs:

We have an excellent opportunity  to put the historic Benson streetcars back in service and preserve the legacy George created for us.  Of course there are challenges.

A quick summary………

As I first mentioned last October and again a few weeks ago, the City is seriously studying the use of the vintage cars on the Center City Connector (CCC) which will connect the South Lake Union line with the soon to be finished First Hill line using a 1st Avenue alignment. Excerpts from the study are attached.

Vintage Streetcar Option 1

Option 1 shows the four high platform stops the old cars would make starting adjacent to the International District  at 5th and S. Jackson Street and continuing through Pioneer Square to the Market and on to MOHAI. This service  could be called ‘The Historic Express” connecting, as it would, the four most significant historical destinations in the City. This option meets the requirements of the ADA legislation.

Vintage Streetcar Option 2

Option 2 shows the same service but without making the cars or the stops ADA compliant.  Although the cars could be boarded at more stops, the lack of ADA compliance makes this option much less likely to be recommended.

New information from the City indicates that retrofitting the cars for service on Option 1 would cost $2.5M each while the cost of  a modern car is expected to be $6M.  The major retrofitting cost items include a second door, automatic door closers to eliminate the need for a second operator and higher voltage motors to allow the cars to operate along with modern cars on the same line – namely the CCC.

The challenges……….

Metro Transit has been storing the Benson cars and incurring a considerable annual cost.  With the failure of Prop 1 creating  the need to curtail bus service it is quite likely than the County will soon demand that this cost be borne by another entity OR that the cars be sold. There is room for a new storage facility for the vintage cars next to the SLU maintenance base.  The City’s cost estimate for such a facility is $2M.  Currently there are no funds available for construction.

At my last meeting with SDOT officials it was strongly suggested that we supporters of restoring the Benson cars demonstrate our commitment to that end by finding funds to restore one car and build the storage facility. The officials believe that the funds required  to restore the remaining 4 cars to service would be available from public sources if we are successful in our fund raising.

There, my friends, are the challenges before us!!  Contacts with potential large donors are getting underway.  Creation of a 501(c)(3) organization will begin immediately to encourage donations large and small.  Our first goal is obtaining enough money to build the storage facility.   Once the cars are safe and secure, the restoration of the first car can begin with donated labor.  With restoration underway funds for new motors, etc would be easier to obtain.

I’ve found lots of political support for putting the vintage Benson cars back in service.  BUT there are many compelling and competing demands for public funds so I believe it is necessary to create this  public/private partnership to elevate our project on the priority list.  I look forward to everyone’s help.

Warm regards,

Tom


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