Test of Loop Trolley car to mark return of streetcars after decades-long absence

Testing is set to begin in the coming weeks on the first streetcar of the Loop Trolley, a project in the works for 20 years that will link University City and Forest Park.

It will mark the first time that a trolley car will be on area streets in decades — the last day of streetcar service in St. Louis was May 21, 1966, the end of a 107-year run.

Initially, testing of the Loop Trolley’s car will mean pulling it by truck on the tracks, Delmar Loop businessman Joe Edwards, the trolley’s longest advocate and chairman of the Loop Trolley Transportation Development District’s board of directors, said at a news conference Thursday.

That car is from Portland, Ore., and carries the number 001 with a red stripe along its side. It was designed to look like a vintage car but was built in the early 1990s.

Construction on the 2.2-mile electric trolley line — with a price tag of $51 million — began in earnest in the spring of 2015. In the Loop, its route begins at the University City library. The trolley, as with buses, will share Delmar Boulevard with cars, pulling out of traffic at designated stops.

It will run on a single track in the center median east of the Pageant on Delmar and will head south onto DeBaliviere Avenue, continuing on a single track on the east side. It will stop and reverse direction at the Missouri History Museum.

Getting the trolley operating has been beset by obstacles, including ballooning costs and delays in the opening date.

The trolley had been slated to open in 2016; that date was pushed back to this spring after refurbishing of the trolley cars delayed testing of the vehicles. Now an early summer opening is expected.

Supporters say the trolley will bring in visitors and be a boon for businesses. They also say the trolley is being built for significantly less than streetcar lines in other cities, even though it surpassed its initial $43 million estimate, in part because of street paving and landscaping costs.
“The fixed-track nature does attract investment,” Edwards said, citing as an example a new 14-story, $66 million apartment building in the Loop at 6105 Delmar Boulevard, where the trolley will run.

Critics say that the trolley duplicates current mass transit — a MetroLink line runs between the Forest Park and Delmar stations — and that the project’s cost is too high. Businesses were hurt by construction, spurring a forgivable loans program.

Trolley opponents filed in 2015 a lawsuit in St. Louis County Circuit Court seeking to block the trolley. The suit contends the trolley will go beyond its authorized boundaries. No ruling has been issued.

No decision has been made about how much passengers will pay to ride the trolley. Les Sterman, president of the Loop Trolley Company, said Thursday that it was still expected that the fares would be similar to what Metro Transit charges — MetroLink’s base fare is $2.50, and a two-hour systemwide pass is $3 — probably with options for two- and four-hour tickets. The eventual goal is to make Metro tickets transferable to the trolley. The project will be funded largely by the 1-cent sales tax being paid by customers of businesses along the trolley line.

The trolley also will mean changes for those in the Loop who don’t ride it. Trolley leaders urged people to remember that because the trolleys are on fixed rails, they cannot veer to avoid people or cars parked illegally.

There’s no standing, walking, riding or driving on the white diagonal striping painted on the streets along the trolley route, and pedestrians can cross only at marked crossings.

Those on bikes, in wheelchairs or pushing a stroller should cross the tracks at a 90-degree angle, said Kevin Barbeau, executive director of the Loop Trolley Company.

The Loop Trolley district owns the trolley; the Loop Trolley Company is a separate entity and is a nonprofit organization that will operate the trolley.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch © March 2017

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