The New Electric Railway
Journal – Spring 1992
Portland’s New/Old Trolleys
Following a decade of planning and two years of construction, "Vintage Trolley"
service was inaugurated in the city of Portland on November 29, 1991 using
newly-built, old-style streetcars on a section of the city's light rail line.
This service, which is officially referred to by that name (Portland Vintage
Trolley), follows the light rail line from its downtown Portland terminal all
the way to the Lloyd Center shopping center, a distance of 2.3 miles, and at the
latter point a short, single-track terminal spur off the main line has been
built (on N.E. 11th Avenue) specifically for use by the tourist trolleys.
Car 511, inbound on Halladay Street, passes an outbound Max train at Seventh Avenue on November 15th.
Another deadhead move from Ruby Junction: 511 passes the inbound platform on the 122nd Street station on Burnside Street.
A K-35 replica controller hides Cineston innards on each end of the streetcar.
The vintage-style interior of car 511, complete with reversible rattan seats.
Gomaco car 514, the second car to be delivered, heads east along Banfield during testing on November 21st.
511 leaves the deck of the Steel Bridge and prepares to descend into downtown Portland on November 6th, the third day of motorman training.
511 enters the new vintage trolley carbarn, located on Holladay Street under I-5 at N.E. First Avenue on November 12th.
This is car 511, gliding east on Yamhill Street at Fifth Avenue on November 7th.
Gomaco 511 is southbound on First Avenue downtown at Stark Street on November 22nd.
Brill-built 503 is one of two surviving original "Council Crest" cars, although it now sports ex-Melbourne trucks.
Gomaco 514 and 511 rest inside the vintage carbarn on November 4th.
Portland is the only city in the western hemisphere with a light rail line that crosses a downtown drawbridge.
During the short period in which 511 had to be based at the Ruby Junction MAX carhouse, the vintage car had to be deadheaded downtown.
service, which will operate year-round on weekends, is intended to attract
shoppers and tourists to the central business district and to nearby Lloyd
Center, the metropolitan area’s largest shopping center. In view of this
principal objective, operation of Vintage Trolley service is being funded
entirely from business taxes, business sponsorships, and other private monies,
plus farebox revenues. City officials are also counting on the streetcars to
further their objective of encouraging shoppers and others traveling in the
downtown-Lloyd Center area to use transit instead of automobiles. The route
passes both the Oregon Convention Center (opened in 1990) and the Memorial
Coliseum (home of the Portland Trailblazers basketball team).
handsomely crafted trolley cars were built by GOMACO, of Ida Grove, Iowa, who
previously built new, old style streetcars for a heritage trolley line in
Lowell, Massachusetts. The word ‘GOMACO’ is a contraction of the name GOdbersen
MAnufacturing COmpany, but GOMACO often refers to itself (somewhat redundantly)
as “the Gomaco Trolley Company.” Four cars have been ordered, of which two (511
and 514) had been delivered by the end of November (the first on August 16,
1991; the second on November 5); the third car is expected to arrive in late
January and the last a month or two later. The unique streetcars cost about
$400,000 each. The forty-foot-long, double-truck, double-end cars are patterned
after a J.G. Brill design used in 1903 for Portland’s 501-510 series of
streetcar, better known as the “Council Crest” cars, after the famous line on
which they normally operated (from 1904 through to its abandonment in 1950). The
four new cars are numbered 511 through 514, as a continuation of the original
number series, and the duplication even extends to the “See Portland from
Council Crest” exhortation that appeared on the ends of all the original cars.
Two original Council Crest cars still survive (503 and 506, the latter not
restored), and GOMACO was able to use these as models for portions of its
cars’ interior is also like that of the original Council Crest cars, including
carved woodwork and rattan-covered, reversible (walk-over) seats. There are
seats for forty passengers (or thirty-six comfortably), and room for about
thirty standees. Other interesting interior features copied from the original
cars include hand-operated doors and pull-down passenger window shades. In the
original cars the side windows opened upward into the curved roof of the car.
However, in the new cars, the windows drop down, into the sides of the car. This
design reduced construction cost, because it was closer to the style of window
that GOMACO had built previously for its “Lowell Enclosed” type of streetcar.
Portland GOMACOs are a unique combination of three different generations of
design: a turn-of-the-century body and interior fittings, “mid-century” running
gear (PCC trucks and motors), and the more modern additions of Automatic Train
Stop and Vetag signal equipment. The new cars have bodies that have been made
primarily of wood, like the original cars, but with steel frames. The PCC trucks
were assembled from a mixture of parts taken from both Boston (ex-Dallas)
air-electric PCCs and Chicago PCC rapid-transit cars. They have air tread
brakes, plus magnetic track brakes for emergency stopping. Although the cars
have hand controllers that are in line with their vintage appearance, they are
the Cineston type and are housed in a wooden K35-replica controller exterior.
The cars have a top speed of about forty-five mph and can operate over the whole
light rail line, but passenger service will be confined to the downtown-Lloyd
center section, probably even for charters. Acceleration is much faster than
that of the original Council Crest cars, and the new cars have no trouble at all
keeping up with the light-rail cars with which they share the tracks.
cars collected current through a single, swiveling trolley pole. The GOMACOs do
not, but Tri-Met wanted at least to avoid a full-fledged pantograph, in an
effort to retain an older appearance more in harmony with the car’s body style.
The result is an unusual device looking somewhat like a traditional bow
collector but with a pantograph shoe fitted on top, very similar to the
current-collectors once used on cars of Chicago’s Skokie Swift line. Each
Portland car has two of these current-collectors, placed back-to-back in the
middle of the car roof, and they are raised and lowered by hand, using ropes
leading down to retrievers on the cars’ ends.
Trolley, Inc., a not-for-profit organization of business and local government
leaders formed in 1987 to manage the project, owns the four streetcars, but
Tri-Met (Portland’s transit agency and operator of the LRT line) maintains and
operates them under a contract with VTI. Operation is being, and will continue
to be, funded by interest from a city trust fund established in the middle of
the 1980s through a Local Improvement District tax of businesses along the
route, plus other private contributions and farebox revenues. Tri-Met will be
reimbursed for all of its Operating expenses. Four businesses have already
agreed to be “car sponsors” by paying $100,000 each ($20,000 a year over a
course of five years) for the right to advertise (or sell advertising) on and
inside their designated car. In addition, eight other businesses have made
donations of $30,000 each as “station sponsors” in exchange for recognition in
Vintage Trolley literature and in signage at stops along the route.
maintenance will be conducted at a new four-trolley carbarn that has been built
along the trolley route adjacent to Coliseum station. The four cars will be
housed there, generally going out to the light-rail maintenance facility at Ruby
Junction only when in need of major work. The Vintage Trolley project was tied
to the Banfield Light Rail project, and the Urban Mass Transportation
Administration funded eighty percent of the cost of the cars and the
construction of the carbarn and the N.E. 11h Avenue spur. Incidentally, although
the new single-track spur on 11h is intended for use only by the vintage-style
cars, it is usable by TriMet’s Bombardier LRVs. For clearance testing, an LRV
was taken (under power) into the spur for the very first time On November 15; it
happened again on November 23 in connection a Vintage Trolley event held on that
evening, but it will be an extremely rare occurrence in the future.
mentioned, the first car (511) arrived in Portland on August 16. It was unloaded
on the N.E. 11h Avenue spur for a press conference and then towed to Ruby
Junction in the very early hours of the next morning. The first two test runs
under power took place in the middle of the night (after all LRT service ended)
in early and mid-October. On Friday, November 1, the very first powered trip
onto the line in daylight (and during LRV operation on the same tracks) took
place, only four weeks before the start of service. Motorman training began on
the following Monday. The second car (514) arrived on November 5.
was conditionally accepted by Tri-Met in mid-November, and car 514 on November
27, only two days before start of public service!
limited first passenger service took place on the evening of November 23, when
an “Inaugural Run” benefit event was held in which participants paid $100 or
$250 each to attend. It was a formal affair, with receptions (featuring gourmet
food, wine, music, and art displays) held at several locations along the
vintage-trolley route. Participants also received complimentary mementos such as
commemorative wine glasses, posters, and umbrellas (complete with the Portland
Vintage Trolley logo on them) and free rides on the two trolleys.
and 514 operated back and forth between the two VT terminals all evening, from
6:00 P.M. to midnight, with local celebrities, politicians, and historians
taking turns as “celebrity conductors” during the first half of the evening.
This benefit event raised nearly $30,000 for the fund being maintained to pay
for future operation. Because this single-evening operation was not open to the
general public (only those persons willing to make a contribution of $100 or
$250), it was in effect a private-charter operation and not the first day of
service began operation on Friday, November 29, with the regularly scheduled
10:03 A.M. (from the weekday timetable) departure from “Red Lion/Lloyd Center”
station, on N.E. 11h Avenue, the only station on the line not shared with
light-rail service. The brief ceremony that preceded the first trip featured
speeches by U.S. Representative Les AuCoin (D-OR) and a few officials from the
service will operate year-round, weekends-only, plus some, but not all, major
holidays (at least Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving). This year it
operated daily through December 29 (except Christmas day), and in future years
daily operation during the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is expected
to be repeated. Daily operation during the first week of the annual Rose
Festival (for example, the first week of June) is also very likely. Daily
operation during the summer is a possibility, but nothing has been decided on
that yet; it will depend on the popularity of the service and a determination as
to whether or not sufficient funding is available.
operation are 10:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. on weekdays (when operated) and 10:00 A.M.
to 6:00 P.M. on weekends. The service is initially running only half-hourly,
using both of the two cars delivered so far. This was the headway every day
during the daily operation in December, except from December 8 through 13, when
car 514 was temporarily out of service following a breakdown. The remaining two
cars were expected to arrive during the winter, and after all four have been
accepted for service the normal headway will be fifteen minutes (using three
cars, with the fourth as a spare), with the trips by the old-style cars being
inserted in-between light rail car trips running on the same headway.
Conductors are employed to collect fares and answer questions about the cars and
the service. They are attired in traditional conductor uniforms. They are mostly
either members of the Oregon Electric Railway Historical Society (which will
receive monies from VTI for streetcar restoration at the Trolley Park museum in
lieu of wages for those people) or retired Amalgamated Transit Union members
(who receive a wage of $6.00 per hour). The motormen come from within the ranks
of Tri-Met’s light-rail operators.
were charged during the first month of service, thanks to sponsorship by Meier &
Frank, a major Portland department store chain, but effective January 4 a $1.00
contribution is being requested (but ostensibly still not required-at least that
was still the plan as of this writing in late December). Because Vintage Trolley
service is being funded by a private, non-profit organization, there is no fares
integration with the Tri-Met bus and light-rail service. Unlike MAX, VT service
is not free within Tri-Met’s downtown “Fareless Square,” and Tri-Met passes,
tickets, and transfers are not valid on it.
the first month of service, which, in addition to being free, also fell during
the busiest shopping period of the year, the vintage cars were packed with
riders on all weekend trips and carried full seated loads and some standees on
most weekday trips, despite the fact that the weather was rainy on most days
during that month.
Meanwhile, Portland has two other vintage-streetcar projects in operation or in
the works. The first is the “Willamette Shore Trolley” service, the operation of
1913-built San Antonio car 300 with a generator trailer on the very scenic,
six-mile, former Southern Pacific line from Portland to Lake Oswego.
began in July 1990 (after a successful trial service with a different car in the
Autumn of 1987) and runs on weekends from March through December and daily
except Mondays from Memorial Day until mid-September. A second streetcar,
Blackpool 731 (a single-deck, illuminated riverboat-replica tram) will enter
service for the 1992 season.
other is the Central City Trolley project, a City of Portland proposal for a
network of up to two or three newly built lines in, around, and perhaps across
the river from downtown Portland served exclusively by vintage-style streetcars,
with the goal of attracting tourists (and local people to use transit) and
encouraging development in older or underdeveloped areas of the “central city”
(the city center and the area within a mile of it). A federal grant of $900,000
to design and engineer the proposed first route of this system was designated in
a HUD (the Department of Housing & Urban Development) bill signed by President
Bush around the beginning of November; this will be matched by an equal amount
from the City of Portland, and the $1.8 million project should begin late next
summer if all goes well. The first route would be 2.3 miles long, running from
near Union Station (the northern end of downtown) south along the western edge
of the central business core (crossing the light-rail line at right angles),
east along Columbia Street, and south again to the North Macadam district and
the northern terminus of the Willamette Shore Trolley. It would require the
purchase of five streetcars, probably of the same general type as 511-4. And all
of this is in addition to the far more important news that Portland's second
light rail line, the Westside Line to Beaverton and probably Hillsboro, is now
assured of funding and will definitely proceed to the construction stage by
early 1993. Federal funding
in the amount of $515 million has been designated for this project in the
recently-enacted Surface Transportation Act. (Furthermore, the City of Roses now
also stands a fairly good chance of seeing a return of trolley buses to its
streets by the end of the decade.)
it will certainly never rival San Francisco, Portland appears to be on its way
to becoming a mecca for streetcar and light-rail enthusiasts and
advocates—something that most lifelong Portland residents such as myself would
never have imagined fifteen years ago.
Author Steve Morgan is a Portland-based writer on electric rail and
trolley bus subjects.