APTA Streetcar and
Seashore Trolley Museum Logo
Heritage Trolley Site
Hosted by the Seashore Trolley Museum
Real Streetcars Outdraw Fakes

[Back to Articles]

The New Electric Railway Journal – Autumn 1993

Real Streetcars Outdraw Fakes

Ed Strauss

Riders eagerly pay a dollar to ride Tucson's historic streetcar line while a rubber-tired "trolley bus" with a 25-cent fare gets hall the ridership.

Old Pueblo Trolley car 10 approaches the double-track passing section that rounds the curve to University Boulevard.

Car 255 cost OPT $820 to buy but $27,000 to ship from Osaka, Japan.


Starting on April 17, 1993, Tucson unwittingly began a test of whether riders prefer genuine streetcars or rubber-tired ersatz trolleys. So tar the electric choice seems to be well ahead. During May, the first full month of operation, three times as many riders paid four times as much to ride half as far in the newly restored rail line than they would have paid to ride m a modern “trolley” bus.

A ride on the historic line costs one dollar while the SunTran shuttle bus fare is twenty-five cents. The trolley line is only one mile in length while the bus route is about two miles and connects more activity centers including downtown Tucson and the convention center. Further discouraging riders, the streetcar only runs three days a week while the bus runs six days.

Although the streetcar duplicates the university end of the bus route, operating hours are such that Saturday daytime is the only period during the week that the two modes directly compete. Current streetcar hours are Friday, 6 P.M. to midnight; Saturday, 10A.M. to midnight; and Sunday, noon to 6 P.M. The dressed-up buses operate Monday through Saturday, daytime only.

Seasonal variation is blamed for cutting ridership from the May high of 4,227 to only 2,115 inJune. That is when Tucson’s hot summer weather began, keeping people inside. Also, the university; which supplied many of the riders, closed for the summer.

Back to the Past

The two restored streetcars that began operating in April were the first in Tucson since December 31, 1930. When the streetcar rails were covered over with asphalt on Tucson’s University Boulevard after the last car ran in 1930, no one thought that some day the very same rails would be uncovered and streetcar service would resume.

Service began on April 17 with much fanfare. Old Pueblo Trolley, Inc. was organized in 1983 to raise funds and enthuse volunteers to get a trolley running. It was not easy as W. Eugene Caywood would attest after his successful ten-year struggle as head of OPT. Although the project was quickly endorsed by both the city of Tucson and the state of Arizona, a bond issue failed in May, 1984. By then, however, a critical mass of enthusiasm had been brought together which kept the project in forward motion.

About a million dollars in aid, half from the state of Arizona and half from corporate donations, contributed to the effort. The state aid was intended as a light-rail demonstration. State Senator Peter Goudinoff believes it maybe possible to build light-rail lines in the Tucson area using San Diego’s system as a model. Caywood believes that if SunTran, the local transit agency; were to decide to initiate light-rail service, Old Pueblo Trolley would remain separate but share rails, such as in San Jose, California.

Car 10

In March 1985, a single-truck Birney Safety Car was leased from the Orange Empire Railway Museum in California. The former Pacific Electric car was very similar to those used by the old Tucson Rapid Transit Company. The leased car was numbered 10, the number of a 1918 TRTBirney that had been the most modern of Tucson’s twelve cars.

Many of the wooden parts were replaced as the frame, interior and roof were rebuilt. All mechanical and electrical components were replaced or refurbished. With all the effort by OPT volunteers and support received from other streetcar museums, Car 10 is now the most completely restored Birney Car operating on urban right-of-way in the U.S.

That right-of-way, all in city streets, consists of approximately a half mile on University Boulevard from the entrance to the University of Arizona to Fourth Avenue where the trolley route turns left to proceed another half mile to the end of the line at the car barn. The route is single track except for a short passing section at the Fourth Avenue-University Boulevard intersection.

Electric overhead was installed by volunteer linemen who were members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1116, using equipment loaned by Tucson Electric Power, the local electrical utility. The overhead was designed by OPT vice president and electrical engineer Dick Guthrie with the advice and assistance of Galen Sarno of the San Francisco Municipal Railway.

OPT operates under an agreement with the city, requiting that all cars be equipped with horns and turn signals and that operators hold valid commercial driver licenses.

A Second Car

Deciding that more than one streetcar would be needed to provide reliable service, the OPT board of directors bought a second car in fully operable condition which was delivered from Osaka, Japan in November of 1992. The car, manufactured in 1953, arrived with Japanese advertising cards, all of which were still in place when the car entered service in Tucson. Although the car was built in Japan, it is a design based on cars built by Brill in Philadelphia in 1923.

Both cars have turned out to be quite reliable although car 10 did go into the shops later on opening day for an air leak. After repairs the next day the car has performed without breakdown. The two cars have been alternating assignments so that both are on the street about the amount same of time, although car 10 does not operate after 10 P.M. because its noisy wheels and bearings might disturb residents.

Currently, trolleys run only three days weekly. However, there are plans to expand both hours of service and route. The most likely route extension would be to continue on Fourth Avenue into the downtown transit center, adding about another mile of track, duplicating the route of the SunTran “trolley” bus and possibly replacing it.

Ed Strauss is publisher of Bus World magazine and a frequent contributor to The New Electric Railway Journal


[Back to Articles]