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Detroit, Michigan

The below stories from the Detroit News on October 24, 2003 and the Detroit Free Press on October 31, 2003, describe the apparent end of the Detroit heritage trolley operation:

Eight century-old rail cars that have run on tracks along Washington since 1975, like this one seen in 1976, will be replaced with motorized trolleys as part of a $20 million road project that will include Woodward and Broadway.

October 24, 2003:  Historic trolleys are history

The historic downtown trolley cars that cost passengers 50 cents to ride but the city about $100 per rider will be mothballed next month as Washington Boulevard and two other streets are rebuilt.

The $20 million road project that will include Woodward and Broadway is to be completed in time for the 2006 Super Bowl at Ford Field.

The eight, century-old rail cars that have run on tracks along Washington since 1975 will be replaced with so-called "rubber trolleys", or modern buses that mimic the look and feel of a historic street car. The city will expand the routes of its 14 rubber trolleys, bought in 2000. Downtown business owners support the change.

About 3,000 passengers ride the rail trolleys each year, but track and rail car problems have plagued the system. The rubber trolleys offer more dependable service because they aren't affected by snow and ice and greater flexibility for special events.

But preservationists say the city's decision is shortsighted because the historic cars are irreplaceable, though they admit the quarter-mile track that stretches along Washington from Grand Circus Park to Hart Plaza is in disrepair.

"I'm not happy the rail cars are going, but I would hope the city would look to move the system to the east riverfront," said Alexander Pollock, a preservationist and senior associate architect for Detroit. "Cities such as Seattle, San Diego, Tampa and New Orleans have vintage rail cars operating on their waterfronts."

Last year, the city began a $500-million, four-year plan to improve the east riverfront from Hart Plaza to Belle Isle that will include a riverfront walk, parks and marina.

George W. Jackson Jr., president and chief executive of Detroit Economic Growth Corp., a quasi-public development agency in Detroit, said it is too costly to relocate the rail service as part of the Washington Boulevard makeover.

Pollock said the rail trolley system has an annual budget of around $300,000.

"We do not want to lose the historic trolleys, so we will look at every possibility to continue their service somewhere else," Jackson said.

You can reach R.J. King at (313) 222-2504 or rjking @detnews.com.


October 31, 2003: NEAR THE END OF THE RIDERLESS LINE: Detroit plans to sell its 9 trolleys


The City of Detroit plans to sell its nine vintage trolley cars, but some preservationists are strongly opposed.

Often characterized as quaint but riderless, the nine trolleys, built between 1895 and 1925, were acquired in 1974. They ran between Grand Circus Park and Cobo Center along Washington Boulevard and then east to the Renaissance Center.

They were a reminder of the hundreds of streetcars that used to ply Detroit's byways until the system was shut down in the 1950s. The city's original cars were sold to Mexico City. The nine trolleys the city now owns were purchased in Europe in the '70s in an effort to liven up downtown.

About 800 people a day once rode the nine trolleys, but after the People Mover opened in 1987 ridership on the trolleys dropped to no more than 200 a day.

None of the cars is in service now. They are in storage in and around Detroit and at a repair facility in Seattle.

In a letter dated Oct. 15, Marisol Simon, deputy director of the Detroit Department of Transportation, told the head of a Seattle-based repair service that the city intended to sell the trolleys.

"It is now our decision to sell these treasures to entities that would enjoy their splendor and also to recoup some of the public's money," Simon wrote.

But the sentimental value of the cars, as well as the replacement cost should Detroit ever buy new ones, has some local leaders urging that the city keep them.

"I definitely think we should retain them," said Rainy Hamilton, a Detroit architect who is among planners working on the effort to redevelop the city's east riverfront. Hamilton suggested the trolleys could run along the riverfront or on a line that could be built on Belle Isle.

"I would not want to see us part with these. At least store them until we can find a better use. We can't keep giving away our history," he said.

John Stroh, head of the Detroit-based Stroh Companies, said that some kind of public transit line on the east riverfront could be important as the area redevelops and parking becomes scarce.

"Clearly it would be desirable to have some transportation links between downtown and Belle Isle," he said.

But even if the city keeps the trolleys, most of the tracks they run on and the overhead wires that power them will soon be gone, at least along Washington Boulevard. The city plans to start remaking a portion of Washington next month as a boulevard with a landscaped median, removing the tracks and a car barn that housed the trolleys.

Contact JOHN GALLAGHER at 313-222-5173 or gallagher@freepress.com.



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