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Omaha, NE

This study is from the Center for Transportation Research and Engineering at Iowa State University.


Paper from the 1996 Semisesquicentennial Transportation Conference

10th Street Trolley Feasibility Study

William L. Troe, Matthew B. Tondl, and Greg Peterson

W.L. Troe and M.B. Tondl,
HDR Engineering, Inc.,
8404 Indian Hills Drive,
Omaha, Nebraska 68114.

G. Peterson,
City of Omaha Planning Department,
1819 Farnam Street,
Omaha, Nebraska 68183.

The 10th Street Trolley Feasibility Study was an approximately nine-month period of analysis of the engineering, economic, and social feasibility of reintroducing an electric heritage trolley to the 10th Street corridor in Omaha, Nebraska. Included in the analysis were identification of uses in the study area that would be complementary to trolley usage; evaluation of a number of potential trolley route alternates to connect the uses identified in the first step; identification of the potential physical constraints and determination of the physical impacts on adjacent developments; estimation of the potential trolley ridership, construction, and operating costs, including the need for public/private subsidy of the system; evaluation of the development potential of parcels adjacent to the trolley alignment; and presentation of concepts of what the trolley may look like and station alternatives. From the feasibility study analysis, a recommended alignment was presented to the project technical and policy committees, along with construction and operating cost estimates and various system design elements. The recommendations are currently being reviewed by the city council, the transit system board of directors, and the mayor's office. A neighborhood system design charrette is in the organizational stages.

With this conference marking both past transportation research and achievements and providing a forum to discuss current and emerging issues and technologies, discussion of the process and results of evaluating the feasibility of reintroduction of a heritage trolley in a modern transportation system is very appropriate.

Electric street cars served as Omaha's primary mode of mass transportation in the period from 1868 to the 1950s, when diesel-powered buses replaced the last of the electric trolleys. During the street car era, the 10th Street corridor was a primary trolley corridor, serving both passengers and the access to storage and maintenance facilities. The 10th Street line ran from downtown to what was Riverview Park. The park is the current location of the Henry Doorly Zoo.

While evaluation of the implementation feasibility of an electric heritage trolley is not a new or unique idea for communities that presently have or are planning for light rail transit, a stand-alone system is fairly unique. In 1994, approximately 100 cities had operating and/or were planning for urban passenger electric rail transit systems. Of those cities, approximately half were operating or were planning for a heritage trolley along portions of current or proposed rail routes. Only 12 North American cities had or were planning for stand-alone electric rail trolley systems. Thus, the planning being completed in Omaha is rather unique.

This report is the result of approximately eight months of study of the engineering, economic, and social feasibility of reintroducing an electric heritage trolley to the 10th Street corridor. Included in the analysis were the following:

  • Evaluation of a number of potential trolley route alternates.
  • Evaluation of potential for reinstating trolley service in the corridor based on the physical constraints and determination of the physical impacts on adjacent developments.
  • Estimation of the potential trolley ridership.
  • Estimation of the construction and operating costs of a trolley, including the need for public/private subsidy of the system.
  • Evaluation of the development potential of parcels adjacent to the trolley alignment.
  • Presentation of concepts of what various aspects of the trolley may look like.


One of the initial premises of the trolley was that it would enhance current connections between the downtown commercial uses and parking and the recreational uses and parking at the Henry Doorly Zoo/Rosenblatt Stadium complex. Initially, using either 13th Street or 10th Street were discussed, with 10th Street being selected as the preferred corridor because of the location of most of the shared parking at the stadium/zoo complex, access to the Western Heritage Museum, and review of the corridor traffic operations and traffic control in 10th Street relative to 13th Street. The preferred alignment is displayed in Figure 1.


Conceptual engineering feasibility of reinstating trolley operations in the 10th Street corridor and through the downtown area was conducted through:

  • Analysis of the grades along 10th Street and in downtown Omaha relative to maximums associated with trolley capabilities.
  • Evaluation of the engineering and safety implications of locating a trolley at either the curb lane or the roadway center line.
  • Analysis of trolley turning radius requirements relative to the alignment and side of street preference for operations.
  • Impacts on traffic operations at key intersections in the corridor.
  • Impacts on the current physical infrastructure associated with the street, including storm sewer, waste water sewer, and water service.

Through the engineering analyses, it was concluded that it is feasible to design for a trolley without compromising current rail

engineering practice and standards. The minimum radius of a trolley turn does not allow the vehicle to operate inside curb to inside curb. Thus, whenever the trolley is turning left from the outside lane or right from the inside, the operations shift to the opposite side of the street when exiting the curve.

Throughout the trolley feasibility study, discussions were held about the pros and cons of a curb lane alignment versus a roadway center line alignment. The result of these discussions was that the curb lane operations would likely be the preferred alternative for the following reasons:

  • The conflicts between trolley riders and vehicle traffic would be reduced, because riders enter and exit the trolley car at the curb instead of a center of the street platform.
  • There are concerns about the safety implications of placing the platform in the middle of the vehicle travelway.
  • Providing the overhead power source to the corridor is more difficult because the wire must be suspended over the roadway on cables extending across the roadway instead of on poles along the trolley route.

In the peak period it has been assumed that the minimum trolley headway would be 15 minutes. Thus, the maximum number of trolley passes through any intersection along the alignment would be eight in an hour. The low number of trolley pass-bys would not likely have a noticeable effect on the current or future level of traffic along the route.


Patronage forecasts for the trolley were based on trip origin/destination data obtained from the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA) regional travel demand model. The MAPA origin-destination matrix for the study area was extracted from the regional model trip table and modified such that origin-destination data for average daily study area zonal level trip interchanges by study area residents, study area workers, and study area visitors could be simulated. The MAPA regional model trip table data provided a source of information on personal travel in the study area for all modes; however, the purpose of this study is to separate out the potential trolley riders. This was completed through application of trolley usage propensity factors to the regional model trip data. These factors were developed through analysis of mode splits in metro areas that current have trolley service. Through application of the modeling methodology, the following range of patronage was developed:

  • Typical summer weekday: Between 255 and 455 riders per day.
  • Average summer weekend day: Between 580 and 880 riders per day.

Of the estimated ridership, it was assumed that just over half of the weekday ridership would be completed by nonresidents to the study area. On the weekend the percentage increases to over 70 percent of the ridership. Thus, trolley ridership and success are tied to visitors to the area and continued growth in the visitor market.


Estimates of the potential costs of construction of the trolley system, including the track infrastructure, overhead power supply system, roadway infrastructure improvements, trolley vehicles, and facilities to store and maintain the trolleys were developed using information obtained from trolley vehicle builders and through discussions with trolley system engineers and planners. The construction cost estimates ranged from approximately $11 million to $12 million.

The preferred method of estimating operating costs was to define the system operating hours, driver requirements, and basic vehicle information and prepare estimates assuming both a volunteer- and an agency-operated system. The annual operating cost estimates for an urban transit-type agency is estimated at approximately $162,000. A similar service system operated by volunteer drivers and maintenance crews would cost approximately $24,000 per year to operate.


The 10th Street trolley has the potential to serve many important functions in the corridor and in the City of Omaha. Included in these functions is a catalyst for increasing business investment and economic activity throughout the corridor. Any development in the 10th Street corridor must, however, allow the neighborhood fabric to be maintained. Thus, any plan for development or redevelopment of the corridor associated with the trolley must follow two basic rules:

  • Avoid conversion of sound residential uses to commercial uses.
  • Concentrate higher intensity development near stations, using vacant or underutilized buildings or parcels.

The trolley should be looked at more as an opportunity or potential catalyst for assessment and implementation of a planned redevelopment of some portions of the corridor.


The objectives of the trolley urban design element are to provide a high quality, low impact improvement to the corridor, provide a well designed system that does not add unnecessary costs to the system, and provide a functional system. Elements of track design investigated through the study follow:

  • Track placement and flow options
  • Street and track typical sections
  • Trolley station elements
  • Overhead power elements
  • Trolley vehicle elements

Trolley station areas create one of the most visible fixed features of the proposed trolley concept. Features included in the design are contrasting paving from the regular street surface, shelter for waiting trolley passengers, handicapped access ramps, street furniture, adequate and appropriately designed period lighting, and corner nodes and crosswalk treatments.

The trolley vehicle used in the former street car lines was a vehicle that was unique to the Omaha-Council Bluffs area. As part of the street car design of the current proposal, it is recommended that the following principles be incorporated into the design:

  • The vehicle should resemble vehicles from the past era of electric trolleys in the area.
  • Avoid, if possible, custom designs which increase the cost of the vehicle.
  • Construction should be durable and of high quality to establish a signature of the line and the city.


The feasibility study for reinstating a trolley line in the 10th Street corridor and along key routes in the downtown has incorporated the views and needs of a number of community agencies and organizations, including City of Omaha Planning, City of Omaha Public Works, MAPA, Metro Area Transit, Henry Doorly Zoo, Omaha Royals, Western Heritage Museum, ConAgra, Inc., Downtown Omaha, Inc., Omaha Public Power District, and Omaha Chamber of Commerce.



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