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San Antonio - June 1996

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1996 News Column:

VIA will study bringing back trolley service

by David Anthony Richelieu
San Antonio Express-News
, Sunday, June 9, 1996

More than six decades after becoming the first major American city to convert its entire transit system to diesel-powered buses, San Antonio is about to try another ride aboard streetcars whose regular service ended here in 1933.

VIA Metropolitan Transit plans to bring back the historic "Old 300" streetcar that was restored in the 1980s and operated for several years along the Pearl Brewery spur on Jones Avenue in front of the San Antonio Museum of Art.

The streetcar, built in the early 1900s, was restored by local rail buffs and ran on Pearl's electrified line until insurance premiums became too costly for the museum, winch owns the car.

The streetcar is now stored in Portland, Ore., where it was used for excursion tours before Portland restored four historic trolleys to run on its Metropolitan Area Express rail transit lines.

"We hope restoring Old 300 to service will give us some practical experience with light rail to help us decide if service can and should be extended north and south and, perhaps, linked to a cross-town trolley service proposed by many people involved with downtown," said VIA General Manager John Milam.

VIA doesn't know what it will cost to ship the 45-passenger car back from Portland or to extend the tracks and overhead power about a half-mile farther south to the Southern Pacific Depot.

The historic depot in St. Paul Square is to be the centerpiece of major entertainment and retail development called Sunset Station and would be a logical terminus for VIA's restored streetcar route.

From Sunset Station, the trolley would travel north next to existing Union Pacific/Southern Pacific tracks to where Pearl's Spur now switches off the main line.

Once freight cars switch onto its spur, Pearl's electric "tug" locomotive moves them along the tracks down Jones Avenue, across Broadway, in front of the Museum of Art and inside the brewery complex where the line ends just north of the Jersey Lily Saloon.

The streetcar runs on the same tracks and electric power line. Milam says Pearl plans to reopen the Jersey Lily, which would be the route's northern destination. VIA is seeking private donations and help to get the trolley back on track here and this fall plans to seek federal funds for a six-month study on expanding the service. If the Sunset Station-Museum of Art-Pearl Brewery service succeeds, VIA will look at extending the tracks north up Avenue B through Brackenridge Park to the Witte Museum and also study a link into downtown.

One possibility: A loop from unset Station down Commerce Street to Convention Plaza, south on Alamo Street and into HemisFair Park, down old Gollad Street to the Tower of the Americas and Institute of Texan Cultures then over to the UP/SP tracks by the Alamodome and back to Sunset Station.

A great roll ahead for VIA.


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