Trolleys closer to Downtown comeback

A Downtown icon since starting service in 1993, the Memphis Area Transit Authority’s Main Street trolley is closer to a comeback.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation has selected a proposal from MATA for $2.6 million in federal funding under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program for the purchase of three new electric rail trolleys.

In a statement, MATA CEO Ron Garrison said the funds will help the organization speed the “return of our iconic trolleys with the purchase of new rail cars.”

MATA suspended trolley service in June 2014 following fires on some of the vintage rail cars. As renovation and restoration work has been slow to materialize, MATA has used hybrid buses on Main Street followed by rubber-wheeled imitation trolleys.

The purchase of new rail cars will ease MATA’s long-term operations and maintenance costs, Garrison said.

The MATA Board of Commissioners will discuss the next steps of a trolley comeback at its Nov. 24 meeting at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.

Leslie Gower, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the Downtown Memphis Commission, praised U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, for his work in helping make the funding happen. She said it’s important to bring the trolleys back, even if it’s just a few rail cars at first.

“We have planning organizations from cities across the country who come to look at our trolleys,” she said. “We take them for granted because they’ve been here for decades. But the reality is it adds vibrancy and charm that you can’t quantify. It also brings customers to our businesses.”

In fact, South Main Historic Arts District business owners have been vocal in stressing the need for a return of service to transport customers to the district.

“When you look at South Main, we have a really long downtown,” Gower said. “To have something that people can hop on and go to one end from the other is important, especially for those small businesses.”

Read more articles by Lance Wiedower.

Lance is a veteran journalist with more than 16 years of experience in newsrooms in the Memphis area as a reporter and editor, including most recently as managing editor of The Daily News. He regularly contributes to The Daily News, including a biweekly travel column, The Daily Traveler. 
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