MATA set to reopen downtown trolley system on April 30

With restoration of the first three trolley cars and necessary testing completed, the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) is ready to re-launch the trolley service which has sat dormant for the past four years. A ribbon-cutting event will take place on April 30 at 547 N. Main Street.

“We’re very excited, and the community is very excited,” said MATA CEO Gary Rosenfeld. “We’re anxious to put out for public consumption all of the efforts that we’ve gone through over the past couple of years — the craftsmanship that has been deployed, the engineering and documentation talents that have been utilized — to bring together all of the disciplines necessary to create a great trolley system for a great city.”

Initially, the Main Street trolley line will operate with trolley cars 234, 453, and 540, which cost between $800,000 and $1 million to fully restore.

“In some cases, we had 100-year-old cars that have been refurbished and given a new life of at least 25 years where the entire undercarriage of the vehicle has been redone, conduit systems have been rehung, fresh wiring throughout, and then once inside the cars the craftsman go to work,” said Rosenfeld.

“Basically we took apart the vehicles and remanufactured them all at one time,” he said.

One thing that slowed the trolleys' return was the considerable wood rot on some of the trolley cars.

“The good news is we’ve overcome those issues, and the public will be able to see the level of detail and love that’s been put into the vehicles, and I think they will respond accordingly,” said Rosenfeld.

Extensive testing on the cars, track, and power systems and the recertification of all employees has taken place over the past few months.

The first route to reopen will be the Main Street Trolley Line, which cost a total of $10 million (including the first six trolley car restorations) to update and runs from the William Hudson Transit Center (Main Street and A.W. Willis Avenue) to the Butler Station (Main Street and Butler Street).

From Sunday through Thursday, two trolley cars will run every 30 minutes, and on Fridays and Saturdays three cars will run every 20 minutes. Customers can ride for free until May 14, and all rides after then will cost $1.

The tentative operating schedule will continue until the refurbishments on trolley cars 455, 539 and 799, which contained much more rotted wood to be replaced, are completed next month.

Adding more trolley routes and additional restored cars will happen over the next couple years.

“As we get ready to bring the Riverfront line and the Madison line on, we’ll have to add more cars,” said Rosenfeld.

The Riverfront line is expected to reopen by the third or fourth quarter of 2019, and the Madison line should be ready by early 2020.

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Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.