Trolleys on track for 2017 comeback

The Memphis trolley system’s big comeback is right around the corner. The Memphis Area Transit Authority’s plan to revive the trolley system is moving forward as trolley trucks are being repaired and prepped for action for next year.
“It will be the safest trolley system in the country when it comes back,” said MATA CEO Ron Garrison, who is responsible for three light rail start-ups during his career. “When it comes back, it will be on time, it will be quieter, and it will get folks to where they’re going not only as a fun thing but actually to get to work or to bring people to shop at the stores.”
Last year, TDOT chose 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.
ORX is in the process of refurbishing and repairing 16 trolley trucks for MATA.
Two trucks are used for each operating trolley.
“We’re hoping to bring back Main Street first with six completely rebuilt ‘as new’ vintage trolleys,” he said. “We have two vintage trolleys that have been completely torn down and rebuilt. They’re going to be spectacular, and we should have them done by the beginning of next year.”
Overall MATA owns 17 trolleys now, and Garrison feels MATA’s current infrastructure and maintenance facility can handle about 20 trolleys.

As the trolleys are completed, they will undergo rigorous testing for light rail conditions before being rolled out later in the year.

MATA suspended trolley service in June 2014 following fires on some of the vintage rail cars. Since then, MATA has used hybrid buses on Main Street followed by rubber-wheeled imitation trolleys.
“Vintage trolleys don’t have the level of regulatory requirements and level of detail for all of the processes and procedures that light rail, heavy rail or street car does, so we’re working with TDOT to create that,” said Garrison.
Downtown businesses, especially those in the South Main Arts District, will welcome the trolleys back with open arms.
“People in other cities are already talking about when they open their systems they will use the model that Memphis Area Transit Authority is putting together, which is a very high compliment,” said Garrison, who expects the plan to go back and forth with the Federal Transit Administration and the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s Safety Oversight over the next 120 days.

Read more articles by Michael Waddell.

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.
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