An Electric City homecoming.

Headed home: 505 is loaded aboard a Silk Road Transport trailer in preparation for its move from the Rockhill Trolley Museum to Scranton. Photo by Chuck Kumpas courtesy of Rockhill.

In the parlance of trolley-restoration types, many forlorn cars are revived from “chicken coop” condition.

Scranton Transit 505 — one of the last two streetcars to run in the Electric City on Dec. 18, 1954 — makes such basket cases look pristine.

“I call it the skeletal remains,” Electric City Trolley Museum Association member Andy Maginnis told The Times-Tribune as what’s left of the the 1929 Osgood Bradley Electromobile returned to its hometown earlier this month from the Rockhill Trolley Museum in Southcentral Pennsylvania.

Car 505 is seen departing Scranton’s Nay Aug Park in 1953. Photo courtesy Rockhill Trolley Museum.

Indeed, what rolled into town on the back of a flatbed truck on Nov. 15 doesn’t look like much: two thoroughly rusty sidewalls held together by the spindly ribs of what once were its roof and floor, minus vestibules, ends or interior fittings. I’ve heard the forlorn hulk more charitably described as a trolley in kit-form. That’s because most of the fixtures and fittings were removed and stored in the 1970s. Together with a set of original plans, the Electric City Trolley Museum Association has most of what it needs to turn the carcass back into a working streetcar. ECTMA has a page devoted to the car, including more vintage photos.

The next item on their list? Funding toward what is expected to be a $350,000 restoration. Backers have launched “Project 505″ to raise money for the work. According to the newspaper, organizers’ initial goal is to raise $3,000, with a California organization pledging to match that amount if the group can raise it by Jan. 31.

Project 505 chairman Jim Wert told the paper restoration is “at least three years away.” After more than a half-century of rusting away in multiple museums and a scrap yard, that may seem both tantalizingly close and frustratingly distant.

Here is Scranton 505 with Rochester 0243 at the former Rail City museum in 1959. Says Matt Nawn: “Less than five years after it left Scranton, the car was looking pretty rough.” Indeed it was. The remains of 0243, built as passenger car 162 in 1891, are now at the New York Museum of Transportation in suburban Rochester. Like 505, what’s left is basically in kit form.

The trolley’s long, sad journey is outlined in this illustrated Rockhill blog post, with photos reproduced here by the kind permission of the museum’s Matt Nawn.

I sincerely hope to see the day when this trolley is operable again. It is of course significant to Scranton, where I lived for six years, as one of the city’s last two operating cars and one of only three pieces of Scranton Transit rolling stock known to survive. It also rubbed shoulders with three cars from my native city during its first stop in retirement, the defunct Rail City museum in upstate New York, as described here. There, along with 505, were Rochester subway car 60, Rochester sand car 0243 (seen above) and Rochester horsecar 55. All three cars eventually returned to Rochester — like 505’s journey back to Scranton, via somewhat circuitous routes.

I also am hopeful that an artifact I donated to ECTMA last year may come in handy with the eventual restoration of 505.

The project has a Facebook page, while those interested in assisting the cause may send donations to: ECTMA, Project 505, P.O. Box 20019, Scranton, 18502. Checks should made payable to “ECTMA-Project 505.”

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Toronto previews the next generation of Red Rockets.

The Toronto Transit Commission unveiled the next generation of streetcars for the Canadian metropolis with a media event at TTC’s Hillcrest Complex on Thursday, Nov. 15.

Toronto Star reporter Tess Kalinowski offered this comprehensive report including photos and video.

One has to admire Kalinowski’s colorful prose, opening with the assertion that “Toronto’s new ride is a monster,” describing the 30-meter-long Bombardier tram as a “shiny red European-style streetcar” that is “tricked out with panoramic windows, air conditioning and four-door boarding.”

Numbered 4400, the car is the first of 204 vehicles to be built in Thunder Bay under a CDN $1.2 billion order, due to enter revenue service in 2014. The tram debuted today is one of three test cars. Kalinowski reports that “they’ll probably appear first on the 510 Spadina route, though that isn’t firm yet.”

Not present at Thursday’s event? Toronto mayor and streetcar-hater Rob Ford.

Here is coverage from The Toronto Sun and CBC News.

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Posted in Canada: LRT/Streetcars | Leave a comment

Princely praise: Charles lauds Melbourne tramways.

Melbourne D-Class (Combino) tram 3519 is seen working a Route 6 service in November 2012, courtesy of Greg Northcott.

Prince Charles has created his share of headlines with his passionate advocacy for environmental causes, architecture and historic preservation. His worldview on sustainability and urban development also embraces tramways, as disclosed in HRH’s recent visit to Australia.

In an address to the Housing Melbourne Symposium, the heir apparent to the British and Commonwealth thrones praised the Victorian metropolis for its commitment to historic preservation and “well used urban spaces,” as well as its dense network of electric tramways.

“Unlike most cities around the world, Melbourne kept its tram system and improved it and is now considered a global leader,” the prince said.

Not Australia, and not a tram, but still public transport: Prince Charles aboard a preserved London Routemaster bus during a recent Royal British Legion publicity event.

There is a certain poignancy in Charles’ remarks. His native land was one of the world’s greatest developers of tramway technology in the 19th and 20th centuries, with the United Kingdom exporting vehicles and other technology worldwide, including Australia. And yet, like so many Western industrial powers, the U.K.  essentially exterminated its tramways wholesale between the 1930s and 1962, when the demise of the great Glasgow system left only the small, tourist-oriented system in Blackpool operating on mainland Britain.

Similarly, Australia also witnessed the demise of most electric tram systems in the postwar period. Sydney, once said to be the largest system in the British Empire after London, ran its last tram in 1961 (although modern versions returned in 1997). Adelaide’s lone line to the beach survived, but the big holdout was Melbourne, where foresight and civic pride led to the preservation and expansion of what is now the largest streetcar system in the English-speaking world, a comprehensive network of lines that even now includes a small number of vintage vehicles operating alongside cutting-edge modern trams. A representative sample of this colorful fleet can be seen in several photos that accompany this post, kindly submitted by my Canadian friend Greg Northcott, who has been visiting Australia.

Melbourne tram 907, an SW6 class car of 1945, is seen on a service to North Richmond in November 2012, courtesy of Greg Northcott.

Compared with some of his statements on architecture, for example, the prince’s views on the trams of Melbourne would seem fairly uncontroversial and benign. Yet just as his opinions have at times conflicted with policymakers on architecture and urban development, it is worth remembering that tramway retention and creation of new lines has at times been a lightning rod in the U.K. as well as Commonwealth nations. Just ask current Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Likewise consider the abortive Leeds Supertram proposal or the ongoing Edinburgh tram debacle.

Still, Charles’ symposium address to what was probably a broadly sympathetic audience is likely to ruffle few feathers. If anything, it is sadly likely to get lost amid the more superficial coverage of his visit to Australia and New Zealand.

Long may she ride: E II R meets Z3.

If nothing else, his comments mark the second time Melbourne’s trams have received the Royal seal of approval in the past year, after Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh took a brief ride on a Melbourne tramcar during their visit to the city on Oct. 26, 2011.

Of course, the sovereign and her consort didn’t just wander into a queue to join the crowds for a trip down to Luna Park or a suburban ramble out to visit Edna at Moonee Ponds. This may well have been a private ride, but it was indeed a real workaday Melbourne tram, Z3 class car 158, specially renovated and decorated for the occasion. And there certainly were crowds — instead of jostling for a seat they were lined up along the sun-drenched sidewalks to catch a glimpse of the Royal couple. Finishing a walkabout, HM and HRH clambered aboard for a short ride to their next engagement, as the Herald Sun so artfully described the scene: “With a wave, and with St Paul’s bells pealing, the Queen boarded a royal rattler for a ride to Government House.”

Z3 class car 162 is signed up for Route 72 in this November 2012 shot by Greg Northcott.

For more on Melbourne’s trams past and present, see:

Posted in Australia & NZ: Heritage, Australia & NZ: LRT/Trams | Leave a comment

Bouncing back from disaster: Christchurch.

Christchurch tourist tram 11, a 1903 Brill product built in Philadelphia for the Dunedin, N.Z. system, is seen in heritage service on Aug. 11, 2007. The car was trapped in the depot and damaged when the Feb. 22, 2011 earthquake struck. It was later taken to the Tramway Historical Society’s tram barn, according to http://aucklandtram.wordpress.com/2012/05/26/christchurch-tramway-update/ .
Photo by Flickr member Nick Bramhall and used by Creative Commons license. Click image for his photostream.

While we here in America are still working to recover from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy days ago, one heritage tram operation overseas is eyeing a 2013 restoration of service in the wake of a much different natural disaster two years ago.

According to this news report, members of the city council planning committee in Christchurch, New Zealand voted this week to support reinstatement of the central area tramway loop “as soon as practicable,” which appears to be the middle of next year. The line’s infrastructure suffered heavy damage in the Christchurch earthquake of Feb. 22, 2011, which left 185 people dead and caused massive devastation across the city.

The tramway opened in 1995, a commercial tourist operation using vintage vehicles leased from The Tramway Historical Society. Its fleet of cars from New Zealand and Australia –including trams from the original Christchurch system, closed in 1954 — had become symbols of Christchurch in their own right. While not classed as a public transport venture nevertheless carried an estimated 280,000 people per year, according to the news report. More information can be found in another news report from this week.

Efforts to get the line back in working order working order “is reasonably straightforward and most of the relatively small cost of up to (NZ) $1.6 million will be covered by insurance,” according to an editorial by The Press,  adding that it “will restore to the central city a service that, having been fiercely contentious when it was first set up, had become a familiar part of the city.”

Even as the line’s restoration as a heritage service moves forward, there are those who believe the rebirth of Christchurch should see expanded use of tramways in a transportation role.

Some really lovely photos of the line as it looked before the earthquake can be found here, on the Timespanner blog.

Christchurch tram 178 in an Oct. 24, 2010 view by Flickr member chengang1029, used by Creative Commons license. Click for original photostream. Car 178 was built by Boon & Co. in 1921, but referred to as “the Brill.” It was rebuilt for one-man operation in the 1930s.

Posted in Australia & NZ: Heritage | Leave a comment

Pittsburgh: transit, yes, but is it rapid?

Passengers prepare to board a Port Authority light rail train at the North Side station, June 6, 2012. While I found the North Shore Connector’s design attractive and inviting during my visit four months ago, like a rider quoted in the attached Post-Gazette story I also found operating speeds over the new segment noticeably slow due to multiple signal stops along the $523.4 million extension.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, riders’ frustration has been mounting as service over the new North Shore Connector under the Allegheny River seems to be moving no faster than … well, the rest of Port Authority’s “T” system.

“Cars going from Wood Street to the new Allegheny Station on the North Side generally are making the trips quicker than the nine minutes that is allotted on printed schedules,” the paper reports of the extension, which opened in March. “But they go no faster than about 25 mph and slow to a near-stop or full stop at several signals.”

That may not be “a huge time-waster,” according to reporter Jon Schmitz, “but annoying to riders like Dan Zunko, who expected brisker service along the 1.2-mile extension that cost $523.4 million.” Zunko complained that his daily trip between North Side Station and Steel Plaza might include between three and five signal stops in each direction.

Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie explained how signalling on the new section offers “a greater level of safety.” While Port Authority is reviewing the entire LRT system to identify ways to improve speed and safety, “we don’t feel it’s worth compromising safety to get people from Downtown to the North Shore in 6-1/2 minutes rather than 7 minutes,” he told the newspaper.

Interestingly, the report goes on to recall how frustrations over the slow speed of LRT have dogged the system since it was modernized in the 1980s. One solution under consideration? Implementing proof-of-payment to eliminate long dwell times at stations due to pay-as-you-leave operation.

I have long been a fan of Pittsburgh and its transit system, but its arcane fare rules are a tradition whose demise is long overdue. Perhaps that has been a bigger time-waster than the 11 “little-used” stops eliminated in June.

Posted in USA: LRT/Streetcars | Leave a comment

Dispatches from Heaton Park.

Work continues on the depot extension at Manchester’s Heaton Park Tramway, documented on a regular basis through the lens of Joe Savage. A few of Joe’s photos from recent weeks follow.

For information on the tramway and how to donate, visit its website.

1937 Blackpool Brush car 623 on the extension last weekend.

View approaching depot sidings.

Gauge checking: Not just for model railways.

Joe at the controls of Stockport 5. Still can’t believe I drove this thing.

Posted in UK: Heritage | Leave a comment

These colors don’t run: Visiting the last streetcar in Syracuse.*

Syracuse streetcar 1036 at Central Square Station Museum.

It was another one of those field trips I meant to get around to eventually.

At the end of a sleepy side street in a tiny Upstate New York village, there sits a century-old train station. Central Square’s aptly-named Railroad Street dead-ends at the tracks, where freight trains still rumble past the long-retired depot, once a hub of village life. Today, the station lives on as the focus of a small museum, with an eclectic assortment of memorabilia inside and a small collection of rail equipment outside.

This is in every sense a railroad museum. To me, anyway, one of the vehicles on display in the yard stands out like a sore thumb — or maybe more accurately a sight for sore eyes. On the lawn facing the street, all dressed up with nowhere to go, stands Syracuse streetcar 1036, a 1916 Kuhlman-built Peter Witt car that served the Salt City for about a quarter-century until its retirement.

Depot interior view, including vintage station sign that reportedly was returned from Ohio.

The trolley has done a little bit of rambling since it was lifted off Syracuse irons more than 70 years ago, as described here on the museum’s website, and this was not our first encounter. I saw it for the first time at the New York State Fairgrounds in November 2005, inside one of the exhibition buildings during a model train show. It was then a traveling exhibit, not on permanent display. Despite some interesting artifacts inside, the outside was daubed in gaudy hues that looked nothing like how it spent its last years in service. Between the paint job and poor lighting, the few pictures I took were less than memorable.

The following year I moved to Scranton and the trolley was donated to the Central New York Chapter, National Railway Historical Society, proprietors of the Central Square museum. So we both went to new homes in 2006 (and hence the asterisk after the title, since Central Square is decidedly not in Syracuse, but close enough). Despite passing through Syracuse many times over the coming years, it was summer 2011 before I managed to take a 20-mile side trip north on Interstate 81 to the museum. And even then, for some unfathomable reason I did this in the evening, when the museum was closed.

It wouldn’t be a proper railfan outing without a three-quarters view.

Still, it sent shivers up my spine as I turned into Railroad Street and saw that familiar outline over the fence, my headlights picking out green and cream in the darkness. Syracuse was, like my hometown of Rochester, a New York State Railways property, and its streetcars were painted in the same basic livery also used on NYS Rys city cars in Rochester and Utica. Museum volunteers have given 1036 a cosmetic makeover including a reasonable recreation of the paint scheme carried by many NYS Rys cars throughout their last decade or so of operation, right down to the distinctive white bow ties that were worn around the headlights and trolley-catchers.

Before and after photos displayed inside 1036 show how it appeared before Central Square volunteers began repainting project. Above is basically how it looked when I saw it in Syracuse in 2005.

True sports fans know how the heart skips a beat at the sight of their home team’s logo, especially on throwback jerseys that kindle treasured childhood memories. NYS Rys colors might have disappeared from the streets of Rochester more than 30 years before I was born, but they also have been a familiar part of my life for nearly 30 years — on paper, that is, and mostly in black and white (trolley fans understand that this makes perfect sense). However, a series of paintings reproduced in an old Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority annual report and a few vintage slides gave me a reasonably good idea what NYS Rys cars actually looked like: dark green body (described as olive but in reality deeper than that), cream window surrounds (with that cream being closer to yellow), deep red sashes, reddish-brown roof, gold lettering and trim and white lower panels. It might sound like a cacophony of colors, but as applied the overall effect harmonized rather well, from what I could tell. There seem to have been minor livery variations from city to city, and even on cars within the same city. But in essence, this is what city streetcars looked like in Syracuse, Rochester and Utica between the late 1920s and 1941, when all three systems ran their last trolleys (in January, March and April, respectively, and not counting the Rochester subway).

Model of Rochester 1237 at NYMT.

I did catch a few other glimpses here and there, including on an O scale model of a Rochester Peter Witt car at the New York Museum of Transportation. But it wasn’t until a summer night last year that, for the first time in my life, a New York State Railways streetcar (actually it last served Syracuse Transit Corporation, from November 1939 until retirement, albeit in the same colors) stood before my eyes in the proper attire. Thrilling, yes, and also just the tiniest bit spooky, as if some ghost from the 1930s was looming under the dim light of a nearby streetlamp. I snapped a few poor images with the iPhone and vowed to return.

Life being what it is, more than a year would pass before I came back in the daylight. Even then, it was close to 4 p.m. on a grey Sunday in early October, and a steady drizzle descended as I approached the museum. With 1036 my real draw, I spent as much time as I could photographing the car from every possible angle, switching from camera to iPhone as incessant droplets began to fog the big lens.

Rear view, including 1941 license plate apparently affixed for road trailer.

Long since stripped of trucks and electrical equipment, the car is mounted on a rubber-tired trailer. Some interior features remain, together with a few photos and historical displays, but this museum piece is very much a work in progress. Naturally, it’s tempting to dream of seeing 1036 restored to running condition, or at the very least moved indoors and given a full cosmetic restoration, neither of which would seem likely anytime in the near future. Happily the car is in the hands of a preservation group who cares for it, and that’s important.

If you find yourself in this part of Oswego County, stop by and pay a visit to a 96-year-old relic of a bygone era in Upstate transportation history. In the meanwhile, check out this flickr gallery for more photos from my Oct. 7, 2012 visit to Central Square.

Posted in USA: Heritage | 3 Comments