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.

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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

A classic tram breaks new ground.

Bolton 66 and Standard 147 in Hopton Road, 1st October 2012, by Huw Cairns.

My British friends keep me well supplied with gorgeous photos, as you know. Some of their submissions from the past week cover a few firsts in the heritage department in grand style.

I have much catching up to do over the next few days, and wanted to start with  this amazing view from new contributor Huw Cairns, who captured not just one but two historic trams in Hopton Road, Blackpool, on the evening of 1st October. The occasion was a tour in which Bolton 66 returned to Fleetwood Ferry for the first time in at least three years, being the only the second vintage tram to do so since the system was upgraded for light rail vehicles. A good account of the event features on the British Trams Online news page.

Says Huw:

The evening of the 66 tour was truly unforgettable. It brought back fond memories of the system before the upgrade. A truly great trip, in great company, with some great photo opportunities, one of which you see here.

The picture was taken on Hopton Road, just after the tour had finished. The trams featured are Bolton 66 and Blackpool Standard 147. I hope the picture gives some idea of what it was like when most British towns had trams, something which in most places is just a memory, but not in Blackpool!

Yes, Huw’s shot does capture the essence of the tramway era as it looked in cities up and down the island before buses and cars took possession of Britain’s streets. The second tram is Blackpool Standard 147, which was just returning from separate Illumination duties in the Lancashire resort.

Bolton 66 outside Blackpool’s Rigby Road Depot, courtesy Joe Savage.

At left is another view, in which frequent contributor Joe Savage captured the car preparing for its excursion before darkness fell.

I’ve not had the pleasure of riding Bolton 66. Perhaps someday I can rectify that, and news of this tour does raise hopes that heritage tram operation over the line north to Fleetwood will come to be common once again.

Thanks again to Huw and Joe. I hope to have more for you soon, including some of Joe’s shots from two other events and a field trip I took to visit a survivor from my part of the world.

Posted in UK: Heritage | 2 Comments

Remembering Glasgow’s grand old ‘caurs.’

Glasgow 1068 launch

Glasgow 1068, formerly Paisley 68, was recently repainted in Glasgow Corporation livery. It was unveiled during Crich’s “Glasgow 50” commemorations with appropriate Scottish accompaniment. Photo copyright Derrick Yates, and used by his kind permission.

Fifty years ago this month, the urban tramway became all but a dead letter in the United Kingdom.

While Blackpool’s distinctive seaside tramroad would soldier into the modern age, the passing of Glasgow’s once-mighty network marked the end of the last major city system in the British Isles. A full decade after London’s trams had given up the ghost, the Scottish metropolis became the final UK city to follow suit, as a quarter of a million souls reportedly turned out on 4 September 1962 to watch the final procession of Glasgow “caurs,” in one newspaper’s interpretation of the local jargon.

In a commemorative piece for BBC earlier this month, noted Glasgow tram expert Ian  Stewart suggested that the “reasons for this late survival (centre) around the Corporation Transport Department building its own trams to its own design at the Coplawhill Car Works,” whilst also was “able to manufacture spare parts long after the tramway manufacturing industry had effectively disappeared.”

An early 20th Century view of trams on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street. Image from the collection of Flickr user Tour Scotland Photographs (Sandy Stevenson), and used via Creative Commons licence. Click for original photostream.

Still, as Stewart acknowledges, a system which still boasted more than 1,200 trams as late as 1947 “was gradually wound down from about 1953 in what proved to be a lingering death.” The life and death of that remarkable and extensive system was commemorated earlier this month with events at Crich Tramway Village in Derbyshire, England, as well as at two Scottish museums.

Glasgow 1282

“Much prized quality,” reads the side advert on Glasgow 1282, and thus did many Glaswegians feel about the system’s streamlined “Coronation” cars, pride of the fleet in many years. This car was the last to run on the system — interestingly on 6 September 1962, after the formal procession. Joe Savage captured her at Crich in September 2012.

Crich turned its annual enthusiast’s day into a two-day event on the 15th and 16th to mark the anniversary. In Scotland, the Riverside Museum in Glasgow and Summerlee Museum in Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, also held events.

Many eyes in the enthusiast world were intently trained on Crich, home to seven Glasgow vehicles that were deployed to good effect to give visitors a feel for the evolution of the city’s tramcars (specifically featuring 22, 812, 1068, 1115 and 1282),  according to the museum’s website. Visitors had the opportunity to ride and photograph a sizable complement lineup the museum’s cars, including many photo opportunities with the exiled Glaswegians and a procession featuring 22, 812, 1068, and 1282.

Among the more memorable events was the unveiling on 15 September of Glasgow 1068 — née Paisley 68 — recently repainted in Glasgow Corporation livery. It emerged from the works in true Scots style, accompanied by the skirl of a piper.

Meanwhile, north of the border, The Riverside Museum put its newly-refurbished 1938 Coronation Tram back on display, whilst Summerlee — home to Scotland’s only (for the moment) operational electric tramway, also held several events.

Glasgow tram lineup

Hear, Hear! The pipes are calling! Joe Savage captured this lineup of five former Glasgow tramcars at Crich, from left: 1282, 1115, 812, 22 and 1068.

For more on Glasgow’s tramways, see:

Posted in UK: Heritage | 3 Comments

A little bit of Lisbon in the Pacific Northwest.

Issaquah Valley Trolley 519.

Issaquah Valley Trolley 519 is seen at the Issaquah Depot on the day the car arrived back in town in August 2012. Photo courtesy Jean Cerar.

Another heritage line using ex-Lisbon equipment is soon to get under way, this time in Issaquah, Washington.

The volunteer-run Issaquah Valley Trolley plans to run 1925 single-trucker 519 in public service over former freight trackage from Issaquah Train Depot to the East Fork of Issaquah Creek at Darigold, according to this Aug. 28 article by The Issaquah Press. An earlier article about the car’s restoration can be seen here.  The cars will not be powered by overhead, but by towing a trailer-mounted generator.

According to Jean Cerar, chair of Issaquah Valley Trolley, the car will go into operation for the public on Oct. 14 and run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends “until the weather becomes too unpleasant,” with There a Santa run planned for December. Riders will be asked for a $2 donation, Jean said. Service will resume in the spring — probably May, when a formal inaugural celebration will be held.

Restoration of a second Lisbon car, 521, is pending. A third vehicle, ex-Milan interurban 96, is being offered for sale.

In an email, Jean was kind enough to supply some background and photos. In her words:

The Issaquah Valley Trolley is an all-volunteer operation. Its parent organization is the Issaquah History Museums, which has the responsibility of operating the historic Issaquah Depot as a museum. The depot was restored in the late 1980s and completed in 1994. The volunteers involved in the restoration dreamed of creating some sort of rail service to enhance visitors’ experience at the depot. Steam locomotives were ruled out and the group arrived at the idea of a trolley car. It turned out to be a good decision because soon thereafter King County ripped up most of the rails in the area, leaving nowhere for a steam train to run. The City of Issaquah purchased about a mile of track inside the city limits. The trolley will operate on that track.

It has taken a long time to make the dream of rail service a reality. In 2001 IVT leased an Oporto car from the Yakima Valley Trolley group and ran during the summer and early fall. The response was tremendous – over 6,000 riders – an amazing number considering that the trolley ran only four hours per day on weekends. At the end of the season the car was returned to Yakima and IVT’s hunt for a car of its own began in earnest.

The #519, a 1925 Lisbon car, was acquired from Aspen, CO. Barb Justice, our most persistent and creative volunteer, secured federal grant money and the City of Issaquah agreed to act as Certifying Acceptance Agency and manager for the project, which included rehabilitation of the car, improvement of the rails, and installation of crossing signals where the rail line crosses Issaquah’s main arterial, Front St. As the Issaquah Press noted, it took years for all of this to play out.

For more information on the line, also see the museum’s webpagethe Issaquah History Museums’ Facebook page, as well as this Wikipedia page. Alternatively, you may email trolley@issaquahhistory.org.

Posted in USA: Heritage | 2 Comments

Happy birthday to Norfolk LRT.

Norfolk LRV 405 rounds the corner at E. Plume Street and Bank Street after departing MacArthur Square Station in this August 2012 photo by friend and fellow railfan Brian Sandberg.

Norfolk, Virginia’s new LRT system began appearing regularly in worldwide search engine hits for this blog well before the system even opened. At long last, some news for you Tide surfers: As it reaches its first anniversary today, the 7.4-mile line continues to show strong ridership.

According to a Hampton Roads Transit statement cited in this Daily Press article, LRT ridership “averages more than 5,000 daily boardings, and The Tide is on track to register its two-millionth customer in November.” Initial projections of 2,900 daily riders “have been consistently smashed by actual ridership,” the paper noted, adding that last Tuesday alone drew more than 6,400 passengers.

Video coverage of Friday’s formal birthday events, which included free rides, can be found at the local NBC affiliate’s website, WAVY.com. Those celebrations stand in contrast to the many controversies which attended The Tide’s birth, in which multiple delays pushed back the line’s opening and the final price tag of $318 million was more than $85 million over budget. I discussed some of this history in a Sept. 18, 2011 post.

LRV 404 cruises along East Plume Street at Commercial Place in this Brian Sandberg photo.

“I’ve been waiting for a long time to say, ‘I told you so,’” ex-councilman Randy Wright told WAVY. “I feel redemption. It took a lot of effort to get it where it is today.”

The real question is where The Tide heads from here. A referendum on extending the line is scheduled in Virginia Beach for November, The Virginian-Pilot newspaper noted in an Aug. 17 editorial that also praises LRT’s success in Norfolk. Of course, not everyone agrees, as the spirited online comments which accompany said editorial reveal. That should make for an interesting referendum campaign.

For more on The Tide, see:

Posted in USA: LRT/Streetcars | Leave a comment

The Great Streetcar Debate continues.

June 7, 2010 view of a Seattle Streetcar by By SDOT Photos
(Allie Gerlach), and used via Creative Commons license. Click for photostream.

As more American cities seek voter approval and government funding for new streetcar projects, residents and critics continue to question whether such undertakings are a worthwhile investment in transportation infrastructure.

The Wall Street Journal examined the issue a few days ago in this piece by reporter Caroline Porter, which includes a useful graphic of some current projects as well as a video report. Porter frames the debate quite neatly, with relevant statistics and the usual cast of characters: Urbanist streetcar advocates, skeptical local business owners and opponent Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute. And Portland. Gotta have Portland.

O’Toole’s least effective argument: “Putting 125-year-old technology into modern cities is going to create more congestion, dangerous situations for pedestrians …”

Streetcars continue to serve effectively in cities around the world, including several in North America. Any vehicle bearing down on a pedestrian at more than a walk creates a dangerous situation, including the gas-guzzling SUVs so beloved of many conservatives. Managed properly — including proper signage, public education and passenger facilities — streetcars are perfectly safe. The congestion question is valid, but again, reserved HOV lanes for streetcars or any transit vehicle can be quite effective in the right circumstances and with both proper signage and enforcement. Then too, the idea of tracks in the streets may be antiquated, but the vehicles typically being used on these new systems are anything but.

O’Toole’s most effective argument: that streetcars “… divert taxpayers’ money from transit that people really need to transit that is silly.”

Sometimes, yes. I absolutely agree. As I said in this 2010 post (which also sets out some history of the modern streetcar movement and technical descriptions), “Remember that development doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and effective public transit is only one tool – albeit a powerful one which is finding increasing favor across the country.” That applies to streetcars as one of many modal options.

There are those who argue that if you build it, they will come — namely, that streetcars themselves foster growth and development in cities. That’s too facile an answer, and neglects key elements of consumer choice and self-interest. It may have been generally true that growth followed streetcars in 1900, when other mechanized transportation was all but absent and trolleys were the only way for many urban commuters to work in one neighborhood and live in another. They weren’t just convenient but a passport to a better quality of life.

A throng of passengers — most of whom probably just came out of College Subway Station, wait to board westbound Toronto streetcar 4049 at Carlton and Yonge streets on March 17, 2012. Whether transit passengers should have to walk out to the middle of the street — and whether buses could handle the job as effectively — is a debate that’s not likely to be settled anytime soon. Click to view my flickr photostream.

Can that argument be made of all modern streetcar projects? Will they change the way people live and commute and draw more residents out of their cars and onto public transit? I don’t believe there is a definitive answer to that question.

Rather, the success of such projects will depend on what other transportation options are available. Streetcars continue to provide high-capacity transportation in places like Toronto and Philadelphia because they serve busy corridors and are thoroughly integrated elements of comprehensive urban transportation networks. People don’t ride them for novelty but because they are an effective means of getting around where automobiles may be less so.

If you want historic trolleys, build a line billed as such and place it where tourism and preservation are the most important community goals. If you want high-capacity modern street transportation designed to enhance and extend heavily-traveled urban corridors, consider new streetcars. But understand the difference. O’Toole is right in taking aim at those who don’t, and who would spend our tax dollars in the name of a fad. Even among those who do understand the difference, I think we are right to worry whether they are spending too much and placing too much blind faith in streetcars as engines of renewed economic prosperity in communities whose economies suffer from much bigger structural problems than local transportation. The result is destined to be disappointment for all concerned and damage to the credibility of streetcars among policymakers and the public.

Just today, according to The Detroit News, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Detroit’s $137 million streetcar project is on track to win federal backing, and he hopes to make a “very good” announcement on funding soon.

Will six new streetcars serving 11 stops truly help reverse endemic urban decline that makes Detroit look like one of the most spectacular failures in the capitalist world?

To wit, this quote from the WSJ piece: “I would love a rail system that actually gets people to work, not just to buy a sandwich,” said Josh Spring, the director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition.

Posted in USA: LRT/Streetcars | Tagged , , | 2 Comments