“Clang, clang, clang went the trolley
Ding, ding, ding went the bell.”
– The Trolley Song
Colorado Springs residents once again could hear the clang of trolleys downtown, the ding of their bells near UCCS.
It will just take some contractual wrangling, political will and some cash — but not as much as in other cities, because a lot of the work has already been done.
It appears that the 1982 goal of the Pikes Peak Historical Street Railway Foundation to restore streetcar service to Colorado Springs is closer than ever.
After many false starts, the project may finally be at a figurative crossing — either the gate will lift and the cars will start to move down the track, or trolley historian and foundation founder John Haney’s dream will be forever deferred.
Supporters say trolleys in the Springs could be more than a curiosity; streetcars could equal economic development in areas needing revitalization.
The system would use its seven Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority cars, restored and rebuilt to meet modern transit standards. The cost of restoration is estimated at several hundred thousand each. That’s not pocket change, but it’s a fraction of the $4.5 million cost of new cars built in the Czech Republic.
As currently envisioned, a Colorado Springs streetcar system would run from central downtown to UCCS. The line would run on or adjacent to Nevada Avenue from north of Austin Bluffs Parkway to Jackson Avenue, dip east to Weber Street and thence to downtown. The key to the system is an apparently abandoned 4,200-foot railway right-of-way on the east side of Nevada Avenue that belongs to the Burlington, Northern and Santa Fe Railway.
The BNSF had previously agreed to sell the right-of-way to the foundation, but their present intentions are unclear.
On May 6, foundation board chairman Dave Lippincott, Haney and other board members met at the roundhouse with Mayor John Suthers, Chief of Staff Jeff Greene, Planning Director Peter Wysocki and downtown developer Chris Jenkins to discuss the project. The group listened to Lippincott’s update (presented in the operating SEPTA car) and toured the museum and workshop.
“Jeff Greene wants to talk to me,” said Lippincott, “so I hope that means that the city will support us as we move forward to buy the Nevada property — we’re not asking them for money, after all.”
Thanks to Cripple Creek gold mining millionaire W.S. Stratton, Colorado Springs had one of the most extensive streetcar systems of any small city at the turn of the 19th century. A third of a century later, Haney and his fellow trolley enthusiasts have created a friendly streetcar museum and restoration workshop in the 1888 Rock Island Railroad roundhouse, and have managed to acquire 18 streetcars built between 1901 and 1949. Of these, nine are steel cars built in the 1940s for big city systems, one of which is partly restored and operational.
That car, built in 1947 in St. Louis for SEPTA, has already carried passengers for more than 2,000 miles — sort of.
“That’s 2,000 miles … in 500-foot increments,” Lippincott said. That’s as much track as the museum’s confined site permits, but the semi-restored car is in good working order.
The first question: Why bother?
Urban fixed-rail transit systems in cities throughout the country have ignited development along transit corridors, revived downtowns, spurred tourism and helped attract young professionals.
A line from UCCS to downtown could help realize multiple city goals, including North Nevada Avenue corridor redevelopment and improved core city transit options.
It could also create a permanent link between UCCS and downtown, to the benefit of both. The return on investment of other systems has attracted billions in private investment.
The second question: Who’ll pay for it?
That’s a little more difficult. First, the foundation has to get the BNSF property under contract. Raising money to purchase the parcel should be reasonably easy.
But given the remarkable impact of streetcar systems, money won’t be a problem.
Portland’s Pearl Street Line opened in 2001. An article in Streetcar Smart, published by the American Public Transit Authority in 2010, examined the economic development effects of the line.
Before the line opened, bookstore owner Michael Powell counted pedestrians in front of his store: three an hour. When he counted again seven years later, there were 938. Four hundred new businesses had opened in the Pearl, 90 percent locally owned. His property values increased by 1,000 percent.
In other words, that cheerful clang of trolley bells might be accompanied by the ringing of cash registers in Colorado Springs.