“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.

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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.

5 COMMENTS

  1. The answer to Question #1 is, there is no need for a trolley in this day and age. It would be disruptive at best, and create a total mess of existing roadways at worst.
    The answer to Question #2 is, Lippincott wants the taxpayers to pick up the tab for his pipe dream. That’s where Jeff Greene and Little Johnny Suthers come in. Neither one has ever seen a tax increase they didn’t like. Any other questions?

    • A trolley from Downtown past CC and up to UCCS is a great idea. Maybe we can eventually look at extending from Downtown to Manitou.

    • 1) Street car and trolley system development is on the rise actually. Multiple cities including Portland, KC, and many western towns have put in investments within the last year of over $1 billion in expansion alone. The economic advantage is greatly proven. The ONLY reason it was taken out of most towns in the first place between 1960-1970 was due to the “big boom” of oil market. EVERYONE was so sure roads and gas and freeways were “the future”. And many people had shares in oil and gas stations. At the time roads were the new way of life…We now see this only causes congestion and tax payer money going to pot holes…Street cars can reduce both traffic and road maintenance, WHILE adding attraction and market to a city. Street cars REDUCE traffic and street congestion thus not being disruptive. This is why Denver, Houston, Portland, L.A, and many other major cities desire light rail and street car systems for commutes. This system could not only help the city of the Springs but possibly be extended as a route to Denver in a light rail system for all we know.

      2)Actually the group is wanting this to be private sector. With the moral support of the city. Private sector transit would allow the group more freedoms. The biggest support would come from investors who choose to see this happen and local market who see the increase in business and donate.

  2. Interesting concept that I’d like to see come through. I’ve occasionally wondered if the Cragmoor area could possibly become a new hipster neighborhood in the coming years. Access to a trolley/rail system could go a long way towards that goal. The North Nevada corridor could certainly use the redevelopment this could bring. Couple of items of concern about this for some would be the proliferation of Comcore facilities in the area and putting a population of impressionable students in the same transit lines as populations of convicts, and the extensive industrial infrastructure in the areas through the corridor that would tend to discourage retail investment.

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