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A glimpse into the past: a Seattle streetcar, 2004. (Erik Dunham)

A glimpse into the past: a Seattle streetcar, 2004. (Erik Dunham)


Streetcar Advocates Say Local Solutions Exist For Vintage Trolleys

Amy Radil

Seattle's old waterfront trolleys are facing an uncertain future. They've been out of work since their maintenance barn was torn down to make way for the Olympic Sculpture Park in 2005. Now King County is looking at selling them, but streetcar advocates say there are still plenty of ways to use the vintage streetcars.


King County is facing a dilemma: What to do with the city's unused trolleys.

Constantine: "They're locked up in this warehouse collecting dust, it's not good for the cars and not doing anyone any good, so it'd be great to find a use for them."

That's King County Executive Dow Constantine. He spoke on KUOW's "Weekday."

In 2005, Seattle stopped using the streetcars that rolled down the waterfront for 23 years. They were colorful and classic, built in the 1920s.Constantine says he's not so sure about putting them back on the streets.

Constantine: "There are some significant challenges, that's why we're looking for partners, people with creative and entrepreneurial ideas. Just saying 'wouldn't it be neat' doesn't answer some of the tough questions of how we're going to pay for it."

He says King County is looking to sell the trolleys to other cities or private groups. The city of St. Louis has shown interest in buying them, but a streetcar advocate says he's getting "dozens and dozens" of emails from people who want to keep the old trolleys.

Tom Gibbs is the former executive director of King County Metro. He's telling those people to ask Seattle City Council members for streetcars on the new waterfront and to tell King County Council members not to sell the streetcars in the meantime.

Gibbs: "It would be a shame if all the effort of everyone putting in to get this kind of transportation linkage on the waterfront park were successful, and we then found that the cars were operating in St. Louis."

The trolleys have been in storage since the Olympic Sculpture Park opened in 2005. Then about a quarter–mile section of the track was destroyed this spring to allow construction of the Alaskan Way viaduct tunnel. Gibbs says that loss of track was preventable.

Gibbs: "The state didn't see the cars running, they weren't running for the previous six years at that time, and therefore they made no accommodation for maintaining the tracks."

Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat has suggested building a storage barn for the trolleys as part of a new Sodo basketball arena. He says that would revive the trolley line and help people get to the stadiums. But Tom Gibbs says there's another solution. They could be stored in a facility that's already planned on Dearborn for the new First Hill streetcar line.

I'm Amy Radil, KUOW News.

Kate Elston also contributed to this report.

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