SEATTLE - KING 5 News has learned there are new developments regarding the city's old waterfront street line. The fate of it and its cars has been questionable since it stopped running about a decade ago.
Some of the historic 1920s cars will stay in Seattle. A private venture, Friends of the Benson Trolleys, is now launching a two-year fundraising effort to retrofit the streetcars. The hope is they can operate on the future Center City Streetcar line along First Avenue. The remaining three cars have been sold to the City of St. Louis and will go into service on the heritage trolley line. That will serve the Delmar Loop district and University City, Missouri. The city's Loop Trolley District will pay about $200,000 for the trolleys.
"When we got started with the idea of preserving them, it was hopeful that we could put them on the waterfront," said Tom Gibbs, who is spearheading the effort. "They're part of our history. They're part of the legacy that George Benson created for us."
Gibbs, former executive director of Metro who helped serve on the board to build Safeco Field, said he knows the group will have to raise at least $50,000 for initial studies and then more (into six figures) to do modifications with doors, the propulsion system and to meet ADA requirements.
"We can envision these old cars serving, starting really at the Chinatown/International District, going through Pioneer Square, going past the market and on to MOHAI, four of our most historical sites in the city," he said.
The 1920s cars have been stored in an old warehouse that's in poor condition since the line was taken out of service in 2005 for construction of the Olympic Sculpture Park. It required demolition of the maintenance barn that housed them. The line is named after Seattle City Councilmember George Benson, who brought the cars to Seattle in 1982. They originally operated along the waterfront down to Chinatown-International District.
King County Metro has stored the 1920s cars for more than a decade, but the old warehouse is in poor condition and Metro needs that space for bus base expansion. Metro said continued storage would have meant an expensive move and a new warehouse. In addition, last year, the Federal Transit Administration informed King County that if the streetcars are not put back in service soon, Metro will need to repay the federal government's remaining investment in the cars of about $205,000.
"At this point in time I think we have a really nice deal where we can make two of the vehicles available to folks who want to try and put them back into service in Seattle working in association with the City of Seattle and the expansion of their streetcar network," said Kevin Desmond, general manager of King Co. Metro Transit. "Now is the time where we can think of a way to really envision how to put those two cars in to service."