SEATTLE -- A team took on the massive task of moving the city’s old iconic waterfront streetcars Wednesday. Now some of the 16-ton pieces of history are on their way to the Midwest.
The future of the trolleys remained a mystery since the George Benson Waterfront Streetcar Line stopped operating about a decade ago. Earlier this year, the City of St. Louis bought three of them for approximately $200,000.
Two of them will stay in Seattle. A group called the Friends of the Benson Trolleys hopes to raise the money to put them on Seattle's streets, running through South Lake Union and the proposed Center City Connector that should be operational in a couple years.
“They’re old. They’re vintage. They’re in beautiful shape. Metro Transit did a wonderful job of maintaining them and a good job of storing them,” said Tom Gibbs, who is helping lead the charge for the Benson trolleys. “To me it’s important to preserve the legacy George Benson created for us with the waterfront streetcar.”
The streetcar line got its name from Seattle City Councilmember George Benson, who went looking for the cars in Melbourne, Australia in 1982.
Gibbs said the group, with the Museum of History and Industry as their nonprofit sponsor, needs to raise the money for the streetcar return within the next 2 years.
“It’ll be in the 6 figures, I’m sure,” Gibbs said.
Transporting the trolleys will cost about $15,000, Gibbs said.
“Storage is going to be another $36,000 a year,” he said. “The city is taking care of the storage costs. Metro Transit is paying for the transportation.”
The waterfront streetcars once ran on a mile and a half track along the Seattle Waterfront and Chinatown-International District. They’ve been stored in a warehouse since the end of their service in 2005. That’s when construction of the Olympic Sculpture Park meant the line’s maintenance barn that housed the cars came down.
King County Metro has stored the vintage streetcars for more than a decade, but the old warehouse where they sat is coming down. It was in poor condition and Metro plans on expanding its bus base because of a growing need for transit.
The three cars that were sold will eventually go into service on the Heritage Trolley Line, serving the Delmar Loop District and University City, Missouri.
“It’s bittersweet to see them of them go,” Gibbs said. “But as we would say – they’re going to a good home.”