Portland Vintage Trolley
The Portland Vintage Trolley is a heritage streetcar service in downtown Portland, Oregon, United States. Service is provided with replicas of a type of Brill streetcar, nicknamed the "Council Crest" cars, which last served Portland in 1950. The Vintage Trolley is managed by Vintage Trolley Inc., a non-profit corporation, and the cars are operated by TriMet, Portland's transit agency. The service currently operates along a 1.5-mile (2.4 km) section of Portland's MAX Light Rail system, on the transit mall in downtown Portland, from Union Station to Portland State University (PSU). In the past, it has also run on a different part of the MAX system and on the Portland Streetcar system.
Introduced in 1991, Vintage Trolley service operated on most weekends or at least most Sundays, from March through December, in all past years through 2010. However, starting in 2011 the service was heavily reduced, operating on just seven dates per year. Rides are narrated by a conductor who identifies historic points of interest along the way. Rides are free, but donations are accepted.
Portland Vintage Trolley service began operation on November 29, 1991, on a 2.3-mile (3.7 km) section of TriMet's first MAX line, between Lloyd Center and Galleria/SW 10th Avenue station in the West End of downtown, including crossing the Willamette River on the Steel Bridge.
The idea of operating vintage streetcars in Downtown Portland had been proposed at least as early as the mid-1970s, as a way to lure back to the city center shoppers who increasingly preferred suburban shopping malls. One of its most enthusiastic and influential proponents was Portland businessman Bill Naito (who later became the first president of Vintage Trolley, Inc.).
However, the idea only finally began to garner growing support following the 1978 approval to construct a light rail system in Portland, the "Banfield Light Rail" project, renamed Metropolitan Area Express, or MAX, shortly before its 1986 opening. Another impetus for the plans was a concern by the Portland Historical Landmarks Commission that introducing a modern light rail system would have a detrimental impact on the character of two downtown historic districts though which the line would pass, the Skidmore/Old Town and Yamhill Historic Districts. Operating vintage streetcars during off-peak hours was seen as a way of alleviating those impacts.
Plans to operate a vintage trolley service on a portion of the MAX line were approved by TriMet in 1987. Some of the costs would be paid by TriMet, some by the federal government, and some by Vintage Trolley, Inc. An order for three replica trolleys was placed (a fourth car was added later), a carbarn was built in the Coliseum (now Rose Quarter) area, and a short length of track and overhead wire were built along Northeast 11th Avenue near Lloyd Center mall. The first two vehicles were delivered in August and November 1991, and service was inaugurated on November 29, 1991, operating daily for the first month.
From 1992 through May 1994, service was provided on weekends and holidays only, and suspended for the months of January and February each year (except the first year). However, midday service (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) on weekdays was usually provided during the month of December to entice more shoppers to downtown and the Lloyd Center during the holiday shopping season. From mid-1994 through 1999, Portland Vintage Trolley service operated seven days a week, March through December. Hours of operation were 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends and holidays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays to Fridays. In 2000, Vintage Trolley service was reduced to Sundays only, and the hours reduced slightly, to noon to 6. This reduction came about in part because TriMet had opened a second light rail line in September 1998, with a resultant doubling of the frequency of service along the section of the MAX line used by the faux-vintage streetcars. An additional reason was that that a trust fund originally set up to pay for the operation had become mostly depleted by this time; TriMet took over most financial responsibility for the service in 2000.
Until the end of May 1994, the fare to ride the Vintage Trolley was $1.00, valid for a round trip. However, fares were eliminated effective June 1994, and all rides have remained free since that time (but donations are accepted). This was the case even though the route extended outside what were then the boundaries of TriMet's Fareless Square free-ride area. (Fareless Square was expanded in 2001 and then encompassed the entire Vintage Trolley route. It was renamed the "Free Rail Zone" in 2010, but was discontinued in 2012.)
Operation on the Portland Streetcar line
From mid-2001 through 2005, Portland Vintage Trolley also served a second route, operating on the Portland Streetcar line from Northwest Portland to Portland State University (PSU) on Saturdays and Sundays, year-round. Two of the four streetcars were transferred from TriMet to the City of Portland in 2001 for use on the new Portland Streetcar line, while the other two cars remained with TriMet for continued use on the original Vintage Trolley route.
The Portland Streetcar line opened on July 20, 2001, and vintage trolley service on it began on July 28. On this route, one Vintage Trolley car (of two available) was used at any given time, providing hourly service and replacing a regularly scheduled modern Skoda streetcar. Originally, it was predicted that the two Vintage Trolleys would be needed as spares on the Portland Streetcar line, in case more than one modern car were unavailable for the scheduled service, but the modern cars proved to be sufficiently reliable that the use of vintage trolley cars as spares was never needed. Vintage Trolley service on Portland Streetcar was temporarily suspended around the end of November 2005, in part because of maintenance problems with the two cars, and in part because the opening of the Portland Streetcar's extension from PSU to RiverPlace in March 2005 caused operations difficulties with the Vintage Trolley cars. This suspension eventually became permanent, and after November 2005 Portland Vintage Trolley operated only on its original route, between Downtown Portland and Lloyd Center, until that route was also discontinued (modified), in mid-2009.
2009 route change
Until mid-2009, the Portland Vintage Trolley continued to serve the route it has followed since opening 18 years earlier, from the Lloyd District to Galleria/SW 10th Avenue station in downtown Portland, running on Sundays from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., half-hourly, using two cars, but the final day of service along that route was August 23, 2009. In September 2009, the service was changed to a completely different route, but which is also a section of the MAX system. Commencing on September 13, 2009, Vintage Trolley service operates along the recently rebuilt Portland Transit Mall, on 5th and 6th Avenues in downtown, between Union Station and Portland State University. The service now uses only one car and runs from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. on its days of operation, which initially continued to include most Sundays from March through December (through the end of 2010, when another major change was made). Passengers can board or alight at any of the MAX stations along the 1.5-mile (2.4 km) route. A round trip takes approximately 30 minutes, and the headway varies between 30 minutes and 45 minutes. The ride remains free, but donations are welcomed.
Effective in 2011, the service was heavily reduced, as a result of budgetary constraints caused by the recession's impact on TriMet's finances, from about 30-35 dates per year in recent years to just seven dates. Although the 2011 schedule included Vintage Trolley service on every Sunday during the peak holiday shopping season, in the last weeks of the year, otherwise the only scheduled operating dates of the entire year were the three Sundays nearest to Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day — specifically May 29, July 3 and September 4, 2011. The route, frequency and hours of operation (on days of operation) remained unchanged. The schedule of operating dates has followed the same pattern in subsequent years, and the 2013 service is scheduled for May 26, July 7, September 1, and four consecutive Sundays from December 1 through December 22.
The four streetcars/trolleys—these two terms are synonyms in most parts of the United States—were built by the Gomaco Trolley Company, of Ida Grove, Iowa, in 1991 and early 1992. They were designed to replicate, as closely as practicable, a design of streetcar which the J. G. Brill Company supplied to Portland in 1904. Those ten cars were originally numbered 201–210, but were renumbered 501–510 in 1905 and kept those numbers for the remainder of their working lives, which ended in 1950 with the abandonment of Portland's last three city streetcar lines. Although Brill cars 501–510 were not restricted to the Council Crest route, they provided all of the service on that line, and so came to be known by Portlanders as the "Council Crest cars". Two of the original Council Crest streetcars, 503 and 506, are preserved by the Oregon Electric Railway Historical Society at its museum in Brooks, Oregon, and Gomaco was able to use those cars as patterns for the replicas.
The four cars built in 1991–92 by Gomaco have the same red-and-cream colors as the original 1904 cars and include most of the latter's features, such as padded rattan seats with reversible backrests, carved oak interiors, brass handrails, pull-down window shades and doors which can only be manually opened and closed, by the motorman (operator) or conductor. They were given fleet numbers 511–514 as a continuation of the earlier cars' number series, and in tribute to them. On the front of the new Vintage Trolleys is painted a slogan that once adorned the ends of their antecedents, See Portland from Council Crest, a reference to the views of the city available from the route's upper terminus, atop Council Crest. The old trolleys had all-wood bodies, whereas the replicas have steel frames, concealed by wood, for better safety and durability. Because they share the same route as MAX, they also use a more modern style of current-collector to draw power from the overhead wires, a cross between a pantograph (the type of collector used by MAX) and a bow collector, instead of the trolley poles which the city's original trolley cars used.
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