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Memphis' famous trolley cars will soon look very different

MATA announced Sunday they are testing new light rail vehicles on the Madison Avenue line, expected to re-open sometime after 2022 when testing completes.
Credit: MATA
One of MATA's Main Street Trolleys (left) enters a depot next to a new U2 light rail car (right). The U2 cars will serve the Madison Avenue line.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) gave the city a preview Sunday of what their upgraded high-frequency light rail service will look like once they re-open the Madison Avenue rail line. 

MATA said they continued initial testing of the Siemens–Duewag U2 light rail car on the Madison Avenue line Sunday, and said the upgraded car, which can seat over 100 people with interior air conditioning and heat, will start public operation upon completion of an extensive evaluation of the car, track, and power systems. 

RELATED: MATA to start testing for reopening of Madison Avenue trolley line

MATA told ABC24 that due to the complex testing requirements that need to be passed before opening the service to the public, riders will not see the new cars in use by the end of 2022. 

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In 2014, MATA shut down all light rail lines in Memphis after two trolleys caught fire in a six-month span. They initiated what they called a "total system renewal," aiming to set a national standard for vintage trolley operations around the country. MATA re-opened the Main Street trolley line in 2018.

MATA calls the U2 a "vintage light rail vehicle" that integrates into their plan to restore and expand trolley routes such as the Riverfront and Madison Avenue lines. 

They call the acquisition of the U2 vehicle a cost-efficient method to provide high frequency service on intensely developed corridors, increase ridership, inspire economic development, and expand energy-efficient transportation options.

Originally designed for and used by the Frankfurt, Germany transit system, this model of car was adopted for light-rail use by transit systems in Canada and San Diego. All U2 cars were built between 1968 and 1990.

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