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What’s Big And Yellow And Lumbers Down Main Street? The Downtown Trolleys!

It has been almost four years since there was passenger trolley service in Memphis. It is back. The ribbon was cut, the service is back, and according to Local ...
Trolleys are back in downtown Memphis

It’s been almost 4 years, but they’re back. Three fixed-up trolleys, looking as good as new, and ready to pick up passengers on Main Street in Memphis.

Actually, just about everything on these trolleys is new. After two caught on fire back in 2014, the Memphis Area Transit Authority had to start from scratch. New vintage trolleys, new safety gear, and after a cost of $10-million, officials hope there will be new riders.

According to the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Transportation, things were looking good, just before the system was shut down.

John Shroer, of TDOT said, “These trolleys had significant ridership when they were running. In fact, the FTA gave them an award as the biggest increase in ridership before they had to shut down.”

The FTA stands for the Federal Transit Administration. After the two old Memphis Area Transit Authority trolleys caught on fire, the Feds have been on this case big time. They watch to make sure that $10-million federal taxpayer dollars were spent with safety in mind.

According to MATA’s Chief Executive Officer, Gary Rosenfeld, “The vast majority of this money is grant money that came from the federal government, specifically for use on light rail projects, so it couldn’t have been used for something else.”

Maybe so, but for some on the very first ride of the new system, that $10-million bugs them.

Cynthia Bailey is with the Memphis Bus Riders Union. “It’s historic and I’m glad that its back,” Bailey said, “… but the funding is needed for inner city buses as well. But I’m enjoying the ride.”

Let’s talk about the ride. Trolleys don’t have much glide in their stride – they bump and lurch and can throw you off your feet. They have all the technology of an abacus, with some new bells and whistles tacked on. But trolleys attract people, they attract kids, and they bring back memories.

The Main Street Line will be free for the next two weeks. The Riverside trolley line is expected to open sometime next year, and the Madison line is expected to be back in operation in 2020.