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Metro Transit unveils next-generation trolley buses; purchase designed to save $20 million

For more than 60 years, trolley buses traveling on electric wires have been the backbone of transit service in Seattle. Today, officials from King County unveiled the newest generation of trolleys that will allow Metro Transit to expand service and save money.

Thumbnail photo of trolley bus

On the sides of a new Metro trolley bus are signs announcing, "This is the first of 100 non-polluting electric trolley buses." [Click on photo for a larger image.]

"I am pleased to announce that Metro will soon begin taking delivery on 100 new trolleys, and we are doing it in a way that will save King County taxpayers $20 million," said Metro General Manager Rick Walsh. "You might call it the ultimate recycling project."

Walsh said Metro is purchasing new 40-foot trolley buses but without any drive trains. Instead, the existing electric propulsion equipment from the current trolley fleet is being removed, rebuilt and then installed into the new trolley coaches along with upgraded electronics.

That saves Metro about $200,000 per coach, or $20 million for the entire purchase.

Walsh explained that the current fleet of trolleys went into service in 1979, and the coaches are ready to be retired. Yet, the trolley motors are electric, and well-maintained electric motors last for a long time. Metro's waterfront streetcars still have their original electric motors, and they were built more than 70 years ago.

The newly purchased trolley coaches and the rebuilt motors will be shipped to the Atlantic bus base in Seattle, where Metro employees will assemble the components into a completed trolley bus. The first wave of new buses is expected to be in service in just a few weeks, and all new trolleys should be in operation by the end of 2002.

"In the new trolleys, everything the customer sees and experiences will be brand new," said Walsh.

Not only will future trolley rides be more enjoyable, but they will also go farther. Metropolitan King County Councilmember Larry Gossett attended today's trolley unveiling on Beacon Hill to announce specific service improvements.

"In June, the County Council approved Executive Sims' plan for 124,000 hours of transit service improvements, most of which will begin Sept. 29," said Gossett. "One of those improvements is expansion of trolley service on Route 36, which connects Beacon Hill to downtown Seattle."

Metro recently extended the trolley wires 1.3 miles south on Beacon Hill to expand service for Route 36 and future trolley routes.

Route 36 is one of Metro's fastest growing routes in terms of ridership. By extending the trolley wire south to Dawson Street, Metro will be able to increase the number of trolleys traveling on the wire, giving riders more options.

Gossett said the idea to expand trolley service was sponsored by members of the South Beacon Hill Neighborhood Council. He said community members wanted to reduce the use of diesel coaches in their neighborhoods while increasing the number of buses available to riders during peak commute periods.

"Local residents told us what they needed, and we worked to meet that need," said Gossett. "The expansion will make it easier for the regular bus rider, and I hope encourage others to leave their cars at home and hop on the bus."

Walsh pointed out that the purchase of new trolleys continues King County's commitment to local air quality, because when the trolleys are running on the wire they are zero-emission vehicles.

At today's event, Metro had three trolley buses on site representing more than 60 years of trolley transportation in Seattle including a historic vehicle from the 1940s.

"Trolleys have played an important role in our transportation system for a long time," said Walsh. "With today's announcement, we are setting the stage for the next generation of trolley service in Seattle."

Updated: Sep. 13, 2001