The past and present are about to mesh once again on the Island with the Galveston City Council’s vote on Feb. 26 to restore the Island’s popular trolley system that was taken out by Hurricane Ike in 2008.
The highly anticipated project will use Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, insurance proceeds and cash reserves to repair the 6.8 miles of track, and to possibly replace four diesel-powered trolley cars.
Plans call for the track repairs to be completed in 2016, with full trolley service returning in 2017, a city official said.
“The trolley brings a historical and interesting element to the City of Galveston, which already has a unique atmosphere, and will mean more fun with family and friends while visiting Galveston Island,” city spokeswoman Kala McCain said.
City Council agreed to form a committee comprised of community members to make recommendations, and to bring ideas for trolley service.
“The City of Galveston is looking forward to hearing the comments and concerns from the committee, and moving forward with (providing trolley service) to the tourist attractions as well as the residential areas,” McCain said.
Galveston’s love affair with streetcars began in 1867 with mule-powered streetcars, and continued with the introduction of electric trolleys in 1891, according to Wikipedia. The streetcars remained in service until 1938.
In July 1988, trolleys returned to Galveston under the leadership of Galveston Island Trolley, a heritage streetcar system. In the 1990s planning for an extension of the line began and it was extended in 1995, according to Wikipedia. A new branch to the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) opened on March 14, 2005.
For 20 years – until Hurricane Ike roared ashore – the four air-conditioned trolleys traversed its Island route. Each car has its own onboard diesel generator, so the line has no overhead wires.
Here’s some details about the trolley cars, courtesy of preservation.com:
The four diesel-electric replica trolleys were built by Miner Railcar, of Pennsylvania. That company has now changed hands, and has become Kasgro Rail Corp. The four cars are identical, although each sports a different paint scheme. There are seats for 40 passengers, with room for 40 standees. The cars are not handicapped accessible. Cars are designed for an operating speed of 25 mph, and as built, weighed in at 63,000 lbs. In 2005, air conditioning was added.
The squeaking of trolley wheels on the tracks will be a welcome sound for many Galvestonians, including myself. The trolley adds yet another dimension to Galveston’s stature as a must-stop Texas destination.