Galveston has had a longstanding love affair with trolley cars since the turn of the century when the Island was known as the Wall Street of the Southwest.
But an unwanted visitor – Hurricane Ike in 2008 – took out the city’s restored trolley cars and heavily damaged the 6.8 miles of track that stretch from downtown to UTMB and to the Galveston Island Pleasure Pier on the Seawall.
Now, that long-lost piece of transportation history is returning, thanks to Galveston City Council’s selection of an Iowa trolley company to restore three of the island’s four damaged trolley cars.
Gomaco Trolley Co. will arrive in Galveston at the end of April from its headquarters in Ida Grove, Iowa. to repair the first trolley car.
The cost to repair the three trolley cars is $3.79 million, said David Smith, the City of Galveston’s executive director of mass transportation, special events and fleet management. The contract with Gomaco includes an option to repair the fourth trolley car at a later time.
The restoration project is funded by $1.9 million in surplus funds from the Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, $1.6 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, and $168,000 in insurance proceeds, Smith said.
“We look forward to bringing back the trolley system that was installed here in the ‘80s, and bringing back its historical nature,” he said. The three trolleys are expected to be up and running by summer 2018.
Meanwhile, repair work to the tracks – refurbishing track switches and weak parts of the track – is about 99 percent complete, Smith said.
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.
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 are 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.