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Council Gets First Look at MATA Trolley Plan

Memphis City Councilmembers urge MATA to rethink trolley system.

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Changes may be ahead for the Memphis trolley system as city leaders weigh in next week on the plan to bring the trolleys back.

The trolley system was shut down last June after two trolley cars caught fire on the Madison Line in separate events only seven months apart. Trolley 452 caught fire in November 2013. Trolley 553 caught fire on April 7th of last year. Both trolleys were burned beyond repair.

After the shutdown, the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) brought in a team of rail and transportation safety experts to review the system and help get it back on track. MATA leaders have said they would reveal the trolley plan to the public once the consultants finished their work. But the plan hasn't surfaced yet.

Even though trolleys haven't rumbled past Memphis City Hall in nearly eight months, they were on the minds of Memphis City Council members last week. 

MATA President Ron Garrison - JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks
  • MATA President Ron Garrison

MATA President Ron Garrison asked council members to approve the use of $1.1 million in pre-approved capital funds last week for rail facility improvements. But council members asked Garrison to bring his request back to city hall next week, along with his plan for the trolley system.

Councilmembers Harold Collins and Shea Flinn expressed concerns about the system, especially the Madison Line. Flinn said he and Collins were "far from alone" about questions of trolleys on Madison and called the route a "difficult situation."

Flinn said there have long been problems with trolley utilization overall but especially on the Madison Line. 

"While we're in repair and rebuild mode, we should be in rethink mode," Flinn said. "The city has exhausted a lot of resources on this amenity, and I'm not sure we're getting the bang for the buck from it that we could be. As we have this forced stoppage, we need to try and think of how we can make this a more-utilized asset."

Collins said he's seen and heard about problems of dependability on the trolley system. Any continuing trolley service needs to simply work for the citizens of Memphis, tourists, and business owners, he said.

"If we're thinking about investing an enormous, no ... if we're going to reinvest potentially an enormous amount of money on this project [we should see a plan]," Collins said. "But nobody seems to agree on or like what they're doing now."

When asked what potential changes he'd like to see in the trolley system, Collins said he wanted better connectivity across the city. He recalled a former plan to take a trolley or even a bus from the end of the Madison Line all the way to the corner of Madison and Cooper. The move would help better connect downtown and Midtown.

MATA's work is focused now on the repair and recertification of five trolley cars, all of them the larger cars. MATA says those are in the best condition and can also carry the most people. 

When they are ready for service, the trolleys will bring service first to the Main Street Line. As more trolleys are repaired, they will be launched on the Riverfront Line and the Madison Line. 

Garrison is scheduled to bring MATA's trolley plan to city hall next Tuesday, February 3rd for a review by the council's Public Works and Transportation Committee at 8:45 a.m.

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