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Streetcar arrives in Savannah, Ga., for River Street duty
[November 20, 2008]

Streetcar arrives in Savannah, Ga., for River Street duty


(Savannah Morning News (GA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Nov. 20--A gleaming yellow and green 1930s-era streetcar creaked slowly onto a Savannah railway Wednesday as about two-dozen onlookers clapped in approval.

Off to one side, wearing a trim blue suit and a conductor's cap, stood Gary Landrio, an assistant vice president for TranSystems, the Pennsylvania company that refurbished the streetcar.

While conductor and streetcar might have looked old-fashioned, their debut represents a state-of-the-art effort that makes Savannah part of a national resurgence in providing low-impact, highly efficient modes of public transit.

By mid-December, the Savannah trolley -- after initial testing and training -- will operate along an almost mile-long rail on River Street.

A round-trip fare will cost 50 cents.

Because the city didn't want the noise and fumes from diesel or overhead electrical wires along the historic tourist venue, TranSystems developed the first biodiesel-electric hybrid streetcar to operate in North America, said Sean Brandon, the city's director of mobility and parking services.



"There's nothing else like it in the world," said Tim Borchers, a streetcar specialist for TranSystems. "Inside this old car is the highest-tech equipment you've ever seen."

The car will seat about 50 and will accommodate another 50 standing passengers. It is outfitted with wheelchair lifts to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.


The streetcar system cost the city about $1 million, with nearly $600,000 spent to buy the tracks to River Street and $207,000 to restore the streetcar. Another $100,000 went for engineering costs.

Because Savannah has kept so much of its rail system intact, it was able to save millions in the initial investment and could expand the streetcar system if merited, Borchers said.

The new streetcar is part of the Dot system -- the free, downtown transportation network. It is a service of Savannah Mobility Management, a public-private partnership aimed at increasing downtown mobility while decreasing traffic and parking congestion.

For months, River Street merchants have participated in meetings about the streetcar. While most are eager for the increased customer traffic it could generate, some had a few lingering questions.

Chris Myers, regional manager for River Street Sweets, is concerned that a railed car might not have as much maneuverability as a wheeled one. He is concerned it could tie up traffic or hamper deliveries.

City spokesman Bret Bell said city engineers examined the roadway traffic and deliveries and determined the rail car will be able to operate.

Myers does see advantages. The cobblestones and bricks can be difficult to traverse, especially for the handicapped and the elderly, he said. The nostalgia of the vintage streetcar will have appeal, too, he said.

"I'm sure tourists will be like, 'Cool! Let's do that,'" Myers said. "It's one more feather in the cap for River Street."

To see more of the Savannah Morning News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.savannahnow.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, Savannah Morning News, Ga.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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