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VOL. 132 | NO. 190 | Monday, September 25, 2017

Trolley Lines Return Comes With Technology, Standards Changes

By Bill Dries

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New trolleys the Memphis Area Transit Authority hopes to have back on the Main Street tracks by the end of this year may sneak up on Main Street Mall pedestrians.

The new trolley car 799 that MATA officials took on a two-block test drive last week sounded much quieter than the fleet of trolleys that came off the tracks more than three years ago. They were taken out of service when two trolleys caught fire and new leadership at MATA discovered there were few maintenance records, no maintenance program and very little training for the upkeep of the system.

“These trolleys all have brand new trucks underneath them – round wheels. No more square wheels going down the rails,” said Gary Rosenfeld, MATA’s interim CEO. “So they will be much quieter.”

Seven people wearing hard hats, safety goggles and yellow safety vests followed on foot as the blue and white trolley pulled out of the trolley barn on North Main Street Thursday, Sept. 21, passed the intersection of Main and Mill Avenue and stopped at Main and A.W. Willis Avenue. Some made notes on clipboards and did the same as the trolley operator pushed a button and the electronic pantograph that makes contract with the overhead wire and its 600 volts was automatically switched to go in the opposite direction on the tracks. That is another change from the previous system in which trolley operators had to manually make the change.

The Main Street trolley line is coming back to life with the first test of a new trolley car last week showing a quieter model and new safety standards. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

“The test was to see how the car interacts with the systems in place,” Rosenfeld said. “It was to check the alignment of the wires to check the connection between the trolley catenary system and pantograph – make sure that it was at proper heights and make sure it maintained connections at all times. There was an actual camera installed on top of the trolley that monitored the line the whole time.”

The catenaries are the overhead wires.

The video was still to be reviewed after the test, but “all indications are that everything went well,” Rosenfeld said.

All electric trolley service on the system of rails on Main, the Riverfront Loop and Madison Avenue was stopped in June 2014. The fleet of trolleys were old and well-used when they were restored in the early 1990s for the start of the modern trolley line. One of the restored cars from Australia was 100 years old.

The trolley tested Thursday was purchased new and is a “replica style” car. The test was not only for the car, but the track and the electrical system – the first 500 feet of that – with every part of the line to undergo similar testing as it is re-powered.

Then there is what is called “pre-revenue service.”

“The trolleys will operate as if they are delivering services to the community,” Rosenfeld said. “We load them up with sandbags to represent passengers and get the vehicle up to its operating weigh. It’s a day in-day out test. It checks all of the operating training. It checks all of the operations of the trolley. It checks the scheduling. It checks the maintenance procedures that follow up.”

And all of those systems that are tested were basically created from the ground up when the trolley system was shut down in 2014.

The 3.2 miles that is the Main Street trolley line will be the first to come back on line.

“Getting these trolleys on line by the end of the year is within our grasp,” city chief operating officer Doug McGowen said after the test. “It creates value for our community. This is important. … We have lots more work to do to get the transportation system that we need. This is an incredibly important step in that process.”

Rosenfeld said the Riverfront loop will be next, followed by the Madison Avenue line.

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