Big Step in Trolley Return Expected in October — Perhaps Bigger Step Remains

October 5, 2015 – Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) expects the Federal Transit Administration and the Tennessee Department of Transportation to sign off on the MATA’s plans to restore trolley service to downtown Memphis.

Last week, Carl Robinson, Director of Trolley Operations & Maintenance, said those government approvals should come within two to four weeks.

Tom Fox, Deputy General Manager, warned, however, that there was much work to do after those approvals before the steel wheeled trolleys are returned to service. For months, MATA has said that the cumbersome process of getting federal and state approvals were a major drag on the time line of getting trolley’s running again.

There is still one bigger step even after FTA and TDOT approvals: money.

Ideally, MATA has said it would like to have 20 trolleys to service the Main Street, Riverside Loop, and Madison lines, as well as have one or more on reserve for use when maintenance takes one of the trolleys out of service. MATA owns 17 trolleys now and estimates it will cost about $400,000 each to fix them. Officials also say that of the 17, only 9 or 10 are likely in good enough condition to be restored to service. All of the trolleys were taken out of service in June, 2015, after two caught fire.

Memphis has allocated $2.25-million for trolley restoration, to be used as a match for federal and state funds. At the moment, however, there is no known pending grant from the federal government for this purpose. Typically, federal funds cover about 80% of the cost and the local match is 20%.

MATA still hopes to resume the steel wheel, rail based trolley service sometime in the first three months of 2016. That service, however, is likely to be piecemeal, a trolley or two coming on line at a time as repairs are completed and a source of funding is acquired.

In the meantime, four trolley buses, rubber wheeled vehicles that look similar to trolleys, are rolling on the trolley routes with four more, MATA hopes, by the end of this month. It appears the trolley buses are attracting good ridership although official counts will not be available until later this week.

Veteran Administrator Leaving

Tom Fox, the Deputy General Manager of MATA has accepted a position as Director of Transit for Blacksburg, Virginia, effective in early November. Fox is a 25-year veteran of the Memphis system and served as interim general manager for much of 2015 after the retirement of the previous office holder. Blacksburg’s system provides 3.7-million trips per year, many of them to students at Virginia Tech. Memphis reports it accommodates 9.3 million passenger trips per year.

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