I'm Smaller than Jax and I have Rail: Tucson, AZ

April 21, 2009 27 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Despite being 301,210 residents smaller than Jacksonville, Tucson is in the midst of expanding its streetcar network. Tucson's streetcar experience provides Jacksonville with a unique example of how to embrace rail in the urban core.

Tale of the Tape:

2008 Metropolitan Area Population

1,313,228 - Jacksonville
1,012,018 - Tucson

Urban Area Population

882,295 - Jacksonville
720,425 - Tucson

Tucson Modern Streetcar's proposed 3.9 mile route shown in red.  The existing Old Pueblo Trolley route is highlighted in green.


The Old Pueblo Trolley (OPT)


The Old Pueblo Trolley (OPT) is an all-volunteer "operating transit museum" which provides streetcar service in central Tucson on Friday evenings, as well as a longer schedule on weekends. The line connects the University of Arizona with the Fourth Ave. business district.
The idea for returning streetcars to Tucson came out of the University of Arizona's 1985 Centennial celebration planning. Fundraising for a "bring back the trolley" campaign began in May 1983, and a formal feasibility study was completed in 1984. Although a 1984 ballot initiative for a bond issue to fund the project failed, the Old Pueblo Trolley group persisted in their efforts and pursued alternate plans. A single-truck Birney car was leased from the Orange Empire Railway Museum in 1985, followed by formal City approval for the privately-funded volunteer effort to construct the line in public streets.

OPT was able to utilize 6 blocks of vintage Tucson streetcar tracks, which the City uncovered in 1985. Following City approval of the complete track and overhead plan, track installation on the remainder of the route began in 1987 and was completed in 1992. Installation of historic light poles and overhead wire were also completed in 1992. In 1990, OPT had received a significant boost in the form of a $500,000 allocation from State Lottery transportation funding for support of the trolley as a demonstration light rail project. The money, which ensured completion of the project's initial phase, was administered to OPT by the City of Tucson.

Operations began in 1993, with the Birney car being joined by an Osaka, Japan double-truck car. In its first year of operation, the line saw 25,000 paying passengers. In 1995, the ten-year lease of the Birney car came to an end, and it returned to the museum who had leased OPT the car. To supplement their Osaka car, the group has also acquired a Belgium single-truck car, a Toronto PCC, and two Los Angeles Railway streetcar bodies.


Image by kretyen at http://www.flickr.com/photos/kretyen/3079983700/


The intersection of Fourth Avenue and 6th Street.  Image by Daquella manera at http://www.flickr.com/photos/daquellamanera/446424540/




The http://www.oldpueblotrolley.org/3_Cars.htm

Old Pueblo Trolley Operations

Service is provided Friday evenings, Saturday afternoon and evenings, and Sunday afternoons on over a mile of line recovered from Tucson's original street railway. Starting at 8th Street in the Fourth Avenue Business District, with its eclectic mix of shops and restaurants, the trolley proceeds north and turns east onto University Boulevard, passing homes and boutiques, to near the University Marriott and the Main Gate of the University of Arizona.

Old Pueblo Trolley Schedule of Service:

Friday: 6pm to 10pm
Saturday: Noon to Midnight
Sunday: Noon to 6pm


Friday and Saturday:
Adult: $1.00 each way
Child (6 - 12 years): $0.50 each way

All-Day Pass:
Adult: $2.50; Child (6 - 12 years): $1.25

Sunday Special:
All patrons: $0.25 each way

This image shows where the newly laid expansion track meets up with the existing trolley line.

For more information on the Old Pueblo Trolley: http://www.oldpueblotrolley.org/

Tucson Modern Streetcar Project

Following the heels of the Old Pueblo Trolley, Tucson's proposed modern streetcar system is anticipated to break ground this year and begin operation in November 2011.  The 3.9 mile system will extend the Old Pueblo Trolley rail corridor to reach Downtown, the University of Arizona and the Arizona Health Sciences Center. Planned frequency of operation is 10 minutes during the day and 20 minutes during the evening.  Tucson leaders hope the $150 million project will increase transit use and spur downtown redevelopment. 

Funding sources include $87.7 million from Tucson area Regional Transportation Authority and $75 million in federal funds.  Federal funds include federal Section 5309 funds, STP Flexible Funding, discretionary dollars and stimulus package funds.  The overall philosophy behind this project is to keep it simple and as inexpensive as possible.  The project is being planned to utilize existing street right-of-way, minimize street impacts, avoid utilities and blend in with the existing built environment.




A Lesson for Jacksonville: Start small and work your way up

Tucson is yet another example of a smaller Jacksonville peer city aggressively moving forward to integrate rail based transit options in their urban core.  The decision to implement an inexpensive all-volunteer based demonstration rail line has directly brought federal dollars to expand streetcar services in this community.

We may not be able to immediately construct rail transit lines all over Duval County, but the Tucson experience proves that we don't need to.  Jacksonville, start small and work your way up with logical planning. This will put the city in position to gain federal dollars for more extensive expansion down the road.

Article by Ennis Davis