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Streetcars Return to Savannah

"Areas along streetcar routes thrive. I don't know anyone who thinks the streetcar is a bad idea now that they've seen it run." - Jay Self, director of Savannah's tourism and film services department.

Published September 2, 2009 in Transit      43 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


feature

While Jacksonville continues to make excuses, little sister Savannah has joined the ranks of cities with streetcars in operation.


Tale of the Tape:

Savannah Population 2008: 132,410 (City); 329,329 (Metro); 208,886 (Urban Area 2000 census) - (incorporated in 1733)

Jacksonville Pop. 2008: 807,815 (City); 1,313,228 (Metro); 882,295 (Urban Area 2000 census) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Savannah (119,638)




Streetcar system

Savannah: 1
Jacksonville: 0




Image by Ciambellina at www.flickr.com


Why Streetcar?

The streetcar project was implemented to make the city more competitive and attractive in the convention industry. Open since February 2009, officials are already discussing the possibility of expanding the demonstration line to Fahm Street, where is would pass the visitors center and a Greyhound bus station.





The River Street Streetcar route is shown in green.

Savannah Streetcar Facts

  • Operations began running in February 2009.

  • Running without overhead wire, the demonstration line is the only hybrid biodiesel streetcar in North America, gaining half of its fuel from recycled vegetable cooking oil.

  • The Savannah Streetcar line provides service to a 1-mile stretch of Savannah's popular riverfront, connecting several attractions, hotels and restaurants along the way.

  • Despite limited operation, the demonstration line averages roughly 5,000 passengers each month.
  • Hours of Operation: Wed.-Sun., noon to 7pm.

  • Fare: Free, the city uses parking revenue to fund the service.

  • Equipment: A re-conditioned 1925 W5 Melbourne streetcar.

  • Capital cost of project:  $1.43 million. $1 million to buy the rail tracks from Norfolk Southern; $400,000 to overhaul the streetcar (including converting it to biodiesel); $30,000 for track adjustments


Source: City of Savannah

http://www.georgiaonlinenews.com/templates/gonso_greensheet.cfm?editionid=118&storyid=425&id=0




The River Street Streetcar's east route highlighted in green.


Advice from Savannah

Quote
Other cities in Georgia should at least take a look at streetcar technology, because he said "every town and city has tracks sitting somewhere."
Sean Brandon, director of Savannah's parking division.

Many continue to wonder if the "chicken or egg" should come first. The true answer both need to happen simultaneously.  Moving forward with the re-establishment of a streetcar system is a part of that answer.

Like Savannah, Jacksonville has enough tracks, underutilized city owned rail right-of-way, and wide streets connecting several urban core destinations to successfully implement a starter streetcar line. However, Savannah's leaders had the vision to move forward even in today's volatile economic climate. They also had the creativity to develop an affordable no-frills solution that has bolstered their riverfront and mass transit options.  When will Jacksonville officially hop on board?



Quote
A rail line down the mile long street would directly connect a majority of popular Northbank destinations with each other and open acres of surface parking lots up for infill development. These destinations include the Prime Osborn Convention Center, Bay Street Station, Water Street Public Parking Garage, Jacksonville Convention Visitors Bureau Information Center, CSX Headquarters, Times Union Performing Arts Center, Omni Hotel, Jacksonville Landing, Riverwatch Tower site, MODIS, Hyatt Regency, County Courthouse Complex and the Bay Street Town Center.  

The route also is ideal for future expansion of a larger system that could connect the downtown core with Five Points, Springfield and the Sports District.  In essence, this could be the start of something that eliminates the need for Bus Rapid Transit corridors in the heart of Downtown.
Rail on Water Street. Why Not?

Article by Ennis Davis

*-Top image of streetcar with convention center in background by John Smatlak at: http://www.railwaypreservation.com/vintagetrolley/savannah.htm










43 Comments

CS Foltz

September 02, 2009, 08:42:13 AM
That looks to be a portion of Riverwalk and makes lots of sense..........system like that here in Jacksonville would be a boon for sure!

JeffreyS

September 02, 2009, 08:47:56 AM
I think the fare being free is a big advantage.  I know it seems like collecting some of the cost is better than none but then some politician can fool the simple minded about how it doesn't turn a profit.

hanjin1

September 02, 2009, 09:06:07 AM
I would love to see a REAL trolley here. But I don't know if any of the city leaders have enough of a brain to know this is a good idea.

civil42806

September 02, 2009, 09:33:14 AM
I would love to see a REAL trolley here. But I don't know if any of the city leaders have enough of a brain to know this is a good idea.

Theres no need for it here.  The trolley makes good sense for Savannah, it only runs along river street and provides service to the tourists and locals hitting the bars and shopping.  It doesn't run anywhere else, though it seems like a line down to forsyth park or to the other downtown parking lots would make sense.

We do sort of have a trolley, the skyway, no one uses it.

Doctor_K

September 02, 2009, 09:43:54 AM
Theres no need for it here.  The trolley makes good sense for Savannah, it only runs along river street and provides service to the tourists and locals hitting the bars and shopping. 
Ok:

A trolley could run along Water St/Independent Square, then turn up at the Hyatt and hit the corner of Bay Street to service the 'town center' there.  Thanks MetroJacksonville/Lake/whomever for that neat little 'what-if' graphic. 

Civil - that graphic right there could be the Jax translation of Savannah's line.  It'd connect bay Street, the Landing, the T-U, the Omni, and CSX and 550.  I respectfully disagree with your statement of we have "no need for it here." IMO, this graphic screams the exact opposite.  And it'd be a great starter line.

Quote
We do sort of have a trolley, the skyway, no one uses it.
'Cause it doesn't link much together.  One Saturday not too long ago, on a family outing to downtown, we parked the car near the Prime and rode the Skyway over to San Marco Square, walked to the MOSH, hit RCBC for a late lunch, hit the Skyway back to the Prime, and left.  Made a day of it.  Good times.  So there's two destinations, really, that the Skyway hits: The Prime and MOSH.  Can Hemming Plaza be considered a 'destination'?  Either way, most people don't consider any of those as such.  It's partially, at least, a public perception problem as well.

hanjin1

September 02, 2009, 09:44:39 AM
I've never treated the skyway as the same to a trolley. I guess I like the nostalgia of the trolley, plus it would have more frequent stops, where the skyway stops are not as closely together. Plus i've never been a skyway supporter, should have left it at Disney.

civil42806

September 02, 2009, 10:03:11 AM
Yeah water street at 9 pm on a tuesday, is just like River street at 9 pm on tuesday ;)  And goodness knows that on any random saturday its just the same.  Please the foot traffic on river street in savannah exceeds water street to such a degree that its comical. 

Captain Zissou

September 02, 2009, 11:13:52 AM
Doctor K, Hemming itself is not a destination, but the Library and Moca Jax are just across Hemming from the station, so I would say that it is one of the best stations on the line. 

I love the idea of running a streetcar down water street with its terminus at the Hyatt.  I went to Savannah for a few days in March of this year and had a blast.  I walked on the waterfront, but after dark, and I would say that there is far less of a need for a streetcar there than here.  Sure since it's free it beats walking, but there isn't a ton to do on that mile stretch. 

The only difference I would say would be cost for us vs. cost for them.  That street is mostly cobblestone, so would that be cheaper to lay track on than an asphalt street?  I remember the street actually being uncomfortable to walk on, but it would probably be easier to dig out a few stones than tear up a street for streetcar tracks.

thelakelander

September 02, 2009, 12:41:47 PM
Theres no need for it here.  The trolley makes good sense for Savannah, it only runs along river street and provides service to the tourists and locals hitting the bars and shopping.  It doesn't run anywhere else, though it seems like a line down to forsyth park or to the other downtown parking lots would make sense.

We do sort of have a trolley, the skyway, no one uses it.

Two points. 

1. The Savannah line is a starter.  Its not the end all.  Its the beginning of something that could one day serve their entire historic district.  Its only been operating this year and they are already talking about expanding it into areas away from the riverfront.

2. Mass transit has to be designed for the community it will serve.  If a streetcar were built here solely to serve tourist, it would struggle to attract riders unless it were at the beach.  On the other hand, we have a number of walkable urban core neighborhoods located less than a mile from downtown.  A line tying them together would be more beneficial to local residents who live and work in these areas.  The side benefit to this is, it could also tap into the small tourist market that we have downtown and encourage walkable infill in the desolate areas that surround downtown.

So, I'd say we need it more than Savannah does.

thelakelander

September 02, 2009, 12:44:53 PM
The only difference I would say would be cost for us vs. cost for them.  That street is mostly cobblestone, so would that be cheaper to lay track on than an asphalt street?  I remember the street actually being uncomfortable to walk on, but it would probably be easier to dig out a few stones than tear up a street for streetcar tracks.

Their mile long starter line used existing abandoned track from NS and one restored streetcar.  There was no real construction involved.  This is why it cost them less than $1.5 million to get it up and running.

Lucasjj

September 02, 2009, 01:08:44 PM
Although River Street has a lot of stores and eateries, it is more of a toursit area. My family lives up there, and when we go out downtown it is to the areas between Bay St and Liberty, such as Broughton St or City Market. Since many of the downtown areas already have heavy foot traffic,  they will already have the people and the infill to support it, should they decide to expand the line futher out.

Seeing the way they have really re-energized their downtown in the last 8 years that my family has lived up there, I have no doubt they will take advantage of the success of their street car to better improve their downtown.

Overstreet

September 02, 2009, 01:49:57 PM
It seams that there is already a JTA "trolley" like bus that serves that area of Jacksonville. What is the ridership?

braeburn

September 02, 2009, 01:57:13 PM
The only problem with that is that the downtown Trolley's stop at like 7pm, and Riverside Trolley from 10:30-2:30, and neither of them at all on Sundays...  >:(

Gen7

September 02, 2009, 02:29:47 PM
 Not to beat a dead horse... but if the Rosa Parks Station was more accessible to parking, i.e., a catwalk from the open- to-the-public FBC parking garage, I believe a lot more downtown workers would ride it.  Also, would a catwalk from Laura St over State St. to Rosa Parks solve the oft mentioned separation of DT from Springfield?

And again I ask, why are we waiting for COJ to do this?  Have we not heard of the budget crisis?  Why can't private enterprise and volunteers bring this project to fruition as demonstrated in other cities featured here?

Ocklawaha

September 02, 2009, 02:34:22 PM

I would love to see a REAL trolley here. But I don't know if any of the city leaders have enough of a brain to know this is a good idea.

Theres no need for it here.  The trolley makes good sense for Savannah, it only runs along river street and provides service to the tourists and locals hitting the bars and shopping.  It doesn't run anywhere else, though it seems like a line down to forsyth park or to the other downtown parking lots would make sense.

We do sort of have a trolley, the skyway, no one uses it.

Theres no need for it here? Theres no need for a Billion Dollar boom in downtown? You might recall that the Skyway was never completed to its full 8 mile plan. The Skyway was supposed to be completed with a "Rosa Parks" type intermodal  station at each extreme, fed by bus routes that would no longer loop through downtown. We didn't build to plan, we never rerouted the buses, never completed the intermodal interchanges, never ordered the complete trains and never reached the sports and entertainment district, or the urban neighborhoods. If we want to attract the quality venues in our urban core, nothing could be better then recreating the once world famous, Jacksonville Traction Company.


Electric streetcars throughout, electric buses in the core (replace the "Trolleys" with trolley bus), connect to Skyway, and Commuter Rail... Of course there is always option 2, just buy more sparkling city buses.

OCKLAWAHA

JaxNative68

September 02, 2009, 03:45:16 PM
the savannah tracks were already in place and in use by freight trains prior to the trolley being put back into use.  i'm sure that has a big reason as to why they are able to make it a free ride.  unfortunately the costs to put a street car back in use in jacksonville are far greater, thus jax would have to charge riders.  i like the fact that savannah is using biodiesel to power the trolley, a whole lot cleaner than when the freight trains roll through with their cloud of toxic gas.

jbroadglide

September 02, 2009, 04:18:22 PM
ROAD TRIP!! Who's up for a weekend road trip to Savannah to check out the new streetcar? Sure it'll take two hours to get there for a 2 minute ride..maybe three minutes if we're lucky..but it would be cool.

JaxNative68

September 02, 2009, 04:20:27 PM
wait until St. Patrick's day and see if the trolley can fit down river street then.

Lucasjj

September 02, 2009, 04:25:28 PM
Although not related to the streetcars...

An interesting "learning from" article would be the impact that the Savannah College or Art and Design has had on reviving the core of Savannah. I don't know how easy it would be to obtain that info, but I know that they took over many of the unused buildings downtown, provided an art scene, and provided a constant customer base to downtown businesses. With FCCJ now becoming a four year school, and the new UNF partnership with MOCA, SCAD's impact could be a roadmap for the schools here. Although we obviously missed out on the impact the Art Institute could have had by locating downtown.

JaxNative68

September 02, 2009, 04:39:21 PM
It is a night and day difference of the Savannah before SCAD and the Savannah of SCAD today.  When I attended SCAD in the early-mid 90's the City and citizens of Savannah still looked at SCAD and the students as intruders and did not care for them.  I don't think it was until the 00's that they finally realized the positive impact that SCAD had on their city.  Now they truly embrace SCAD, its students and everything else that comes along with those two.

ralpho37

September 02, 2009, 04:40:57 PM
Perfect opening line: "While Jacksonville continues to make excuses, little sister Savannah has joined the ranks of cities with streetcars in operation."

Hopefully people will start to get the message that as of now, we are a city of excuses, not of action.

9a is my backyard

September 02, 2009, 08:01:18 PM
They average more riders than the skyway!  I was disappointed when John Delaney was on Urban Jacksonville Weekly and said Jacksonville wasn't big enough for rail transit. This goes a long way to disprove that. I love that Savannah was referred to as our little sister :)

lake, do you have any info on how much of the operating costs are covered by parking fees?

Fallen Buckeye

September 02, 2009, 08:35:22 PM
Seems like a Water St. line would benefit the convention center too since it would provide an easy link between some of the hotels and Prime Osborne.

Ocklawaha

September 02, 2009, 11:14:42 PM
the savannah tracks were already in place and in use by freight trains prior to the trolley being put back into use.  i'm sure that has a big reason as to why they are able to make it a free ride.  unfortunately the costs to put a street car back in use in jacksonville are far greater, thus jax would have to charge riders.  i like the fact that savannah is using biodiesel to power the trolley, a whole lot cleaner than when the freight trains roll through with their cloud of toxic gas.

We could have a fare or a fare free system, it just depends on what we value more, auto traffic because people won't pay a fare, or walkability because the auto traffic stayed in the driveway. ALso keep in mind that streetcar O&M costs are LOWER then diesel buses and probably POTATO-CHIP-TRUCK-THINKS-ITS-A-TROLLEY (PCT) thing.
The cost for streetcar is NOT very much, since using steel ties and poured concrete with a fairly light rail such as 90# per yard, about $3 - $5 Million per mile. That's a REAL quote from here in Jacksonville, within the last year, walking the route with several contractors.


Seems like a Water St. line would benefit the convention center too since it would provide an easy link between some of the hotels and Prime Osborne.

Yes, since I first proposed the idea in 1980, WATER ST., has been the star target of a Jacksonville, streetcar line. Newnan St. toward Springfield with a branch off Beaver to the stadium or Randolph would also work well. A route seldom looked at but probably still with track buried under it is, Water to Lee to Bay to Myrtle - THROUGH THE CENTER TUNNEL - to Forest - to Park and South to 5-Points/Park and King. BTW, the tunnel is the historic streetcar route, about all that is left of it, and the ONLY Subway in Florida.

OCKLAWAHA

stjr

September 03, 2009, 02:12:54 AM
I am all for street cars.  Let's spend more effort on this and less on the $ky-high-way.

We need big, heavy transit systems running the longer distances from outlying areas feeding into nimble, light transit systems Downtown, not the other way around.  Street cars fit the bill for Downtown nicely.  The $ky-high-way "future ocean coral reef project" doesn't. ;)

JaxNative68

September 03, 2009, 12:18:18 PM
with savannah's trolley running on river street, how much of that ridership is tourists.  I seriously doubt the locals ride it to bar hop on river street.  in fact the true locals try to stay away from river street unless it is job related.

Lucasjj

September 03, 2009, 12:27:47 PM
I am sure the majority of people riding it our tourists, since like you said, that is what River St is for. However, with as many people that frequent the rest of downton, tourists and locals, it could have high ridership throughout the historic area. When my mother's office was located downtown, she used to walk around to the stores and eateries that were in her area during her lunch. If a trolley serviced the downtown area, rather than just River St., it would provide both toursits and residents an easy way to get to the many different destinations downtown.

JaxNative68

September 03, 2009, 12:33:51 PM
When I lived there, all I did way walk, to class, to work, to entertainment, but the city is set up pedestrians.  The squares are so inviting that I think most people in downtown Savannak would prefer to walk than take a trolley.  I know I would.

charlestondxman

September 03, 2009, 05:38:58 PM
The city is set up for Savannah, as walking is a very big deal in the area, but there's inclines you have to climb to get down from River Street (which is actually above the Savannah River) to the Riverwalk, which is where a lot of the festivals in Savannah are.

Savannah is a very walkable city, as its 24 squares make it accessible. If Jax had something like that, tourism would shoot up.

stjr

September 03, 2009, 06:49:24 PM
When I lived there, all I did way walk, to class, to work, to entertainment, but the city is set up pedestrians.  The squares are so inviting that I think most people in downtown Savannak would prefer to walk than take a trolley.  I know I would.

Another reason why the $ky-high-way won't work.  It's less accessible than trolleys or street cars so this goes double for it.

Ocklawaha

September 03, 2009, 08:39:15 PM

A 1923, "W Class" Sydney, Australia, Tram, operating the way God intended.


When I lived there, all I did way walk, to class, to work, to entertainment, but the city is set up pedestrians.  The squares are so inviting that I think most people in downtown Savannak would prefer to walk than take a trolley.  I know I would.

I'd take that bet, that Savannah, blows away the ridership figures (if any) for any transit that has operated on that street. Though most local railroad and streetcar fans may go up for a ride, unless they are regulars in Savannah, they won't be back. Fan's from distant parts of the country will drive right by... They WILL get the local traffic, and the numbskull leaders of Jacksonville, to take a look see and come away full of "me too goose bumps."

Why am I negative?

ONE HUGE, MASSIVE, GRAVE ERROR...

It's NOT electric, though it is a historic car from Australia, it becomes the bastard child of the streetcar operations around the country. They have missed a target of up to a half million visitors a year by NOT stringing wire. A benefit missed, electric has a much lower O&M cost. To a dedicated streetcar fanatic, this would be like catering a Jewish family center, with BBQ pork spare ribs.

People will ride it for the novelty, but few in the know, will ride it for the history. What is Savannah if not historic?


OCKLAWAHA

thelakelander

September 03, 2009, 08:45:01 PM
Savannah is a very walkable city, as its 24 squares make it accessible. If Jax had something like that, tourism would shoot up.

Want to put the house on it?  :'(

We had everything Savannah had and more and we found a way to take it out.  Hopefully, sites like this will lead to a change.

sheclown

September 03, 2009, 08:48:58 PM
we never had pralines, warm and melting...

Ocklawaha

September 03, 2009, 09:24:13 PM
Savannah is a very walkable city, as its 24 squares make it accessible. If Jax had something like that, tourism would shoot up.

Want to put the house on it?  :'(

We had everything Savannah had and more and we found a way to take it out.  Hopefully, sites like this will lead to a change.

Yep, those missing parks in Fairfield (stadium district) were just this side of stunning.
"Were," being the key word here...

As for the Savannah already had a track to use argument, which is bound to come up, so DID we.
The gates between the Maxwell House buildings, had a track that curved into the shipyards, and ran along the curb of Bay Street all the way to Talleyrand/Comodore Point. Right by the stadium, and Metropolitan Park. We tore it out. "Modern City... You'll understand..."


OCKLAWAHA

WeeklyJoe

September 04, 2009, 05:09:45 AM
It's NOT electric, though it is a historic car from Australia, it becomes the bastard child of the streetcar operations around the country. They have missed a target of up to a half million visitors a year by NOT stringing wire. A benefit missed, electric has a much lower O&M cost. To a dedicated streetcar fanatic, this would be like catering a Jewish family center, with BBQ pork spare ribs.

Ock, why downgrade Savannah for not putting in electric when it doesn't seem practical there, and isn't used much outside the NEC? Just getting a trolley moving for the public, period, should gain praise from you. How does cantenary along River Street gain up to a half million visitors a year?

CS Foltz

September 04, 2009, 05:54:54 AM
Ock I have to agree with WeeklyJoe! Electric has potential but would ruin the flavor of Savannaha....biodesiel/electric might be a better fit with no wires ruining the view! Maybe electric from solar panels on top of cars? Either way there are alternatives for the power end .....at least they have one!

Lunican

September 04, 2009, 08:52:03 AM
Electric really is the way they are supposed to be run. A bio diesel trolley is kind of a bizarre thing. It's called a trolley because of the electric pickup that rolls along the wire.

As for "ruining" the view; the catenary is just a single wire.

Check out the "ruined" view in San Francisco.







It is still nice that Savannah did something though.

Ocklawaha

September 04, 2009, 03:06:21 PM
Exactly Lunican, It's almost a religion to most of the rabid rail fans to travel about the country, and some, even the globe, to collect rides and photos, of historic cars, doing what historic cars do. Certainly Savannah is ahead of us, my critique is simply without the "history" of the car's operating components, to a aficionado's, it's like a chain saw motor on a vintage Harley Davidson... Kind of makes you sick.

Even worse, the electric is cheaper to maintain and operate, and the overhead system so simple, that 100's of museums around the world have put it up with volunteers!


OCKLAWAHA

CS Foltz

September 06, 2009, 09:09:19 AM
Gentlemen............I agree that "electric is simpler and easy to operate" get no argument from me there! But Savannah had tracks in place already and Jacksonville removed all of theirs. At least Savannah had something in place to start with and we don't!! What ever power source they are using not with standing........they gottem and we don't! I also noticed that no one picked up on the solar source where no wires would be needed! No one has even mentioned hydraulic power which could be self contained once charged.......stops recharge system! There was an article in one of my Car and Drivers about UPS converting some city vehicles for a full fledged real life test...........as soon as I find it will post for your perusal!

CS Foltz

September 07, 2009, 10:11:53 PM
Car & Driver, Feb 09.........Page 26 or You can go to same publication.com at their web site and go into the archieves to see the article...........has interesting applications which I think could be used for light rail/trolley systems.

CS Foltz

September 15, 2009, 06:30:15 AM
That would be www.car&driver.com go to the website then the archives link! Hydraulics is an interesting concept that could have implications for masstransit. Small electric generators to drive the accumulators and there you go a self contained system with few operating parts and each car is independent! Not historically correct but a system that has possibility's!

buckethead

September 15, 2009, 09:33:50 AM
Perhaps my lack of knowledge of mass transit is precisely what makes my input valuable. I have no opinion other than "neato".

The Skyway is in fact, neato. I like it. Except that I rarely (with a huge amount of emphasis on "rarely") use it.

I have no real idea what it would cost to expand it, or a trolly system, but a trolley (equally neato, in a different way) would seem like an exponentially cheaper system.

ROW+Rail+Wire+service facility=Trolley system. The savings would be in infrastructure. The effectiveness and convenience would appear much greater in my laymans view. Having the ability to stop basically anywhere along a route for one example. Stepping off the trolley and onto the sidewalk, perhaps at your exact destination is another example.

We have the Skyway. Tough decisions would need to be made to implement a trolley system as those dollars spent would not go towards the Skyway.

Since we do have the skyway, we should honor it. We should expand the system to the point of USABILITY. That, I leave to the more savvy to determine. Branching outward with a trolley system from those points would be IMO, the most effective means of implementing urban mass transit.

Getting the masses downtown to use the system requires urban renewal. We had a very quaint, if not delapidated set of buildings there, and a few still exist. Some of the best examples remain.

The burbers must come in for the whole system to work. Someone will need to drop some dollars into a venture that will attract those suburbanites (me) into the city's core.

I, as well as my fellow suburbanites, do not enjoy being barraged by bums or the insane when we visit Jax. I am not a hateful person and I do try to love all people. The fact remains that feeling safe as well as not feeling molested is important to building a vibrant downtown. Without people, trolleys are useless.

CS Foltz

September 17, 2009, 06:17:38 AM
Buckethead......I agree! But if you will notice, system has to be inplace first for "burber's" to take advantage of the system! Kinda like horse before the cart! Jacksonville has neither horses or carts............in fact that thought did cross my mind......horse drawn people carrying conveyances! Its green and nonpolluting except for horse flatulence!
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