Streetcars Return to Savannah

September 2, 2009 43 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

"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.

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

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

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

Advice from Savannah

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?

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: