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Decades After Disappearing, St. Paul Streetcars Could Return

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- At the corner of Como and Lexington is a symbol of St. Paul's transportation past. That was back when streetcars were an inexpensive and easy way to get around town.

"I've never met anyone who is nostalgic for a bus, we get all kinds of people who love these things," explains Aaron Isaacs, chairman of the Minnesota Streetcar Museum.

Isaacs says more than nostalgia could help bring modern streetcars to the Metro Transit light rail system. Plans are in the early stages to build a 12-mile extension to link downtown St. Paul with the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport.

Explains Isaacs, "if it's a streetcar it is running in mixed traffic, with stops ever couple of blocks. A light rail runs on its own right of way, even on the street it's on its own right of way. What they're proposing in St. Paul, the Riverview is really a hybrid of the two."

The Riverview Corridor would wind its way along the historic West 7th Street route. The aim is to connect downtown from Union Depot to the Metro Transit Blue Line at the MSP Airport.

new st. paul trolley
(credit: Kansas City Streetcar)

"The modern streetcar will operate in traffic and not along a dedicated lane," says Ramsey County Commissioner, Rafael Ortega.

Commissioner Ortega also chairs the Riverview Policy Advisory Committee which is studying the idea. He can envision a hybrid streetcar, much like those now operating in Kansas City.

Advances in technology may soon introduce electric powered streetcars which run on high capacity batteries, eliminating the need for costly overhead power lines.

Eliminating the power structures which support the light rail routes will lead to faster construction and with less disruption to businesses and daily traffic.

Explains Ortega, "the cars will be customized so they will be maybe narrower and shorter to fit the corridor much better."

Environmental and funding challenges could be the biggest hurdles as planning continues.

Even if the estimated one-and-a-half to two billion dollar cost can be secured from federal, state and local sources, trolleys wouldn't roll until 2028 at the earliest.

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