Galveston Bites Bullet, Votes to Restore Trolley – Next City
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Galveston Bites Bullet, Votes to Restore Trolley

Galveston’s trolley system has been down since Hurricane Ike hit in 2008. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, Pool)

Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

Trolleys to Return to Central Shanghai After 40-Year Absence
Shanghai, the sprawling metropolis of 24 million that is China’s largest city, took a great leap backward transport-wise when its trolley network was dismantled in the 1970s.

Now, as the city seeks to ease traffic congestion, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and redevelop the banks of the Huangpu River in the city center, streetcars are poised to make a comeback in the heart of the city.

China News Service reports that as part of a three-year reconstruction plan for the Huangpu riverbanks, work will begin in 2017 on a 13-km line between the Xupu and Nanpu bridges, which will run along or close to the river, mostly through the city’s Xuhui district.

According to the report, city officials did not say how long construction would take.

The central Shanghai tram line is part of a larger program of streetcar construction that will add another 32.8 km of tram routes in other parts of the city to an existing 9.8-km line in a new district in an outlying part of the city.

One of these, a 28.5-km route connecting with Line 9 of the Shanghai Metro in Songjiang District, is slated to go into service in 2017, the year work will begin on the downtown line.

No cost figures or financing details were given for the projects.

Galveston City Council Votes to Restore Trolley
Faced with the prospect of having to pay the federal government back as much as $7 million, the Galveston City Council has voted 6-1 to return its diesel-powered trolley system to service.

The vote took place at the council’s Feb. 26th session.

An Associated Press report by Houston Chronicle Galveston bureau chief Harvey Rice (seen here as it ran in The Washington Times) noted that one sticking point that had led the city government to vacillate on using the federal money advanced for service restoration after Hurricane Ike put the system out of commission in 2008 was the system’s persistent operating deficit of more than $200,000 annually. City Manager Brian Maxwell noted that the system could rack up deficits for years before hitting the $7 million mark.

Nonetheless, as he noted, “the trolleys have been a divisive discussion since their very inception,” and they remained so while the federal repair money sat unspent.

The one member who voted against rebuilding the system, Norman Pappous, said he did not believe the city should restore a service that will cost the general fund money.

The Galveston Park Board responded to his concerns by voting to pick up $200,000 of any annual operating deficit out of its budget.

The prospect of the huge repayment, combined with plans to have the trolley serve as the foundation of a comprehensive transit system for Galveston Island, changed the mind of other skeptics, including Mayor Jim Yarborough and Park Board Chairman Melvin Williams.

“For whatever reason, we talked about it for six and a half years and the sands of the hourglass are running out on these federal funds,” said Yarborough.

New plans call for adding a network of rubber-tired replica trolleys to extend service to tourist destinations the trolleys do not reach. The system would hub at a new downtown intermodal transportation center scheduled to open in August 2017. The story also reports that local business leaders are exploring the possibility of raising an endowment to cover the trolley’s operating losses.

Finnish PM Vows to Finish Helsinki City Loop
As reports circulated that the project was being shelved, Finland’s prime minister, Alexander Stubb, reaffirmed the government’s commitment to build the Helsinki City Loop, a 7.8-km underground rail loop intended to ease congestion on the city’s regional rail network.

In response to the reports of the project’s suspension, a Feb. 27th report in Global Rail News quoted Stubb as saying, “The City Rail Loop is moving ahead in the right order. The government has decided today to apply for EU’s TEN-T support for the project. The next step is to include the project in the technical spending limits to be approved by the government in March.”

TEN-T — the Trans-European Transport Network — is a European Commission program that provides financing for high-priority projects to improve the movement of people and goods through the 27 member states of the European Union.

Stubb said that the Finnish government will set aside €40 million ($44.9 million U.S.) for planning of the line, which will have three new stations in central Helsinki. Negotiations are under way with local authorities on financing the project, and work could commence as early as next year.

The Finnish government is applying for a total of €133.7 million ($150.2 million U.S.) in TEN-T funds for rail and maritime projects across the country.

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The Works is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

Next City contributor Sandy Smith is the home and real estate editor at Philadelphia magazine. Over the years, his work has appeared in Hidden City Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local and regional publications. His interest in cities stretches back to his youth in Kansas City, and his career in journalism and media relations extends back that far as well.

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