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Streetcars Roll Down Memphis’ Main Street Once Again

Memphis' Main Street trolley line returns after a four-year hiatus, Metro Detroit mulls regional transit expansion while parts of it want out, Venice will get a rail link to its airport and faster train service from London to Europe is in the cards.

The Memphis Main Street Trolley is back. (Photo by Alan Kirkpatrick, courtesy of Memphis Area Transit Authority)

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

Memphians Welcome Main Street Trolleys Back

Four years after a series of troubling fires forced it out of commission, Memphis’ heritage streetcar system resumed operations April 30 to the delight of riders and residents.

Memphis’ WMC-TV reports that the Memphis Area Transit Authority spent the last four years and more than $10 million rebuilding the trolley system and its rolling stock from top to bottom.

“We know it took a long time, but it was important to get this right instead of getting it in a hurry,” Mayor Jim Strickland told the station.

Among other things, the money rebuilt the power supply and gave the vintage and replica streetcars new suspension systems. MATA Chief Executive Officer Gary Rosenfeld went so far as to call the rebuilt system the safest in the country.

“[It’s] a whole different suspension system, so they are a lot quieter. I have joked about having round wheels as compared to square ones in the past,” he told WMC. “When you have the trolleys running again is just great for the downtown area, the business environment. It’s great for tourism; it’s great for our community.”

Metro Detroit Mulls Transit Expansion; Some Communities Want No Part of It

Detroit’s recently reconstituted metropolitan transportation agency is going on a listening tour of its constituent counties, seeking public feedback on transit service improvements for the region, the Detroit Free Press reports.

But while it’s listening, some of the communities in its service territory are already saying, “We want out.”

The Free Press also reports on a move in the Michigan legislature to insert an opt-out clause in a proposal for a 1.5-mill tax ($1.50 for every $1,000 in property value) to fund the new Regional Transit Authority’s service expansion plan. The tax, which will apply in all four counties where the authority operates service, has yet to advance past the talking stage, but some legislators representing outer suburban districts are calling for a local opt-out even before a bill authorizing a vote on the tax comes up for consideration.

Voters in Oakland and Macomb counties narrowly defeated a previous property tax increase proposal in 2016. State Rep. Jeff Yaroch, who represents an outer Macomb district, says his main concern is getting the Regional Transit Authority to meet with local communities to discuss the merits of its proposed expansions. The current county executives in both Oakland and Macomb have expressed their opposition to the current service expansion proposal put forth by Wayne County Executive Warren Evans. (Wayne County includes the city of Detroit. The fourth constituent county is Washtenaw, home to Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan. Current plans being floated envision a regional rail link between Detroit and Ann Arbor, reviving a service that operated through the 1980s.)

Yaroch, however, also said that the push to expand transit represented misplaced priorities.

“I believe in regional cooperation, but the one thing we don’t seem to be talking about and should be a first priority is roads,” he told the Free Press. “I would like to see the four leaders of the region working with Lansing on what we can do on roads.”

Venice To Get Airport Rail Link

The famed lagoon city of Venice will get a new land link to its airport, according to a report in the International Railway Journal.

The Municipality of Venice will seek bids later this year to build a new rail spur that will split off from the Venice-Trieste main line at Dese and run for 3.5 km (2.2 miles) to an underground station at Marco Polo Airport. The spur’s projected cost: €400 million ($483.05 million), €14 million ($16.91 million) of which will be supplied by the Italian Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport.

The airport station will be located on a single-track underground loop so that trains will not have to reverse direction at the airport end. Services will operate between the airport and both Trieste and Santa Lucia station in Venice proper. Service on the new line should begin in 2019.

Direct High-Speed Service from London to Boredaux in the Works

Brexit? What Brexit? Global Rail News reports that the operator of Britain’s first true high-speed rail line has plans to tie Britain even closer to Europe by means of direct high-speed train service between London and Bordeaux.

Currently, British passengers using HS1’s service through the Channel Tunnel must change trains in Paris to get to Bordeaux. The transfer and wait times bring the total travel time to six and a half hours. HS1 Ltd. proposes to slash an hour and a half off that time by eliminating the transfer and using a new high-speed rail link between Paris and Tours that opened for service last July.

This, an HS1 spokesperson told Global Rail News, would enable the train to compete with low-cost airlines that currently shuttle passengers between the two cities.

HS1 Ltd. CEO Ryan Crowther pointed to the success of the London-Amsterdam Eurostar service as proof that British leisure travelers want a high-quality rail service to popular European destinations.

To make the proposed service work, HS1, LIsea, Eurotunnel and SNCF Réseau are negotiating timetables and station slots with an eye towards getting an international operator running the service within the next two years.

Know of a project that should be featured in this column? Send a Tweet with links to @MarketStEl using the hashtag #newstarts.

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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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