June 11--Memphis Area Transit Authority officials pulled all trolleys from service Wednesday, after a report suggested that the entire fleet must "undergo a complete re-renovation ... or be replaced."
The vintage vehicles, which cruise along Main, Riverfront and Madison, will be temporarily replaced for three to six months by lime-green, hybrid buses.
The new buses, ordered a year ago for general use, will follow an altered route and cost the same to ride, said Tom Fox, interim president and general manager of MATA.
"This was not an easy decision, as we know the trolleys are part of the Downtown experience," Fox said. "(But) our primary goal is safety. The report indicated that the core basic physical infrastructure is strong, but that MATA renovated trolleys are at the outer edge of historic usability."
The report by the American Public Transportation Association was a response to trolley fires in November and April on the Madison line, Fox said. After the two trolleys erupted in flames barely six months apart, MATA shut down the Madison line to conduct an investigation.
The full findings of the APTA review have not been released.
There are a total of 17 trolleys in MATA's fleet. Five, built between 1912 and 1940, have been in service since the Main Street line opened in April 1993. Six of the trolleys were built between 1924 and 1927 in Melbourne, Australia, and went into service in Memphis between 1994 and 1997.
"It is difficult to know the useful life of a trolley as they are usually renovated many times before use," Fox said. "I would say about 10 to 15 years. All of our trolleys were renovated before we started using them."
A refurbished "heritage" trolley from Australia cost about $700,000, MATA spokesman Ralph Berry said.
Alvin Pearson, assistant general manager of operations, said that the trolley parts are "antiques," which makes them more expensive to replace, while bus parts are "shelf items."
Marcy Siebert has lived on South Main since 1990 and worked as a sales associate at a clothing store along the trolley line. The news of the temporary suspension disappointed her since she takes a trolley to work "at least once a week."
"I love the trolley," Siebert said. "It's one of the great things Memphis has done. I bought trolley stock in 1991 for $50. It wasn't real stock, but they did give you a coin with 'Trolley Stock' stamped on it. It was just a nice way to thank those who donated."
On a busy day, 10 of the fleet's trolleys would be in service, Fox said. There will be "six or seven" hybrid electric buses to replace them, which should be enough to handle the route, he said.
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