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U.S. Streetcar Systems- Arkansas

Little Rock

River Rail Streetcar

Began Operation: 2004
Route Miles: 3
Stops: 13
Org: Transit Agency
Schedule: Daily

Photo: John Smatlak

The River Rail Streetcar is a project of the Central Arkansas Transit Authority (CAT). The 3 mile line connects together the downtowns of Little Rock and North Little Rock, providing direct access to the convention center and historic River Market area in downtown Little Rock, the new sports arena across the Arkansas River in downtown North Little Rock, and the Clinton Library. The line utilizes city streets, operating in mixed traffic, except on the bridge over the Arkansas River, which features an exclusive lane for the trolleys. The round-trip fare is .50 cents, with seniors .25 cents and children under five free. An all-day pass is available for $2.00. Click here for a system map.
The River Rail streetcar is a component of a larger redevelopment effort in both the Little Rock and North Little Rock downtowns. The two cities are situated on opposite sides of the Arkansas River, and both have relatively small populations. Little Rock has a population of 183,000 and North Little Rock just 60,000, with the population of the greater Little Rock area being 569,000. Other major projects in the area include the newly expanded convention center, the redeveloped River Market area, a new central library, the Clinton Presidential Library, and on the North Little Rock side of the river, the new Alltel Arena and the new ballpark. The arena is an 18,000 seat sports and entertainment facility and hosts both an arena football league team and the U of A basketball team.

The new line provides an important circulator function between the two downtowns, linking together the area’s major attractions while encouraging tourism and enhancing economic development efforts. Phase 1 cost $19.6 million, including design, construction management, three vehicles and the maintenance building. Eighty percent of the funding came from Federal sources ranging from New Starts Rail funds, flex STP funds, and High Priority funds from TEA 21. Local funds were provided by Pulaski County, Little Rock and North Little Rock. CAT is also offering to selling naming rights for the system, cars and stations. Annual operating costs are estimated at $500,000.

Phase 1 opened in November 2004, connecting the two Downtowns. Phase 2 opened in February 2007 and added the half-mile extension to the Clinton Presidential Library site and two more trolleys. Phase 2 cost $7.6 million dollars. Longer range plans include a possible 3 mile extension to Little Rock National Airport.

Equipment: The line is served by Gomaco replica trolleys, similar in appearance to the cars built for Tampa, Florida. The Little Rock cars are shorter by the length of two windows, and because of the geography of the Main St. Bridge over the Arkansas River, are also equipped with a magnetic track brake as an additional safety feature. Three cars were purchased for operation of the initial phase, and two additional cars provided as part of the phase 2 line extension.

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off the Main Street Bridge, preparing to enter the Little
Rock loop

the Historic River Market area, turning onto Commerce

scene at the River Market. The line runs until Midnight
most days

with the Clinton Library extension. Little Rock loop at
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of the Clinton Library extension parallels a Union Pacific
freight spur

the Clinton Library terminal (Library visible in

Clinton Library and the railroad bridge over the Arkansas
River. The architecture picks up on the “Bridge to
the new century” theme.

Rock Island depot adjacent to the library has been
restored for use as the Clinton School of Public

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North Little Rock from the Main Street Bridge- an 8
percent grade

through North Little Rock. View from City Hall

new minor league ballpark in North Little Rock is just two
blocks from the trolley

in mixed traffic, North Little Rock. A new commercial
development is under construction in the background.

Smatlak photos, May 2007



News and Updates (scroll down for latest update):

Update 1/29/01: CAT has received bids for developing a Streetcar Expansion Plan, which will examine options and implementation details for the second phase of the streetcar line, including the extension to the Clinton Presidential Library.

Update 9/10/01: CAT has added extensive new info on the River Rail project to their website. The updates include a route map, information on the Trolley Barn (maintenance building), OCS, naming rights and vehicles.

Update 9/21/01, Construction Progress: Bids for the $815,000 River Rail streetcar maintenance facility were scheduled to be advertised by the end of August following unanimous approval by CAT on Aug. 21. The barn will be built at Seventh and Main streets in North Little Rock and is expected to be completed by next June 1. Three other bid packages, including the traction power system and the complex job of modifying the Main Street Bridge to carry trolleys, will be advertised by January. Meanwhile, the federal government has recently released two grants for River Rail totaling nearly $6 million. Work on the four replica vintage streetcars ordered from Gomaco is proceeding and the first one should be finished in December. River Rail officials said Gomaco has agreed to store completed trolleys at its plant for a $100 monthly insurance fee until the maintenance facility is ready. CAT and Entergy Corp., the local electric utility, are continuing negotiations on moving the company’s underground lines. The city is expected to ask that the work be done at Entergy’s expense under terms of its franchise agreement. Source: Rail Transit On-Line

Update 2/7/02: A comprehensive set of progress photos has been posted on the Gomaco Trolley Company website, detailing construction of the three replica trolley cars now under construction for Little Rock. Well worth a look.

Update 5/7/02: The May 2002 edition of Rail Transit On Line carried this news item: Continued delays in starting construction, along with higher design and engineering costs, have contributed to a nearly $2.5 million increase in the price tag of the 2.2-mile (3.5 km) River Rail streetcar project. “The longer it takes, the more expensive it will be,” Keith Jones, executive director of the Central Arkansas Transit Authority (CATA), told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The anticipated outlay for the project, which will link the downtowns of Little Rock and North Little Rock, now stands at $18.35 million, up from $12.3 million in January of last year. Part of the jump has been attributed to higher costs for utility relocation and the trolley barn. Jones said the new figure is unofficial and at the upper end of consultant estimates. He said there is enough money on hand or promised from local and federal sources to pay for the line, which transportation planners see as the first step in a future regional LRT system. However, federal funds won’t be released and construction contracts awarded until CATA and the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department complete negotiations for trolleys to use the Main Street Bridge over the Arkansas River. A draft proposal has been hammered out but a final agreement has yet to be reached. Revenue service is now slated for early 2004. Already being planned is a 0.8-mile (1.3 km) second phase costing $7.5 million to the proposed Bill Clinton presidential library in Little Rock. Source- Rail Transit On Line, May 2002

Update 6/1/02: Main St. Bridge Agreement signed: The CATA website carries an announcement that CATA and the Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department (AHTD) executed an agreement providing for the long term use of the Main Street Bridge on May 20. This clears the way for the project to proceed to the construction phase. The Trolley Barn bid package will be available on May 28 and bids will be opened on July 1, 2002. Bid packages for the bridge modification, two miles of track, and overhead power will follow this summer. Source: CATA web site

Update 2/14/03:

The first of three replica heritage streetcars for the River Rail line was tested on Dec. 11 and 12 in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. The air-conditioned, lift-equipped trolleys are being supplied by Gomaco of Ida Grove, Iowa, and are based on the double-truck Birney cars which operated in the Little Rock area up to 1947, the last of which was numbered 407. The new series starts with No. 408, which will be the first car delivered to the Central Arkansas Transit Authority (CATA). In addition to Gomaco engineers, project consultant Jim Graebner of Lomarado Associates and Paul Pool, CATA’s Project Manager, monitored the tests. Also on hand to observe were CATA’s Director of Transportation Murray Gillerson, Maintenance Supervisor Tom Johnson and David Lumbert of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department. The initial runs were considered very successful and only minor changes and modifications will be necessary. The car will be shipped to the North Little Rock maintenance facility upon its completion, scheduled for late spring. Revenue service on the 2.2-mi. (3.5 km) line connecting the downtowns of Little Rock and North Little Rock should begin in mid-2004. Source: Rail Transit On-Line

Update 5/30/03: Construction Progress

The May 2003 edition of Rail Transit On Line carried this news item: The Central Arkansas Transit Authority (CATA) Board of Directors on Apr. 17 finally authorized a $10.98-million contract with Mobley Contractors for construction of the River Rail streetcar’s track and overhead power system. The pact was delayed nearly two months while the Little Rock Board of Directors (city council) delayed approving an additional $98,641 to make up a budget shortfall after Mobley’s bid exceeded estimates by $1.18 million. North Little Rock and Pulaski County had previously increased their contributions to the local share of the project, with the federal government providing the remainder. But Little Rock officials said they needed answers concerning capital costs and future expenses, including operating outlays. CATA expects to issue a notice to proceed around June 1, with actual work starting about 60 days later. Operation is tentatively scheduled for October 2004. Supporters of the $19.5-million, 2.1-mi. (3.37 km) project reassured the board of directors that the replica vintage streetcars will bring 100,000 to 300,000 more tourists to the region and believe the line could be a precursor to a light rail system. A second phase costing $7.5 million would extend River Rail to the Bill Clinton presidential library, due to open in November 2004. Source- Rail Transit Online, May 2003

In addition, work on the line’s new maintenance facility is nearing completion, as well as the trackbed work on the Main Street bridge. Some photos are available on CAT’s website. The website also reports that track construction work begins this week on the Maple Street section in North Little Rock.

Update 7/10/03- The Gomaco website has been updated with a nice set of pictures of Little Rock’s new cars. One has been delivered to Little Rock, with the other two on hold. Interestingly, these two cars may soon be heading for Charlotte, North Carolina on a one-year lease. Sources- various including The Charlotte Observer.

Update 11/3/03- Construction continues to progress. A nice series of pictures taken in July 2003 has been posted by Ken Ziegenbein on his website. A few are seen below, including a shot of the first Gomaco replica car to arrive on the property. The cars are air conditioned, feature an onboard wheelchair lift, and are equipped with magnetic track brakes as an added safety feature for operation over the Main St. bridge. All three of the Gomaco cars are now in Little Rock, although discussions continue with Charlotte, North Carolina about the possibility of having Charlotte lease two of the cars for a short period of time.

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2003- The Main St. highway bridge over the Arkansas River.
The exclusive trolley right-of-way has been created on one
lane of the bridge, and the support poles for the trolley
wire are visible.

three Gomaco cars are shorter than their brethren in Tampa
and have a different letterboard and roofline, giving them
better proportions.

carbarn was nearing completion in this May 2003 view.

Ken Ziegenbein

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Update 8/10/04- Construction of the River Rail streetcar line is rapidly nearing completion, with all track construction now complete. A Fall 2004 opening still looks likely. Another series of construction photos as of 11/03 was posted by Ken Ziegenbein on his website, as well as photos of the cars on display at the new carbarn during the North Little Rock Centennial Celebration April 30-May 1, 2004. A comprehensive article on the project as of early 2004 appears on the Arkansas Business.Com website.

Update 9/28/04- Testing is now underway on the River Rail Streetcar Line. Preliminary work has also begun on the Phase 2 extension to the Clinton Library, including some track construction in conjunction with a street rebuilding project. Things are looking hopeful for a November 1 opening. A couple of nice sets of photos (photo group 1, photo group 2) have been posted by Ken Ziegenbein on his website, several of which appear below.

Ken has also posted some of the line’s current promotional literature as well as a route map. The line will operate seven days a week, Monday-Wednesday from 11am to 10 pm, Thursday- -Saturday 11 am – Midnight, and Sunday 11 am to 5 pm. A roundtrip fare is 50 cents, with a day pass available for $2.

The APTA Vintage Trolley & Streetcar Task Force is tentatively planning a two-city meeting December 3-5, which will take in both Memphis and Little Rock.

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Second Street and Main, Little Rock, heading east.

Crossing Scott on Second Street. The Historic Arkansas Museum
is on both sides of the street.

off the Main Street Bridge into Little Rock onto Markham Street.  

Second St., the main Central Arkansas Library is the building to the right
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Turning east on Broadway in North Little Rock from Maple Street

Southbound on the Main Street Bridge across the Arkansas River heading toward Little Rock.

Looking north on Main Street, North Little Rock.

Milan truck from Gomaco equipped with magnetic track

Ken Ziegenbein

Update 12/04- The River Rail Streetcar system officially opened on November 1. Check the Gomaco website for pictures of the gala grand-opening celebration. On December 3-4, the APTA Vintage Trolley & Streetcar Task Force held its year-end meeting in Little Rock, offering a behind-the-scenes look at operations on the new line. A series of pictures follow from this informative trip.

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example of the attractive signage used at each

the car at the River Market stop on Markham St.
board the Gomaco replica car.
off Markham St. onto southbound Commerce St.
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to turn off Commerce St. Cars serving the future
Clinton Library extension will continue straight
down Commerce.

off Commerce onto westbound 2nd St. 

turnouts are already in place at 2nd & Commerce
for the pending extension to the Clinton Library

on 2nd St. The new Little Rock Main Library is in
the background.

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on 2nd St. alongside the I-30 entrance / exit ramps

on 2nd St. at Center St.

eastbound on Markham St.

onto eastbound Markham St. from the Main St. bridge.
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up the bridge from Little Rock. The steep grade on
the bridge is evident in the photo.

trolley can be seen in the background traversing the
Main St. bridge. The unused railroad bridge in the
foreground is slated to become a pedestrian path.

stop in North Little Rock serves the Alltel arena.
This short section of
track is operated as bi-directional.

on Main St. at 6th St. The track curving into the
foreground serves the maintenance facility.

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around the North Little Rock loop.
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three cars are stored and maintained inside the new
maintenance building in North Little Rock
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queuing up in Downtown Little Rock
of the on-board wheelchair lift. This is a standard
bus design that was adapted by Gomaco for use on the
Little Rock trolleys.

Smatlak photos

Update 10/05- The October edition of Rail Transit On Line brings the good news of federal funding for River Rail’s half-mile extension to the Clinton Presidential Library. In mid-September, CATS released an invitation to bid on the track and OCS for the line extension.

The Federal Transit Administration on Sept. 9 released a long-awaited $5.9-million grant to extend the River Rail streetcar to the Clinton Presidential Center and the headquarters of Heifer International, a hunger relief agency. The $9.2-million project includes approximately a half-mile (0.8 km) of double track along Commerce and Third streets and two new replica Birney streetcars, which are already on order from Gomaco Trolley Co. and scheduled to arrive by next March. The total federal share of Phase 2 is $7.1 million, with the remainder being contributed by the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock and Pulaski County . Central Arkansas Transit Authority Executive Director Keith Jones said he was ready to immediately begin seeking bids for track and overhead power line construction, adding that the extension could be open in about a year. “If they can get the special track work and switches sooner, it might be faster,” Jones told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “We won’t know that until we have a contractor on board.” Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey praised the project and said he wants “…to take this on out to the airport.” Source: Rail Transit On Line

Two additional replica trolley cars are also under construction at the Gomaco Trolley Company to serve the expanded system. The cars are planned to include several technical improvements over the line’s three original cars, including a modern chopper-type control system (in contrast to the 600-volt switched resistor control system employed on the other cars).

Update 3/06- In November 2005, Little Rock’s River Rail system wrapped up its first year of operation, carrying 200,000 passengers. Ridership is expected to increase even further with the opening of the .9 mile extension to the Clinton Library. Construction on the extension began in January 2006, and two additional streetcars are also in the works at the Gomaco Trolley Company. Congratulations to CAT on their very successful first year!

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Ziegenbein photos, December 2005

Trolley photos, February 2006

Update 3/06- In November 2005, Little Rock’s River Rail system wrapped up its first year of operation, carrying 200,000 passengers. Ridership is expected to increase even further with the opening of the .9 mile extension to the Clinton Library. Construction on the extension began in January 2006, and two additional streetcars are also in the works at the Gomaco Trolley Company. Congratulations to CAT on their very successful first year!

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car 411 arrives in Little Rock on 4/6/06. KZ

trackage adjacent to the Clinton Library. KZ

412 approaches completion at Gomaco. Gomaco photo

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powered test run on the new extension, January 18,

Ken Ziegenbein


Update 11/06- Additional track construction took place in late October, and testing on the new extension to the Clinton Library should commence shortly. Ken Ziegenbein has posted photos detailing the October construction progress on the new line extension on his website.

Update 2/07- CAT has announced that the new extension to the Clinton Library will open on February 16. The CAT website has a press release with the details. Also, Ken Ziegenbein’s website has a page with photographs of the first powered test run over the new extension on January 18.

Update 10/07- The July 2007 edition of Rail Transit On Line had the following report:

Central Arkansas Transit Authority’s board of directors has unanimously approved a design plan that would double the storage capacity of the River Rail streetcar barn, providing space for up to eight trolleys. The system now operates five Birney replica cars manufactured by Gomaco, one of which must be stored outdoors overnight. The 4,860-sq.-ft. (451.5 sq. meter) addition on the south side of the existing 9,200-sq.-ft. (854.7 meter) building will have a brick facade facing Main Street to match the north side, softening the mostly metal structure’s industrial appearance. CATA will now seek bids for final architectural design after which the agency will issue a construction tender. The budget for the project is $500,000, all of it from federal grants.

Update 12/07- Line extension to airport under study. An article in the October 27 edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reviews recent progress on a study to examine extending the River Rail streetcar operation to the Little Rock Airport. The airport is approximately 3 miles from the line’s present Clinton Library terminus in Little Rock.