Replica Vintage Trolley Cars
One of the most interesting aspects of US streetcar systems are the many new vehicles that were built as “replicas” of vintage designs. Building on the traditions of America’s streetcar shops of the past, these new vehicles strove to incorporate the classic looks of vintage streetcar designs, with the reliability and durability of a new vehicle. Although not all vintage trolley operators had the need, or the funding, to acquire new vehicles, over 50 were built during the ten year period beginning in 1997.
Since 2007, sales of new replica cars have fallen off noticeably, as market attention has turned to modern streetcar vehicles. However, replica cars are still being offered today by Gomaco Trolley and other suppliers. While they demand a higher price tag, new vehicles also come with the advantage of lower maintenance costs, higher reliability, a more predictable price and delivery schedule, as well as the ability to incorporate modern features such as air conditioning and ADA accommodations.
As an alternative to replica cars, some systems have acquired cars from overseas or restored vintage cars from their local area. Unfortunately, the pool of original equipment surviving intact from America’s trolley era is relatively small, and those that remain “in the wild” are typically without running gear and other vital operational components. Although there are still a good many unrestored PCC cars out there, conventional trolleys in complete form are largely in the collections of railway museums around the country. Depending on the car’s condition, museums may be unwilling to expose these rare pieces to the potentially consumptive use of daily service on a busy transit operation. Maintenance of vintage vehicles can also be a problem, owing to evolving safety standards, lack of spare parts and difficulty in finding the necessary expertise to maintain the older technology.
The largest sources of overseas cars have been Australia, Portugal and Italy. Large scale exports of Australian trams ended in about 1990 when the government decided it was better to retain its retired trams, and the export of Portuguese cars also ended as the supply of cars was exhausted. Throughout the 1990’s, cars have been available from Milan, (and remain so) although the fact that they are single-ended limits their utility.
Today, opportunities to import trams from Australia are once again available; Newstead Tramcars and Bendigo Tramways offer vintage parts, as well as entire trolleys, for sale. The Bendigo website includes a page detailing the latest offerings. Additional cars may also become available again in Australia, see our Australian Trams page for more information.
In the US, the Gomaco Trolley Company offers complete trolleys and refurbishment services. The Brookville Equipment Corporation manufactures new running gear, refurbishes trolleys (including major rebuilds of PCC cars) and is also pursuing the replica trolley market. TIG/m is also offering battery powered replica trolleys.
It should also be noted that the majority of the “new” replica cars built to date have used some percentage of refurbished vintage components, typically trucks, motors, controllers, and some air brake system components. The extent to which refurbished components are used on future orders will depend on the requirements of the individual customer, and the types of parts the car builder has access to. A number of cars have used parts from retired Melbourne trams, although the export ban has effectively dried up this source. Additionally, Milan has also proven to be an excellent resource, and a great many parts have been acquired from this city as their older trams are gradually phased out. New Orleans is notable as being an exception to the use of refurbished parts, opting instead to purchase everything new for its 23 Canal St. replica cars, including the trucks and motors. The New Orleans cars use newly built PCC-derivative running gear and modern chopper control.
Other factors influencing the development of replica cars includes the 2005 introduction of the “APTA Standard for Vintage / Heritage Trolley Vehicle Equipment”, which provides important new guidelines for vehicle manufacturers and operators. The table below details all of the replica vehicles built or on order in North America since 1984. Corrections, updates, and additional information would, of course, be welcome.
Replica VT cars built since 1984, compiled by John Smatlak
|Year Built||City||Customer||Desc.||Builder||Number of Cars||Cost||Length||Weight||Seats|
|1984||Lowell, Mass.||NPS||15-Bench open car||Gomaco||2||$270K*||43′ 6"||34,000||15 bench|
|1986||Tampa||Gomaco||15-Bench open car||Gomaco||1||tbd||43′ 6"||34,000||15 bench|
|1987||Galveston||Galveston Park Board||diesel- electric||Miner Railcar||4||$600K||41′ 9"||63,000||40|
|1988||Denver||DRHS||diesel- electric||Gomaco||1||$350K||43′ 6"||tbd||15 bench|
|1997||New Orleans||RTA||Perley Thomas||RTA||6||note 2||47′ 8"||tbd||40|
|1999||New Orleans||RTA||Perley Thomas||RTA||1||note 3||47′ 8"||tbd||40|
|2000||Tampa||HARTline||double-truck Birney||Gomaco||8||$620K||46′ 1"||43,000||48|
|2001||San Pedro||Port of LA||PE 500||POLA||2||$1.2M||43′||58,500||48|
|2001||Los Angeles||The Grove||double deck battery tram||Ent. Eng. / T.I.G.||1||$1M||31′ 8"||53,300||70|
|2001||Little Rock||CAT||double-truck Birney||Gomaco||3||$755K||44′ 6"||48,500||40|
|2002||New Orleans||RTA||Perley Thomas||RTA||23||
|2005||Tampa||HARTline||double-truck Birney||Gomaco||1||$634K||46′ 1"||43,000||48|
|2006||Little Rock||CAT||double-truck Birney||
|2007||Baha Mexico||PLC Marina||double deck battery tram||T.I.G./m||2||tbd||31′ 8"||53,300||70|
|2007||Glendale CA||Americana||battery tram w/ trailer||Gomaco||2||tbd||tbd||tbd||tbd|
* Customer also provided some of the parts
Note 1- Sold as part of package which included refurbished Melbourne cars
Note 2- Built in-house by New Orleans RTA, estimated cost $900K
Note 3- Built in-house by New Orleans RTA, prototype for new Canal St. fleet
Note 4- Cars built in-house by New Orleans RTA, with major components subcontracted out. $30 Million overall vehicle budget for 23 cars.
Note 5- No air conditioning, no inverter
Note 6- Modern chopper control system used in lieu of K-type high voltage control.