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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 Lowell, Mass. NPS



Gomaco 1 $290K* 39′ 8" 38,000 40
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
1991 Portland Tri-Met Council Crest Gomaco 4 $504K 40′ 55,000 40
1993 Memphis MATA single-truck Gomaco 1 note 1 30′ 24,400 24
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


note 4

47′ 6" 48,000 40
2002 Memphis MATA double-truck Birney Gomaco 1



47′ 10" 46,000 48
2003 Charlotte CATS double-truck Birney



3 $716K 44′ 6" 48,500 40
2005 Tampa HARTline double-truck Birney Gomaco 1 $634K 46′ 1" 43,000 48
2006 Little Rock CAT double-truck Birney



2 $868K 44′ 6" 48,500 40
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
        total: 69         

* 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.

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Port of Los Angeles

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Smatlak photos – online museum of antique furniture. – The Johnson-Shaw Stereoscopic Museum. – vintage beer collectibles. – vintage maps of Paris. – site dedicated to auto and moto racing champions.