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U.S. Streetcar Systems- California – San Diego

San Diego

Silver Line

Began Operation: 2011

Route Miles: 2

Stops: 9

Org: Non-profit

Schedule: Weekends & Holidays

As the home of the pioneering San Diego Trolley, which began the U.S. light rail renaissance in 1980, it only seems natural that the city would also have a vintage trolley service. The non-profit San Diego Vintage Trolley Inc. obtained several vintage PCC type streetcars beginning in 2005 and set about restoring them using volunteers drawn from a non-profit and the staff of San Diego Trolley. The group completed the restoration of the first car in 2011 and it is now operated by San Diego Trolley over a portion of the light rail system in the downtown area.

The service currently operates every 30 minutes on weekends and holidays. A separate $2 fare is charged, collected on board the car. The car is operated with an operator and a conductor that greets passengers as they board through the back door. Plans include the restoration of additional cars to provide a spare vehicle and ultimately expand service.

MTS is also studying the feasibility of reconnecting Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo and Downtown San Diego with a streetcar extension.
The project study corridor runs between the City College Trolley Station area, served by San Diego Trolley Blue and Orange Lines and over a dozen bus routes, and Balboa Park, in the vicinity of the San Diego Zoo. The study website has further details.

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Car 529 breaks through the
ceremonial ribbon
Opening ceremony On the downtown loop
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On the downtown loop Boarding is via the rear doors, the
front door being occupied by a wheelchair lift. Volunteer hosts
accompany the cars.
On the downtown loop

above from San Diego Vintage Trolley, Ron Sutch, Andy Goddard
and Ron Johnsen

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Between circuits around the downtown
loop, the car pauses at 12th & Imperial
On Park Blvd. Passing the San Diego Trolley yards Stopped next to Petco Park
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 Operator’s position   One of the standard
wheelchair lifts from the first generation of San Diego Trolley
equipment was adapted to fit the front doorway. 
 Harry Mathis with car 529

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of one of the former San Francisco PCC cars in San Diego.
December 2005
Harry Mathis talks to reporters
progress on one of the former San Francisco cars, early 2009
restored cars are to be painted in the original San Diego PCC
car paint scheme. 1947 photo by Bob McCay
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progress, May 2009. The restored cars will be fitted with

Car 530
has had its nose painted in the San Diego scheme in this
September 2008 view.

Night test run, 2011

Photos from San Diego Vintage Trolley Inc.

Other Projects

In addition to the Silver Line and the activities of San Diego Vintage Trolley Inc., the North Park Main Street Association had also proposed a line that would link the world-famous San Diego Zoo with remote parking areas and the North Park neighborhood. The new 3.5-mile line would utilize an historic streetcar routing along University Ave. and Park Blvd.

North Park Main Street is a non-profit neighborhood revitalization organization. In their proposal, they pointed out four primary benefits for the streetcar project:

  • Transportation Enhancement
  • Economic Development Engine
  • Tourist Attraction
  • Preservation of Heritage
  • A grass-roots campaign to engage the local community resulted in an impressive list of local business, planning and historical groups supporting the proposal. North Park Main Street also researched vintage trolley success stories around the country, looking for ideas that have potential for application in San Diego. A formal feasibility was conducted in 2002, but as yet no further action has been taken on this proposal.

    Another local group owns several historic carbodies that it hopes to restore to operation. Check out their website for more details.

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    San Diego streetcar carbody
    St. Bridge 2001
    view of the Georgia St. bridge
    of University Ave. from bridge

    Richard Kurylo Photos 

    News / Updates

    May 2011- Harry Mathis reports that the first of San Diego Vintage Trolley’s refurbished PCC streetcars is now running and preparing to start the safety certification process. Harry supplied several pictures of car 529 in its newly completed form.

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    Diego 529 prepares for testing. Harry Mathis photos

    January 2010- Progress continues on the restoration of the first of San Diego Vintage Trolley’s refurbished PCC streetcars. Harry Mathis reports that car 529 now has all structural repairs, exterior and interior painting and undercoat virtually complete. A new floor has been installed and the roof has been reinforced to accommodate the new pantograph. New doors have been fabricated and are being installed, and new upholstery is in progress. Truck work is proceeding off-site. All work to date has been donated in-kind or paid for by cash contributions to SDVT.

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    from San Diego Vintage Trolley Inc.  


    November 2009- The first of San Diego Vintage Trolley’s refurbished PCC recently emerged from the paint shop in its new heritage paint scheme. Thanks to Harry Mathis for the pics.

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    July 2009- San Diego Vintage Trolley Inc. has acquired a forth car. The newest arrival is a former Philadelphia PCC. The car was acquired from the Museum of Transport in St. Louis, and arrived in early July. Meanwhile progress continues on the restoration of the first of the three former San Francisco cars. Thanks to Harry Mathis for the news.

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     Photos from San Diego Vintage Trolley Inc.