• Mine equipment maker switches gears, helping commuters ride

  • Discussion relating to Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (Philadelphia Metro Area). Official web site can be found here: www.septa.com. Also including discussion related to the PATCO Speedline rapid transit operated by Delaware River Port Authority. Official web site can be found here: http://www.ridepatco.org/.
Discussion relating to Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (Philadelphia Metro Area). Official web site can be found here: www.septa.com. Also including discussion related to the PATCO Speedline rapid transit operated by Delaware River Port Authority. Official web site can be found here: http://www.ridepatco.org/.

Moderator: AlexC

  by Mark Schweber
Mine equipment maker switches gears, helping commuters ride rails
6/21/2004, 1:24 p.m. ET
The Associated Press

BROOKVILLE, Pa. (AP) — Sitting in a makeshift rail yard in the mountains of western Pennsylvania, this 56-year-old Philadelphia trolley car is a long way from home.

It's also a long way from operational. Bare wires hang from the ceiling, where the paint is peeling like a week-old sunburn. Seats and stanchions are strewn about the car, and the driver's seat is gone completely. The rust appears to be winning.

But this mountain town isn't where trolley cars go to die. It's where they go to be reborn.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority has sent 18 historic trolley cars here, where they're being rebuilt by Brookville Equipment Corp.

"Between they and us, we came up with a design to rebuild these cars from the ground up, complete with modern amenities like air conditioning that these cars had never had before," said SEPTA spokesman Jim Whitaker.

The cars came from Philadelphia in pretty bad shape. Built by the St. Louis Car Co. and delivered in 1947, they ran for 45 years before the entire fleet was retired in 1992 because the cars were in such bad shape. Since then, they have simply sat idle and deteriorated.

At Brookville, engineers begin by stripping down each car to little more than a bare shell. From there, testing is done to determine where the structure is sound, and where it needs to be shored up or replaced.

"As bad as the cars look, they're actually pretty sound," said Andy Cable, who oversees Brookville's trolley car projects. "The roofs were terrible, and they had to be completely replaced. But for a 60-year-old car, this really has held up pretty well."

Cars are then painted, and the interiors restored. A new computerized electrical system controls propulsion, braking, lights and heating and air conditioning.

When completed, each car looks brand new. Seats are made of shiny metal and covered with soft upholstery. The driver sits in a deep, plush seat in front of a control panel that seems better suited to a power plant than a souped-up bus. And the original exterior paint colors — green, cream and silver, with maroon trim — have been restored, right down to the wing-shaped logo of SEPTA's predecessor, the Philadelphia Transit Corp.

"It looks like it looked in the '40s or '50s, but it's basically a brand-new car," Whitaker said. "They're really nice-looking cars."

In a way, the trolley project took Brookville Equipment back to its roots. Founded in 1918 as Brookville Locomotive Works, the company began by putting railroad wheels on gasoline-powered vehicles, including school buses that — before modern paved roads reached the region — were often the best way to get children to school from small mountain towns.

Dalph S. McNeil and his brother, John, bought the company in 1977 and focused on providing mining equipment. While looking for new areas of business, they saw that New Orleans was looking for someone to build truck assemblies (the rail and propulsion systems underneath the trolley car) so it could reopen the Canal Street Line.

"It was a natural niche for us to go into a thing like streetcars," said McNeil, Brookville's president. "They're electronic, and it's something where we can get the components. And we're always looking for new niches for our business."

It was a good fit, too, for the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority. NORTA's St. Charles Line, opened in 1835, is the oldest continuously operating trolley line in the world. But when the agency wanted to open a new seven-car line along the Riverfront, it had to go to the Czech Republic to get truck assemblies, said Elmer von Dullen, NORTA superintendent for vehicle assembly.

When NORTA built 23 new cars for the Canal Street Line, Brookville stepped in to make the trucks.

"There is a trend to go back to this type of transportation," von Dullen said. "No. 1, the people love it."

That's why Philadelphia isn't alone in trying to recapture that old-time feel. Although San Francisco and New Orleans are the cities most often associated with trolleys, large-scale systems also exist in Portland, Ore., Memphis, Tenn., and Tampa, Fla.

Smaller or more specialized systems are operated in cities as diverse as Charlotte, N.C., Fort Collins, Colo., and Issaquah, Wash., with more than a dozen other cities studying whether to bring back trolleys.

Von Dullen said the trolleys not only appeal to tourists, they attract a local clientele that often shuns other forms of public transportation.

"People will ride streetcars who won't ride a bus," von Dullen said. "I don't know what it is, but if you take a business person, say an attorney downtown, they would probably not ride a bus. But the streetcar, for some reason, they just like to ride it. It's an unusual phenomenon.

"We actually get a lot of people who locate close to the line purposely so they can ride the streetcar. The property value goes up when there's a streetcar line."

The rebuilt SEPTA cars are destined for the Girard Avenue trolley line, which connects the burgeoning Northern Liberties neighborhood with the Philadelphia Zoo and West Philadelphia. The agency's other streetcar lines will continue to run Kawasaki-built trolleys that were first delivered in the early 1980s.

Whitaker said he didn't know when Philadelphia's rebuilt fleet would be up and running, but he hoped they would be popular as the cars in San Francisco or New Orleans.

"It should be a very interesting step back to the future when we get them out there," Whitaker said.


Brookville Equipment Corp.: http://www.brookvilleequipment.com/

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority: http://www.septa.org/

New Orleans Regional Transit Authority: http://www.norta.com/

American Public Transportation Association's Heritage Trolley site: http://www.heritagetrolley.org/

http://www.nj.com/newsflash/business/in ... t=business