Update from Friends of the Benson Trolleys

At last! Our non-profit, Friends of the Benson Trolleys, will start our initial fund raiser Thursday, Feb. 1.

Our goal is to raise about $50K to pay for an analysis of the work necessary to permit the vintage cars to operate on the city’s Center City Connector and the South Lake Union lines. Modifications such as reducing the incoming voltage, installing doors on both sides of the cars, modifying the braking systems and, perhaps installing batteries will be evaluated and costed. Our contractor for the analysis – Historic Railway Restoration, Inc. – is local and very well respected for this kind of work.

A link to our fund raising video is provided below. Also, our web page can be accessed by going to – www.friendsofthebensontrolleys.org.

A couple of updates from my last communication – First, as you will see in the video, the cars are stored in an excellent warehouse in, of all places, Anacortes. As I mentioned before, all suitable local warehouses are being used to grow pot. Vince and Tom Mendenhall of Historic Railway Restoration, Inc. found the Anacortes facility and are owed a huge debt of gratitude. Metro Transit paid to move the cars and SDOT is paying the storage costs. Many more thanks are due these organizations.

Second, we have obtained approval from the IRS for our own 501(c)(3) charitable organization – The Friends of The Benson Trolleys. Our legal counsel, Rachel Schaefer, from Riddell Williams has done a wonderful job for us in obtaining the IRS designation as well as registration with the Washington Secretary of State as a non-profit. She has done all of this work on a pro-bono basis. We thank Stan Orr for introducing us to Rachel.

All this would not have been possible without your long-term commitment to preserve the Benson Streetcars and the fine work you did in creating the Save Out Streetcars (Again) web site. All historic streetcar buffs thank you. I hope you can send our fund raising video to the 1000+ folks who signed your petition.

All my best,


Update on the Benson Trolleys

Hi everyone,

Shortly after sending my last status report, we found that St. Louis had retained a well-connected local lobbyist to help secure all of the Benson Trolleys for its Delmar Loop streetcar line.  The County was being persuaded to accommodate the STL proposal.

We’ve spent most of the intervening months  in an all-out effort to save at least some of the vintage cars.  It has taken dozens of meetings but finally, with cooperation from supportive staff members at Metro Transit and SDOT, an agreement was reached to keep two of the Benson Trolleys here in Seattle.  Three have been sold to STL and will be moved next week. Our cars will be transported on the 3rd if all goes well. We expect TV coverage of the moves so be watching.

Part of the agreement with the County and City required that ‘our’ cars be moved so that the warehouse could be razed.  During our negotiations we were successful in getting the County to pay for moving the Seattle cars and the City to pay for their storage for 2 years.  We were obligated to find a suitable storage site.  Unfortunately almost all available warehouses in Seattle are being used to grow pot so we had to look elsewhere.  Companies that have experience in  restoring vintage rail vehicles offered to help.  Historic Railway Restoration, Inc. from Arlington found sites that meet our needs.

During the time it took to resolve the division of  the vintage cars, the City decided that it would proceed with the design of Center City Connector (CCC) based on buying modern streetcars for the fleet.  These cars will be similar to those on the First Hill line and will operate on battery power for part of the alignment.  This creates a serious propulsion challenge for the vintage cars which cannot accommodate the size and weight of batteries.  There are options we’re investigating which will be the subject of future status reports.  At least we know the old cars can operate on the South Lake Union line where there is a continuous overhead contact system.

We will shortly be starting a campaign to raise funds for retro-fitting the vintage cars.  The non-profit “Friends of the Benson Trolleys” has been registered in the State of Washington and an application for tax exempt status will be filed with the IRS.  Meanwhile, we are pleased to announce that MOHAI has agreed to be our 501(c)3 sponsor while we wait for the Federal government to act. A web page is being designed and a video describing the program to preserve and restore the Benson cars is being prepared.

Watch for future progress reports and the start of our funding campaign.


Seattle’s old waterfront streetcars will live on – in different ways

Some of the historic 1920s cars will stay in Seattle. A private venture, Friends of the Benson Trolleys, is now launching a two-year fundraising effort to retrofit the streetcars. The hope is they can operate on the future Center City Streetcar line along First Avenue. The remaining three cars have been sold to the City of St. Louis and will go into service on the heritage trolley line. That will serve the Delmar Loop district and University City, Missouri. The city’s Loop Trolley District will pay about $200,000 for the trolleys.

Seattle’s old waterfront streetcars will live on – in different ways

Press release:

King County Metro and Seattle to retain two vintage streetcars as fundraising campaign kicks off

Three remaining streetcars headed to St. Louis to work heritage trolley line

A citizen campaign is underway to maintain the presence of the George Benson streetcars as part of Seattle’s new streetcar network.

The private venture, Friends of the Benson Trolleys, is launching a two-year fundraising effort to retrofit the streetcars so they can operate on Seattle streetcar tracks and be placed in service alongside the modern cars.

The remaining three cars have been sold to the city of St Louis and will be placed into service on the heritage trolley line that will serve the Delmar Loop district and University City, Missouri. The city’s Loop Trolley District will pay approximately $200,000 for the trolleys.

“While we would prefer to have all five cars return in Seattle, we believe that if we can put the remaining two cars back in service we will honor George Benson’s legacy and provide a link between the historic districts in Chinatown-International District, Pioneer Square and the Pike Place Market,” said former Metro General Manager Tom Gibbs, who has long advocated for the Benson cars. Gibbs and other advocates are leading the Friends of the Benson Trolleys effort and will immediately begin a fundraising campaign to bring the cars back into operation.

The waterfront streetcars – originally operating along the Seattle Waterfront and the Chinatown-International District – have been stored in a warehouse in SoDo since being taken out of service in 2005. In support of the citizen-led effort, Seattle has agreed to help store the remaining cars for two years pending the outcome of the private fundraising campaign. For now, ownership of the vehicles will remain with King County.

The Benson streetcars, originally constructed in Melbourne, Australia, were brought to Seattle in 1982 by Seattle City Councilmember George Benson to operate on Seattle’s waterfront. In 1990, the line was extended through Pioneer Square to Chinatown-International District and the cars were further retrofitted with funding from the Federal Transit Administration. In 2005, the streetcars were forced out of service by the construction of the Olympic Sculpture Park, which required demolition of the maintenance barn that housed them. Since then various proposals have been made to put them back in service, but that has proven difficult due to lack of funding and construction related to the Central Waterfront, Seawall, and Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement projects.

King County Metro has stored the vintage Benson streetcars for more than a decade, but the old warehouse is in poor condition and its site is needed for bus base expansion to serve King County’s growing transit needs. Continued storage of the cars would have necessitated an expensive move and a new warehouse. In addition, last year, the Federal Transit Administration informed King County that if the streetcars are not put back in service soon, Metro will need to repay the federal government’s remaining investment in the cars of about $205,000.

“Metro is very proud of our history with the Benson streetcars, but we need to balance that with our obligation to serve the people of King County with efficient bus service as our region continues to grow,” said Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond.

The City of Seattle is currently planning a Center City Connector primarily on 1st Avenue that will link the Westlake terminus of the South Lake Union Streetcar with the Pioneer Square terminus of the First Hill Streetcar. Seattle has indicated that it is open to a mix of vintage and modern streetcars, but does not have funds available for restoration of the vehicles. The city has agreed to store the cars for up to two years to give private interests the opportunity to raise the money needed to upgrade the Benson streetcars to meet modern operating standards and ADA requirements.

Advocates for putting the vintage Benson streetcars back in service have worked hard over the past decade to find a way to run them on the streets of Seattle again.

While an agreement has been reached to bring the three trolleys to St. Louis, there are still several details to be worked out regarding the move and storage of the remaining two streetcars. The goal of all parties is to get the Benson streetcars out of the warehouse and to achieve a win-win-win solution that will keep at least part of the rich heritage of the vintage cars in our region.


National Geographic calls the Waterfront Streetcar one of the world’s Top 10 Trolley Rides. We need to bring it back!

National Geographic calls the Waterfront Streetcar one of the world’s Top 10 Trolley Rides. We need to bring it back!

Bertha is stuck. The Legislature is ready to force Seattle to pay for any cost overruns on the tunnel, or to kill the project entirely. The city is cutting back on its grand vision for the Waterfront due to lack of funds. The Waterfront is languishing.

But the City Council is looking at the changes that district elections will bring in 2016. Old council members are announcing their retirements, and new candidates are emerging. Ask candidates: Do you support bringing back the Waterfront Streetcar?

And tell them: Yes, we the voters do!

The Waterfront Streetcar, possibly with a mix of heritage and modern equipment, is a vitally-needed, accessible, and affordable transportation link that will serve visitors and residents alike.

Let’s not wait. Bring back the Waterfront Streetcar now!

Contact the City Council in support of the Center City Connector

Tom Gibbs writes:

Hope everyone is having a happy Saturday.  Wish I could say the same for mine.

Just got word that opposition is growing  toward the Center City Connector (CCC).  As you know, this line on 1st Avenue provides our ONLY opportunity to re-activate the George Benson streetcars.

It is IMPERATIVE  that e-mails and phone calls supporting the CCC be directed to Councilman Tom Rasmussen before noon on Monday.  Mr. Rasmussen is Chair of the Council’s Transportation Committee and is in a position to scuttle or support Council Resolution 31526  which designates 1st Avenue as the Locally Preferred Alternative for the CCC.

Substantive amendments to the resolution would severely damage the project’s chances to obtain a large Federal grant.  Without the grant, the project is likely doomed and the opportunity to connect the South Lake Union and First Hill streetcar lines with a very viable link will be lost.  And, of course so will the vintage Benson cars.

Supporting messages to the other Council members would be appropriate, too.

Let’s hope we will be successful on Monday.

To that end, attendance at the 2:00 PM Council meeting would be very helpful.



Tim Burgess, Council President; [email protected]    Office  Phone: 206-684-8806
Sally Bagshaw; [email protected]     206-684-8801
Sally Clark; [email protected]   206-684-8802
Jean Godden; [email protected]   206-684-8807
Bruce Harrell; [email protected]    206-684-8804
Nick Licata; [email protected]    206-684-8803
Mike O’Brien; [email protected]   206-684-8800
Tom Rasmussen; [email protected]   206-684-8808
Kshama Sawant; [email protected]   206-684-8016

URGENT!! – Letters needed

Tom Gibbs writes:

Hello everyone, hope you’re having a great 4th of July weekend.

We need to write members of the City Council and urge them to proceed with the planning for the Center City Connector (CCC) – the streetcar line that will connect the South Lake Union and First Hill lines. As I have mentioned in the past, it is this line along 1st Avenue that will accommodate the reactivation of the Benson streetcars and provide a historic trolley run from the International District, through Pioneer Square, past the Market and on to MOHAI.

On Monday, the Council delayed action to select 1st Avenue as the preferred alignment for the CCC when some members questioned the idea of using streetcars at all. This action was taken despite a unanimous recommendation from the Council’s Transportation Committee to proceed with the project as planned by SDOT.

If the Council refuses to support the use of streetcars on 1st Avenue, we will have no chance of seeing the vintage Benson cars in service on our streets again.

I urge you to write the members of the City Council and express your support for the CCC. You can mention that connecting the SLU and FH lines on 1st Avenue provides the only opportunity to reactivate the Benson streetcars and that you strongly support that result.

We saved the George Benson cars from being sold to St. Louis by writing many dozens of letters. Let’s preserve what we’ve started by letting the City Council know that we want the vintage cars on our streets again.

The Council will consider the CCC again on July 21st so please write your letter as soon as possible. Individual Councilmember e-mail addresses follow:

Mayor Murray is supporting the CCC so it would be useful to let him know he has your support. His e-mail address is; [email protected]

Warm regards,


Options for returning the streetcars to service

From Tom Gibbs:

We have an excellent opportunity  to put the historic Benson streetcars back in service and preserve the legacy George created for us.  Of course there are challenges.

A quick summary………

As I first mentioned last October and again a few weeks ago, the City is seriously studying the use of the vintage cars on the Center City Connector (CCC) which will connect the South Lake Union line with the soon to be finished First Hill line using a 1st Avenue alignment. Excerpts from the study are attached.

Vintage Streetcar Option 1

Option 1 shows the four high platform stops the old cars would make starting adjacent to the International District  at 5th and S. Jackson Street and continuing through Pioneer Square to the Market and on to MOHAI. This service  could be called ‘The Historic Express” connecting, as it would, the four most significant historical destinations in the City. This option meets the requirements of the ADA legislation.

Vintage Streetcar Option 2

Option 2 shows the same service but without making the cars or the stops ADA compliant.  Although the cars could be boarded at more stops, the lack of ADA compliance makes this option much less likely to be recommended.

New information from the City indicates that retrofitting the cars for service on Option 1 would cost $2.5M each while the cost of  a modern car is expected to be $6M.  The major retrofitting cost items include a second door, automatic door closers to eliminate the need for a second operator and higher voltage motors to allow the cars to operate along with modern cars on the same line – namely the CCC.

The challenges……….

Metro Transit has been storing the Benson cars and incurring a considerable annual cost.  With the failure of Prop 1 creating  the need to curtail bus service it is quite likely than the County will soon demand that this cost be borne by another entity OR that the cars be sold. There is room for a new storage facility for the vintage cars next to the SLU maintenance base.  The City’s cost estimate for such a facility is $2M.  Currently there are no funds available for construction.

At my last meeting with SDOT officials it was strongly suggested that we supporters of restoring the Benson cars demonstrate our commitment to that end by finding funds to restore one car and build the storage facility. The officials believe that the funds required  to restore the remaining 4 cars to service would be available from public sources if we are successful in our fund raising.

There, my friends, are the challenges before us!!  Contacts with potential large donors are getting underway.  Creation of a 501(c)(3) organization will begin immediately to encourage donations large and small.  Our first goal is obtaining enough money to build the storage facility.   Once the cars are safe and secure, the restoration of the first car can begin with donated labor.  With restoration underway funds for new motors, etc would be easier to obtain.

I’ve found lots of political support for putting the vintage Benson cars back in service.  BUT there are many compelling and competing demands for public funds so I believe it is necessary to create this  public/private partnership to elevate our project on the priority list.  I look forward to everyone’s help.

Warm regards,


Historic streetcars still in plans for First Avenue line

Tom Gibbs writes:

Hi Friends of the Benson Streetcars,

On April 29, at Town Hall the City Club and Seattle Channel sponsored a town meeting to discuss the plans for the proposed waterfront park. The meeting is being shown on Seattle Channel.

Of interest to all of us is a response given by Marshall Foster, Seattle’s Planning Director, to a question about the use of the Benson cars on the waterfront. Marshall was very positive about including the vintage cars on the Center City Connector which will run on 1st Avenue. He mentioned the attraction of using the old cars to connect Pioneer Square with the Market and MOHAI.

You might remember that I started to explore the CCC option with SDOT late last year. I’ll have some good information to share in the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, take a look at Marshall’s comments – they are very encouraging.

Warm regards, Tom

The waterfront plan still ignores the streetcar

The waterfront plan still ignores the streetcar. They are proposing a rubber-tired shuttle bus, just like Metro’s failed Route 99 which replaced the George Benson line.

When I pressed staff at the presentation last Wednesday, they made some lame comment about putting the W2 cars on First Avenue. That would require two sets of stations, one for high-floor cars and one for low-floor cars. A real mess.

Now is the time to press for returning the historic cars to the waterfront. With the viaduct gone, there is certainly room for a 20-foot ROW for streetcars!