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July 7, 2009 | 5 Comments

The Future of U.S. Streetcar Manufacturing – St. Louis?

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Clang, clang, clang went the trolley, ding, ding, ding went the bell,
Zing, zing, zing went my heart strings, from the moment I saw him I fell.

“The Trolley Song” from Meet Me in St. Louis

St. Louis has a rich history of streetcars.  The St. Louis Car Company, existing from 1887–1973, was considered the largest streetcar builder in the world.  But with the advent of automobiles came a decline in ridership in the 1920’s, along with lobbying from car and tire manufactures to promote private transportation, streetcar lines started fading out.  The construction of Highway I-70 threatened and ended service to many street lines.   The last St. Louis streetcar route ended May 21, 1966 on the Hodiamont line.

But today, streetcars are back in vogue, thanks to changes in transportation preferences and successful streetcar lines developed in Portland, Denver, Charlotte and Salt Lake City.  Now at least 40 transit agencies are looking at streetcar plans to spur economic development and revitalize urban cores.  We have our own trolley project in the works, St. Louis Trolley Project, to restore streetcar service to the Delmar Loop area.

After their popularity dwindled in the U.S., streetcar manufacturing moved out of the U.S.   All modern streetcars in use in America were manufactured in other countries.  Until last week, when the first American-made streetcar in almost 60 years was unveiled to the public. United Streetcar LLC and their parent company, Oregon Iron Works, manufactured the streetcar, which cost $2.9 million and created 90 jobs for the Portland area.

oregonironworksstreetcar1

Oregon Ironworks Streetcar (Photo via The Infrastructurist)

This is a great development for U.S. manufacturing, and a hopeful example for this century’s possible “green jobs” sector.  Portland has already ordered six more streetcars and Tuscon has placed a $26 million order.  As this trend continues to grow, what other cities will take advantage of increased U.S. demand?  Could St. Louis restore its historic glory as the center of streetcar manufacturing?

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5 thoughts on “The Future of U.S. Streetcar Manufacturing – St. Louis?”

  1. Jimmy Z says:

    It’s a great dream, and we probably have both ample skilled labor and affordable land to pull it off, we just need a much bigger market (not just “plans”) and an investor with really deep pockets. Colorado Railcar could probably enter the market quickly, IF the demand were actually there, and United Streetcar obviously could ramp up their production to meet demand from other cities.

    I also have to disagree with the statement that streetcars would create “green jobs”. Manufacturing of this type isn’t green, and if the electricty is produced by coal (as most is), all you’re doing is shifting the polution source offsite. Streetcars operating on clean diesel, with or without a hybrid electric component, would likely offer a much smaller carbon footprint, and could be an even more-lucrative market, since the infrastructure investment for a new system would be significantly less . . .

  2. Courtney says:

    Do you think “green jobs” could also include jobs that encourage or allow people to consume less fossil fuels? Running streetcars on electricity does typically involve burning coal, but if the end result is more people taking mass transit instead of private automobiles, and encouraging more dense land use, couldn’t it be considered a “green job”? (Not that I have anything against clean diesel or hybrid technology…just picking your thoughts)

  3. Jon Morgan says:

    Coal is not the whole country’s electricity source. It accounts for just 17% of Washington state’s energy mix, and a similar percentage in Oregon. Most of our electricity comes from green hydropower. Seattle’s electricity is already 100% green. Maybe this is a good reason why more manufacturing should be in the Northwest.

  4. Matt says:

    Hydropower is questionably green, as dams harm local fish populations and their construction damages the environment. Still, it’s better than using coal plants. The Natural Resources Defense Council recently came out with a study touting renewable energy potential in Missouri. The authors argue that green jobs resulting from clean energy development can revitalize the state’s economy. Here’s the link – http://www.nrdc.org/media/2009/090707.asp

  5. Jimmy Z says:

    St. Louis and Missouri is not Oregon or Washington state – the majority of our electricty here comes from coal, so whether we’re building or running streetcars, at least for the forseeable future, it won’t be a very green answer, although it could certainly be a viable new business answer for our struggling manufacturing sector . . .

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