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FROM RAILS TO RUBBER
60 YEARS OF ELECTRIC TROLLEY BUSES IN SEATTLE
Part 2


Trackless trolleys loading on Union Street at 4th Avenue.
Colorized postcard courtesy of the Joshua C. Shields Collection

Twin Coach #902 outbound on N.W. Market Street at Ballard Avenue N.W. in July 1949. Photo by James Turner courtesy of the Joshua C. Shields Collection
Transit ridership dwindled both locally and nationwide in the post war years as America's love affair with the automobile blossomed. Seattle's downtown streets were converted to one-way operation in 1955 requiring some changes in routing and overhead wire. The Seattle Transit System receiving subsidies in 1956, but Seattle's trolley bus system continued to operate. The route 34 Harbor Island was converted to motor coach in 1957 but was offset by the electrification of the route 21 35th Avenue SW. In 1962 the entire Seattle Transit fleet was spiffed up to provide service to Seattle's Century 21 World's Fair. Additional overhead installed around the fairgrounds brought the system to an all time high of 100 street miles of two-way trolley overhead wire. Joining the trolley buses was a new, novel form of electric powered transportation - the monorail.

In the late spring and early summer of 1963 Seattle Transit took delivery of a fleet of 100 diesel buses from Flxible of Loudonville, Ohio. The new buses were purchased to extend transit service north of 85th Street to 145th Street, an area that had been annexed by the City of Seattle nearly a decade earlier, and to utilize new roadways like the Alaskan Way
Madison Park circa 1950. Photo by Ira Swett courtesy of the Mike Voris Collection.
Viaduct and the Fauntleroy Expressway. This brought the end of trolley bus service in the north end of the city and West Seattle. All 100 of the PCF-Brills and 75 Twin Coach trolley coaches were retired. A citizen's group calling itself COMET - Committee for Modernization of Electric Transit protested the trolley route abandonment's with an initiative to voters, which failed in 1964. The conversion of these routes to diesel saved the system half a million dollars annually in operating costs. The high costs to electrify route extensions and the lack of any new trolley buses on the market had sealed the fate of much of the trolley bus system. In 1965 the 11 East Madison line was motorized followed in 1970 by the routes 3 North Queen Anne/Jefferson Park and 4 East Queen Anne/Montlake. This left the system just over fifty trolley buses to operate on just over 30 street miles of two-way trolley overhead wire. The continuing abandonment's had brought the system's management under fire. An independent study ordered by the transit commission concluded that trolley buses were superior in performance to motor coaches on Seattle's many hills and that operating costs were comparable except for overhead maintenance costs.

Pullman #993 eastbound on Pike Street at Third Avenue in March1969. - Photo by Harre Demoro courtesy of the Mike Voris Collection.
Financial problems continued to mount and every attempt was made to economize at the transit system. Jefferson Station was closed in 1970 and the remaining trolleys moved to the Atlantic Station. Seattle voters eliminated the independent Seattle Transit Commission in November of 1970 and control of the system was turned over to the city. The Seattle area economy was in a tailspin because of massive layoffs at Boeing, a result of congress refusal to fund the SST.

Voters approved merging the city owned Seattle Transit System with the privately held Metropolitan Transit Corporation into a single, countywide transit system under the auspices of the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle beginning operation on January 1, 1973. Part of the new transit agencies plan was to completely rehabilitate and expand the city's trolley bus system. The Arab oil embargo in 1973 drove home the need for more transit as well as alternative fuels. As cars lined up at fuel pumps more passengers began to line up at the doors of the newly formed agency's buses.

New trolley wire being strung as part of the rehabilitation project on W. Raye Street at 7th Avenue W. in August 1978. - Photo by Carol Voris.
On January 21, 1978 the scant remains of Seattle's electric trolley bus system were shut down to be replaced by a totally new expanded electric trolley bus system. Most of the city's original trackless trolley routes to the south end, First Hill, Capital Hill, and Queen Anne Hill would be electrified once again. By September 15, 1979 the first set of routes were back in trolley service. Additional trolley routes were brought back online, as overhead wire, power distribution, and new electric trolley buses were completed. The new system featured a feederless power distribution system that eliminated miles of unsightly parallel feeder lines, induction switches, and 109 new chopper controlled electric trolley buses were ordered from the AM General Corporation. The new overhead power distribution system and the new buses both had a number of bugs to work out making the new system very trying for riders and transit employees alike at first. By the summer of 1981 all of the trolley routes were up and running out of the Jefferson Base.

A small but determined group of Metro employees formed the Metro Employees Historic Vehicle Association - MEHVA in 1981 to preserve, restore and operate representative examples of
Jefferson Base closed for the last time in 1982. Brill #798 was the last trolley coach to leave the base. - Photo by Leo Koszewski.
vintage trackless trolleys that had been recently retired. MEHVA registered as a non-profit, tax-exempt group and became the caretakers of the Metro Transit Historic Fleet. That collection now encompasses a streetcar, trackless trolleys, and motor coaches dating from 1919 to 1979 all of which operated in Seattle and King County.

Jefferson Base closed for the last time in 1982 with all the trolleys moving to Atlantic Base. Jefferson was razed to make way for athletic fields for nearby Seattle University.

Forty-six German built articulated trolley buses joined Metro's fleet of 252 articulated diesel buses in 1986. The coaches were originally slated for the planned re-electrification
Brand new AM General trolley #956 leaving Jefferson Base on an afternoon tripper. - Photo by Leo Koszewski.
of routes 15 and 18 between Ballard and West Seattle, but those plans were scrubbed. The new buses were assigned to the routes 7 and 43, the most heavily patronized routes in the system. This fleet was removed from service for over a year while the manufacturer and Metro brainstormed a fix to the buses hopping on the center axles when stopping.

After several years of construction that had seemed to nearly gut the Seattle's Central Business District in September of 1990 the Downtown Seattle Transit Project was completed and the Seattle bus tunnel opened providing a 1.3 - mile underground short cut under downtown Seattle. Trolley buses that had been rerouted during the tunnel's construction returned to Third Avenue. The bus tunnel introduced a totally separate trolley bus system for a new specific fleet of 236 articulated dual mode buses. The buses operate off of trolley overhead while in the tunnel and switch to diesel propulsion once on the surface. While not the first installation of dual power buses it is the largest currently in operation. The bus tunnel will provide a vital right of way for the future Sound Transit light rail system.

Coach #4000, the first of 46 MAN articulated trolleys, enroute to Atlantic Base for delivery. - Photo by Leo Koszewski.
In 1994 the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle was dissolved as a result of a governance issue and public vote to merge the unique jurisdiction into King County government. Metro Transit became a division in King County's Department of Transportation. King County continued the commitment to clean, quiet electric transit with the electrification of the route 70 from downtown to the University District via the Eastlake neighborhood in September of 1997.

For over sixty years the electric trolley bus has played a major role in transporting the citizens of Seattle and King County. At present King County Metro Transit operates 147 electric trolley buses on nearly 60 street miles of two-way trolley overhead. In 2002 and 2003 as part of a continuing commitment to provide electric trolley bus service, King County Metro Transit took delivery of 100 new Gillig trolley buses. These coaches utilize the motors, propulsion controls and other components from the retired fleet of 1979 AM General trolleys. This ultimate in recycling saved $200,000 per coach, totaling $20 million in savings for the purchase of the new fleet.

Prototype Gillig trolley #4100 crossing the 12 Ave S bridge on a morning promotional run. - Photo by Metro Transit.


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