Trolley project planned for historic districts

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A time machine may seem unrealistic, but a local historic foundation hopes to bring a piece of the past into the present through other means.

It’s been a long road for Pikes Peak Historical Street Railway Foundation members and volunteers – six years so far. But there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel in their attempts to revive the wonder and elation streetcars have brought to people.

Tourism is the foundation’s primary goal, said Howard Noble, vice president of the foundation’s operations. By connecting three historic districts – Old Colorado City, Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs – the foundation envisions transporting people to area stores and business. It plans to work with charter bus firms from around the country by bringing in tourists and arranging dedicated parking facilities in the downtown area. First-year projections put the number of trolley tourists at 225,000. The fare would be $1.25 per person but might include all-day passes, said Noble. The foundation also plans to stage an onboard murder mystery as well as a dinner car.

“The sky’s the limit as to what we can do,” said Noble.

Although Manitou Springs is not on the immediate service map, the foundation would like to eventually extend the trolley service there.

Meanwhile, Springs Transit – which runs a bus service from downtown Colorado Springs to Manitou Springs via Colorado Avenue – is talking to foundation members about running bus service from downtown Colorado Springs via Highway 24 to the end of the trolley’s route, then west into Manitou Springs.

Sherre Ritenour, unit manager of the city’s public works transit services, said the trolley might connect with Springs Transit in two ways. Discussions will soon begin regarding a downtown transit terminal, where riders can transfer from one mode of transportation to anotherat a hub near the intersection of Cascade and Colorado Avenues. Old Colorado City could have its own transit center north of Bancroft Park on Pikes Peak Avenue. This would be the only detour from Colorado Avenue. The Old Colorado City transit shelter will be covered but no additional parking is scheduled for the area.

Noble also plans to install and implement a working set of trolley cars to run along West Colorado Avenue from downtown Colorado Springs to Columbia Road – about one-half mile west of Old Colorado City. Noble said he and other foundation members hope to eventually stretch the route east to the old Lowell school on Nevada Avenue.

Ranging in age from 53 to 100, 12 of the 14 acquired electric trolleys need little restoration. Two of the cars are now under extensive restoration. Noble said all cars were either free or at the cost of transporting them to the Car Barn and Museum at 2333 Steel Drive.

Nearly three miles of the required 10 miles of track were donated by the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. The existing below-street track used many decades ago is old and unusable, said Ritenour.

Presently in its design and engineering phase, the foundation hopes to have a report for the Colorado Springs City Council by mid-April, allowing the foundation to move forward. It is now completing due diligence with city departments such as utilities, the street department and traffic department, discussing issues such as where the track will be laid and how it could converge with other traffic. The foundation will probably have a final report for city council by this fall, said Noble, and will then officially seek permission for trolley use on public streets.

The foundation has raised most of the $300,000 needed for the cost of the design and engineering study. An anonymous donor contributed $190,000 while foundation board members kicked in $10,000. A $50,000 matching grant was awarded by Colorado Springs-based Chase Stone Foundation. The Pike’s Peak Historical Railway Foundation continues to seek pledges so they can garner the $50,000.

The cost to build and operate the system will be about $5 million. The foundation has raised nearly $1 million in the form of revenue, services and materials. A two-year fund-raising campaign will begin in the fall.

Noble said returning streetcars to the cities will perpetuate the uniqueness of the old downtown areas.

“(This will) create a tourist attraction that Colorado Springs can be proud of,” he said.