Galveston’s historic downtown trolleys will once again ply the island in coming months, but they will first have to leave the city before they come back for good.
City officials on Wednesday began shipping the nostalgic vehicles to Iowa, where they will be repaired and made ready for use after years of sitting idle in a barn.
Island residents and tourists alike have long awaited the return of the steel wheeled trolleys, which were damaged in Hurricane Ike in September 2008 and have not been used since. Wednesday was the first time one of the trolleys had truly left the barn, where they’ve been stored since the storm.
The trolleys will be the “total transportation package,” said Kyle Albright, chairman of the Galveston Trolley Ad Hoc Committee.
“This brings an intrinsic value that will have people wanting to get out of their cars and want to get in the trolley and ride,” he said.
The trolleys will be shipped to Ida Grove, Iowa, by trucks. Once in Iowa, they will be retouched and equipped with new control systems, brakes and other safety features.
The first trolley left the island Wednesday, and once it arrives in Iowa, the transporters will turn around and pick up the second trolley, city spokeswoman Jaree Fortin said. The third trolley will be transported within the few weeks following the arrival of the second car, she said.
Officials hope to have the trolleys operating by the middle of 2018, Fortin said.
“It’s more than nostalgia for us,” Fortin said. “This approach will help with easing some of the congestion on the island.”
Iowa-based Gomaco Trolley Company will repair the three trolleys for a total cost of $3.8 million, about $1.26 million per car.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency will cover about $1.6 million of the total cost, city officials said. The rest will come from insurance and convention center surplus funds, or money left over from local hotel taxes after allocations have been made to other city groups that use the funds.
The island had four trolleys in operation before the storm, but one of them was not running at the time because of repairs. Funding is only available for three of the four cars, but Gomaco has promised to hold the price of $1.26 million for the fourth car if funds become available before December, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.
City council first approved the restoration of the trolley system in February 2015, but only after it was threatened with having to repay federal grants used to build the trolley service before the storm.
Although some criticized the trolleys before Ike because they operated at a loss, the old-school vehicles have always been considered an island staple.
City officials also hope that the trolleys will contribute to a more comprehensive transportation network on the island, Public Works Director Kyle Hockersmith said. The trolley line will connect to a new line of buses that resemble trolleys, and the trolleys will also have bike racks, he said.
“It’s a multimodal approach,” Hockersmith said. “It’s really enhancing transit to a whole other level for the city of Galveston.”