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.”

Samantha Ketterer: 409-683-5241; samantha.ketterer@galvnews.com or on Twitter at @sam_kett

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(4) comments

Tim Thompson

Yay! It's about time.

Ok, G'towners, no double parking on the tracks with your hazards on while you run into a store on Postoffice, it's a royal pain in the behind when you do that.

Steve Fouga

A waste of money perpetuated through the years and, now, into our future. What a rodeo Galveston is...

Blanca Bell

$1.26MM to repair each one. How much is a new trolley?

Michael Moriarty

The total cost of repair of the four trolleys is stated as $5,040,000. I've never seen statistics for ridership, but my personal observation is that it is low. Six people at a time was a large number. Assume in the remaining lives of the trolleys they transport 10,000 people. With no additional costs, fuel, maintenance, etc., that is $504 per person for a maximum distance of less than five miles or about $100 per mile. Even when you assume 100,000 lives, that's $50 per person and $10 per mile! No other mode of transportation costs this much and this does not include ongoing operational costs. And, there an impassable hump of asphalt covering the track on 20th Street between Mechanic and Market. Do these trolleys serve a sufficient purpose to justify costs? Have the issues that took them out of service for 9+ years after Ike been rectified? Are they a total waste of money?

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