Streetcar Named Desire

Charlotte has an on-again-off- again relationship with streetcars, but there's no denying the role the sexy little vehicles have played in the city's growth. Consider: streetcars were responsible for the development of Dilworth, Elizabeth, Myers Park, and South End. Here's a look back:


January 1, 1887
Charlotte's first streetcar, pulled by a horse, hits Trade and Tryon and, accord- ing to the Charlotte Daily Chronicle, is greeted by a thousand citizens who "cheered vociferously" with "deafening shouts." (Maybe our NBA team's mascot should have been a streetcar.) By the end of the year, 132,721 people will ride a streetcar.

May 18, 1891
Finally, the horses and mules get a break. The first electric trolley departs Trade and Tryon. The two lines run to McDowell Street, which is at this point the eastern edge of city, and Latta Park in Dilworth, a new suburb built solely for the streetcar line.

May 1901
A new First Ward line opens.

December 13, 1902
Another new line (Charlotte has a fever, and the only cure is more streetcar) goes to Elizabeth, ending where Presbyterian Hospital is in 2011. In 1902 this is the far outskirts of the city, and the neighborhood will develop around it.

September 1, 1912
Yet another line opens to serve a brand-new upscale neighborhood called Myers Park.

The to-be-famous Car 85 is built in the Dilworth Trolley Barn at Bland Street and South Boulevard.

March 1928
Car 85 makes its final run, marking a long pause in Charlotte streetcar service. Most streetcars will be sold for scrap or turned into hot dog stands or lake houses. Though, as far as we can tell, no lakeside hot dog stands. Which is too bad, because that would be awesome.

March 1987
Car 85 is discovered being used as a house in Huntersville. Previously it was the office of the Air National Guard and a convenience store. But not at the same time. Because that would be weird.

Volunteers restore Car 85.

August 1996
Car 85 begins running again, along a few yards of track in South End. Over the next several years, the trolley will spur hundreds of millions of dollars of new development in what was a forgotten area of the city.

June 28, 2004
What is now called Charlotte Trolley begins to run into center city, making use of a fancy new bridge over I-277.

Fall 2004
Three brand-new trolley cars, pur- chased by CATS, which took over the service from Charlotte Trolley's volunteers, are put into daily service, run by paid operators.

April 2008
After a two-year suspension for construction of the light-rail track, trolley service resumes, but on weekends only.

June 28, 2010
The trolley makes its last run. Citing budget cuts, CATS discontinues trolley service. Must be the mon-ay!

Oh, the Places We'll Go … Eventually

Curious about the murky future of fixed-rail transit in Charlotte? Read on for the lowdown

For a four-year-old train line that runs in only two directions, it can be pretty confusing to keep track of what's what with Charlotte's light-rail system. We're here to help.

Four years ago, CATS passed a master plan designed to take the system to 2030. It contained all sorts of lofty — at the time, they were just labeled "exciting" — goals. It identified five corridors, on which 52 million passengers would be riding 463 buses and sixty-seven rail cars.

Then, the economy happened.

You see, CATS is funded by a special half-cent sales tax.

The money earned from fares is a blip in the budget. So when the recession hit and people stopped buying stuff, sales tax revenue plummeted, and that shiny plan went on the shelf. Compared to projections, CATS is about $2.2 billion in the hole. That's "b" as in "broke."
So committees and politicians and bureaucrats have been meeting to reconfigure the plan. The good news is that they were able to find creative ways to save some elements of it. We may not have a bullet train, but we do have a bulleted list:

Blue Line

  • The Blue Line will now terminate at an on-campus UNCC stop, rather than going all the way to I-485.
  • Projected cost is $800 million. Half of the funding would be from a federal grant (still unsecured), 25 percent is from the state, and the rest comes from the local sales tax.
  • North Tryon Street will be reconfigured to accommodate light rail down the middle.
  • The Blue Line is slated to open by 2016, if the federal grant comes through. If not, then it's back to the drawing board.

Red Line

  • The Red Line is twenty-six miles of commuter rail (more akin to a typical train than the light rail) that will run from uptown to Mount Mourne, a town just north of Davidson. It will run on existing railway.
  • Projected cost is $453 million.
  • CATS is searching for a private partner to help design, build, and maintain it.
  • If a partner is found, the line could open by 2017 or 2018.
  • The Red Line will not connect to the Blue Line.


  • The full $421 million, ten-mile streetcar line is on hold. It was originally scheduled to be running to Presbyterian Hospital by 2018 and Eastland Mall (or whatever becomes of it) by 2023. To the west, it would run to the Rosa Parks Community Transit Center at Beatties Ford Road and I-85.
  • But! A 1.5-mile segment, running from the Charlotte Transportation Center to Presbyterian Hospital, should be open by early 2015.
  • That segment will have six permanent stops, complete with canopies and benches. City Council and CATS have not decided if there will be a fare.
  • Two streetcars will be running, stopping every ten to fifteen minutes. CATS already has the cars — they were originally purchased to supplement Charlotte Trolley operations, before trolley service was ended.
Robert Qualkenbush

Robert Qualkenbush

Robert Qualkenbush is chief of police with AlliedBarton. We spoke with him and Bryan Leaird, the general manager of safety and security

There are officers on scene, checking fares, riding and getting off every few stops to sweep platforms, and also positioned behind the video monitors at the Rail Operation Control Center. We are sworn law enforcement officers, contracted with AlliedBarton Security Services, certified the same as municipal and county officers. Other cities use private security guards but security officers can only observe and report and can't arrest or prosecute, whereas we can if passengers are not following the rules and regulations. Officers get off at stops and walk through the parking lot, see if anyone's breaking into a car, if there's broken glass, etc. It's amazing to see doors unlocked, GPS units left up, and sometimes at night they'll be left on so they're glowing, which just begs people to break in. We want people to secure valuables or they'll become a victim, and we don't want that. — As told to Samantha Bare

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