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  • John Woodman (with assistance from Peter Watts)

San Diego Trolleys Anyone ?

The most recent visit of Peter Watts (he of destination blind fame) to San Diego and images from his travels there this month prompt a further transatlantic themed blog.

I am tempted to focus more on Brussels and a certain communication delivered there by the post office this week, but Peter has diverted my attention elsewhere.

San Diego is renowned (in the US) for being the first American city to reintroduce streetcars (or 'trolley' as they are known in that part of California). Its pioneering light rail line running right up to the US border with Mexico (there's a topical subject) was key to a string of American towns and cities giving serious consideration to the role and value of light rail operation in the later decades of the last century. A slew of projects quickly emerged following the success of the San Diego line both in the city itself as well as across the US from Sacramento to Buffalo, New York.

So many American light rail schemes have emerged in the past twenty years that it is hard to find an urban centre of note that hasn't developed or is planning to build light rail these days. San Diego's last streetcar operation pre light rail ended in 1949. A number of the system's PCC cars were sold on to El Paso, Texas. More about that later. Now not only does San Diego have an extensive network of red 'trolleys' heading it seems in all directions, but it also has created a heritage service using a combination of existing trackage in the downtown convention district and 'Gaslamp Quarter'. Former San Francisco PCC cars now double as remarkably authentic recreations of the San Diego PCC cars. Although all serious 'trolleycar buffs' will know a former San Francisco or Philadelphia PCC car when they see it, no matter the colour scheme and add ons.

Peter took this great image of an example awaiting its next trip during his January travels. The fleet livery reflects the style adopted by the San Diego system in its final years after World War Two. Obviously the single arm pantograph is necessary to ensure conformity with the principal operation that now includes further new cars supplied by the US plant of Siemens. San Diego's first 'U2' type fleet from the 1980s are now consigned to history although two or three examples are preserved in the US. Times move on quickly. It seems only yesterday I recall a ride on one to the border with Mexico, crossed over, grabbed an ageing cab and found myself having an excellent evening meal purely by the cab driver's recommendation, before returning to the border and catching the next car back to the city centre and my hotel.

Image courtesy Peter Watts

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