The Sixtieth Year of Trolleybus Service in Seattle

Richard DeArmond


Photos of the Sixtieth Year of Trolleybus Service in Seattle: The Parade

Photos of the Sixtieth Year of Trolleybus Service in Seattle: the 10 Cent Rides

Photos of the Sixtieth Year of Trolleybus Service in Seattle: The Fan Trip

Mpeg videos of the Event

Fan Trip Route Map



On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday--April 28th, 29th, and 30th, 2000, Seattle celebrated sixty years of electric trolleybus service. Fans from various cities including Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Regina, Milwaukee, San Francisco, and Long Beach attended the event.

Service began on April 28th, 1940, on route 13 19th Ave. Brand new 1940 Twin Coaches were used on the line. In the next two weeks service also began on Route 2 Madrona, Route 3 E. Cherry, and Route 11 Madison all using the Twin Coaches. The Brills entered service later that year at which times more and more lines had opened or were opening. Two more batches of twins were to be delivered including the "Yellow Canaries," the longest of the Twins. In 1943 and in 1944 the Pullsmans were delivered and went into service.The original system reached its peak when the Harbor Island route went into service. This route was basically a rush hour route serving the shipyards during the war. In 1957 the #21 35th Ave. SW was converted to trolleys from diesel buses. This was the only conversion since the original system was finalized in 1943. It was also the only complete diesel line to be converted. In the original system, the trolleys replaced streetcar lines and occasionally parts of motor bus feeders. Route Map North 1963 , Route Map South 1963 .

In 1959 the then general manager proposed that the route 7-8 complex be dieselized. This plan was thwarted by the transit commission, who ordered that some of the trolleys be refurbished. Although the fleet diminished just a little, there were a lot of spares available. During the World's Fair of 1962 most of the operating trolleys were put to good use as ridership jumped during the fair. But the handwriting on the wall had been written. A consultant recommended that all lines that extended north of the Canal and south of Spokane St. be dieselized and extended into areas not served by the Seattle Transit System. In 1963 this was carried out. The #4 Montake survived as a trolley though it crossed the Canal terminating at NE 45th St. and Brooklyn Ave. NE. This line was considered a south-of-the-Canal line as only a small portion of it reached up to 45th St. In 1965 the 11 Madison was dieselized, and in 1970 routes 3 and 4 were dieselized. Route Map 1978. The mood was gloomy indeed in Seattle as the remainder of the system was threatened.

But a miracle happened. Political forces were at work applying pressure to reverse the dieselization process, retain the remaining trolleys, and even reelectrify some routes. At this time air pollution was a factor, and Seattle's hills were better accessed by trolleys than by diesel buses. A county wide vote created Metro, which purchased the Seattle Transit System. They promised to rebuild the system; the City of Seattle contributed to the rebuilding fund using some of the money that they received from Metro for the system.

In January of 1978, the trolley system was closed for rebuilding and expansion. On September 14th, 1979, routes 2 and 10 reopened using new AMGeneral trolleys built for the new system. Over the next two years the routes that survived reopened, which included some extensions of the surviving routes. Route 7 Rainier was reelectrified after an 18 year bit of dieselization. Two new routes were also opened: route 13 to Seattle Pacific College and route 43 to Ballard. Route 43 actually was an extension of the old route 4 Montlake from the University District to Ballard. Later, route 43 was split into two routes: 43 and 44. Route 43 followed the old Montlake line to the terminus at 11th Ave NE and 45th NE. Route 44 became a cross-town line. These two routes are through-routed nights and Sundays. About this time Metro purchase 45 M.A.N. articulated trolleybuses. These buses were put into service on routes 7, 9, 43, and 44. All but seven of the remaining AMGenerals were eventually used for increasing service and new routes.

Another new route was created: route 9, a cross-town route linking the University District and the Rainier Valley via Broadway. There was another new line: route 91. This was a short-lived downtown shuttle line that operated in non-peak hours on Monday through Friday linking the International District (Chinatown) and 3rd and Virginia St. via First Ave. This shuttle line has been the only casualty of the rebuilt system. And finally in 1997 the last new line opened: Route 70 linking the University District and downtown Seattle via Eastlake and Fairview Aves. Seattle Route Map 2000 North, Seattle Route Map 2000 South.

The AMGenerals are now nearing their end. A contract has been awarded to Gillig to supply Seattle with 100 new bus shells, with an option for about three or four more. The electrical components will be refurbished and updated more advanced components. The AMGenerals will probably disappear in 2002.

In a separate project a bus-tunnel was built under mainly 3rd Ave. and Pine St. for longer distant routes. Downtown streets had become crowded and the tunnel promised faster speed of these bus lines. The City stipulated that the tunnel had to be used by trolleys. Because many lines use freeways, on which trolleys are not permitted, and also because of the expansion of converting many diesel bus lines to trolleys, dual-mode buses were bought operating in trolley-mode only in the tunnel. The dual-mode buses rarely operate in trolley mode on the streets of Seattle, because they draw too much electricity, and many substations are not equipped for the extra draw of power, though the newer ones purchased are so equipped. The dual-mode buses have about four years to go when they will be pulled from the tunnel. At that time the tunnel will be closed for conversion to light rail. Most if not all the dual- mode buses will be scrapped; however, there is some speculation that the electric motors from them may be saved and used in new coaches in a similar rebuilding program as that with the AMGenerals.

Soon after the new system opened up, MEHVA (Metro Employees Historic Vehicle Association) (MEHVA) was created. Four historical trolleys and some other buses are preserved and in the care of MEHVA. These vehicles are used on fan trips during the summer months. MEHVA decided to celebrate the 60th anniversary by sponsoring three events. The first was the parade. The parade included all the operable historic trolleys: Brill 798, Twin Coach 643, and Pullman-Standard 1005, an AMGeneral, an M.A.N. articulated trolley, and a Breda dual-mode coach. The parade was led by the Brill with Charlie Davis driving. The parade left Main St, operating via 3rd. Ave S., S. Jackson, First Ave. S., First Ave, Virginia St., 3rd Ave., Lenora St., return via First Ave. to Jackson St. to 2nd Ave. S. to Main St.

The following day MEHVA provided rides for a dime (10 cents) from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. using the three historical vehicles. This was open to the public. The route was the same as the parade except the trolleys turned south on 3rd Ave. from Virginia St. to Stewart St. to First Ave. Weekend street construction on 3rd Ave. forced the dieselization of all the city routes except for the 10-12, 43, and 44. Around 10:30 a.m., one of the construction machines hit an underground power feeder cable for the system on or near Madison St. This disrupted power for the route 10-12 trolleys forcing the route to be dieselized. During the ten cent rides, the AMGenerals were seen coming into town and then being sent to Central Base as the replacement diesels took over. The next day the cable was repaired and trolleys returned to the 10-12.

On Sunday MEHVA planned a fan trip. The excursion began shortly after 11 a.m. and covered many of the original trolleys lines that still exist: Map of fan trip. Although the fan trip fell a half hour behind the schedule, the entire planned route was covered ending around 4 p.m. Thus concluded a very successful commemoration of sixty years of trolleybuses in Seattle.



This page last updated 2 MY 2000