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Group wants to bring Seattle's historic trolleys back

The Benson Trolleys, in storage
The Friends of the Benson Trolleys
The Benson Trolleys, in storage

Construction crews are busy relocating utilities for the new trolley line through downtown Seattle. The new line will integrate the shorter lines at either end of downtown into a larger system.

The trolley cars running on that line will have all the latest technology. But some civic leaders want to sprinkle some old, historic trolleys among the new trolleys.

The historic Benson Trolleys used to run on Seattle’s waterfront. The waterfront line closed down in 2005.

The new trolley line will run on First Avenue.

“We see a huge opportunity to put these old cars, which can function on those tracks, back on the streets of Seattle and have them connect our historic destinations: Chinatown-International District, Pioneer Square, the Pike Place Market and MOHAI,” said Don Blakeney, board member of the Friends of the Benson Trolleys.

His group managed to save a couple of old trollies for Seattle. They’ve been sitting in storage.

“People just want to ride it, because the brakes are loud, the dinger goes ding, you know. And it has all the fun aspects of something you don’t get to see every day anymore. And people just really dig that,” he said.

Seattle was once connected by many trolley lines until they were pushed out by automobiles. The Benson Trolleys were brought to Seattle from Australia in the 1980s by City Councilmember George Benson, who wanted to reconnect Seattle to its trolley-rich past. 

There’s some work to do on these trolleys before they’re ready for prime time. The voltage has to be stepped down, so it doesn’t fry the old electronics, and they’ll probably need wheelchair lifts. The group is trying to raise money for engineering work on Kickstarter.

The project has some big name boosters, said Blakeney: “Tom Gibbs, who was one of the first directors of King County Metro, Frank Shrontz, who is a former CEO of Boeing, Tomio Moriguchi, who used to run Uwajimaya.”

The city of Seattle isn’t interested in throwing money at a project like this. But a city spokesperson said if private citizens pay to upgrade the Benson Trolleys, they’d be welcome on the new streetcar line.