My take: A Wilmington streetcar line?

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My take: A Wilmington streetcar line?

Wilmington-based AmeriStarRail continues making a longshot bid to take over Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor operations.

The start-up, headed by longtime transit advocate Scott Spencer, has some worthy suggestions for Amtrak, including a fast-track bridge project over the Susquehanna River west of the Delaware state line.

The chances of the common-sense bridge and other AmeriStarRail ideas becoming a reality are slim. Amtrak is government-owned and not receptive to AmeriStarRail’s ideas with federal infrastructure funding is in place. Moreover, Amtrak brass has declined to hold further meetings with AmeriStarRail.

While Spencer’s focus has been on Amtrak, he recently testified at a state Department of Transportation’s budget hearing to propose a streetcar project for downtown Wilmington.

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“Wilmington is the largest city between New York and Washington without a rail transit link to its Amtrak train station. AmeriStarRail is proposing the Wilmington Trolley CityLink to provide a car-free, zero emissions, rail transit link connecting downtown Wilmington offices, residences, hotels, theaters, shops, and restaurants with the attractions and residences on the Riverfront via the Amtrak/SEPTA train station,” Spencer testified.

Click here for more details on the proposal.

The streetcar system would operate without overhead electric lines seen elsewhere and instead rely on battery power. One line would start at the Biden train station and loop around downtown, with the other link operating from the train station to the riverfront. Another spur would head into Brandywine Park.

Under AmeriStarRail’s proposal, trolley rides would be free, with state subsidies and corporate sponsorships footing the bill.

The idea of a trolley is nothing new for a city that abandoned streetcars back in 1940.

A system connecting the riverfront and downtown was championed a couple of decades ago and got to the design stage. Costs, that if memory serves, ran $30 million (about $60 million in today’s dollars) and an uncertain economy helped derail the project. Not helpful has been the mixed performance of the light rail system in Baltimore, which differs from streetcar systems but is always brought up by transit critics.

A lot has changed since 2000, with more than $1 billion in construction and renovation work in downtown and the Riverfront, along with a few thousand new residents.

It is easy to dismiss the idea of a trolley for a city of 70,000. Still, in a state where serious consideration is being given to a parkland cap over I-95 that would run into hundreds of millions of dollars and generate little economic growth, the proposal deserves a fair hearing. – Doug Rainey, chief content officer.

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