Streetcars doing what Streetcars should!

Car 434 at the Centennial Park station at the end of the line in Ybor City.


Last week, a business conference took me east to Tampa, Florida.

I had last been to Florida (Orlando) some 18 years ago. While I knew the state had grown, I did not have much knowledge about it beyond that. I did know one thing about Tampa. That was that it had a streetcar line. Not using light rail vehicles, but a fleet of reproduction streetcars. And one original car, a Birney Safety Car.

My hotel for this conference was the Marriott Waterside. Luckily, the streetcars stopped right in front of it. Arriving on Saturday the 25th, I even came to the hotel aboard the streetcar that afternoon; after flying into Tampa from San Francisco via Dallas.

The TECO Streetcar line is a heritage streetcar line owned by the city and operated by the Hillsborough Area Regional Transportation Authority. It travels 2.7 miles from downtown Tampa to the Ybor City district. Portions of the line are double track, but it also makes good use of single track with passing sidings. Overhead wire uses no trolley frogs but an effective double wire system.

Tampa had streetcars dating back to 1892. Ridership peaked in the 1920’s. Service ended in 1946.

From Wikipedia :

“The system has eleven operating streetcars: nine modern replica double-truck Birney cars, one replica open-bench “Breezer” (similar to J.G. Brill cars built for Metropolitan Street Railway of New York), and one restored original Birney car. All except the original Birney were built by the Gomaco Trolley Company.

The replica Birney cars have a welded steel body with cosmetic rivets added to make them look older. The cars are wheelchair-accessible, air-conditioned and have automated stop announcements. The seats are made of wood and are reversible for when the car changes direction. The cars are also equipped with on-board ticket dispensers; however, they do not provide change.

The original Birney #163 streetcar ran on the Tampa & Ybor City Street Railway between 1923 and 1946. It was found in 1991 in Sulphur Springs, a neighborhood in Tampa, where it had been used as an apartment and later a storage shed. After extensive restoration the car is back to its former condition and is used for special events, such as Streetcar Fest in mid-October. It is Florida’s only operational historic streetcar.”

I learned from one of the motormen that the reproduction cars were built using some components from cars from Milan, Italy. The one feature they have today is air conditioning. While is was not overwhelmingly warm in February, I can well imagine how welcome that must be during the summer months.

I was in town for five days and managed to ride the system every day. It connects with the Cruise Ship terminal and carries passengers in both directions to enjoy both the downtown and Ybor City areas. There were good passenger loads aboard the cars both day and night. Having run a few streetcars over the years, I was pleased to see how well the cars operated and how passengers enjoyed their rides.


Here are a few more images of the TECO streetcar line –


Beer and streetcars? Why yes, thank you!


Approaching the Centro Ybor station heading for downtown Tampa.

Entering the Dick Greco Plaza heading outbound toward Ybor City.

A car full of passengers riding in air conditioned comfort.

Leaving Centro Ybor heading for the end of the line at night.

One last run for the night heading back to the barn.

It was a pleasant treat to find this heritage streetcar line doing so well. If you are in Tampa, why not ride this route and enjoy the stops along the way for yourself?

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