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Little Rock, Arkansas

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Little Rock trolley #410 at 2nd Street/Spring, in November 2004. Photo by Peter Ehrlich.

Contents

Overview

Little Rock, the capital of Arkansas, is situated on the Arkansas River approximately in the center of the state. Trolleys operated here until Christmas Day 1947, and there was a separate streetcar system across the river in North Little Rock which ceased service in 1939. Now, trolleys have returned to both cities, linked by a bridge over the river, in the form of RiverRail.

In the mid-1990s, Little Rock took steps to revitalize the downtown area surrounding the river. New hotels, a new Arts Center auditorium and a Convention Center were built or under construction. At the same time, the city of North Little Rock desired to upgrade its historic main business street. Following implementation of historic trolleys in Memphis and the success of heritage streetcars already operating in San Francisco, Portland and New Orleans, a study was done on the possibility of bringing streetcars back to Little Rock. Central Arkansas Transit Authority (CAT), the region's bus operator, was a participant in the planning. It was determined that historic streetcars would indeed be an asset for the continued upgrading of both cities.

By 2000, detailed engineering and planning had been performed, and CAT was nearly ready to procure trolleys and issue construction contracts for the proposed line linking the two cities. Basically, the line would be single track throughout, including over the river, and the Main Street bridge between Markham/Scott in Little Rock and Main/Washington would see rails constructed on a separated right-of-way along the east side of the bridge. In Little Rock, the line would loop clockwise along Markham Street, Commerce Street, 2nd Street and Spring Street, while in North Little Rock, the loop would run counter-clockwise from NLR City Hall via Main, 7th, Maple (where many historic homes stood) and Broadway. The project ultimately cost only $19.5 million, somewhat over budget.

All of the necessary track and overhead wire construction was complete by August 2004, and training and testing of the new cars had begun, pointing towards a November 1, 2004 opening. For the first week, rides were free, and over 3200 riders packed the three cars on Opening Day. Residents were clearly taking to their new attraction in a big way!

Station By Station

As mentioned, RiverRail is set up as a single-track operation throughout. The line totals 2.5 track miles. There are essentially two services at this time. First is the Little Rock loop, a clockwise operation beginning at Markham and Scott Streets (the Little Rock end of the Main Street Bridge) via Markham, President Clinton Avenue (the name changes at Cumberland Street), Commerce Street, 2nd Street, Spring Street and back to Markham. Trolleys share the street with automobile traffic, but in some cases operate along the curb. The second service is the North Little Rock Loop, which begins at the Little Rock end of the bridge (Chamber of Commerce stop), crosses the Arkansas River to Main and Washington in North Little Rock, then runs to Broadway after a stop at N. Little Rock City Hall and adjacent to the Alltel domed arena. After Broadway, the line runs on Main Street to 7th, with a turnout at 6th Street to the RiverRail carbarn, thence counter-clockwise via 7th, Maple and Broadway, and back to Main Street. Cars running on North Little Rock will either terminate at Scott and Markham or then run around the Little Rock Loop before returning to North Little Rock.

There are many sites to see on both routes. On the Little Rock Loop, Scott and Markham, the main junction, is the location of the Statehouse Convention Center. Heading east on Markham/President Clinton, where newly-gentrified storefronts and boutiques line both sides of the street, the cars make a stop at Commerce Street at the River Market. The Little Rock Public Library is also located nearby. Riverfront Park is only a block north of the street, and many residents take a leisurely stroll or play in the many playgrounds. The cars swing onto Commerce for just one block over to 2nd Street, and will again turn right and head west. Switches for the upcoming line extension to the Clinton Library and an historic railway station are in place here. At 2nd and Cumberland, a freeway off-ramp comes down to street level. The line crosses Cumberland, Main Street, Louisiana Street and Center Street before arriving at Spring Street, with a stop at Center serving the tall Metropolitan Bank Building, the old U. S. Bankruptcy Court, and the Arkansas State Museum. The downtown shopping district of Little Rock is just a few blocks away. At Spring, the tracks curve northward back to Markham, then east. There is a stop at Markham and Center by the DoubleTree Hotel and the Robinson Concert Hall. Along this leg of Markham, the trolleys pass the historic Capital Hotel, with its iron facade, and the Peabody Hotel, before reaching Markham/Scott. Here, streetcars can either go to North Little Rock or make another trip around the Little Rock Loop.

The North Little Rock Loop begins at the Scott and Markham (Chamber of Commerce) stop. While crossing the river to the North Little Rock Loop, the streetcars operate rather slowly, as there is concern about the grades at either end. But riders get wonderful views both up and down river. Arriving at Main and Washington in North Little Rock, the cars will then cross Washington and stop at City Hall, and this stop serves Alltel Arena as well. Crossing Broadway, trolleys begin the counter-clockwise loop by running north on Main Street, and many Main Street businesses with cast iron storefronts have been beautifully restored, as well as the Queen Anne Victorian Baker House at 5th Street. The landscape changes to a more humdrum scene as the streetcar crosses 6th Street, where a track to the carbarn comes in. The carbarn, a basic metal building with no particular distinguishing features, has two tracks for cars and room for expansion.

The streetcar turns left at 7th Street for a block over to Maple, and will pass a number of mostly plain but well-kept homes on this tree-lined one way street, and head for Broadway, where cars will again turn left to join the line at Main Street. From here, cars will again make the City Hall stop and head over the bridge into Little Rock.

Service/Schedule

Service begins at 11:00am every day, ending at 10:00pm Monday-Wednesday, 11:00pm, Thursday-Saturday, and 5:00pm Sunday. Fares are 50 cents, and day passes are available for $2.00.

Cars run around the Little Rock Loop every 15 minutes. Streetcars on the North Little Rock operate every 22 minutes if terminating at Scott and Markham (Chamber of Commerce), or 34 minutes if also doing the Little Rock Loop.

The Future

Construction is about to begin on the 1/4-mile, $7.6 million extension from 2nd and Commerce to the Clinton Library next year. Up to two more Gomaco trolleys are expected to be ordered.

Beyond 2005, there are grandiose plans to extend service to the State Capitol, the downtown shopping district and possibly Central High School, site of one of the seminal moments in Civil Rights history. There is also talk about light rail.

When the extension to the Clinton Library opens, this could allow for improved and more frequent service on the full North Little Rock/Little Rock service.

In the meantime, the crews, the public and the politicians are very enthusiastic about the return of streetcars to Little Rock.

Roster

In 2000 a contract for three replica double-truck Birneys, similar to but shorter than the cars built for Tampa, were ordered from Gomaco of Ida Grove, IA. Even before most construction had begun, these had arrived at the new carbarn at Main and 6th in North Little Rock in February and August 2003. The trolleys, built with motors, controllers, and other electricals and equipment from ex-Milan, Italy Peter Witts, cost $750,000 each, are air-conditioned, and have special magnetic track brakes for emergency braking capabilities, required for operation over the bridge, with its steep grades at both ends of the bridge. The cars are numbered 408, 409 and 410, continuing where the old system left off (its highest number, incidentally, a double-truck Birney, was 407). For a time, Charlotte, NC tried to set up a years' lease with CAT.

Photo Gallery


Image 36094
(123k, 720x478)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Main/6th

Image 36098
(106k, 720x478)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Scott/Markham (Chamber of Commerce)

Image 36099
(97k, 720x478)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Main Street Bridge

Image 36105
(119k, 720x478)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: North Little Rock City Hall

Image 36108
(147k, 720x478)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Markham/Center

Image 36113
(154k, 720x478)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Spring/Markham

Image 36115
(175k, 720x478)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: 2nd Street/Main

Image 36116
(161k, 720x478)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: 2nd Street/Spring

Image 36117
(137k, 478x720)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: 2nd Street/Spring

Image 36118
(109k, 720x478)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: 6th & Main Carbarn

Image 36119
(168k, 720x478)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Commerce/2nd

Image 36120
(110k, 720x478)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Maple/6th

Image 36121
(134k, 720x478)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Markham/Center

Image 36124
(128k, 720x478)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Markham/Cumberland

Image 36127
(118k, 720x474)
Photo by: Peter Ehrlich
Location: Markham/Scott


More Images: 1-35

Links

Official Site - Central Arkansas Transit Authority. The official site of the Little Rock River Rail Streetcar, including schedules, fares, and more.

Page Credits

By Peter Ehrlich.









http://www.nycsubway.org/wiki/Little_Rock,_Arkansas
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