Waterfront Streetcar

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Waterfront Streetcar

Car 272 eastbound on Main Street,
at the Occidental Park stop
Type heritage streetcar/ tramway
Status Ceased operation
Locale Seattle
Termini Broad St. at Alaskan Way
Jackson St. at 5th Ave.
Stations 9 (8 standing, 1 demolished)
Services 1
Opening May 29, 1982
Closed November 18, 2005
Possible future resumption
Operator(s) King County Metro
Rolling stock 5 Melbourne W2 trams
Line length 1.6 mi (2.57 km)
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Electrification Overhead wires, 600 V DC
Route map
Jackson Street
International District
Occidental Park
Pioneer Square
Washington Street
Central Waterfront
Madison Street
Central Waterfront
University Street
Central Waterfront
Pike Street
Central Waterfront
Bell Street
Central Waterfront
Vine Street
Central Waterfront
(Demolished)Broad Street
Central Waterfront
(Demolished)Maintenance Shed
Central Waterfront

The Waterfront Streetcar, officially the George Benson Waterfront Streetcar Line, was a 1.6-mile (2.6 km)-long streetcar line run by Metro Transit in Seattle, Washington, so named because much of its route was along Alaskan Way on the Elliott Bay waterfront. Service began on May 29, 1982, which was the first streetcar run in Seattle since April 13, 1941.

The streetcar has been suspended since November 18, 2005, when the maintenance barn and Broad Street station were demolished to make room for the Seattle Art Museum's Olympic Sculpture Park.[1] While some of the track and eight of the nine stations remain in place, it is unclear when or if the line will return. A section of the track was ripped out in the spring of 2012 as part of the construction project drilling a deep bore tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. James Corner Field Operations, a Manhattan-based landscape-architecture firm hired to recommend a new vision for the Seattle waterfront once the Viaduct has been demolished, has recommended the Streetcar not be returned to Alaskan Way, but to nearby First Avenue instead.

The streetcar service was replaced by Metro bus Route 99, using buses which were wrapped to look like streetcars. However when the route was revised to run north on 1st Ave, the wrapping was eliminated in February 2011. Although there had first been rumours that the streetcars had been sold on eBay or shipped to Tennessee,[2] they are currently stored in a Metro Transit warehouse in the SoDo district.


Service began on May 29, 1982, which was the first streetcar run in Seattle since April 13, 1941. The first three streetcars had been brought to Seattle from Melbourne, Australia, by George Benson (1919–2004), a former pharmacist, who was a Seattle City Councilman from 1973 to 1993. They had been Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board cars 482, 512 and 518, and they kept those numbers in Seattle. Two more Melbourne streetcars were acquired between 1990 and 1993. All were W2-class trams that had originally been built between 1925 and 1930. In 1990, the line was extended by one-quarter mile, along Main Street and 5th Avenue, to Jackson Street, to connect to the International District/Chinatown Station of the then-new Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel.[3] The extension opened for regular service on June 23, 1990.[3][4] The line's fourth ex-Melbourne streetcar, No. 272, entered service earlier that month.[4] A fifth car of the same type, No. 605, entered service later.

Broad Street station

The streetcar ceased operation on November 18, 2005,[1] when the maintenance barn was demolished to make room for the Seattle Art Museum's Olympic Sculpture Park. A new maintenance barn was proposed to be built at Occidental Park to allow the resumption of operations as early as summer 2007.[5] However, Metro cancelled involvement after delays made the new facility unlikely to be completed before the demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct began.[6] An alternative proposal by the Port of Seattle was to extend the line northward along Myrtle Edwards Park to Smith Cove, where a new maintenance barn would be built on Port property.[7] This proposal was not pursued. Due to a portion of the line's close proximity to the viaduct, service may need to remain suspended during construction. Service may not be able to return to the line until the completion of construction of the new Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel, projected to be in 2018.[6]

Currently, there is no set plan for returning the line to service at any date. As Seattle Mayor, Greg Nickels suggested that a proposed First Avenue streetcar line may be considered a replacement of the Waterfront line, and the Melbourne cars may be used for special occasions.[2] However, current mayor Mike McGinn has expressed reluctance to build a First Avenue line and has suggested that a return of the Waterfront line may be considered.[8]

In 2007, two years into the suspension of service, the route was named by National Geographic Society as one of the 10 Great Streetcar routes.[9]

On June 19, 2012, Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat suggested that the Seattle streetcar line be saved and put back into service as part of a private investment group's proposal to build a National Basketball Association and National Hockey League arena south of Safeco Field.[10]


The line ran mostly northwest-southeast along Alaskan Way on Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway trackage. From S. Main Street in Pioneer Square east to 5th Avenue S. it ran in the center median, with its last block on the west side of 5th Avenue between S. Main and S. Jackson Streets. The line originally ended at Broad Street, but because construction of the Olympic Sculpture Park led to the closing and demolition of the maintenance barn and the station stop located there, the last station stop is currently located at Vine Street, which would more than likely be the end of the line should service ever resume. However, the tracks still extend as far as Broad Street allowing for the possibility of a future station stop to be built across the street from the former station on the corner of Broad Street and Alaskan Way.


Name Neighborhood Location Other
Waterfront Streetcar
Jackson Street International District S. Jackson Street and Fifth Avenue S. Connections to Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel and King Street Station. Served Qwest Field, Safeco Field, Uwajimaya
Occidental Park Pioneer Square S. Main Street and Occidental Avenue S. Served Pioneer Square, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
Washington Street Central Waterfront Washington Street and Alaskan Way Connection to Vashon Island Passenger Ferry. Served Pioneer Square, Harbor Entrance Pergola
Madison Street Central Waterfront Madison Street and Alaskan Way Connections to Washington State Ferries Colman Dock (Bainbridge Island, Bremerton), West Seattle Water Taxi
University Street Central Waterfront University Street and Alaskan Way Served Waterfront Park, Bay Pavilion, Harbor Steps, Seattle Art Museum, Downtown
Pike Street Central Waterfront Pike Street and Alaskan Way Served Seattle Aquarium, Pike Hillclimb, Pike Place Market
Bell Street Central Waterfront Bell Street and Alaskan Way Served Belltown, Bell Street Pier
Vine Street Central Waterfront Vine Street and Alaskan Way Served Port of Seattle headquarters, Victoria Clipper, The Edgewater, The Art Institute of Seattle, RealNetworks
Broad Street Central Waterfront Broad Street and Alaskan Way Served Myrtle Edwards Park, Seattle Center. Note: This station was demolished along with the maintenance barn to make way for the Olympic Sculpture Park, thus causing the line’s closure.
End of line

All of the stations (with the exception of the Occidental Park and Jackson Street stations) along the Alaskan Way were originally painted brown when the line first opened. In 2004, all of these stations were repainted in Marine Blue and refurbished. The Occidental and Jackson stations were designed to reflect the surrounding architecture along the streets when the line was extended in 1990. The Jackson Street stop featured an Asian Pagoda-style station while Occidental park had a vintage-style station.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b P. I. Staff (November 19, 2005). "Waterfront trolley's last lullaby until 2007". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved 2010-05-03. [dead link]
  2. ^ a b Murakami, Kery (May 16, 2009). "Tracking down Seattle's missing vintage streetcars". Seattle PostGlobe. Retrieved 2009-06-09. 
  3. ^ a b Benson, George (1992). "The Seattle Waterfront Streetcar -- The Steep Grade from Idea to Reality by George Benson". HistoryLink.org. Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  4. ^ a b Modern Tramway, September 1990, p. 321. Ian Allan Publishing/Light Rail Transit Association (UK).
  5. ^ "Trolley-maintenance barn plan on hold; streetcar future unclear". The Seattle Times. June 29, 2006. Retrieved August 6, 2011. 
  6. ^ a b Eskenazi, Stuart (April 11, 2008). "Waterfront streetcar: Is it gone for good?". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  7. ^ Hadley, Jane (March 24, 2005). "Port plan would extend and save waterfront trolley". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved 2009-12-14. 
  8. ^ Duke, Martin H. (September 8, 2009). "McGinn Supports First Hill Streetcar, "Open to" Other Lines". Seattle Transit Blog. Retrieved 2009-12-13. 
  9. ^ Hume, Christopher; Kalinowski, Tess (December 29, 2007). "Toronto streetcar named among world's best". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2008-07-24. 
  10. ^ Westneat, Danny. "Hey, arena! Save our trolleys". Seattle Times. Retrieved 21 June 2012. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Waterfront Streetcar at Wikimedia Commons