The fleet of four ultra-modern, electric streetcars rolling through the streets of Downtown Atlanta is carrying with them the prospect of connecting a community that has been divided by two interstate highways for half a century.
The American-made streetcars are brand new models from Siemens cruising efficiently and quietly along the 2.7-mile route running through the streets of central Downtown Atlanta. The east-west loop runs in 12-15-minute intervals and features 12 stops, linking Centennial Olympic Park to Georgia State University, the Sweet Auburn District and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic site.
Rolling swiftly at street level, the air-conditioned streetcars offer easy entry and exit and provide designated space for wheelchairs, bikes, strollers and riders with physical disabilities. Equipped with power sliding doors, various seating configurations and multiple hand rail stations, each double-articulated, six-axle streetcar carries up to 194 passengers and can be connected to additional streetcars to accommodate bigger crowds, including after sports events, church services or concerts.
Local business owners consider the new streetcar an easy, alternate way to move about the city, delivering customers to their front doors without the traffic or parking headaches. They also love what it represents for their community.
“The Atlanta streetcar is a cultural catalyst that quite literally tracks social change in our city,” said broker/developer Gene Kansas, who purchased the old Atlanta Daily World building along the route and is redeveloping it. “As someone who is passionate about place and principally interested in community building, there is no place I’d rather be than on
Matt Ruppert, owner of Noni’s Bar & Deli on Edgewood Avenue, agreed. “Noni's is excited about the uptick in business the streetcar is bringing from GSU students, down-town residents and 9-5ers, and tourists looking for a way to explore Atlanta's lesser known pockets more efficiently”
Another group of Atlanta-area residents feeling an extra special sense of pride are the more than 3,000 Siemens employees living and working in the metro Atlanta area. The Siemens team was responsible for building a critical component of the streetcars’ propulsion system – the rooftop inverters that take electricity from the overhead lines and use it to power the trains.
“Our team feels a great sense of pride in knowing we played a big role in building these new streetcars for our hometown,” said Terry Ferguson, business manager for the Siemens team in Alpharetta. “For those who live locally, it is now much easier and faster to get to where they want to go. If you want to go shopping, you just jump on the streetcar and go.”
Once the streetcar propulsion systems were completed, they were shipped to Sacramento, Calif. and matched with Siemens motors and gears built in Norwood, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati. Sacramento is home to Siemens’ massive, rail manufacturing headquarters that is more than 80 percent powered by a 2-megawatt solar installation and employs over 800 highly-skilled men and women
The streetcars were conceived in Sacramento, having been designed, engineered and constructed from the ground up, including welding, steel fabrication, electrical, painting and testing, in a meticulous, two-month hands- on building process. With everything complete, the newborn streetcars were wrapped in protective covering and shipped across the country to their new home in Atlanta.
Jennifer Ball, vice president of planning and economic development for Central Atlanta Progress, Inc., said the Atlanta Streetcar Project is the culmination of more than 10 years of planning and cooperation between the City of Atlanta, the federal government, the Downtown business community and the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), which offers connections for streetcar riders at the Peachtree Center station to MARTA trains.
“For Central Atlanta Progress and for the mayor's office, we see the streetcar as a huge economic development generator,” Ball said. “Since announcing the project several years ago, we've seen more than $400 million invested in properties within a five-minute walk of the streetcar line.”
Atlanta’s long-term vision for the streetcar system includes a north-to-south route from Brookhaven to Fort McPherson, with additional opportunities for expansion.
For residents and visitors alike, the bells of Atlanta's sleek streetcars ring in a new future of progress and prosperity to the proud, historic neighborhoods of central Atlanta.