Greater City Providence

No American Streetcars!?!?

I got to thinking about streetcars and who builds them during a recent North Main Street meeting held by the Summit Neighborhood Association. Fellow gcpvd’er David Rocha mentioned that perhaps our struggling U.S. automakers could be deployed in building something other than cars, like streetcar systems and light rail.

This idea is especially attractive (and ironic) since GM was once accused of helping to destroy America’s streetcar networks. This sent me scrambling to Google and then to the realization that there isn’t a single U.S. manufacturer of streetcars. At least not yet…

The photo above is of an Oregon Iron Works streetcar, the first such American made vehicle. Through their United Streetcar subsidiary and a partnership with the European Skoda company, they hope to satisfy American cities’ increasing demand for light rail.

This issue isn’t just one of macro economics. As Providence looks to streetcars as one of many future infrastructure and growth options, the source of our streetcars could become an issue of some significance down the road. I’d hate to think that the increasing US demand for mass transit can be only satiated by supplies, expertise, and jobs from overseas…

Bret Ancowitz


  • I would absolutely jump for joy if GM were put in charge of producing light rail and electric bus equipment as a stipulation of their bailout deal. Has this been brought up anywhere in the national media?

  • I think that’s a fantastic suggestion. I love the idea of street cars in Providence. I also feel that they could do a terrific job of helping to revive the city’s grey areas.

    they benefits of light rail would be felt most in the North East and rust belt cities.

  • @Jeffrey: Look at the date on that post. I believe it was an April Fool’s joke (I really hate the internet on April Fool’s Day). I’m pretty sure there is no real proposal from RIDOT for a street car system

  • I also know that “Greater City Providence” had plans for a light rail line to Fall River, maybe operated by RIPTA. Unfortunately, Fall River, along with Seekonk, Swansea, Somerset are outside Rhode Island and RIPTA’s service area.
    Note: Seakonk is under the jurisdiction or service area of the Greater Attleboro-Taunton Regional Transit Authority(GATRA). Fall River, Swansea, Somerset are under the jurisdiction or service area of the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority(SRTA). I do not see RIPTA having a light rail line to Fall River.

  • RIPTA is currently prohibited from operating in Massachusetts by federal regulations. A larger transit system cannot cross state lines into a smaller transit system area. That is why GATRA buses can come into Providence, but RIPTA has to build a bus station on the RI side of the state line at the South Attleboro Station and make people walk to it. Ideally, RIPTA buses would just pull right up to the commuter rail platform, but they cannot.

    Those regulations can be amended on a case by case basis, as MBTA comes into RI and there are many other interstate transportation examples (WMATA in DC, PATH in NY/NJ, MetroNorth, Chicago Commuter Rail to Milwaukee, PATCO in Philly…).

    If RIPTA were to service parts of Massachusetts, our Senators would need to get something allowing it put into the transportation bill, and RI and MA would have to come to some sort of agreement on funding. Certainly doable.

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