Aspen’s trolley cars could be |

Aspen’s trolley cars could be

It may be another two years before Aspen figures out what to do with its most deteriorated asset – six historic trolley cars that have been rotting away since the late 1970s.

And the latest last-gasp attempt to figure out what, if anything, the city should do with the trolleys could cost some $40,000.

That sum has been proposed as the city’s matching share toward a study that would determine the feasibility and cost of putting a trolley line into service in town. The Aspen Street Railway Co. would have to come up with the other $40,000 and present the study’s conclusions to the city within two years. At that time, the council would finally decide the trolleys’ fate, assuming the cars haven’t rotted to a point beyond repair by then.

Restoring the trolleys and building a trolley line, stressed a committee that advises the city on financial matters, should not be a city-funded project.

The jointly-funded study is the recommendation of the Aspen City Council’s Asset Management Committee. Council members debated the proposal Monday without making a decision.

About all the council and committee members could agree on was that the trolleys are in sorry shape and something needs to be done with them.

“Those have been a wasting asset of the community for about twenty years,” said committee member Helen Klanderud. “The time has really come for the council to make a decision. To have those six trolleys sitting out there wasting away is bad policy.”

Adding a new wrinkle to the trolley debate is an unsolicited offer from a man who is willing to take the cars off the city’s hands and restore them at his own expense.

Terry Olson, in a letter to the city, said he is willing to buy the trolleys – he did not mention a price – and restore them to be sold as art. Or, he suggested the city turn all the trolleys over to him at no cost, and he will give one restored car back to the city to be put on display.

Lastly, Olson said he could restore all of the cars at no charge, and all six of them could be displayed in Aspen.

The restored cars would not actually be operational, noted Ed Sadler, the city’s asset manager.

Olson, who could not be reached for comment, identified himself as a former Aspen resident, a builder and owner of cabinet shops who has past experience in restoration work. He learned of the deteriorating trolleys from a July story in The Aspen Times Weekly, his letter indicates.

“I knew instantly that I could save them while simultaneously making a profit,” he wrote. “With my vast experience, it wouldn’t be any problem to restore them to their original grandeur while making the project mutually profitable.”

“If the city can’t do the study, the city ought to take this fellow up on his offer,” said Asset Management Committee member Bob Myers.

Council members appeared split on whether the city should spend money on another trolley study.

Councilman Terry Paulson urged the council to not only put up the $40,000, but provide the Aspen Street Railway Co. with seed money to raise its $40,000 matching share.

“I find this a really valuable asset. I find it frustrating that this community can’t get behind it,” he said.

But Mayor Rachel Richards, noting past feasibility studies for the trolleys, was hesitant to spend money on another one.

“If there isn’t the public support, and I think there is not, then what’s the point?” said Councilman Tony Hershey.

The trolley cars were imported from Lisbon in 1978 by a group of locals, organized as the Aspen Street Railway Co., who envisioned the cars moving along a set of tracks running through Rio Grande Park and up Galena Street to the base of Aspen Mountain. Electric overhead wires were to power the cars.

One of the cars was built in 1899 by the J.G. Brill Co. of Philadelphia; the others were assembled from kits in Lisbon in 1925, according to information gathered in a report on the cars about six years ago.

The trolley group’s vision never gathered momentum, though, and they eventually sold the cars to the late Michael Hernstadt, who donated them to the city. Only one car ever saw use – as an information booth at Rubey Park – though discussions about a trolley line in Aspen have resurfaced several times over the years.

Most recently, city planners have explored a trolley line as part of a master plan for all city-owned property in town.

Meanwhile, the trolley car that once graced Rubey Park now deteriorates at the county dump. The other five are rotting into the ground at Cozy Point Ranch.

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