Front Range towns willing to fix up, use junked trolley car
Aspen may be about to lend out one of six historic but dilapidated trolley cars to a railway foundation, which wants to spend up to a half-million dollars to renovate the car and use it for a decade on the Front Range.
After the lease period is up, the car can then be either returned to Aspen in its much-improved state or be re-leased for continued use.
But the deal was nearly derailed Monday night when two City Council members balked at the 10-year lease.
The Pikes Peak Historical Street Railway Foundation recently approached the city with the offer, saying the foundation expects to spend between $400,000 and $500,000 to renovate the century-old car, which was built in Lisbon, Portugal.
After an estimated two-year restoration period, the car would be put into service for 10 years on a line linking the downtown area of Colorado Springs and the nearby town of Manitou Springs.
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The trolley is one of three given to the city by the late Michael Hernstadt in 1981. The cars were valued at the time at $60,000 apiece. These three, and three others obtained subsequently by the Aspen Street Railway Co., have been stored outside for decades, while the company tried to win city approval for an in-town trolley system.
The trolley that would be leased to the railway foundation is the most dilapidated of the bunch. It has “deteriorated nearly to the point of disintegration,” said transportation planner Claude Morelli. The trolley car has been stored, uncovered, at the Pitkin County Landfill, according to Morelli.
Morelli, who said he has talked about the proposed lease with pro-trolley activist Jon Bush and “other interested parties,” recommended the city accept the deal because of “the urgent need to stabilize the car as quickly as possible to prevent any further deterioration,” and the fact that the foundation is willing to assume all the risk and cost of the restoration.
City Manager Amy Margerum said that, should the city decide to move ahead with its own trolley system before the lease period is up, it is believed a local system could operate with the five remaining cars.
But council members Jim Markalunas and Terry Paulson were worried that the city might want the car back sooner than 12 years from now, for use in an Aspen trolley system that has been proposed for decades but never approved.
“It’s fairly obvious to me that Manitou Springs sees this as a great asset to their community,” said Paulson, “and I can’t understand why Aspen can’t see that.”
Markalunas suggested the city’s staff renegotiate the deal, to include a “pro-rated buy-back” provision that would allow Aspen to pay part of the restoration costs if the car is needed back home before the end of the lease period. And Paulson recommended checking to see if other cities might be found that would offer Aspen a better deal.
But Margerum cautioned that a renegotiation or a delay might be a “deal breaker” for the foundation, and Mayor Rachel Richards and Councilman Tom McCabe recalled that the trolley-system proposal was not exactly a “high priority” at the City Council’s recent retreat.
The council approved the lease arrangement as proposed on a 4-1 vote, but directed staff to attempt to negotiate a “buy back” provision. Paulson cast the dissenting vote.
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