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Loop Trolley to resume service Aug. 4, but not year-round

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Looped in

Trolley cars sit parked in the Loop Trolley garage on Delmar Boulevard in the Loop on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020. Plans call for the trolley to resume operations on Aug. 1. The trolley shut down at the end of 2019. Photo by Colter Peterson, cpeterson@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS — Aug. 4 is the day the long-dormant Loop Trolley will resume service, its new top operating official at the Bi-State Development Agency said Wednesday.

But in a change, Bi-State CEO Taulby Roach said plans now call for the 2.2-mile line to operate only in warmer-weather months. It will shut down Oct. 15 and probably crank up again next April, he said.

“We have made the professional opinion that it will run better on a compressed schedule,” Roach said. “We’ve really tried to make a realistic and nonflinching assessment of these assets.”

He said it’s more likely that people will ride the trolley cars, which he described as a tourist attraction, during good-weather conditions. Moreover, he said, “the equipment simply doesn’t work well” during colder times of the year.

Plans call for the line, which runs from the western end of the Delmar Loop in University City to the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park, to operate 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays.

Roach said a decision has yet to be made whether to charge a fare or let people ride free. He said one idea being studied is having businesses along the line hand out free tickets.

“That’s something we wanted to talk with local business owners about,” Roach said.

The trolley, which previously charged a fare, shut down regular service at the end of 2019 after only about a year of operations amid continuing financial and operational problems.

In February, the board of Bi-State, which runs MetroLink and the Metro bus system, agreed to take over trolley operations on a contract basis at the request of Roach and Mayor Tishaura O. Jones.

Jones since December has chaired the trolley’s sales tax district. Bi-State is replacing the nonprofit Loop Trolley Co. as the line’s operator.

Roach and Jones had warned that defaulting on the tens of millions of dollars in federal grants that helped build the $51 million project could hurt efforts by the metro area and Bi-State itself to get other federal money in the future.

Mokhtee Ahmad, a regional Federal Transit Administration official, last December had warned that his agency might demand repayment of some of the $37 million in federal funds used on the project if the trolley cars and tracks remained unused.

He had asked that the line begin service again on June 1. Roach said Wednesday that Bi-State needs until August to continue its technical evaluation of the trolley equipment and other issues.

But he said he has enough information now to be confident about the early August start date. He said Ahmad has not objected to it.

“The evaluation and maintenance standard we have at Metro is significant,” he said. “We need it to run and not break down.” In its year of regular operations, the trolley was plagued by various operating problems.

As he said earlier this year, the line can start running using accrued and ongoing revenue from the trolley district’s sales tax collected along and near the trolley route.

He has said a new $1.26 million federal grant sought from the regional East-West Gateway Council of Governments is needed for the line’s long-term financial viability.

The council, which turned down a similar request last October, is expected to decide on the current grant application in August. The Bi-State board’s decision to run the trolley was a reversal of its previous position.

Editor’s note: In an earlier version of this article, Taulby Roach said service would resume Aug. 1. He later clarified it will be Aug. 4, the first Thursday in August. 

Updated at 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 18

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