The first major step in establishing a streetcar system in St. Charles arrived last month when nine historic cars, native to the St. Louis region, were transported from the hillsides of Lake Tahoe in California to the New Town at St. Charles.
Independent consultants on Friday submitted preliminary findings from a feasibility study that includes an expansive route for a rail trolley line in St. Charles, said Tim Busse, vice president and director of architecture for Whittaker Homes.
Developer Greg Whittaker and his team incorporated the rail trolley line into the early plans for New Town, a new-urbanism community north of Highway 370.
In 2005, the St. Charles City Council formed a trolley committee that included residents and New Town officials.
Busse said the consultants hired by Whittaker Homes began the feasibility study earlier this year to determine what stops would make sense in the area and the cost of the project - now estimated to be about $36 million if an extra segment encompassing Lindenwood University is included.
The roughly 10-mile proposed route, described as an "out and back" path, would be built in three major segments, beginning at the St. Charles Convention Center and ending at New Town.
From the convention center, stops would include Bass Pro Shop, Ameristar Casino and the Plaza at Noah's Ark, also a Whittaker development.
Riders also could board at the casino. From there, they could ride along South Riverside Drive near Frontier Park to First Capitol Drive.
From First Capitol, passengers could ride to Tecumseh Street at the end of North Second Street in the Frenchtown neighborhood. Busse said two possible routes could depart from this area. Stops along these routes would include City Hall and SSM St. Joseph Health Center. New Town would be the final destination for both routes.
These two major segments would cost roughly $27.5 million.
Specifics about adding a third segment, informally called the Lindenwood Loop, have not been thoroughly discussed, Busse said. Stops along this route could include the Powell Terrace neighborhood, he said. The addition of this segment likely would boost the project's total cost to $36 million.
"We want to hit the populations centers in a north-south direction," he said.
It cost $243,000 to purchase and transport the cars from Lake Tahoe. The cars' former owner sold them because he had a hard time getting a rail system up and running in that area.
But the cars originated in St. Louis, where they were part of an extensive rail system from the mid-1930s to the late 1950s. The St. Louis Car Company produced the original Presidential Conference Committee cars in 1936.
About 100 cars were added to the line in 1946. The transit system served residents along Grand Boulevard, Jefferson Avenue, Delmar Boulevard, Manchester Road, Olive Boulevard and in Forest Park.
The cars were sold in 1957 to the San Francisco Municipal Railway, which renumbered the cars to the 1100 series. The cars operated in that city until the early 1980s.
Busse said the original 1700 series numbers used in St. Louis will be painted on the cars when they are fully refurbished this year. He said he hopes contractors will finish at least one car by next summer.
Kansas City officials also are studying the feasibility of a similar system, he said.
In St. Charles, the council and other city officials must be on board before the project could get underway.
"I love the system, especially if we can get federal funding to do it," said Councilman Larry Muench, Ward 2, who serves on the trolley committee. "I haven't seen them (the cars), but I have heard they are pretty special. I'm ready to take it to the public to see what they think."
Busse said about 80 other cities in the United States are considering such a project. He said residents in Kenosha, Wis., Nashville, Tenn., North Little Rock, Ark., and Houston responded positively when systems were added.
David Rosenwasser, director of the Greater St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau, said federal and state funding would likely have to be granted in order for the project to work.
He envisions the transit system offering great opportunity for residents and tourists to travel through the city. The public could be informed about the service through advertisements, marketing tools used in hotels and signs posted within the city.
"You almost have to convert people to the mentality" of using transit instead of always relying on their automobiles, Rosenwasser said. "The ease, convenience, safety and economics play into it."
But public support for the project is unknown. St. Charles County voters twice rejected sales tax increases to help fund a mass transit system, including the extension of light rail to St. Charles County. Muench said he doesn't think voters would support a tax increase to fund the trolley system.
Busse said establishing the trolley line possibly could lead to a partnership to bring the Metro light rail system to St. Charles.
"We are a bit wiser now. By creating a streetcar system, it acts as a circular line if MetroLink comes over," he said. "(MetroLink) would likely go through the Page (Avenue) extension and possibly stop at the Family Arena."
Since the trolley project is in its preliminary stages and it is uncertain whether the streetcar system would be funded, Busse said the cars initially could be used in New Town as an old-fashioned diner, cafe, sushi bar or bookstore.
He said if the cars are used as part of a citywide streetcar system, then he sees the project taking anywhere from five to eight years to complete.
"Who knows where it will end up," Busse said.