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Riders pack Loop Trolley on its last weekend

ST. LOUIS – The official line was that the Loop Trolley was ending because nobody was riding it. But when a reporter boarded the trolley two days before the scheduled Dec. 29 closing, there wasn’t a seat anywhere. 

In fact, about seven or eight people were standing. 

But all the people were on the trolley because the trolley was ending service at the end of the weekend. Out of a dozen riders interviewed, all were there because they didn’t want to miss a chance to ride the old-style street car that runs along Delmar Boulevard in the Delmar Loop, turns right at DeBaliviere Avenue and ends at the Missouri History Museum.

All of those interviewed said they loved the experience, and almost all of them said they’d like the trolley to keep going.

The Loop Trolley (Photo by Robert C. Holt III / for MetroSTL.com)
Hazelwood resident Connie Young said she had tried to ride the trolley one other time, but she couldn’t because it had been out of service.

“I saw on the news this was the last weekend unless things changed, and I didn’t want to miss the chance to experience it. I love it. I took pictures of the outside and the inside. I’m hoping,” Young said. 

“It’s a very nice addition to the city, but it doesn’t appear to be financially viable,” said Scott Kretser of the Crestwood-Sunset Hills area, one of those riders who wanted to be there before the trolley stopped. 

If the trolley was always this busy, Kretser said, “We wouldn’t have this conversation.” 

But things haven’t gone well for the 2.2-mile fixed-route track that links the bustling Delmar Loop and Forest Park and intersects with two MetroLink stations.

An item on the website of the Loop Trolley Company announced that the line would end service temporarily on Sunday. The best hope comes from a takeover of the route by the Bi-State Development Agency. 

Early in December, Bi-State’s Board of Commissioners authorized President and CEO Taulby Roach to study options to talk over operations of the Loop Trolley. The Board of Commissioners will make a decision later.  

Among other things, Roach will study whether the Federal Transit Administration would allow Bi-State to use federal capital grant money for Loop Trolley operations. Normally, the money can’t be used for that purpose. Besides trolley operations, Bi-State is checking whether it can use that money to improve the condition of vehicles and equipment. 

At a news conference on Friday, Mayor Lyda Krewson said that if Bi-State took over, there could be one ticket for the trolley and buses.

One reason not to give up on the trolley might be that somebody might have to give back grant money given for the trolley, Krewson said. Also, the Federal Transit Administration might frown on future grant applications.

With that option uncertain, many flocked to ride the trolley this weekend. They included former local TV newsman Mike Owens, a lawyer and Krewson’s husband.

“I’m hopeful this is not its last weekend, but if it is, I want to see what I’ve missed up to this point,” Owens said.

Annie Cusick said she didn’t know what could be done to save the line.

“I think it would be a great novelty for St. Louis, a nice attraction to come to,” Annie Cusick’s sister Bridget said.

“It’s a shame it’s going to shut down,” said the Cusick sisters’ father, Tom Cusick, who was there as part of a family outing. “It can’t go on without the proper funding, and where do you get the funding?”

Suzanne Lowe came with her husband, her daughter, her son-in-law and four grandchildren. 

“I think it’s fun,” Lowe said. “It’s very nostalgic. I’ve heard about the trolley from days gone by, different people over the years, and I thought before it stopped running, I’d like to [go].”

“We had to wait a long time, though, that was the only downside,” Lowe explained. “We probably waited 45 minutes to an hour.”

One of Lowe’s grandchildren, Noah Arnett, 8, didn’t like the fact that the trolley was closing.

“Why?” he asked. “It’s neat. It’s fun. I don’t think they should stop it.”

The Loop Trolley (Photo by Robert C. Holt III / for MetroSTL.com)
And Maryland Heights resident Jim Ponder reflected on his own memories of riding trolleys since he was born in 1934. 

“I lived near O’Fallon Park, and you had the Bellefontaine streetcar that went from Calvary Cemetery all the way downtown to about Lemay. And on a Saturday, I packed a lunch, and I’d get on that and ride all the way down and ride all the way back to where I got on,” Ponder said. 

After riding the trolley on Friday, Ponder said, “I don’t like the idea of them closing it down. I hope that Bi-State takes it over, because I think this is a good thing.”

On its final ride Sunday, the trolley’s star-crossed run ended with a whimper. The trolley broke down in front of the Peacock Diner, stranding riders for 45 minutes.

Time will tell whether the Loop Trolley runs again, or whether this is the end of the line.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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