After Five Decades, Streetcars Ride The Tracks Again in Kansas City

Nov 2, 2015

Dozens of people wait for the city's first streetcar to be unloaded at the River Market.
Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR

The arrival on Monday morning of the city's first working streetcar in more than 50 years was overshadowed by the Royals' World Series victory. But dozens of residents, city officials, and transit leaders, gathered in the River Market to watch streetcar #801 roll onto the tracks.

"I don't think I could find anything to make me any happier, frankly," says Kansas City Mayor Sly James.

"We've got a championship team. We've got our first streetcar delivered. Both of those things say to me, Kansas City is moving rapidly. I just absolutely love it, it's a great feeling. We're succeeding. And there's nothing like feeling success, and this city is successful right now. We just need to keep it that way." 

This was the first of four streetcars to arrive in Kansas City, manufactured by CAF USA, Inc., and built in Elmira, New York. The sleek, modern vehicles each have a capacity of 150 riders; they're also Wi-Fi enabled, climate-controlled, and offer level boarding for bike riders, wheelchairs and strollers. 

"It's stunning," says E. Crichton "Kite" Singleton, who's been a proponent of transit for the past 40 years. "It's the beginning of a new era in our city." 

After an offloading onto the tracks, the 77-foot streetcar was pulled into the Kite Singleton Vehicle Maintenance Facility (VMF) at 600 E. 3rd Street. "We got the first one, get the sisters in, we can get this thing on the road," Singleton says. "On the tracks, excuse me." 

With completion of the construction of the $100 million downtown streetcar line, the next steps include months-long testing of the streetcars. Officials expect the line to be running in early 2016, but it's uncertain if it will be ready for riders in time for the Big 12 conference men's tournament in March. 

Councilman Russ Johnson says he remains optimistic despite the delays. "We had a great team that's worked hard on this project," he says. "We have moved it along as fast as we could. But when we needed to slow it down, you slow it down and do it right." 

The two-mile long route will run from the River Market to Union Station, with 16 stops. 

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter, @lauraspencer.

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