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Tampa's Streetcar; Tool Chest of Development
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The following was first published online in 2002 a few months shy of the Teco Line Streetcar system's grand opening.  As part of an effort to restore archived content I am posting it again in 2017 for posterity and to meet the goal of Tampa Rail to provide a congruent narrative of both future and past events leading to urban rail development in Tampa Bay.

Under overcast skies on June 24, 2002, I exercised a personal invitation to accompany city Mayoral Consultant Ron Rotella and Tampa City's Chief Design Engineer, Thomas Capell, as they took a mental breather to stroll the cascading evolution of the Tecoline Streetcar System. Together these two men are the tools changing the face of Tampa forever through rail!


For me, generally speculating on the wave of rail progress sweeping Tampa and Hillsborough County from newspaper headlines and personal conjecture, the opportunity presented unprecedented personal access complete with hard core narration on a stop by stop basis. Ron, at times seeming to weigh the value of my attention (by his own admission, he's not big on computers - but he gets the concept of web pages and perhaps the niche appreciates they cater to), made possible this tour as part of a general need to catch up on the down and dirty details himself. When he made the invitation, I had to pinch myself to believe it was for real. Transit enthusiasts will know what I mean, everyone else...well, you get it or you don't!

"He's the nut, and I'm the bolt." quips Ron as our mini entourage makes its way to his coffee Bronco. They are parts in a toolchest to vitalize Channelside and Ybor through the unifying bridge of rail. Thomas Capell, Chief Design Engineer for Tampa and in particularly this project, smiles nervously. What amounts to a transit geek's pleasure tour for me, must be something of a dental visit for Tom, showing off his construction progress to the man charged with making sure the end result is a top notch prize between the two attractions. There isn't much to worry about from Tom's point of view. The smile is clean and healthy, but it's time to poke the gums and scrape the enamel a bit, and for Ron, that's what today's ride is about. If there's really any tension in this walk, I'm distancing myself from it and absorbing what I can as quietly as I can.

I carried no less that three cameras, one conventional, one digital, and a camcorder which I never got to use. This kind of clout meant access I might never have again, and I was damned well going to shoot what I could. For their part, Ron and Tom were eager hosts. There was an inspection due, but that didn't wear down their courtesy or patience in making sure I understood everything at each step.



We began at the very start of the line from the southern most end located at Ice Palace Drive and Florida Avenue. Although the most important stop to be sure, it's the last to be developed in the streetcar context. With most of the line's major components already well on their way, ground is just breaking for a major rennovation and reorientation between the Tampa Convention Center, and the Marriott Hotel.

Ron and Tom set me free from the Bronco like they were turning loose an overexcited camera-wielding lapdog.

Using an arrangement with his fingers, Tom explains that the trackage here will "triangle out" to serve the two major drops and then trek back towards Ybor. The pictures here may not be particularly flattering, but it is this specific enterprise, the Southern Transportation Plaza, that is the most crucial and delicate to manuever. Below is a picture looking down Florida Avenue and into the entrance of the Marriott Waterside Hotel where passengers will load and unload all day, every day.



Now we move a bit up Ice Palace Drive to observe more polished progress, complete with overhead catenary wires in place and ready to go!



A more direct shot of the station under construction just outside the Ice Palace. After that, an even better one!



Each station platform accommodates handicap patrons. Note the platform crevis to be used by wheelchair bound riders below. The streetcar will pull up very generally alongside these bays. The streetcar operator will then arrange to bridge the platform with the last tier step leading into the streetcar, adjusting the platform horizontally as needed via a "slider" which the wheelchaired patron rests upon. This elminates the need for the conductor to be so precise in his or her parking.



Tom explains that this is one of two intersections where cars appear to meet head on with streetcar traffic moving in the opposite direction. This is the 93 degree bend, while the other is much further down.



Leaving the area of the ice palace now, we approach the Channelside District. The shops and restaraunts you see ahead will directly benefit from the line. Indeed their entire lot sort of goes hand in hand with the overall development/mobility mindset.



This is looking toward the parking complex that feeds the cruise ship terminal and Channelside's other half dozen shops.

Leaving Channelside, we enter a fun feature of the line which is a twisting winding series of trackage that parallels Channelside's roundabout.



We leave the line for a maze-like drive to a nearby firehouse where presentational Tecoline Streetcar # 431 is temporarily housed. Ron admires the steel makeup of the car's exterior. The original streetcars were lined with wood paneling. These replicas are cased in modern, durable, steel, and riveted. Applying the Tecoline logo over rivets was something of a near impossibility, so the logo on this particular car was actually hand painted on.



Ron points out the fine detailed seats of car # 431. In looking over these pictures, a coworker of mine who remembers riding the streetcars while they still operated in Tampa in the 40s, observed that these seats and car design were idendtical to those he remembered as a child. The Birney replicas are just that, in nearly every way.



As they did then and still do on similar transportation constructs, these seats easily adjust direction according to which way the car is moving. Some people prefer sitting facing the way the car is actually moving.



Thomas Capell and Ron Rotella pose proudly for the Tampa Rail Transit page! This is the team assigned to make the pivitol system come to life!



Here are more shots of the interior of car # 431.







It doesn't show well here with such bad light, but the intent of this picture is to highlight the car's first-of-a-kind air conditioner system apparatus which tops the car.



These are pictures from the second most important site, Ybor Station - otherwise known as the "car barn" for the streetcars. The area is located at the beginning of Ybor's centerpiece 7th Avenue, and in fact the street intersecting much of this work is there. The first picture is of the cement slab, underwhich a myriad of complex wiring and piping lies. For functionally, this is the most complex area of the system since it will be where streetcars arrive and leave for their daily work, and come to be repaired and maintained.







Here is the first complete picture of the car barn under construction. The complex won't just be a place where cars are stored and worked on, it will contain a few shops for tourists who will be able to peer in on work as it happens.



Here are more shots around the car barn under construction. One interesting feature are the clear "grooves" appearing in the narrow walls, which is where the rail will actually run.







Once inside, a streetcar will be easily accessible by standing technicians looking up into the cars from the floor, and by technicians working down from overhead platforms.



Ron and I stand just outside the car barn. Decades later, this is going to be coffee talk material for sure!

 


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