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Trackless Trolley

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Trackless Trolley Returns to Atlanta

by Paul Grether

SRM has acquired a trackless trolley that once ran in the city of Atlanta. Donated by Stephen Siniard of Cartecay, Georgia, Georgia Power #1296 was moved to the museum in late February, 1998 by the Army Reserve. The vehicle, built by Pullman-Standard in 1947, remained in service until 1963 when the transit system was converted to diesel busses.

Prior to the move, museum volunteers inspected the vehicle and prepared it for the trip to Duluth, procurred a set of old tires once used on a MARTA bus, and transported railroad ties to Cartecay for use as fill in a temporary road the Siniard family built so that the trackless trolley could be towed off the property.

CWO4 James Terry, commanding officer of the 587th Service Company out of Ft. Gillem, said that moves of this kind are valuable to his unit because they supplement classroom training with field training.

"Moving the trackless trolley," he said, "was very useful because it was large, heavy, had no brakes, and we encountered difficult terrain while extricating it. This simulates a damaged army vehicle which it would be our job to bring home."

In the late 1930s, Atlanta's streetcar system was, like many others across the country, running in the red. The Georgia Railway & Power Company, predecessor to the Georgia Power Company, was looking for a way to modernize its streetcar system to attract riders.

While some systems in the country were replacing their old streetcars with more modern streetcars or with diesel and gas busses, Georgia Power had a rather unique solution to modernization.

On June 27th, 1937 the first so-called trackless trolleys hit the streets of Atlanta on route #20 from downtown to College Park, Hapeville, and East Point. The increased flexibility of the trackless trolleys to maneuver in traffic and provide curbside loading made them a huge success and prompted plans to convert the majority of the system. On August 24th, 1940 the line through Buckhead to Oglethorpe was converted to Trolley Coach with much fanfare.

Georgia Power planned more conversions but World War II and tire rationing put a temporary stop to that. After the war, Pullman's newly modernized Osgood-Bradley facility in Worcester, Massachusetts switched from military to civilian production, building 1,128 trolley coaches between 1946 and 1952. With the backlog of orders being filled, a massive conversion to trackless trolleys began changing the streets of Atlanta forever. On April 10th, 1949, the last streetcars made their final runs on route #19 to the Chattahoochee River.

The trackless trolley is an electric vehicle, a development of streetcar technology. It has the same electric propulsion systems as a streetcar and thus it also draws its electricity from overhead wires. The difference is that is has rubber tires and therefore needs a second overhead wire, used as a ground. A streetcar uses its steel wheel/steel rail connection as its electrical ground.

A trackless trolley requires no investment in rails, a substantial infrastructure cost savings over streetcars. And, it can also use the existing overhead wires already in place for streetcars. These factors caused Georgia Power to choose for the trackless trolley in 1937 as the replacement for streetcars.

Georgia Power and its successors had operated the transit system since 1902. The power business was a subsidiary of the transit systems that ran in many Georgia cities including Columbus, Marietta, Augusta, Macon, Savannah, and Athens. After a divestiture ordered by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the system was purchased by the newly formed Atlanta Transit Company in 1950. Atlanta Transit was subsequently purchased in 1972 by the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. (MARTA).

Georgia Power #1296 will be cosmetically restored and displayed as part of an Atlanta-oriented transportation exhibit.

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Last updated June 13, 2006