High Level Bridge streetcar back on track and coming to Whyte Avenue

·3 min read
The Edmonton Radial Railway Society is finishing construction on a long-awaited extension to Whyte Avenue with hopes it will be completed by the end of July. (John Robertson/CBC - image credit)
The Edmonton Radial Railway Society is finishing construction on a long-awaited extension to Whyte Avenue with hopes it will be completed by the end of July. (John Robertson/CBC - image credit)

An Edmonton classic is rolling back through town after a long hiatus.

The Edmonton Radial Railway Society began operating its iconic High Level Bridge streetcar Friday after halting service throughout the pandemic. The Fort Edmonton streetcar also began carrying passengers again on July 1.

It's the first time they've run since Thanksgiving 2019.

"It feels really good," society president Chris Ashdown said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. "It feels like we're getting some things back to normal."

The High Level Bridge streetcar is operating with a reduced service from Friday to Monday each week.

"As demand increases and the availability of our motormen, we will be looking at increasing our schedules to hopefully closer to seven days a week like we normally would operate," Ashdown said, adding that he is expecting business to be slower than it was before COVID-19.

Edmonton's streetcar lines have had an increase in ridership over the past few years, Ashdown said. The High Level Bridge streetcar saw over 90,000 passengers in 2019 alone.

About a quarter of those passengers come from outside of Edmonton, Ashdown said, with many of them having travelled from outside of Canada just to ride.

"There may be some hesitancy by local residents to ride on the streetcar," Ashdown said.

"On the other hand, we may have a big pent up demand because people need to get out of their homes and start enjoying the city again. So it would be quite interesting to see what we actually experience."

With most volunteers being seniors, the society conducted a risk assessment before deciding to shut down operations due to COVID-19. The streetcars are tight spaces with limited capacity — the number of passengers that would've been allowed didn't justify the cost of operating and maintaining the trams.

"And we wanted to make sure we had a safe environment for them as well as our passengers," Ashdown said.

To ensure the volunteers are in tip-top condition, operators will now go through a re-qualification process, which will also include a written exam.

Extending the Track

After 11 years of back and forth on consultations and approvals, the High Level Bridge line is extending to Whyte Avenue. Originally, the streetcars ran through the Old Strathcona thoroughfare from 1908 to 1951.

"We're hoping to be able to do that by the end of July," Ashdown said. "We have a little bit of construction left to do. It's not a very long extension, but it'll bring the streetcars to the heart of Old Strathcona."

The extension will run through the old Canadian Pacific Railway right of way. The 800-metres long extension will curve down to the north side of Whyte Avenue at Gateway Boulevard, said Ashdown.

A group of dedicated volunteers have been working hard to bring the streetcar lines back on track this year — first at Fort Edmonton Park, and then over the High Level Bridge.

Both lines will be active this season.

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