Page Updated on 11/3/15
Updated Information and Added New Photos from the 2015 Streetcar Fest
The TECOline Streetcar Line is Tampa’s heritage streetcar line, running from downtown Tampa to Ybor City. The current line brings back the nostalgia of the earlier times of Tampa, while providing residents and tourists a taste of what streetcars have to offer. Between the late 1800s and going into World War II, Tampa’s early public transit system comprised of an extensive network of streetcars, where one could travel from as far north as Sulfur Springs to as far south as Ballast Point during the system’s heyday in the 1920s.
This section will outline a brief history of both the original Tampa Streetcar network and the present-day TECOline.
The original streetcar network
The first street cars ran in Tampa starting in 1892, and the system gradually built up from there. The original system stretched from Sulphur Springs in the north, Ybor City in the east, and Ballast Point in the southwest. One could travel nearly the entire distance for 5 cents. According to Tampa Preservation Inc.’s website, Tampa’s streetcar network comprised of 53 miles of track, 190 trains, and 11 routes during its peak in the 1920s. Service operated each day from as early as 4:30am to as late as 2:00am the next day, creating a nearly 24-hour service period.
Unfortunately, as with many other street car systems in the United States, the Tampa system began to shut down in 1942, as bus travel was seen as being more efficient than streetcars. Over the period of a few years the street car was gone and replaced by buses. With the demise of the original system, Tampa was left without any rail transportation.
The current line
A circa-1980s/1990s of what would be a full build-out of the streetcar system. The goal is for the streetcar to loop around downtown Tampa, with a spur towards Hyde Park. However, there is a chance that this plan could change depending on finances.
With the inauguration of the TECOline Streetcar Line on October 19-20, 2002, streetcars were running again in Tampa. The original segment (noted as Phase I) comprised of 2.4 miles, and runs from Ybor City to the Tampa Convention Center, which lies along the southern fringe of the downtown district. The second segment (noted as Phase 2A) opened to the public on December 19, 2010 (with a formal grand opening held on January 31, 2011) and consists of a 1/3 mile extension to the downtown Tampa core. It connects the Fort Brooke Parking garage at Franklin & Whiting Streets. The extension includes the Fort Brooke/Whiting St station, which is the largest station in the system because it is able to handle up to three street cars at one time. Construction of this extension began in the fall of 2009.
The current length is 2.7 miles long, with roughly .5 miles and two stations (Port Authority and York St.) being double tracked. Most of the stations are named for sponsors that have paid to have the station named after their company. This can be confusing at times as not all of the companies have a presence along the line, notably HSBC and the Tampa Bay Federal Credit Union. The only two stations capable of handling modern light rail stock are the Whiting St and Dick Greco Plaza stations. Since the current line is compatible with light rail technology, it may be converted to a modern light rail line at some point in the distant future. Such a transition would require the remaining station platforms to be lengthened and some sections to be double-tracked.
An uncertain future
Although the TECOline was initially seeing good ridership and viable prospects for the future, the recession of 2008/2009 erased all hopes of any substantial improvement to the system (outside of the Whiting extension). Since the recession, the system has been losing money and riders. The streetcar’s special endowment has been all but wiped out, few regular riders use the line as is, service has been decreased (and could decrease even more), and the fare remains 50 cents higher than HART’s one-way local bus fare (which is at $2.00 even).
The problem that I see with the TECOline is that its dependence on tourist traffic, as well as the fact that the downtown Tampa core isn’t currently served by the line, has created a climate by which no one really wants to ride because the line doesn’t serve the places where the line should serve, and that the fare is too expensive for residents to be able to afford on a regular basis without scratching their heads as to why the streetcar is there to begin with. When hard times arise like right now, who wants to ride a streetcar that basically goes nowhere?
Furthermore, with the anti-tax/Tea Party group No Tax For Tracks around, we know they will only spread misinformation to eventually entice county and city leaders to privatize the streetcar.
The first thing that needs to be done to get the streetcar off of its deathbed is tons and tons of TLC! Get people riding the streetcar again and lower the fare to help entice this. Second, work on getting all existing railcars back into revenue service (some have unfortunately been mothballed due to maintenance issues and costs), increasing frequency, and adding in morning service (with a start time of at least 9:00am, if not earlier). Third complete the proposed loop around downtown to get downtown residents and workers to use the streetcar as an alternative to driving. Also acquire modern streetcars like what is being worked on for Washington D.C.’s streetcar system. Save the heritage stock for special events like the annual Streetcar Fest. And finally, work on eventually converting the entire system to accommodate Light Rail trains like those in Norfolk, VA, and connecting it to Tampa International Airport and USF.
As of recent, the Florida Department of Transportation has announced that they will help fund a study to see whether extending and modernizing the streetcar is feasible.
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Layout and Operations
This section will go over the structure of the TECOline; including stations and railcars.
All stations have a covered area to stand underneath, trash receptacles, handicap boarding area, and system map. Most stations have a level boarding platform to access the street car. All stations have one platform to board street cars headed in either direction. There are six stations with island platforms: HSBC, Tampa Tribune, Cumberland Ave., York St., Port Authority, and Tampa Bay Federal Credit Union. All stations were equipped with ticket vending machines during the course of 2011 and 2012.
The TECOline Streetcar Line uses three types of streetcar trains:
Gomaco replica Birney trains
Nine double-truck replica Birney streetcars, manufactured by Gomaco Trolley Company, are replicas of the type that ran in Tampa and other cities in the past. The first eight trains, #428, #429, #430, #431, #432, #433, #434 and #435, were completed and delivered in 2000-2001. Train #436 was constructed and delivered in 2004-2005. Notice the how the numbering convention continues where the original fleet had ended (the last original train was numbered as #427). Similar Gomaco-made trains currently run on the River Rail Streetcar system in Little Rock, Arkansas.
- HEIGHT: 12.51 feet.
- LENGTH: 49.75 feet.
- WIDTH: 8 feet 6 inches.
- WEIGHT: 48,000 pounds.
- BALANCED SPEED: 30 mph.
- SEATING: 44 sitting, 44 standing.
Gomaco Breezer train
One double-truck open-air “Breezer” model streetcar, also manufactured by Gomaco Trolley Company, also runs on the line and is assigned the fleet number of 1976. At one time Tampa had 50 of these open-air type street cars.
This railcar is currently not in revenue service due to maintenance issues.
- HEIGHT: 11 feet 10 inches.
- LENGTH: 43 feet 6 inches.
- WIDTH: 10 feet 1 inch.
- WEIGHT: 34,000 pounds.
- BALANCED SPEED: 30 mph.
- BENCHES: 13 (with 6 across).
- SEATING CAPACITY: 78
Original Birney Safety Car
One of Tampa’s original Birney safety cars, #163, was recovered in Sulphur Springs, where it had been used as an apartment. This Birney car was one of the streetcar trains that traversed Tampa’s original streetcar system. After an extensive restoration, the car is back to its former self and is used for special events.
Unfortunately, I don’t have stats for train #163.
Photos of #163 from the 2015 Streetcar Fest.
Although #163 is normally able to run during special events, like the annual Streetcar Fest, an electrical shortage forced the railcar to sit idle at the barn.
Maintenance is Difficult
Because the streetcar trains utilize re-used boogies, many of which date over 100 years old, as well as other refurbished parts, maintaining the streetcar fleet is often times a nightmare. At times, one train could be out of commission for months until it is able to recieve the TLC that it needs. Limited funding definitely does NOT help this situation.
Last updated on January 15, 2012
This section will go through practical information, such as fares.
OPERATING HOURS – As of November, 2011
- Monday through Thursday: 12 Noon to 10:00 p.m.
- Friday & Saturday: 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.
- Sunday: 12 Noon to 8:00 p.m.
- Service every 20 minutes, except as follows:
- Service every 15 minutes on Fridays & Saturdays from normal start of service (listed above) until 1:00 a.m.
- Service every 30 minutes on Fridays & Saturdays from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m.
- Special events (such as Amalie Arena events) will often result in modified/extended hours for the streetcar.
Individual station timetables are available by clicking here.
FARE STRUCTURE – As of November, 2011
- One-Way Cash Fare: $2.50
- Discount Cash Fare:$1.25
- 1-Day Unlimited Ride Fare Card:$5.00
- 1-Day Discount Unlimited Ride Fare Card:$2.50
- All-day Family Pass: $12.50
Discount Fare Description of Eligibility:
For seniors age 65 or over, youths age 17 or younger, those on Medicare or with disabilities. Children age four and younger ride free on the streetcar system when no taller than farebox and accompanied by a fare paying adult.
All-day Family Pass:
Valid on Streetcar only for 2 adults and 3 children or 1 adult and 4 children and available only at Streetcar Ticket Vending Machines.
Click here for ticket sales information and locations. Again, all stations are equipped with ticket vending machines.
Be sure to have EXACT CHANGE ready if paying by cash. Conductors are not allowed to handle change.
For the latest information, please visit the TECOline Streetcar System website.
Contributor photos are noted accordingly.
Contributor photos from Shawn’s “Tampa Bay Transit” website.
My own photos from the 2015 Streetcar Fest.
A HUGE thanks to Shawn B. for the photos and Steve Y. for compiling info regarding the streetcar line.
More to come soon!