All Aboard for the TECO Line!
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 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.
A circa-1980s/1990s of what would be a full build-out of the streetcar system. The goal was for the streetcar to loop around downtown Tampa, with a spur towards Hyde Park. However, over time, these plans have changed.
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.
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 was 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’ve always seen with the TECOline is that its dependence on tourist traffic, as well as the fact that the downtown Tampa core isn’t effectively 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?
In 2015, efforts began between HART & the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), as well as the City of Tampa, to begin exploring the prospect of boosting ridership & eventually giving the entire line that fresh & modern look that it has desperately needed (as well as possible extensions towards Hyde Park & Tampa Heights). Over time, the efforts have led to the following developments:
Assuming that the All For Transportation surtax is upheld by the Florida Supreme Court, the ongoing efforts to modernize & extend the streetcar will be able to further materialize.
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, which were then removed in 2019 upon elimination of fares.
Alternative service is provided by nearby bus routes.
The TECOline Streetcar Line uses three types of heritage streetcar 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, #’s 428 through 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.
#429 was unfortunately wrecked on 02/03/2020 after a charter bus failed to negotiate a turn & struck it. The train was later scrapped. All remaining trains have received extensive rebuilding or refurbishment either on-site at HART’s streetcar facility or off-site at the Gomaco facility in Iowa.
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.
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.
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.
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 receive the TLC that it needs & limited funding definitely does NOT help this situation. This is the main reason why the modernization project is being pushed, though for the meantime, heavy refurbishment/rebuild has been performed on the cars.
This section will go through customer-oriented information such as current operating schedule.
Individual station timetables are available on the TECO Line website.
Contributor photos are noted accordingly.
A HUGE thanks to Shawn B. for the photos and Steve Y. for compiling info regarding the streetcar line.
More to come soon!