Once More unto the Loop Trolley Breach
Much like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the Loop Trolley still clings to life despite a series of unfortunate and seemingly insurmountable setbacks.
The plan is for the trolley to resume services on August 4 under the new leadership of the Bi-State Development Agency, with a few tweaks. The trolley will only operate Thursday through Sunday, and in addition, it won’t run year round. Per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch story linked above:
But in a change, Bi-State CEO Taulby Roach said plans now call for the 2.2-mile line to operate only in warmer-weather months. It will shut down Oct. 15 and probably crank up again next April, he said. “We have made the professional opinion that it will run better on a compressed schedule,” Roach said. “We’ve really tried to make a realistic and nonflinching assessment of these assets.” He said it’s more likely that people will ride the trolley cars, which he described as a tourist attraction, during good weather conditions. Moreover, he said, “the equipment simply doesn’t work well” during colder times of the year.
A ”realistic and nonflinching assessment of these assets” is certainly long overdue—it remains to be seen if that’s actually what’s happening here. It is disconcerting to read that this equipment doesn’t work well in the colder months. The original plan was for the trolley to run all the time.
Projects of this size are complicated, and we should be understanding when things that can’t be controlled or predicted cause problems. But “cold winter months in St. Louis” does not qualify as an unpredictable obstacle, and the lack of foresight here is a perfect distillation of the lack of care or seriousness with which this entire process has unfolded.
While describing the Loop Trolley an ill-conceived boondoggle seems like an understatement, it is possible that resurrecting the trolley might be the least bad solution right now. The federal government is threatening to claw back $37 million in grant money (as a reminder, the total price tag so far is $51 million) if the trolley doesn’t operate again. But there are still more questions than answers at this point.
Even with a new schedule, can the trolley function without repeated breakdowns? Will the projected August 4 re-opening date actually happen, or will it be delayed, as so often happens with trolley-related matters? How long does the trolley need to operate going forward to satisfy the federal grant requirements and avoid any financial claw backs? And what happens if East-West Council of Governments declines to give the $1.26 million in grant money that trolley leaders are requesting and claiming they need in order to keep the lights on?
There’s only thing we can say for sure right now: Given the track record of this project, nobody involved should be given the benefit of the doubt.