Police and pilot cars escort the rig carrying the first car for Milwaukee's new light-rail system to its drop-off point on March 26. Images: screen captures from Fox6 News-Milwaukee video.

Police and pilot cars escort the rig carrying the first car for Milwaukee's new light-rail system to its drop-off point on March 26. Images: screen captures from Fox6 News-Milwaukee video.

Early this week the first new trolley car arrived in Milwaukee, Wis. It's the first of five cars for a new light-rail loop downtown. This is a costly and therefore controversial project that most local politicians love and the majority of residents oppose. There are plenty of news stories about that, so here I’ll concentrate on the hauling of the 83,000-pound, 67-foot-long articulated car by Silk Road Specialized Transport, based in Arkport, N.Y.

Silk Road – the name taken from a network of ancient Eurasian trade routes – specializes in delivering transit equipment and has trailers set up to handle trolleys like those ordered by Milwaukee’s street car authority. The carrier also does heavy hauling of machinery, oil field equipment and other massive non-divisible loads, according to its website.

Goldhofer modular trailer has 30- and 40-foot sections riding on six axles with hydraulically steerable wheels. Tractor's four axles made this a 10-axle rig. The car was not especially massive as specialized loads go.

Goldhofer modular trailer has 30- and 40-foot sections riding on six axles with hydraulically steerable wheels. Tractor's four axles made this a 10-axle rig. The car was not especially massive as specialized loads go.    

The platform trailer used for this haul is a modular vehicle built by Goldhofer of Germany to the carrier’s specifications, says Ben Luta, Silk Road’s safety director. It consists of two sections totaling 70 feet in length, each with three axles. Axles are air-sprung and wheels are hydraulically steered via a sensor apparatus on the tractor’s fifth wheel (Goldhofer’s website has pictures of the steerable wheels in use).

Ramp will allow the "dead," unpowered car to roll off the trailer. Cable from a winch on the trailer's gooseneck will pull it off. Such moves are routine for the carrier.

Ramp will allow the "dead," unpowered car to roll off the trailer. Cable from a winch on the trailer's gooseneck will pull it off. Such moves are routine for the carrier.

This is a roll-on, roll-off design with rails mounted on the platform’s deck. The modern electric trolley car was loaded and unloaded “dead,” or unpowered, Luta said. It was pulled aboard and pulled off, using the winch mounted in the trailer’s gooseneck. The crew assembles a ramp at the trailer’s front to move the load onto and off of the deck.

Silk Road crewman pulls out equipment to offload the 83,000-pound car onto tracks near the Amtrak station in Milwaukee.

Silk Road crewman pulls out equipment to offload the 83,000-pound car onto tracks near the Amtrak station in Milwaukee.

Silk Road’s two-man crew picked up the car in Brookville, Penn., where it was built, hauled it 595 miles over three days, and delivered it on St. Paul Avenue outside Milwaukee’s Intermodal Terminal, also known as the Amtrak station, near downtown. Outside contractors provided pilot cars to alert traffic and double-check overhead clearances. While on the trailer, the roof of the trolley car was 15 feet, 1 inch above the pavement, Lata said.

After being rolled onto St. Paul Avenue’s recently installed tracks, transit workers activated the car by raising a pantograph to an overhead power wire and slowly moved it to the transit authority’s terminal. It’ll undergo 621 miles of testing starting next week, as will four more cars of an initial order that’ll arrive one per month, local news sources reported.

Now some personal notes: I grew up in Milwaukee and rode the city’s old streetcars as a kid. I’d sit in the unoccupied operator’s seat at the “rear” of the two-ended cars and pretend I was the motorman. I loved it! Later, as a young motorist, I amused myself by trying to drop the tires of my ’49 Plymouth into the grooves formed by the rails and let the car steer itself. I also cursed the trolleys when they got in my way while I was hurrying to work or school.

That modern trolleys will occupy precious space on busy streets is one of the objections that citizens have against the streetcar project. However, Mayor Tom Barrett thinks they will make Milwaukee a world-class city and help it grow. And some people like them, partly for the nostalgia they bring, but also for trolleys’ smooth operation.

A few years ago, a lady who visited the Worthington, Ohio, trolley museum where I volunteered for a while told me that a smooth riding experience is why she hoped Columbus would bring them back (officials decided not to).

“Buses are much less expensive,” I told her.

“But they have that herky-jerkey ride,” she said, referring to the more abrupt way that buses stop and start as their drivers deal with traffic. Riding on rails, trolleys by design accelerate and stop more gradually.

By the way, I signed up to work at that museum specifically to learn to operate the one trolley car that was mechanically and electrically healthy enough to run (most of the equipment was neglected and decrepit). It was a “PCC” interurban car that once ran in Illinois; it really did ride smoothly and quietly over the half-mile of track the museum maintained. And it was easy to operate.

Anyway, you’d think that I’d be a fan of my old hometown’s new trolley system, which will be called The Hop. But like most residents, I think it’s way too expensive, and it's inefficient because the cars are married to the rails and can't go anywhere else. Custom buses in dedicated lanes would made more sense, save a lot of dollars, and be flexible in routing.

Nonetheless, when the street car system begins operating this fall, I’ll travel to Milwaukee and ride it. I’ve still got some kid in me.

The car, built by Brookville Equipment Co. in Pennsylvania, moves toward its new terminal. Streetcar service will be called The Hop, and should be operating this fall.

The car, built by Brookville Equipment Co. in Pennsylvania, moves toward its new terminal. Streetcar service will be called The Hop, and should be operating this fall.

Author

Tom Berg
Tom Berg

Tom Berg

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational trucks and trailers of all types.

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Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational trucks and trailers of all types.

View Bio
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