MATA Trolley
Former Porto trolley on the Main Street line in 2002 or 2003; its trolley pole was replaced by a pantograph soon after.
LocaleMemphis, Tennessee
OpenApril 29, 1993[1]
Routes3 (2 temporarily suspended, i.e. bus-operated)
Operator(s)Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA)
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Propulsion system(s)Electric
ElectrificationOverhead line, 600 V DC[2]
Track length (total)10 mi (16.1 km)[1]
Route length6.3 mi (10.1 km)[citation needed]
Annual ridership237,900 (2021)[3]

The MATA Trolley is a heritage streetcar transit system operating in Memphis, Tennessee. It began operating on April 29, 1993.[1] Service was suspended in June 2014, following fires on two cars.[4] After nearly four years and repeated postponements, the reopening of the Main Street Line took place on April 30, 2018.[5] In 2021, the system had a ridership of 237,900.

The last line of Memphis’ original streetcar network closed on June 15, 1947.[2]

Since opening the system has been extended twice and now consists of three lines, operated by the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA). These lines are the Main Street Line, the Riverfront Loop and the Madison Avenue Line; however, service on the last two lines remains indefinitely suspended in 2021.[6][7] In the 2011–12 fiscal year, 1.34 million trips were made on the system, a 23.1% year-on-year growth – the highest of any light rail system in the contiguous United States.[8]


Ex-Porto car 180 on Main St in 2010
Ex-Porto car 180 on Main St in 2010

Originally proposed as a 4.9-mile (7.9 km) line along the Mississippi River, the Memphis City Council voted 9-4 in January 1990 to build the 2.5-mile (4 km), $33 million Main Street route.[9] After multiple delays, construction of the line commenced in February 1991 for completion by December 1992.[10] However, due to the longer-than-anticipated restoration of the vintage streetcars, the opening of the line was delayed until spring 1993.[11] After further delay, testing of the first of the restored cars began on March 10, 1993,[12] and the system opened to the public on April 29, 1993.[2][9][1]

On October 1, 1997, the Riverfront line opened.[13] The system's third line, running east from Main Street along Madison Avenue for about 2 miles (3.2 km), opened on March 15, 2004. It was completed at a cost of about $56 million, which was approximately 25 percent below the original budget forecast for the project.[14]

On November 3, 2021, MATA announced a plan to test a modern streetcar from San Diego on the Madison Avenue Line, on which rail service has been suspended since 2014.[15] The vehicle is light rail car 1035 from the San Diego Trolley light rail system. MATA acquired the 1988-built Siemens–Duewag U2 from San Diego in fall 2020, and the car arrived in Memphis in April 2021.[16]

Rolling stock

Ex-Melbourne trolley in the South Main St Historic District
Ex-Melbourne trolley in the South Main St Historic District

The trolleys used are almost all restored, vintage streetcars.[9] The original three cars in operation on opening day were all formerly used in Porto, Portugal, and are Car 187, circa 1927; Car 194, circa 1935; and Car 204, circa 1940.[9] These cars are each 30 feet 6 inches (9.3 m) long, 7 feet 10 inches (2.39 m) wide and weigh 25,820 pounds (11,710 kg) without passengers. The cars were restored by Kerns-Wilcheck Associates of Memphis.[9] Three additional ex-Porto cars (156, 164 and 180) joined them within weeks, and the fleet had six cars (all ex-Porto single-truckers) by May 1993.[17]

Gomaco-built number 1979, with a trolley pole, in its original livery. By 2003 all of the trolley poles were replaced by pantographs.
Gomaco-built number 1979, with a trolley pole, in its original livery. By 2003 all of the trolley poles were replaced by pantographs.

Between the mid-1990s and 2003, the fleet expanded considerably in both number and capacity with the arrival of ten reconditioned Melbourne, Australia W2-class cars, all but one (Car 417) supplied by Gomaco Trolley Company.[18] Other additions were single-truck Car 1979 that was built new by Gomaco in 1993, as a demonstrator;[19] double-truck Car 1794 that was originally an open-sided car from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but was heavily rebuilt and enclosed before entering service in Memphis, and, in early 2004, a replica Birney Safety Car – again, manufactured by Gomaco,[20] similar to those used on the TECO Line Streetcar in Tampa, Florida, and the Metro Streetcar in Little Rock, Arkansas.

The fleet and overhead wires were converted from trolley pole to pantograph current collection in early 2003, during a three-month suspension of service which started on January 5, 2003.[21]

An eleventh reconditioned Melbourne car, W5-class 799, was purchased in 2006 by MATA with a view toward eventual restarting of trolley service.[22][23]

In late 2020, MATA acquired three more Gomaco-built replica Birney streetcars, secondhand from the Charlotte Area Transit System, which had used them from 2004 to 2019 on its Charlotte Trolley System and CityLynx Gold Line.[16] After a planned refurbishment, they are projected to enter service by late 2022.[16]


The MATA Trolley network consists of three lines. There are stations at 24 locations (inbound and outbound stations are counted as a single location), and 35 of the stations are sheltered and ADA-accessible.[24]

Line Opened Stations Length[25] Termini
Main Street Line 1993 13 2.5 mi (4.0 km) Butler Avenue – North End Terminal
Riverfront Loop 1997 19 4.5 mi (7.2 km) none
Madison Avenue Line 2004 6 2.5 mi (4.0 km) Third Street – Cleveland Station

Accidents and incidents

On June 1, 2011, two trolleys – a Melbourne W2-class and Porto number 194 – traveling on Main Street collided due to a power failure.[26]

Two of the Melbourne cars caught fire, in December 2013 and April 2014. Both incidents occurred along the Madison Avenue line. In May 2014, the line was shut down in order to conduct an investigation, since the speeds along it are higher. On June 10, the suspension was expanded to include all MATA trolley lines after it was determined that much of the fleet would need to be renovated. At that time, the suspension was expected to last at least six months until a feasible solution could be found. Options included restoring the existing fleet at a cost of $6 million, or replacing them with new heritage streetcars at a cost of $40 million.[4] After thorough inspection of the fleet, MATA decided to overhaul several cars rather than purchase new ones, and to eventually reinstate service using only overhauled cars.[27] In December 2014, MATA announced that it was not yet able to give an estimated date for the resumption of service.[28] In March 2015, it was announced that limited trolley service might be possible in May or June, but there was still no timetable for full restoration of service.[29] In October 2016, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said trolleys would not be back in service before 2017.[30]


Service on the Main Street Line restarted April 30, 2018.[5] At that time, the other two lines were forecast to reopen within two years,[6] but as of 2021 they both remained indefinitely suspended (routes served by buses).[7] As of September 2021, the Riverfront Loop was planned to reopen when three used Birney-replica cars acquired from Memphis in late 2020 were ready to enter service, circa late 2022.[16]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "MATA – Memphis Area Transit Authority – Trolley History". Memphis Area Transit Authority. 2013. Retrieved August 18, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c May, Jack (November 1993). "Memphis: Trolleys Roll Again". Passenger Train Journal. Interurban Press. pp. 40–48. ISSN 0160-6913.
  3. ^ "Transit Ridership Report Fourth Quarter 2021" (PDF). American Public Transportation Association. March 10, 2022. Retrieved June 7, 2022.
  4. ^ a b Suriani, Mike (June 12, 2014). "MATA Trolleys off the tracks for expensive safety overhaul". WREG-TV. Retrieved June 13, 2014.
  5. ^ a b Dries, Bill (April 30, 2018). "Trolleys Return to Main Street". The Daily News. The Daily News Publishing Co. Inc. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
  6. ^ a b Dries, Bill (April 17, 2018). "Trolleys Return to Main Street at End of April". The Daily News. The Daily News Publishing Co. Inc. Retrieved April 25, 2018.
  7. ^ a b Flyer Staff (May 5, 2021). "The ?s Issue: You had questions. We found answers. – Will the trolleys ever return to the Riverfront Loop or Madison Avenue?". Memphis Flyer. Archived from the original on May 6, 2021. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  8. ^ Charlier, Tom (November 4, 2012). "Memphis trolleys lead nation in light-rail passenger growth". The Commercial Appeal. Retrieved March 18, 2013.
  9. ^ a b c d e Huston, Jerry (April 22, 1993). "Trolley rumbles to life in city – Line readied for comeback downtown". The Commercial Appeal.
  10. ^ Huston, Jerry (October 15, 1992). "Trolley, mall work nearing an end". The Commercial Appeal.
  11. ^ Huston, Jerry (November 26, 1992). "Delays in trolley car restoration move starting date for rail line". The Commercial Appeal.
  12. ^ Patterson, Patti (March 11, 1993). "Trolley's test launch thrills cheering, wine-sipping fans". The Commercial Appeal.
  13. ^ "MATA offers free trolley rides starting Wednesday". Memphis Business Journal. April 4, 2009. Retrieved May 31, 2009.
  14. ^ "Madison rail line to open March 15". Memphis Business Journal. March 11, 2004. Retrieved May 31, 2009.
  15. ^ Royer, David; Arthur, Shay (November 3, 2021). "MATA to test 'modern streetcar' on Madison line". WREG-TV. Archived from the original on November 10, 2021. Retrieved December 9, 2021.
  16. ^ a b c d "Worldwide Review [regular news section]". Tramways & Urban Transit. UK: Light Rail Transit Association/Mainspring Ltd. September 2021. pp. 389–390. ISSN 1460-8324.
  17. ^ Wilkins, Van (Spring 1996). "Heritage Trolleys in Memphis and Galveston". The New Electric Railway Journal. Free Congress Foundation. ISSN 1048-3845. Retrieved May 27, 2011.
  18. ^ "Reconditioned Melbourne Trolley". Gomaco Trolley Co. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
  19. ^ "Single-Truck, Semi-Convertible Enclosed Trolley". Gomaco Trolley Co. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
  20. ^ "Replica Birney Trolley – Memphis, Tennessee". Gomaco Trolley Co. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
  21. ^ "Worldwide Review [regular news section]". Tramways & Urban Transit. UK: Light Rail Transit Association. April 2004. p. 146. ISSN 1460-8324.
  22. ^ Sells, Toby (February 11, 2016). "MATA Plans Trolley Return". Memphis Flyer. Contemporary Media, Inc. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
  23. ^ "Hybrid Reconditioned Melbourne Trolley". Gomaco Trolley Co. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
  24. ^ "MATA – Memphis Area Transit Authority – Trolleys". Memphis Area Transit Authority. 2013. Retrieved August 18, 2013.
  25. ^ "U.S. Streetcar Systems- Tennessee". July 6, 2018. Retrieved March 11, 2022.
  26. ^ Phillips, Bianca (June 1, 2011). "Trolleys Collide at Downtown Intersection". Memphis Flyer. Retrieved March 18, 2013.
  27. ^ "Critical questions about temporary trolley suspension" (Press release). MATA. September 26, 2014. Archived from the original on January 15, 2015. Retrieved January 9, 2015.
  28. ^ "MATA updates on trolley progress" (Press release). MATA. December 11, 2014. Archived from the original on January 15, 2015. Retrieved January 9, 2015.
  29. ^ Dries, Bill (March 12, 2015). "MATA Head Draws Heat on Trolley Delays". The Daily News. Memphis, Tennessee. Retrieved March 12, 2015.
  30. ^ Matthews, Mike (October 7, 2016). "No Memphis Trolleys This Year". Memphis, Tennessee. Retrieved October 12, 2016.