Thursday, April 7, 2011

CCLRT construction exposes old streetcar right-of-way


I knew that the Central Corridor light-rail line was going to be built on the old streetcar right-of-way, but I didn't really know that the old right-of-way could basically be defined as a single (almost-)continuous object. After my boss told me he'd seen some rusty streetcar rails piling up along University Avenue, I decided to check it out, and took these pictures before and after work.

Brick, wooden railroad ties, and the steel rails themselves are being ripped out of the ground, and will be for quite some time. Amazing to think that these have been sitting in the ground for 57 years since the last streetcars ran. Service ended in Saint Paul in 1953, though they continued running in Minneapolis until mid-1954.



  1. When Lake Street was reconstructed a few years ago there were similarly rails and old paving stones unearthed all along the corridor. The contractor held onto the rails for their scrap value (I assume), but the paving stones were up for grabs. Every evening after the construction crews had left the job site, area residents would be out scavenging for the (granite?) paving stones. IIRC, the contractor didn't really like it, but it was cheaper than having to truck the stones to a dump someplace, so they didn't make too much of an effort to stop them.

    The old streetcar paving stones are a pretty popular landscaping item around my neighborhood (Powderhorn), and they're easy to spot based on their shape and size. I suppose the brick they used on University just isn't as valuable as the granite pavers used elsewhere? (although, I tried to locate some generic red bricks to purchase last summer and it was much more difficult than I imagined it would be...)

  2. There is some detritus floating around my memory about the Met Council studying whether they could use the old ROW for Central. Presumably they were looking at the bed rather than the rails themselves. I'm pretty sure they tore up pavement in a few places to see if it was usable, and found that it was too weathered to salvage. You might be able to find something about it in one of the EIS appendices, I'm too lazy.

  3. I heard about some tests a year or two ago. My vague memory is that they dug up a section somewhere near Snelling, and that they did take a shot at seeing whether the rails would be useful for anything, but they were far too rusted.

    Looking at the rail bed, I did wonder whether it could be used with new rails, but I imagine the mortar has all disintegrated by now. It was also designed for much lighter vehicles. "Light rail" is a big misnomer, unfortunately. A 6-axle Hiawatha LRV weighs 48.5 tons, while an old 4-axle PCC streetcar (the last type of vehicle to run on the line) probably weighed around 19 tons.