George Benson Waterfront Trolley Line
The Seattle Waterfront Trolley operated along Alaska Way from the Memorial Day weekend in 1982 until November 2005. The official name was the, George Benson Waterfront Streetcar Line
, named after Seattle City Council member George Benson.
In 1978, Mr. Benson traveled to Melbourne, Australia on his own dime, to hand-pick three Melbourne Class W-2 trams. Trams number 482, 512, and 518 were purchased for $5,000 each (that’s $19,600 in 2019 dollars). It cost $26,000 (that’s $102,000 today) to have them shipped to Seattle for a grand total of $41,000 (or $160,800 in 2019 figures). As soon as the trams arrived in Seattle a team of volunteers started on the restoration process.
In 1981, a local taxing district was created along the water front where Mr. Benson convinced the property owners to a tax that would bring in $1.2 million for construction of the line. Most of the cost was for the platforms and overhead wires. Burlington Northern allowed the trolleys to run on the old Northern Pacific track that ran alongside Alaska Way.
In 1985, the City of Seattle sold the trolley line to King County Metro Transit. In 1990 the line was extended past King Street Station to where the transit tunnel is today. In all the line had 9 stops. Only 2 trolleys operated on the line at any given time, there was a short passing track right in front of Pier 59 where the opposing trams would meet.
In June 1990, a fourth tram entered service; Melbourne tram 272 joined the other three. In June 1993, tram 605 entered service. Tram 525 was also purchased but never went into service, it was used for spare parts.
In October 2004, Mr. Benson passed away at the age of 85. About a year later in November 2005, the water front trolley was taken out of service. Work on the Olympic Sculpture Park was starting at the north end of the line, and work was about to begin on the new SR99 tunnel and the removal of the Alaska Way Viaduct. The six trams went into storage in a warehouse in the SoDo District south of the football stadium. In 2007, the Nation Geographic Society named the George Benson Waterfront Streetcar Line as one of the 10 Great Streetcar routes.
In 2015, after ten years in storage, the Federal Transit Administration told King County Metro the trams need to be put back into service or repay the $205,000 for their investment. The warehouse was in no shape to store the trams, it was falling apart and King County Metro wanted the land for a new bus barn.
In January 2016, a private group called Friends of the Benson Trolleys was formed to restore the trolleys and find a location where they could be put back into service in Seattle. In June 2016, three of the trams were sold for $200,000. Trams 482, 512 and 518 were loaded each onto a lowboy and hauled off to St. Louis. Still owned by King County, trams 272, 605, and what was left of the 525, were taken to a secret location in the Puget Sound region.
The group is still working on the 272 and 605 in hopes of someday putting them back into service.