Streetcars, trolleys making a comeback in the US

Seattle is already building a rail line, and California cities like Pasadena and Long Beach would love to add one too.

Cities like Portland, San Diego and Sacramento already have urban rail, but are considering adding good old-fashioned streetcars to the mix. Basically, what's old is new again.

According to Sacramento's Regional Transit Director Mike Wiley, “Whether it’s antiquated technology or not, it’s cost-effective and it’s proven.”

They have been proven enough that many city leaders believe the business of rail isn't just nostalgia, but a catalyst to change areas that no longer get the foot traffic they once did.

Some studies show these urban projects, if done correctly, can boost property values, encourage development, cut carbon emissions and ultimately raise tax revenue.

“That streetcar will go by a lot of small businesses, will drop people off at these small businesses whether they be restaurants, clothing stores or drug stores, or somebody's doctor's office. They become a real economic corridor," says U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Zak Alemi couldn't agree more. He and his business partner just opened a new coffee shop at the K Street Mall in downtown Sacramento, and the light rail line runs within feet of his front door.

“It's good for our business. It drops people off every single day. As you can tell as gas prices are going up, it's more packed. And it's a guaranteed business flow for us.”

Of course, not everyone agrees with the resurgence of streetcars or light rail. Once found in more than 800 American cities, streetcars nearly disappeared from downtown roadways. At one point, only 6 major cities had anything of the sort.

Now it seems a revival has begun, with at least 40 communities across the country actively using, or planning to return to, urban rail.

Wiley says, “Where you have a very limited right of way, you don’t have to acquire and tear out buildings and tear out areas to bring light rail through that area. We can take the traffic lane and make it a mixed use traffic lane so that light rail flows right with the cars and the trucks.”

Secretary LaHood argues it also helps with job creation. “Washington, D.C., Tucson, Sacramento -- they have taken their cues from other cities where they see that they can be an economic engine, provide jobs, but also be a very significant, 21st century transportation system in these communities.”

Opponents will counter that streetcars are an outdated form of transportation that can bog communities down with significant costs, high insurance coverage and, unless closely watched, can only attract more crime.

Opponents cite the ongoing issues with Tampa's rail line and the mismanagement that has cost taxpayers there millions.

That hasn't stopped the revival though, as even a city famous for its urban rail, San Francisco, continues to highlight its old-fashioned railcar line along the famed Embarcadero.

Cincinnati has a system that studies suggest could eliminate nearly 14,000 tons of carbon emissions over the next 20 years.

These numbers, and the chance to possibly draw more folks downtown, means riding the rails on Main Street is a restoration that could be coming your way soon.