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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014

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In Travel & Visitors Guide

One of five active Kenosha Transit streetcars.

In Travel & Visitors Guide

Most of Kenosha's current streetcar line runs along grassy medians.

In Travel & Visitors Guide

Bradley Preston, Kenosha's streetcar mechanic, at the controls.

In Travel & Visitors Guide

Inside the streetcar barn, the cars rest on elevated tracks providing access to their undercarriage and "trucks."

In Travel & Visitors Guide

One of the streetcars in Kenosha Transit's possession waiting for new paint, and a new lease on life.

In Travel & Visitors Guide

Similar to the interiors of modern buses, streetcars can hold 100 people.

In Travel & Visitors Guide

Preston leaves the car to operate a manual switch for the streetcar to leave the main track and head to the barn.

In Travel & Visitors Guide

Two of Kenosha Transit's eight cars warm inside the streetcar barn.

Streetcars electrify Kenosha's tourism, transportation options


The Downtown Milwaukee streetcar cleared yet another hurdle last week as the city received approval to spend $54.9 million in federal grant money to continue its planning.

While many in Milwaukee anticipate the return of this form of public transportation, and others debate its merits, Kenosha Transit's electric streetcar system celebrated its first decennial last year and has already launched into its 11th year of service.

After being absent from the city's transportation scene for 68 years, streetcars were brought back to Kenosha in 2000 as part of a long-term revitalization plan.

"Reintroduction of the streetcars was a tool for developing downtown travel," says Ron Iwen, director of Kenosha Transit for the last two years.

Streetcar ridership is around 60,000 every year.

Downtown Kenosha lost its largest employer when the American Motors main engine plant located there closed. Chrysler, which bought American Motors, shut down the lakefront plant for good in 1988 (Chrysler operated another plant in mid-town Kenosha until 2010). No one wanted the large compound which had been the site of numerous assembly plants since 1902, anchoring the city to the lakefront for nearly a century, to sit empty. The plan for mixed-use development on the former industrial site included the streetcar line nearly from the beginning.

The streetcar line connects the Metra station on the west end to a marina, housing, bars and two lakefront parks on the east. Along the two-mile route are the Kenosha Public Museum, the Dinosaur Museum and the Civil War Museum, as well as the court house, post office and civic center.

It's a 15-minute ride to do the entire line. The fare is $1 for people age 13 and older, 50 cents for kids 12 and under.

Kenosha Transit operates the Joseph McCarthy Transit Center in the middle of the circuit (the center is named after a former transportation director, not the U.S. senator from Wisconsin). The transit center is on the north end, near Kenosha Harbor and the third park on the line.

The transit center is also known as the "streetcar barn" and it's where Bradley Preston has worked for the last eight years as Kenosha's streetcar mechanic.

"These are great cars. I've always enjoyed them," says Preston, who has worked for Kenosha Transit since 1985.

Kenosha Transit has a total of eight streetcars, two from Philadelphia and six from Toronto. All but the two most recent additions have been repainted in the color schemes of five different city's transit systems, Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Johnstown / Kenosha.

The Johnstown car, which is one of two originally from Pittsburgh, has a destination sign familiar to Milwaukeeans: Route 10 Wells / Farwell.

A different color-schemed streetcar is run every day and only one car is used each day.

On popular lakefront holidays and events, such as Fourth of July and when the tall ships are in the harbor, Kenosha operates three cars. Because of power supply limitations, three cars is the maximum that can be run at one time along the circuit.

"We could run them bumper-to-bumper, if there was more power," says Preston.

The current streetcar loop was built all new in 2000, but Kenosha still has old streetcar lines under some city streets. Most of the circuit runs in grassy medians on 54th and 56th Streets, with new track and road tar taking up the least amount of lane space possible on 11th Avenue near the Metra station.

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Talkbacks

KarenJeffries | March 8, 2013 at 11:39 p.m. (report)

Right on, Kenosha! Go for it, Milwaukee ...

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MilwaukeeCity | Jan. 31, 2012 at 11:43 p.m. (report)

$60,000,000 federal "grant" and you wonder why this country has a worse credit rating than me. So less than 60,000 people ride this train a year and we want to spend 60,000,000 dollars on this? don't whine to me about not having enough money for anything else you want. This is like the guy who buys a 70inch LED TV but can't afford to pay his bills and needs to get his roof fixed.

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