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CATS Will Close Streetcar June 3, And Won't Re-Open Until 2021

David Boraks
To prepare for the second phase of the Gold Line, CATS is closing the streetcar for at least 18 months starting June 3.

Charlotte’s Gold Line streetcar opened four years ago, but the Charlotte Area Transit System announced Tuesday that it’s shutting the entire line down for more than 18 months starting June 3.

CATS is expanding the streetcar, and will extend the line by 2.5 miles to Johnson C. Smith University and to Sunnyside Avenue in Elizabeth. That project costs $150 million.

When the new segment opens in early 2021, CATS will use new modern streetcars instead of the green and yellow replica trolleys it uses today. 

The transit system says it needs to raise the height of the existing station platforms to accommodate new streetcars. It also says it needs to upgrade existing power substations for the bigger trains.

CATS says it will launch a new bus service to replace the streetcar while it’s closed.

What's unclear is why the streetcar will be closed until early 2021, when the second phase is finished. Last month, CATS chief executive John Lewis told the City Council the work on the streetcar line would likely take between six to eight months. That means the construction work would be finished in early 2020.

When the platforms are raised, CATS says it will no longer be able to use the replica trolley cars. Lewis told council members CATS would receive its first new modern streetcar from Siemens in May 2019.

CATS spokesperson Juliann Sheldon said Tuesday that the streetcar hasn't arrived yet.

"We are expecting our first vehicle in the near future," she said. "That is just one of six vehicles that we have ordered for this project."

CATS didn't say when the remaining cars are scheduled to arrive. It also didn't provide details on why the line couldn't re-open at some point during 2020.

The second phase of the Gold Line was scheduled to open in August 2020, but Lewis told council members the Republican National Convention in August 2020 will delay the opening by six months.

Ridership on the Gold Line has declined in recent years.

In its first month of operation four years ago, the Gold Line carried more than 1,500 passenger trips on an average weekday. In March, the streetcar averaged 659 weekday trips.

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.