Trolley Follies and Monorails and buses disguised as Trolleys

As many of you know, I live in Hershey, the sweetest place on earth. When Milton Hershey (still regarded around here as 'alive' and deep consideration is given to 'what would Mr. Hershey want') built the town, he installed a trolley to get workers from around town to his factory.

The trolleys went out of service after WWII. Most of the in-road tracks were removed and all the overhead lines went. The trolley barn was shut up and most of the trolleys were dismantled or repurposed.

The Derry Township Historical Society has a subcommittee devoted to restoring the trolleys. We do have trolley system of sorts in town and have for years. The trolleys are actually diesel buses disguised as olde-timey trolleys and tourists pay generously for a tour of the Highlights of Hershey while riding the trolley.

Today was a fund-raising open house at the trolley barn. I got to speak with many earnest, eager citizens who >want< to see the trolleys revived and run all over town again, just like they did in Mr. Hershey's time.

At the same time, they don't want to interfere with cars in any way.

It was a frustrating conversation for me. I would ask about money and infrastructure and the earnest speaker would discuss how green it all was. Even better than building extensive tracks into the existing road was using only overhead lines to run electric trolleys. Best of all was ... wait for it .... a MONORAIL.

A monorail could be built to connect the various hotels with Hershey Park, the Tanger outlets, downtown's restaurant row, the Hershey theater, the stadium and Giant Center, etc. etc. etc. The monorail would soar high above the traffic on the streets and not get in anyone's way.

When I asked about funding, the conversation immediately turned to the convenience and how no drivers would be inconvenienced by having to wait behind a trolley, like they do right now behind UPS trucks and garbage trucks.

I suggested diesel buses disguised to look like trolleys using the existing infrastructure of roads. Then, when anything changes, the route could be easily updated. The system could start with one diesel bus disguised as a trolley and see if it worked rather than spending tens of millions of $$ to build a monorail.


Am I crazy to think that when we as a township can't afford to maintain the infrastructure we already have, we shouldn't be building exotic new projects like Monorails?

Covid-19 shutdowns have destroyed the township's budget for 2020 and for the foreseeable future. The pandemic is proving that we can't assume that tourism will always be there and the money will flow forever. Yet, somehow, it's better to build a Monorail than purchase and operate a few buses disguised as trolleys and see whether or not people will actually use them.


Sweet Tatorman's picture

I feel your pain.

Hopefully it will not be possible to obtain financing until the tourism outlook becomes obvious.

SLClaire's picture

You are not only not crazy, you were the only sane person in the whole building. Ask me (and David Trammel) about the University City Loop Trolley debacle sometime. U City is one of the 89 or so small municipalities in St. Louis County; it borders St. Louis City and is one of the few small municipalities in the county with a viable downtown, largely because Washington University is nearby. Lots of student traffic; a fair number of university profs live there as well, and the downtown developed some businesses that appealed more broadly as well. Also it's close to Forest Park, St. Louis' largest urban park, on a scale with NYC's Central Park.

Anyway, one particular person, who had invested in U City years ago when it was somewhat derelict and has made tons of money off his rehabbed buildings and their tenants, decided that U City needed a trolley as a tourist attraction. It would connect U City's downtown with Forest Park and its three big cultural institutions, thereby bringing lots of paid customers to his businesses. It would connect with the Metro system of buses and light rail so it would have all this green cred. And it would be so cool! Build it and the people will ride it! So they built it. It took years longer than planned and was way, way over budget. Periodically its backers came to the city and county, requesting more money. They got it. Eventually the trolley opened to big fanfare.

But the people didn't ride it, not in anywhere near the numbers needed to make enough money to keep it operational. And it kept breaking down, which may be part of why the people didn't ride it. After all the work of putting in the rails and the lines, after the cost overruns and the years-delayed opening, it was shut down in 2019. Now we're stuck with useless equipment and don't have the money to spend on something more useful. I hope your township avoids a similar debacle. Tell them to look up the sad story of the U City trolley sometime; maybe they will have second thoughts.

It sounds like diesel buses disguised as trolleys would have allowed the developer to test the program at minimal cost and without tearing up the streets building a huge infrastructure.

Three diesel buses disguised as trolleys would have provided proof of concept and the maintenance would have been easier too.

I do not know why this is so hard to understand.

ClareBroommaker's picture

Yeah, for some reason there is thought that trolleys are such a novelty that tourists will be attracted to them. I think it was around 1978 that Memphis, TN started a single trolley line in the downtown area. I don't know whether it ever attracted many tourists, but it was at least useful for commuters and downtown workers at the time, connecting bus lines as it did.

Anyone here from Pittsburgh? I did ride a trolley in Pittsburgh, just for the sake of doing so (tourist). I think it ran along old tracks which once had been electrified overhead, but the trolley I rode from downtown out to the suburbs and back must have been diesel. I got sick as a dog on the trolley. The car jostled side to side making me motion sick. It was hot, so windows were down while diesel fumes poured in through the windows. It was awful....But this line was used by ordinary people for their ordinary transportation. That was probably around 1984. I don't know its present status.

It has to be the romantic olde-timey romantic novelty of trolleys as opposed to buses.
I can't see any other reason.
Around here, one of the biggest selling points for spending millions of $$ is because "Mr. Hershey would do it!"
Mr. Hershey's been dead since 1945. He was a philanthropist but he was also a businessman and he didn't pour money down ratholes. He built the original trolley because that's what people used in the 1930's to get from their homes to the factory.

I think he would use diesel buses disguised as trolleys today, because of the cost.
While tourists currently ride the trolley (a diesel bus disguised as a trolley complete with driver and tour guide in olde-timey costumes), there are a LOT fewer of them and the trolley doesn't go anywhere useful and it's freaking expensive.
It's a tour of Hershey. Not a transportation system. Thus, the residents don't use it unless they're showing around visiting relatives from out of town.

Sweet Tatorman's picture

I left New Orleans around the time they increased the trolley fare from 5 cents to 7 cents [late 1950's]. That 5 cents not only got you a ride on the original trolley but also a transfer ticket on other lines or the bus system. Outrageous, a 40% fare increase! At the time I lived within a block of the St Charles trolley line.