Along Route 6, The Trolley Rolls To The End Of The Line

Posted: January 12, 1986

It was more than a hunk of steel rumbling down the street, they said yesterday on the old Route 6 trolley line.

A Route 6 trolley was a sliver of history, a slice of tradition, a rolling social hall that turned strangers into passing acquaintances.

Not to mention that it got you from point A (Broad and Olney) to point B (Cheltenham and Ogontz) for more than half a century. Sometimes on time.

The Route 6 line folded and died last night, leaving its tracks and overhead wires as its tombstone. Today, buses replace the trolleys.

"It won't be the same," said Earl E. Lawson, a SEPTA driving instructor who used to drive on Route 6 and has ridden it for 23 years.

"I live on the line in West Oak Lane, and you could tell time by the ding- dong of that trolley. Now you'll hear vroooommmm. Not the same."

The federal government still wants an explanation for the conversion, and several local groups are trying to bring Route 6 back from the dead. On Friday, some of them notified the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation of their intention to sue.

But the wake was held anyway. In attendance were 150 mournful, camera- toting members of a trolley association - some of whom came hundreds of miles for a final ride - and a representative of one of three groups that want to buy Route 6 for private operation.

SEPTA officials have said the trolleys are too difficult to maintain and to operate efficiently. Buses are just as comfortable and do not restrict automobile traffic the way trolleys do, they added.

That may be partly right, trolley operator Jeff Davis said yesterday as he piloted a trolley along Route 6. But he does not favor the decision.

"I think the trolleys seat more people, there's more of a tradition, and there's less pollution than buses," he said while hauling a standing-room- only crowd north on Ogontz.

"This is like history, and they're destroying it," said Gloria Lewis, who was traveling with 4-year-old nephew Lemar.

In recent years, operator Davis said, the line has been used primarily by people who want to shop at Cheltenham Mall at Cheltenham and Ogontz Avenues or by those who want to connect with subways and buses at Broad Street and Olney Avenue.

"I take the bus to Cheltenham and Ogontz, Route 6 to Broad and Olney, and the subway to work," said John Fennell of Mount Airy. He was with his 5-year- old daughter, Melissa, yesterday, riding Route 6 as part of a complicated route to grandma's house in Chester.

But it would be misleading to say that all of Route 6's patrons viewed yesterday as the last day of a long romance. For some, Route 6 was a required and sometimes grating piece of the daily grind, not a thrill ride.

"Too hot in the winter," said Eva Evans, trying to push open a window, ''and no air conditioning in the summer. At least the buses will have air- conditioning."

Added Marguerite Helm: "I was late for work a lot because the trolleys

break down a lot. I think the buses will be better."

On the other side was Ken Springirth, 45, one of the trolley buffs who chartered three trolleys yesterday for a 5.6-mile round-trip on Route 6.

"The tracks might need a little work, but not much. They refurbished the cars and motors, and I think they're wasting U.S. tax dollars to drop it now," said Springirth, who had a Yashika in one hand, a Pentax in the other, and stood with 25 others who took pictures of trolley cars as they came through the Olney loop. Springirth flew here yesterday from Erie to join members of Bucks County's Buckingham Valley Trolley Association.

SEPTA has received between $3 million and $5 million in federal money for restoring trolleys and rehabilitating facilities on the route.

Protesting the conversion are the Delaware Valley Clean Air Council, SEPTA's Citizen's Advisory Council and the Delaware Valley Association of Railroad Passengers. One contention is that SEPTA waited too long after its 1983 public hearing on the matter to carry out the conversion and thus should now hold another.

The federal Urban Mass Transportation Authority has asked SEPTA to justify, ''as soon as possible," the conversion and to seriously consider turning the trolley line over to private companies.

UMTA also has warned SEPTA not to take action that would prevent resumption of trolley service until UMTA approves the conversion. But the federal agency did not ask for a delay in the conversion.

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