Seeing El Paso for the first time through the windows of the El Paso Streetcar

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I’ve lived in El Paso all 21 years of my life.

The El Paso Streetcar rides along North Stanton Street on Sunday, Dec. 3. Photo credit: Brianna Chavez

I’ve been to almost every part of town that I can think of. As I’ve gotten older, I grown to love El Paso and appreciate the city’s history and where it’s going. But after riding the El Paso Streetcar for the very first time, I felt like I was seeing the city for the very first time.

After what seemed like a never-ending construction headache followed by traffic nightmares, the $97 million El Paso Streetcar Project was officially launched in early November.

When I first saw the new and improved El Paso Streetcar drive by the first thought that came into my mind was how cute it was.

When I began to learn the history of the streetcar, I began to learn how valuable the streetcar was to El Paso.

Related: Downtown El Paso set to ride streetcar revival

The El Paso Streetcars that are currently running are Presidential Conference Car streetcars (PPC), the same model approved by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the mid-1930s.

The streetcars that once ran between the 1950s through 1970s were left in the desert near the El Paso International Airport and decayed over time. Six streetcars were sent to the Brookville Equipment Corp. in Pennsylvania to be refurbished in 2015. The refurbished street cars made their way back to El Paso in March of 2018.

Streetcar 1506 rides through North Stanton Street passing through Cathedral High School. Photo credit: Brianna Chavez

The El Paso Streetcar runs a 4.8 mile route and has two loops, the uptown and downtown loop. The Uptown loop has 27 stops that takes passengers from Downtown to the Kern area, UTEP and back. The Downtown loop has 10 stops that starts downtown and works its way to Segundo Barrio.

I decided to take the Uptown route on a Sunday afternoon. I parked by Cathedral High School, across from the Ronald McDonald House on Stanton and waited for about 15 minutes for the streetcar to arrive.

As it approached the stop, you can hear the dings of the vintage 1960’s streetcar. It’s bright light teal color with bright red stripe along the side is just as captivating.

 

When I stepped on, it was like stepping into a time machine. You could just feel like the history of the car oozing out. It was the past and present combined. Even the smell of the car was new.

The car’s technology was most certainly new, including digital cameras that displayed the inside and outside of the vehicle. According to the City of El Paso, all six of the streetcars have several amenities including free Wi-Fi, bike racks, and air conditioning. They are also all ADA accessible.

Scuff marks can be seen on the pull cord of streetcar 1506, nearly one month after the cars official opened to the public. Photo credit: Brianna Chavez

I noticed that while everything was new and improved, the car was already starting to see some scuffing. The pull cord along the window where I sat was scuffed along, showing signs of use since it first began running.

As I looked around, the car was completely full. Through the entire ride, there was only standing room available. There were people young and old riding along with me, from young families to older couples.

City Representative Claudia Ordaz-Perez and County Commissioner Vince Perez joined the ride. There was even an older gentlemen telling the driver what he remembered when the streetcar was like when he was younger.

At one point during the ride, a family was buying tickets at one of the Brio bus stops and, while the driver could have kept driving along the route, he stopped and told the family the streetcar was free to ride for the day.

Located across the Bert Williams Downtown
Santa Fe Transfer Center on Oregon Street, the Sun Metro streetcar facility houses all six streetcars. Photo credit: Brianna Chavez

Along the route, each historic neighborhood, Kern, Downtown and Segundo Barrio felt so new and so different.

I’d been through Segundo Barrio many times before, but something about riding in the streetcar made me wonder what kind of stories where hidden in the walls of the small brick houses. I felt as if I was reliving someone’s past. I imaged someone walking out of their home and walking towards the stop to catch the streetcar.

On the route, the car passed by St. Patrick’s Cathedral and its neighboring school. I went to school and church there for many years, yet as we passed by I felt like I had never seen how beautiful it actually was.

After the 50 minute ride, I thought about the growth El Paso has seen in the last several years. The city has changed and is continuing to change for the better. While the streetcar is a step towards the past, it’s also a step towards the future. Soon, my generation will tell stories of how we took the streetcar, just like the generations before me.

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