The deputy head of public transit in Brussels claims citizens applauded in the streets when the first of the city’s new-generation streetcars were tested in 2003.
Two of those trams — albeit brand-spanking new from the Bombardier plant in Bruges — began service in Vancouver Thursday.
The first eager rider lined up at 4:30 a.m., and eventually there were several hundred in the line enjoying refreshments and listening to the Dal Richards’ band by the time the train made its maiden voyage at 10:30 a.m.
Kris Lauwers, deputy general manager of STIB, Brussels’ public-transportation company, congratulated the city for its “planned renaissance of streetcars.”
The two Flexity streetcars, on loan from the City of Brussels, will run, free of charge, for the next 60 days along a 1.8-kilometre track between Granville Island and the Olympic Village Canada Line station.
Granville Island, a popular tourist destination, will be hopping during the Games as it hosts, among other things, a French carnival, a Swiss House and an Atlantic Canada House.
The trams will run every six to 10 minutes for 18 hours a day until March 21. They are expected to shuttle as many as half a million people during that two-month period.
The streetcars themselves are gold and grey and designed to reflect Brussels’ Art Nouveau heritage.
Inside, they are entirely low floor and are outfitted with “noble” materials like wood, leather and stainless steel. The choice of such materials, Lauwers said, has reduced vandalism by 70 per cent, compared to older models.
Mayor Gregor Robertson, who clanged a bell to launch the tram, said it was a dark day in 1958 (before he was born) when streetcars disappeared from the city.
He said Vancouver was proud to be a partner in the demonstration project, the success of which could determine whether trams are brought back to the city post-Games.
Vancouver spent about $8.5 million to upgrade the existing right-of-way with new tracks and concrete ties. They were forced to hire extra security when thieves swiped some of the copper wiring.