Historic-looking trolley to travel downtown Norwich streets

Norwich — The newest addition to the city's vehicle fleet would look at home on downtown Norwich streets 100 years ago.

The "Ali Rose," a 12-passenger electric powered old-fashioned looking trolley shuttle bus made its way slowly out of the American Ambulance garage on West Thames Street Thursday afternoon for its inaugural trip through downtown, ending at the Norwich Transportation Center on Falls Avenue. That could be its home base during summer months, when the trolley serves as a downtown shuttle during major events, Mayor Peter Nystrom said.

The three-year project to convert a former ambulance chassis donated by American Ambulance into a retro-look, high-tech, electric-powered and computerized shuttle bus was the largest community service undertaking ever done by Norwich Rotary, said Bonnie Hong, former Rotary president and project leader.

Even with tens of thousands of dollars in donated labor and materials, the vehicle cost $80,000 paid by Norwich Rotary, Hong said. In addition to helping Norwich tourism efforts, the trolley served as the prototype for a new business that hopes to market the new technology to other cities, hotels and tourist attractions and eventually to bid on government vehicle contracts.

The 13 volunteers who spent countless hours working on the trolley are now the stockholders in a nonprofit company, Green Electric Technologies Inc., which hopes to manufacture and sell trolleys in the near future. The new company hopes to select a chief executive officer and hire an electrical engineer and start with six full-time employees, Hong said.

"All of us wish that Green Electric Technologies will be very busy," Hong said.

Dozens of Norwich companies and local banks donated materials, expertise and parts to the project — especially the city's automobile dealers, parts stores, garages and auto salvage businesses. At Thursday's ceremony, Hong read a long list of names of local businesses that provided either funding or expertise, or in Bob Adams Auctioneer's case, garage space, to the project.

All but two — one of them the California manufacturer of the electric motor — are Norwich-based.

Hong officially turned over the vehicle to Mayor Peter Nystrom Thursday, but the vehicle will need a few more weeks of work before it can make anticipated regular runs through downtown during major events. Nystrom also hopes the trolley can make a regular route to and from Three Rivers Community College on New London Turnpike to bring students downtown.

Logistics, such as who will drive the shuttle during events or on regular runs, still need to be worked out. The vehicle will be fitted with an electric charger to allow it to recharge the motor at the Norwich Transportation Center charging station. Nystrom anticipated the vehicle to begin service sometime in June.

"It's a very high-tech vehicle that looks like one of our old-fashioned trolleys here in Norwich," Hong said.

The Ali Rose was named after American Ambulance owner Michael Aliano, who donated the former ambulance to the project. The ambulance, Hong said, gave Michael's father, the late Ronald Aliano, longtime Norwich advocate and owner of American Ambulance and the Marina at American Wharf, "his last ride."

c.bessette@theday.com

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