Metro said goodbye this week to one of our longest-running bus fleets. The Breda articulated trolleys served King County commuters for 26 years, and were the first buses to operate inside the Downtown Transit Tunnel when it opened in 1990.

“They have been true workhorses. When you count all 236 buses in the original fleet, they logged more than 100 million miles and they provided seats (and some standing room) for about a half- billion riders,” Metro General Manager Rob Gannon said.

Gannon, along with Senior Deputy King County Executive Fred Jarrett and Metro Atlantic Base Operations Chief Tim Mack, led a brief ceremony Thursday on Beacon Hill to celebrate the history of the Breda fleet. About 40 people, including transit enthusiasts and current and former Metro employees, turned out for a final ride on the bus’s high floors and a chance to hear the sounds of transit past — like an actual bell ringing at bus stops.

Operators Larry Kingsbury and Mike Freund took the last Breda bus for its final in-service trip along Route 36.

The Bredas played a big part in Seattle’s transit history. When the tunnel was built, Seattle’s light rail still was nearly two decades away. Metro needed a bus that could switch from diesel power on city streets to electric power inside the downtown tunnel to avoid harmful emissions. Metro selected Breda Costruzioni Ferroviare to specially build these dual-powered coaches, which were the first to operate as dual-power diesel/electric trolley buses in North America.

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In 2005, after their service in the tunnel ended, Metro took out the diesel components and repurposed 59 of them into straight electric trolleys.

As a Metro Councilmember in the 1980s, Fred Jarrett voted to build the downtown transit tunnel and become the first agency to buy and operate dual-powered diesel/electric Breda trolleys in an underground tunnel. This week, as Senior Deputy County Executive, he joined in retiring the Breda buses at the end of their useful life.

“What I remember is the innovation. Nobody had been able to make a bus system work that was not fully electric, in a tunnel,” said Jarrett. “And Metro was willing to take the risk, and partner with the federal government, to demonstrate what we could do to bring transit into the late 20th Century and into the 21st Century.”

The Bredas had a reputation for being difficult to maintain. Parts were unique and had to come from Europe. But the Bredas outlasted the average diesel bus by 10 years, and the Bredas that were converted into trolleys averaged 656,000 miles over their lifespan.

“That our mechanics and operators kept them running is a testament to our staff,” Gannon said. “Some of us are sentimental about seeing them go. Others of us know it’s time to wave goodbye and move on to our next era of coaches – like the state-of-the-art trolleys you see running behind me — and the improvements they bring in service.”

Last fall Metro introduced its first new trolley fleet in 30 years. These are state-of-the-art trolleys, a mix of 40- and 60-foot-long New Flyer coaches, equipped with low floors for easy boarding, air conditioning and backup battery power for traveling off-wire. As of October 14, Metro has put 152 of 174 new trolleys into service.