MARTA has removed all Atlanta Streetcar vehicles over safety concerns.. The agency hopes the streetcars will be returned to their routes by March. Free mobility vans are now in use along all streetcar stops. (Atlanta Streetcar)

MARTA has removed all Atlanta Streetcar vehicles until early next year over safety concerns.

Vans that are wheelchair accessible are being used at all stops on the nearly 3-mile Downtown streetcar route until repairs can be made, according to a report by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Repairs to the four streetcar vehicles’ wheels and other work are estimated to cost $7.4 million. MARTA officials said plans are to have the streetcars back in service by the end of March, the AJC reported.

Daniel Hecht, deputy chief mechanical officer, told the MARTA board at its Dec. 8 meeting that damage to the streetcar vehicles’ wheels from years of use caused them to be imbalanced. That imbalance caused the concrete around the rails to deteriorate, according to the AJC.

Inspectors noticed concrete problems that warranted a closer inspection two weeks ago, and MARTA decided to remove the streetcars from service on Nov. 29. Since then, MARTA has been operating free service along the route with paratransit vans. Ridership fell from about 3,500 passengers a week to about 600, according to the AJC.

The news comes as MARTA is studying how to extend the streetcar to Ponce City Market and the Atlanta Beltline’s Eastside Trail.

The “Streetcar East Extension” would be the streetcar’s first extension of its nearly 3-mile downtown loop. It would also be the first stretch of transit along the Atlanta Beltline.

Downtown vehicular congestion has continually impeded operation of the streetcar. MARTA and city officials last month closed a section of Irwin Street where it crosses with the Beltline to vehicular traffic to conduct a traffic study for the planned streetcar extension.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.