SACRAMENTO - A streetcar eventually bound for Atlanta hit the streets of downtown Sacramento Friday on light rail tracksto offer a preview of whatproposed streetcar service might look like.

As opposed to Sacramento Light Rail, which uses larger trains designed for longer trips into the suburbs, streetcars would be smaller vehicles making frequent stops in the urban core.

"Streetcars matter because they make it possible to get around an urban place easily," said West Sacramento Mayor Chris Cabaldon at a news conference offering a progress report on streetcar planning.

Cabaldon refers to streetcars as "pedestrian accelerators."

The Sacramento Area Council of Governments board of directors on Thursday approved spending $5 million to begin engineering the streetcar system.

The initial 3.3-mile line would run from West Sacramento City Hall across the Tower Bridge, jogging up 3rd Street to the Intermodal Facility, then down 7th and 8th Streets to K Street before circling the Sacramento Convention Center. The line would run right past the proposed downtown arena.

Sacramento civic leaders point to Portland's streetcar system as a model for the nation.

Portland's 12-year-old system covers nearly 15 miles and will carry nearly five million passengers this year.

Portland developer John Carroll, a board member of the public streetcar corporation, said at the news conference the system has spurred private development because investors know they'll have built-in foot traffic.

"The idea of having a streetcar with tracks in the line is a committment. It's there permanently," Carroll said.

The startup cost of the Sacramento streetcar systemis estimated at up to $150 million, with the federal government picking up a significant share.

Streetcars stopped running along Sacramento streets in the 1940's, but optimists predict their return by 2017.

"We're actually at the precipice of bringing streetcars back," said Sacramento City Councilman Steve Hansen. "We're undoing some decisions that disconnected our region."

by George Warren,