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George Isaacs
George Isaacs, 1922-2006
(Photo: John DeWitt)


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Minneapolis: Light Rail Advocate George Isaacs Passes Away After Lifetime of Public Service

Light Rail Now Project Team – January 2006

With deep sadness we report the death of George Isaacs on Monday, 23 January 2006, at the age of 83. George – a kindred spirit and colleague in rail transit advocacy over the past several decades – is widely recognized as the "father" of the light rail transit (LRT) line in Minneapolis's Hiawatha corridor, a project he championed relentlessly since the 1960s, in a tireless and ultimately successful effort to return electric surface rail transit to the Twin Cities area.

George Isaacs (1922-2006) aboard a Hiawatha LRT train on a special preview trip prior to opening of the line, 11 May 2004.
[Photo: John DeWitt]

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune (25 January 2006), George "By profession ... was an electrical engineer for the Onan Corp. in Fridley. He was every inch an engineer: organized, prepared, intent on getting results, but he was best known for his volunteer community work." The Star Tribune relates that George

...worked first on the successful grass-roots campaign to stop the construction of a freeway on Hiawatha Avenue in south Minneapolis in the 1960s. Next, he advocated for a light-rail line to replace the freeway. Taking it upon himself to educate Minnesotans about the benefits of rail travel, Isaacs put together a slide show of his own photographs of rail lines here and overseas and showed it to more than 200 civic groups.

George was born and raised in White Plains, New York, the son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. "As a child he rode both streetcars and commuter trains" relates the Star Tribune. "His love for trains guided his decision to go to the University of Illinois in Champaign, Ill., where he could ride the Illinois Terminal Railroad before it folded in 1956." The paper notes that, in World War 2, George served in the U.S. Navy in the south Pacific.

In addition to his efforts to restore rail transit to the Twin Cities, George also tended to the historical records of the old Twin City Rapid Transit streetcar system, dismantled in 1954 and converted to all-bus operation in the course of the Transit Holocaust. in 1962, George helped found the Minnesota Transportation Museum, which saved and restored streetcar No. 1300, one of the last in use in Minneapolis. According to the Star Tribune, "he helped open the restored car to the public in 1971 as a rolling museum on a track in south Minneapolis."

"George has his stamp on virtually everything we've done" said Louis Hoffman, a director of what is now the Minnesota Streetcar Museum, in an intrview with a Star Tribune reporter. Today the museum has eight streetcars and a second line operating in Excelsior.

George's last major project was managing the restoration of the Museum's PCC Car No. 322, for which he also performed much of the electrical work. it was completed in 2000 and is considered by some to be one of the finest PCC restorations in the country.

A little over a year ago, George was diagnosed with cancer. Even while battling the disease to which he eventually succumbed, George continued his efforts to promote rail transit and disseminate the achievements and benefits of the Hiawatha LRT system he had helped create.

Fittingly, George was taken on a final ride over the Hiawatha line on Monday, 30 January. His family carried his ashes aboard a Hiawatha LRT train to Fort Snelling National Cemetery following a memorial service.

Light Rail Now! website
Updated 2006/01/31

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