The initial floor designs for the future First Hill Streetcar failed to meet a key fire resistance test that caused delays in manufacturing, city officials revealed Tuesday. The floors had to be re-designed and tested after the manufacturer discovered that the floors would not adequately protect passengers should a fire start underneath the streetcars.
In a briefing in front of a Seattle City Council committee Tuesday morning, Seattle Department of Transportation planners outlined the status of the project to create a streetcar line connecting Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill via First Hill — and the impact of a six week delay caused by a manufacturing failure revealed in testing of the trains that will ply the newly installed tracks. The vehicles are currently planned to be completed between June and October, according to Tuesday’s presentation.
UPDATE (2/12): The streetcars were initially due to arrive from the manufacturer sometime between January and April, now they’re not expected until June through October. The impact on the overall project timeline isn’t clear as SDOT will attempt to make up for the extra manufacturing time. According to a SDOT spokesperson, Rail Transit Manager Ethan Melone is “currently evaluating options for streetcar start-up, which could include ramping up service as vehicles are delivered, or beginning service after all six vehicles have been delivered.”
With the track installation slated to be complete by May, the project does not have an official start of service following the revelation of the “Test sample failure” and required “redesign of flooring” for the trains being purchased for the line. In an email to CHS, Melone said the new floors have passed the flammability test:
Streetcars are required to meet stringent safety standards, including for resistance to flammability. Various parts of the cars have to be tested for flammability resistance. This includes the flooring, to ensure that if there were flame beneath the flooring surface, there would be ample time for passengers to get off the car before the floor could burn through. The initial flooring sample tested by the manufacturer failed this test, which required re-design of the flooring and re-testing. The re-designed flooring passed the test, but the re-design and re-test contributed to about six weeks to the schedule delay that the manufacturer is experiencing.
Czech Republic firm Inekon partnered with Seattle-based Pacifica to build the trams that were to be manufactured in the Czech Republic but assembled, painted, tested, and maintained in Seattle, according to a statement released by the mayor’s office in 2011.
Late last month, CHS posted on speculation about a possible September start of operations. The $132 million project is being built by the City of Seattle but paid for by Sound Transit as part of an agreement forged to mitigate the decision to not build a light rail station in the First Hill area.
Thankfully, it seems the initial testing failure won’t mean any further timeline delays for the rollout of the streetcar. Seattle, it seems, has enough major transportation project delays on its hands.