New tricked-out fleet of Metro trolleys en route for streets of Capitol Hill by late 2015

(Image: King County Metro)

(Image: King County Metro)

A $200 million, multi-year plan to replace King County’s aging electric trolley bus fleet will pay off in 2015 as new vehicles roll out for the first time, Metro announced as it begins testing prototypes on the streets of Seattle:

But before full fleet production begins, we will be testing both our new 40-foot and larger 60-foot prototype New Flyer trolleys to simulate actual service. The testing will last about three months, and will allow us to identify the need for any minor adjustments.
When factors such as capital cost, fuel consumption, maintenance and available grant funding are considered, this electric trolley system is expected to be cheaper to operate than our hybrid fleet during the projected life of the vehicles.

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 3.02.42 PMThe county began making plans to spend the millions necessary to replace the more than 25-year-old fleet of nearly 160 buses in 2011. In the meantime, Metro worked to test possible replacements and work out a deal to purchase the new trolleys. According to the county, Metro teamed up with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (SFMTA) to purchase the replacement coaches under the same contract — “a move that ensures both Metro and SFMTA get highly competitive pricing.” The county says $138 million in federal grants are part of the final price tag.

The fleet was originally due for replacement starting this year. Metro’s announcement on the new test runs did not include an explanation of the delayed rollout.

While achieving and surpassing many of the emission goals of the old fleet, the new buses will also have some new features:

  • The ability to operate off-wire for an estimated three to five miles – a first for our trolley fleet. This feature will allow the trolleys to reliably reroute around collisions and reduce the need to substitute diesel buses during construction.
  • Filtered heating and air conditioning
  • Low floors for easier and faster boarding and exiting
  • An updated system to secure wheelchairs
  • Three doors on larger 60 foot buses and the ability to kneel the full length of the bus
  • The electric trolley buses will use an estimated 20 to 30 percent less energy than our current electric trolleys, and use regenerative braking that puts power back into the energy system.

The late 2015 start of deployment for the new fleet will coincide with Seattle’s new Transportation Benefits District and the rollout of restored and enhanced service on many of the city’s key Metro routes.

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13 thoughts on “New tricked-out fleet of Metro trolleys en route for streets of Capitol Hill by late 2015

  1. Please, tell me if I’m wrong other cities, with better transportation infrastructure, don’t have as many nice, new buses as Seattle does. It irritates me that they complain about budget nonstop but oh, look at all the new fancy buses we get.

    Run the buses into the ground. Save money. Improve routes.

    • the present fleet of trolley buses IS run into the ground. The chassis and works is from the 1970s and only got a new body on top last “upgrade”

      I saw one of the test coaches over the weekend. It looks pretty damn sharp.

      If I’m going to get dinged $60 more on my license tabs, I really don’t mind that we’ll be seeing new more efficient trolley buses at all.

    • Uh, have you been on the loveable Brenda’s. Built/Remanufactured 1991. Always breaking down. No AC. the 49 turns into a sauna from July 1st to August 31st every year. Fogs up horribly in winter. This is a timely replacement.

    • In addition to appreciating upcoming efficiencies in bus designs and capabilities as outlined in this article, I’m highly appreciative of the fact that you are not running Metro.

    • Maybe you’d feel better about all this if Seattle riders took as shitty care of their buses as riders in other cities. If only we trashed our buses as badly as other cities do, they’d look as bad for their age as buses from other cities do. Then it would be more obvious how badly they needed replacement.

      • Yeah, this is what I was thinking — it’s surprising how good the buses look for how old they are. In many other cities with big transit systems (NYC, for example) the buses look far more trashed, though I don’t know how rapidly that happens because I don’t know the age of the fleet.

    • Well, streetcars do represent more of a commitment to a particular route on the part of the system: it’s a literal “line in the sand” in the form of built infrastructure. Which is not to say they can’t be abandoned, but they’re less likely to be than your typical bus route. If the old 14 route had remained streetcar running on Summit and Bellevue, it’s more likely there would still be transit on those streets today. And that commitment matters: as a business owner, that’s a conveyor of potential customers almost to your door that is less likely to vanish with the vagaries of budget and routing.

      Of course with respect to the streetcar on Broadway, it represents a commitment of a different kind: the one Sound Transit reneged on when they cancelled plans to have another station between Capitol Hill and Downtown. That streetcar route is a figleaf intended to cover that particular embarrassment.

      • I don’t think Sound Transit “reneged” on plans to have a First Hill Station. The geoengineering studies showed that such a station could not be safely done.

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