First Hill Streetcar delays are prompting SDOT director to visit Czech manufacturer

The most useless Seattle transit tracking app ever -- Vesselfinder.com shows the Maltese vehicle carrier Tiger underway to the States with one of Seattle's streetcars aboard -- Check out the latest position at vesselfinder.com

The most useless Seattle transit tracking app ever — Vesselfinder.com shows the Maltese vehicle carrier MV Tiger underway to the States with one of Seattle’s streetcars aboard — Check out the latest position at vesselfinder.com

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SDOT director Scott Kubly (far right) meets with the City Council transportation committee.

City Council member Tom Rasmussen is not happy about delays with the First Hill Streetcar. While his office never responded to CHS as we broke the news last week that streetcar service won’t be started as late as the end of July, Rasmussen did have a lot of questions for the director of the Seattle Department of Transportation during a Tuesday council meeting.

When pressed about why the manufacturer Inkekon had still not shipped three streetcars from the Czech Republic, SDOT’s Scott Kubly said the delay was more about poor timeline setting. Inekon had to redesign several key components from their stock streetcar model and Kubly said the city had not anticipated the extra manufacturing time.

However, Kubly’s heavy handed response to the delay suggests he and SDOT are taking an even more serious response to the issues.

Kubly said he began holding daily phone calls with the CEO of Inekon last month and that he is planning a trip to the Czech Republic in February to inspect production and press the importance of delivering the cars as soon as possible.

“This is frustrating,” Rasmussen said during the meeting. “How do you know they’re just not putting you off and not making excuses, and if they really buckled down they could get this thing done sooner?”

In fact, the city is paying a firm named LTK to monitor production in the Czech Republic. When Rasmussen asked Kubly whether he thought LTK was performing up to snuff, Kubly responded “I don’t think there is any individual or entity that is working on this project right now that has done a perfect job.”

Kubly said he hoped the streetcar would be running by “early summer” but did not want to put a firm date on it.

There are currently three streetcars awaiting final assembly in Seattle, three yet to be shipped from the Czech Republic, and one that’s traversing the Atlantic on its way to Elliot Bay. Six of those cars will be use for the First Hill Streetcar and the remaining car is for the South Lake Union line.

The Inekon streetcars for the First Hill line were originally planned to be ready by October 7th, 2014 as per the $26.7 million contract with SDOT. The city is recouping $1,000 per day plus an an initial $25,000 for the missed deadline, but Kubly said the fee was likely not high enough.

One of the features holding up that held up production in the Czech Republic was a new propulsion system designed specifically for the First Hill line. The new system will allow streetcars to periodically detach from their overhead wires so they can travel alongside city busses. Now that its designed and built, Kubly said Inekon is struggling to put it all together.

“At this point they are scrambling all over the Czech Republic to find workers… to assemble the vehicles,” he said.

At the end of his presentation, Kubly discussed a few lessons learned following the repeated delays.“There’s nobody in the city that has experience procuring rail cars… I think that speaks to the type of project management we’ll need to bring on the next time we procure railcars,” he said.

“Indeed,” Rasmussen agreed.

Construction of the streetcar tracks wrapped up last year along with the construction of the Broadway bikeway. When service begins, the First Hill Streetcar will have ten stations along a 2.5 mile route from S Jackson and Occidental to Broadway and Denny Way and will connect Pioneer Square, the ID, Little Saigon, First Hill and Capitol Hill.

h/t to @ro_ket for the shipping fun

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19 thoughts on “First Hill Streetcar delays are prompting SDOT director to visit Czech manufacturer

  1. Question: are there no American companies that manufacture these streetcars? If so why aren’t we using them? If it’s cost clearly it would have been worth it as this would probably be running by now. And really, the Czechs are scrambling to find workers?? Is unemployment so low there that people can be picky? Heck, I’m happy to learn that new skill and start building streetcars. There are so many holes in this project it’s insane. I was a huge supporter of this streetcar, but now I’m just a frustrated citizen. Thanks.

    • Yes, there is a manufacturing company in US that produces street cars and has done so for a number of cities. However, they were not low bidder, and are struggling to stay afloat. Penny wise pound foolish. What happened to Buy American?

  2. So typical. SNAFU and no one takes the blame. Seattle constantly attempts projects it does not the expertise to plan, purchase and execute. Remember the wheat farmers who though they could order nuclear power plants? Monorails to nowhere? Light rail that was supposed to go farther years ago? A boring machine stuck underground and unsettling foundations? STOP STOP STOP.

    • SDOT is the most dysfunctional of all City departments, as they prove over and over again. They are also the most unresponsive to citizen’s concerns.

  3. “How do you know they’re just not putting you off and not making excuses, and if they really buckled down they could get this thing done sooner?”

    Case in point why things should be made in the good old USA. Maybe wealthy corporations can afford to oversee things made 10,000 miles away, but the government can’t. It’s a sad state of American manufacturing, the country that innovated mass production of the automobile, that we couldn’t get a freaking streetcar made here.

  4. Czech Republic is ultimately qualified to design and produce street cars or trams as they call them in Europe. Prague’s public transport system, which employs many trams is one of the best in the world. Their experience in manufacturing is not limited to just street cars they produce over a million cars per year in a country of 10 million people. Unemployment in Czech Republic is currently around 7% one of the lowest in Europe. Here in USA there are only a handful of cities that use trams for public transport and hence the pre-requisite skill sets are missing. I believe that Washington DC is also using Czech made trams. Problem probably revolves around the unreasonable timeline. Redesigning a tram to detach itself from the tracks and move around like a bus must a challenge! I have considerable experience riding trams in the Czech Republic and I can assure you that they are highly reliable, safe and mostly fun to ride.

    • I’m not doubting that the Czechs aren’t more than qualified to build the trams. I have experienced the trams in Europe and have often wondered why we don’t have such a system here. And 7% unemployment isn’t so low that they can use an excuse of being unable to find workers to fill the jobs.

      If we as a nation have plans on using these types of tram cars then we need to get some of that Czech training over here are build some business giving locals jobs instead of the constant outsourcing.

    • Dude, the trams are not detaching from the tracks, wtf …

      “The new system will allow streetcars to periodically detach from their overhead wires “

  5. Apparently, USA made isn’t going to solve any problems, either…

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/us-effort-to-help-build-homegrown-streetcar-manufacturer-falls-short/2014/11/29/98c649b0-70b9-11e4-ad12-3734c461eab6_story.html

    I, too, am a huge fan of providing as many transit options as possible, but the city and SDOT have really blown it on this one. Frustrated citizens and business owners waiting for a service that was promised and should have been easier to provide.

    • One should also note that what the Oregon Iron Works are building is a tram licensed from Škoda Transportation. This very model was introduced in the Czech Republic in 1996. It has since been superseded by 2 generations with far more advanced technology (google Škoda 15 T Forcity).

  6. If three of the streetcars are already here, almost assembled, and one’s on its way, can we start training and service with those?

    Maybe there are reasons not to start service with fewer cars – I haven’t given it much thought – but it seems like we could start the training portion asap.

  7. This comment thread sounds like it was sponsored by Dori Monson. The whiny old man brigade in full force. A trifecta of nationalism, the government can’t do anything right, and mass transit is bad.

    Shit happens, even more so with complicated projects (and, apparently, new power mechanisms). Things are often not as “good” as you hope them to be…but, it’s rarely the total fiasco you imagine.

    It’s great to be vigilant, but give the hyper cynicism a rest.

    • Mass transit is wonderful. It is the stupid implementation of it people are complaining about. For the same price we could get many more buses instead and have avoided ripping up all these roads.

    • Best comment ever. Dori Monson. So true.

      Is the project off the plan? Sure. Could it have been managed and executed differently? Absolutely. Could it have been done better by anyone? HIGHLY doubt it. Life happens. Things change. I have never, ever, seen a project go according to plan. A plan is great, but reality can’t always be planned for.

      Related, I was just reading a study that children and seniors are the most likely groups to use hindsight bias. SDOT should stock pacifiers and diapers instead of listening to the public.

  8. One of the reasons cited was the propulsion system holding up production… This is factually very wrong. The item which is holding up deliveries could be the traction battery. The traction system can be tested in the final vehicle only if the vehicle is ready for testing. Last heard that the propulsion system was delivered more than 18 months back to the vehicle builder

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