Service on hold after First Hill Streetcar lost power, slid two blocks down Broadway

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SDOT detailed the incident for media at the ID maintenance facility late Friday — gold culprit car #404 lurks in the background

The First Hill Streetcar lost power Wednesday morning on Broadway with an operator and two passengers on board helpless to stop it before coming to a fortunate stop at Yesler. There were no collisions or injuries in an incident that has prompted officials to keep the service closed until more can be learned about why car 405 — the gold streetcar — failed.

The early hour of the 6:07 AM incident and good fortune left the roadway clear of obstacles for a streetcar route that shares lanes with vehicular traffic.

Andrew Glass Hastings, the Seattle Department of Transportation’s director of transit and mobility, called the failure “an electromechanical malfunction” and said inspectors have isolated the problem to a circuit breaker-like load contactor that shut down the vehicle’s power to its operational system.

That set off a chain of events that engaged the system’s parking brake, leaving the trolley’s operator unable to control the vehicle. The trolley traveled downhill some two and a half blocks, Glass Hastings said, at its “operational speed of 20 MPH” before coming to a stop on E Yesler in front of the community center where passengers were offloaded and the vehicle was towed back to the system’s service facility at 7th and Charles in the International District.

“The operator did what he was supposed to, the vehicle operated as it was designed,” Glass Hastings said. “Unfortunately, without power, the parking brake locked the wheels, and, at that speed, on that grade, the vehicle slid two and a half blocks.”

The decision to inspect the entire fleet of seven Czech-designed streetcars — six serve the First Hill line while the 7th plies the streets of South Lake Union — and shut down the service came about eight hours later, Glass Hastings said, “out of abundance of caution.”

While the cars are being inspected, the First Hill Streetcar line will remain out of service with Metro operating shuttles serving a portion of the route’s stops.

The First Hill Streetcar began service in January in 2016 after months of delay. The start of service on the line was bogged down, in part, by longer-than-expected testing on the propulsion system designed specifically for the First Hill line. The system uses regenerative braking during downhill sections in order to power special batteries allowing streetcars to periodically detach from their overhead wires so they can travel alongside city busses. The system was developed for the First Hill Streetcar to reduce overhead wire conflicts with the Metro trolley buses. In 2015, CHS reported more details of some of the issues that caused the rollout of the service to be delayed including “water-damaged inverters.”

In 2014, Czech manufacturer Inekon incurred a backlog of orders and a short supply of parts, including brakes, holding up production of the Seattle streetcars.

The Seattle Department of Transportation says that around 3,000 riders utilize the First Hill Streetcar daily.

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19 thoughts on “Service on hold after First Hill Streetcar lost power, slid two blocks down Broadway

    • Does everyone who whines incessantly about the streetcar seriously think the city will give up and rip the whole thing out, after all the time and $$ it cost to build it? Is that the desired end-game here? Or do you just like to hear yourselves bitch?

    • @Bob Knudson – What?? @Jack related one thing to race and you say “does everything have to be about race”? Do you mean that for you, nothing can ever be about race? That is what your comment suggests. Definition of white privilege maybe.

      I think there are indeed racial equity issues with Seattle’s transportation investments including wasteful gimmicks like the present and future streetcars.

    • The streetcar begins in the middle of (white priviledge) Capitol Hill. Runs along the western edge of the Central District (significant minority populations); past one of the largest public housing projects in Seattle (see previous reference); hangs a right through little Saigon, through the International District, and into Pioneer Sq and thus access to downtown.

      Um…. what were we talking about again?

    • That is at least a substantive comment. It’s complicated. The American streetcar revival is partly an attempt to attract, at great cost, white, upper income transit users who think taking the bus is beneath them. It also aims at providing benefits to property developers.

    • A lot of people avoid buses for reasons that have nothing to do with them thinking it’s “beneath them”. My friends who are bus – phobic are usually afraid of routes that are more indirect, and maps that are far more complicated to read than streetcar or rail routes. They’re afraid they’ll get lost, not at all convinced they’re too good for it. People can scoff that’s irrational all they want, but the simple truth is they’re scared of the bus routes, but not rail routes, which are typically straighter lines and simple maps.

    • I’ve done more than look at the route, I’ve ridden it. And you can argue all you want, I just said why some people will take rail but won’t take buses. It’s a fact, I know people like this. And it probably goes double for tourists. Doesn’t matter whether you think their reasons are dumb or not.

    • @Jonathan Mark….the answer is “no,” there are plenty of issues which have a racial component. But the streetcar is not one of them. My previous comment does not “suggest” that nothing can ever be about race. Your charge is unfounded.

  1. Streetcars are new technology. It takes time to work out the kinks. :P

    This city loves to take 1 off approaches instead of having a common platform. Why didn’t we use the SLU model again? Why didn’t we just run a bus down the same route?

    Having to fly in a technician from the Czech isn’t very efficient.

  2. Why don’t they use a parking brake that GRADUALLY applies when failure occurs instead of locking up? This would’ve been disasterous going down steeper hills like Jackson. Needs better design.

  3. FYI, The was paid for from ST2 as a way to quell complaints about not having a First Hill Light Rail Station. Yes the money should have been spent on other things like more equalizing bus routes or even more frequent rail service. As far as it being a place for white privilege, I rode it a few times and saw many different groups of people who work at the hospitals riding the streetcar to go to work and or the doctor. The street car is here to stay and instead of complaining about it lets work with our city leadership to make it better!

    • Thank you. All the bitching about it in the world will not get it ripped out, so whiners should save their breath.

  4. Why not replace the low-friction steel wheels now on the streetcars with rubber wheels that won’t slip as readily. And why not take those rubber wheels out of the slippery steel tracks and put them instead on the high-friction asphalt road surface. That should eliminate the problem with the streetcars sliding down the road when power is lost.

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