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First Hill Streetcar vehicle testing to begin

A First Hill Streetcar tram being assembled after arrival in Seattle  -- More pictures on City Council transportation committee chair Tom Rasmussen's Facebook page

A First Hill Streetcar tram being assembled after arrival in Seattle — More pictures on City Council transportation committee chair Tom Rasmussen’s Facebook page

From the status update presentation

From the status update presentation

Testing will begin this month as Seattle’s First Hill Streetcar line moves toward a start of service this summer. The announcement is part of a series of updates planned as part of Tuesday’s City Council briefing with Seattle Department of Transportation head Scott Kubly on the status of the delayed streetcar line.

“Vehicle manufacturer is six months behind schedule for all vehicles to be ready for service,” reads the first bullet point on the “Current Status” slide in the presentation prepared for the city council’s transportation committee. The full document is embedded below.

Kubly, right, speaks Tuesday morning at the City Council transportation committee briefing

Kubly, right, speaks Tuesday morning at the City Council transportation committee briefing

UPDATE 3/10/2015 10:45 AM: In Tuesday morning’s briefing, Kubly responded to questions about why SDOT’s contract with the streetcar manufacturer didn’t have a stronger incentive for the maker to stay on schedule for a project the SDOT director was intended to begin service last year and how the department provided updates on the situation to the rest of City Hall.

Speaking on the ambitious Move Seattle transit initiatives earlier in the morning, Kubly spent the rest of his time with council bogged down in the difficulties of delivering the start of service on the First Hill Streetcar line.

Laying the fault of the delays on challenges presented by “a combination” of new battery technology, new communications software, and changes in national fire standards, Kubly said that SDOT will change the way it contracts for “liquidated damages” in future manufacturing deals. Liquidated damages are “damages whose amount the parties designate during the formation of a contract for the injured party to collect as compensation upon a specific breach.”

Kubly said in the re-worked First Hill Streetcar deal, owed liquidated damages will be paid in spare parts.

SDOT planner Ethan Melone said there are two or three cars ready to be delivered in early April. Each streetcar takes 8,000 hours of labor to assemble once they reach Seattle, Kubly said. There are currently three under assembly here and one is complete.

Kubly said vehicle testing will “start very slowly and baby steps” next week and will mean activity “out on the streets.” In the beginning, expect to only see the completed tram on 8th Ave S.

Kubly also addressed questions around why the streetcars are assembled both in the Czech Republic and in Seattle by sub-contractor Pacifica. Kubly described the decision to include a local jobs initiative in the bid process to select a manufacturing partner for the project. CHS reported on the selection of Inekom as the manufacturer in 2011. The Inekon-Pacifica consortium was also expected to bid on future streetcar projects in other cities, Mayor Mike McGinn said at the time.

Last week, CHS reported on the latest twist in the manufacturing delays for the hybrid streetcar trams that saw SDOT negotiating a new deal with new penalties for further delays.The first car in the contract has already been delivered. According to the presentation, the sixth and final car in the deal is due by June 30th. The document says that a seventh optional tram is also part of the deal and would be due by mid-June.

According to the briefing, the Czech Republic-based manufacture Inekom is on the hook for $111,000 in fines at this point with another $150,000 waived under the deal. Any delays after June 1st of the six streetcar trams slated to be delivered under the deal will result in daily fines starting at $500 per car on June 15th and escalating to $1,000 per car, per day starting on July 1st.

More money could be useful. Kubly will also report on cost overruns in the streetcar project due to the addition of a $4M Pioneer Square segment “without additional funding” and $1.8M in unexpected costs due to “significant upgrades to signal infrastructure at 31 intersections.” The overruns net out to a $1.6 million funding gap, according to the presentation.

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17 thoughts on “First Hill Streetcar vehicle testing to begin

  1. “Kubly will also report on cost overruns in the streetcar project due to the addition of a $4M Pioneer Square segment “without additional funding” and $1.8M in unexpected costs due to “significant upgrades to signal infrastructure at 31 intersections.” The overruns net out to a $1.6 million funding gap, according to the presentation.”

    Just the beginning, folks.

    • Looking at the budget slides, it looks like they’ll be about $4 million over on a budget of $133 million – about 3%. Sure, that’s not perfect, but I’m finding it hard to get too worked up over. .

      The delays are the bigger issue. Streetcar now, plz!!!!!!

  2. I love how the deadlines keep evolving. The streetcars were 5-6 months behind schedule in February 2014. A year later, they’re still saying the cars are 6 months delayed. No, they are currently more than a year behind schedule. The original schedule called for an “early 2014” launch, which moved to spring, then June, then July, then complete silence for four months.

    I want the streetcar in July as much as anyone. But let’s be honest and transparent about the process. We’re not dummies, and they should want to learn from their mistakes so they can do it better next time.

  3. Seconded. This is my memory of the schedule as well.

    It seems like Kubly’s doing a good job getting things moving, but I’m pretty sure an August(ish) 2015 start date is more like a year and a half from early 2014. People are excited about this project. We remember the original timelines!

  4. Lots of praise for the Capitol Hill Seattle blog. If it wasn’t for you I think I would pretty much be in the dark about my own neighborhood, what happens in it, the changes that need to happen, and more importantly the beauty of of which without this blog would be so much harder to discover so much of it. Thank you for your tireless reporting. It’s ironic we have a paper on Capitol Hill but that paper offers little except negative pessimistic opinions and complaints about our awesome neighborhood. Thank you Cap Hill Blog.

  5. @CapHillJack
    This is Seattle; as with the loathsome Seattle Process, where the only thing not consulted nor given a full hearing, might be an amoeba; everyone wanted a piece of this action until the delay, become months, then over a year, before the implementation of this service.
    Some, actually many, who’ve complained about the cost of this new service versus expanding a trolley line or increasing existing bus service, must have long ago given up on that old refrain, “I told you so”. One good thing; those who’ve tagged the new sheltered platforms will have grown into older responsible adults by the time that these new streetcars become a full fledged service.

    • Oh, I’m quite sure there will ALWAYS be plenty of whiners ready to say “I told you”. What they think it gains them, I’m not sure.

      • Why this city and the region around Puget Sound, those areas with the most growth, the need to revise their techniques for managing that growth…..somehow; why does this place, which has more or less been up or out here on it’s own little perch, a decade or so to see what works, doesn’t or would never work at all in this locale; why is that the same mistakes or near the same ones always seem to reappear here when the downside of bad planning choices is and has been so apparent in the areas of the U.S. which saw suburban sprawl in big numbers, now over 50 years ago? Those streetcars; my great Uncle Jim was a motorman on one, a traction company in the Ohio Valley, serving one city and several smaller ones on both sides of the Ohio River. That would have been 90 years ago; while the technology then was no where near what these new cars come equipped–neither would the delays as experienced here been tolerated in the government which was not so consumed with process, evidently hiring on a grad student charged with the development of this project or one who did some serious internship down in LegoLand of Southern California. Oh, that Whining about this project–a natural by product of the turgid pace of much of anything connected with Seattle and their on going obsession with ‘Process’.

  6. Seattle DOT gave out way too much detail during construction of the track, and is now lying about the delay in the cars. And is doing a poor job of communicating status. The cars are far more than 6 months delayed. Be honest and open and communicate frequently now, SDOT.
    Very bad idea to use Inkeon, how about Bombardier? They do subway cars very well. And now there are electrical circuit design issues? Since when did changes in the fire-resistant standards for the floorboards affect the electrical design?
    Maybe SDOT could just provide decent buses from King Street Station to First Hill?
    For all the north-south buses this town has, there is a huge shortage of east-west buses in downtown, which is the direction of the steep hills, folks.
    How much does it cost to run a bus from King street to several eastern destinations? Until the streetcars are FINALLY ready?

    • @wilbur
      This streetcar fiasco is but one of many, more in-coming, on going, expanding problems related to all this growth which is beginning to overtake any thoughts that SDOT, Metro, the King County and Seattle City governments are equipped to handle much less get ahead of this wave and adequately plan for what is coming in the near future.
      This growth into so many different levels of technology; this is not like any other boom type, hyper, short term and soon to go bust business expansion which has been the norm for the Seattle area. This has never been an area without it’s share of affluent people, it just never had a pool of mega billionaires with ready cash or easy access to the same, the willingness to spend it, live it, even if they don’t flaunt here–some of them really flaunt away from home base….boy do they know how to flaunt it.
      So enter this transportation fiasco into your diary because there will be other issues besides a, “Streetcar not named Desire” nor the ongoing struggles and perils of “Bertha” to fill a few pages—perhaps even fill a diary.

  7. Pingback: A colorful start to Seattle’s First Hill Streetcar testing | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle