“I just hope this means it’s finally going to start running soon”
It was wet, windy, and overcast as small groups of Seattle Department of Transportation representatives, marketing folks, and curious passersby huddled under tents pitched adjacent to stationary, shiny new streetcars at several locations along the tracks as part of SDOT’s “First Hill Streetcar Safety Day,” an event Thursday intended to give the public a chance to check out the streetcars themselves and learn “streetcar safety tips.”
With a streetcar sitting idle at stops at Denny and Broadway on Capitol Hill, 14th and Washington in the Central District, and Occidental Avenue and Jackson near Pioneer Square, members of the public were able to walk inside the streetcars and field questions to the available SDOT and reps from PRR, the public relations firm hired to assist in public outreach for the project. Pamphlets featuring streetcar safety tips were handed out, advising cyclists to cross tracks at a right angle (to avoid falling into the track groove) and telling drivers what to do in the event of a fender bender with a streetcar.
Mostly, the event was an opportunity to show off the long anticipated new-to-the-area transit mode and get the public jazzed on a developing project that has dragged on past numerous deadlines.
Violet, a Seattle Central College student and Madison Valley resident who takes the number 12 bus to get to campus, said that she would “absolutely” be taking the streetcar for getting her closer to the number 7 bus she rides to her job in the Rainier Valley. She did have some qualms about the streetcar seating arrangements, saying the spacious interior seems geared towards having more passengers stand than sit. (Northeast Seattle Greenways and Tom Fucoloro at the Seattle Bike Blog also had some criticisms, specifically that the two vertical bike racks included inside the new streetcars can’t accommodate bulky family or cargo laden bikes.)
Beth and Emma, two Capitol Hill residents who were excited about the prospect of the streetcar (and being able to easily get to and from Pioneer Square), seemed fully aware of the its lengthy rollout. “I just hope this means it’s finally going to start running soon,” said Beth.
James Wong, an International District resident, army veteran, and retired Amtrak employee, was giddy with excitement when CHS spoke with him at the Occidental and Jackson streetcar terminal. “I really love it,” Wong said. Wong said that when he immigrated to Seattle from China in the 1950s, the city was shutting down the trackless electric trolley system that attempted to replace the original, expansive streetcar system that had covered most of the city since 1884. “But now they’re [streetcars] coming back. It’s wonderful!”
“I love transportation,” he added with a toothy grin.
The First Hill Streetcar, a Sound Transit funded (via the 2008, voter approved Sound Transit 2 ballot measure) and SDOT managed project that has been hampered with delays and setbacks due to mandatory testing, damaged inverters, and ironing out glitches in the street braking systems and software over the past year since the rail line’s completion in late 2014, is in its final stretch, according to SDOT officials who were onsite at the various locations. Streetcar service was originally slated to be up and running in 2013, then early 2014. All six of the streetcars currently in Seattle have completed “acceptance testing”—the finicky fine-tuning of the software which integrates the streetcars’ braking and propulsion systems—which was what was taking place over much of the summer and holding up the timeline, according to SDOT streetcar project manager Ethan Malone.
“That [acceptance testing] took longer than we were expecting it to over the summer,” Malone told CHS Thursday during the Safety Day at the Occidental and Jackson streetcar terminal.
Now, the streetcars have moved into the final stages of testing, where they must go through 500 kilometers of service with no major failures, the last 100 of which must be squeaky-clean and perfect, according to Malone. Four of the cars have completed that 500 kilometers, with two remaining. “One of the cars has to hit its last 100. The other is just getting started,” Malone said. Malone said that it takes as little as a few days for the cars to hit their 500 kilometers, assuming the last 100 goes smoothly.
And — brace yourself — there’s one additional phase of testing: mainline operational testing, which is essentially a comprehensive simulation of what final passenger service will be. But Malone says that mainline operational testing can happen on cars that have already completed their 500 kilometer test, in parallel with the two remaining stragglers.
But despite being in the last rounds of testing, SDOT is holding firm on not announcing a launch date just yet. Malone told CHS that they won’t be doing any “forecasting,” saying it all depends on how the final rounds of testing go. Sorry, readers.
Another issue with the streetcar that has arisen recently is sloppy parking car parking along the track route that could immobilize the streetcars. SDOT’s safety tips pamphlets did hint towards this issue, telling drivers to avoid parking in a streetcar’s path or protected bike lanes. Art Brochet, a SDOT communications lead, told CHS that the white lines that mark the edges of the streetcar tracks are sufficient indicators of where drivers can and can’t park. “People who aren’t within that line [designated parking areas] when the streetcar comes, they will be towed, and that will be an expensive lesson for them,” he said. “We have not had a lot of problems with it [bad parking], curiously enough,” Brochet added.
CHS doesn’t have any hard numbers on the problem yet — but it continues including this prolonged incident Tuesday night on Broadway at Marion:
Car isn’t broken down. Vehicle is parked “legally" but mirror is blocking streetcar #scanner
— jseattle (@jseattle) December 2, 2015