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Seattle cancels order for infamous ‘too big’ streetcars for Center City Connector line

The First Hill Streetcar line won’t get its connection to a new line running on Seattle’s 1st Ave until the project opens in 2026 — but when the Center City Connector finally opens, it will have cars that better fit with the city’s streetcar system.

The Seattle Department of Transportation announced Monday that even though it is canceling a $52 million order for 10 streetcars for the downtown line, the project remains on track for its revised 2026 target. The canceled cars were the same vehicles Mayor Jenny Durkan made a centerpiece of her decision to pause the downtown project last year as she stoked concerns the new trams might be “too big” for Seattle’s tracks.

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Now, SDOT says it can field new bids that “will give companies a chance to propose plans to build vehicles that are closer to the size and weight of our existing streetcars.”  SDOT also says a new contract “will align with our current streetcar design timeline and eliminate financial risk and uncertainty associated with the old vehicle contract schedule.”

The Seattle Times reports that the cancelation with CAF USA, “an American subsidiary of a Spanish streetcar builder,” has a cost:

The CAF contract allowed SDOT to cancel the deal for any reason, said Eric Tweit, SDOT’s project manager for the Center City Connector. So far, the city has paid CAF $5.4 million for early work under the contract, such as designing the cars and lining up subcontractors. That cost could increase if CAF seeks reimbursement for other work done before the project was halted last year, Tweit said. SDOT could not estimate how much that might cost.

CHS reported this week on new work designed to make Broadway safer for bike riders around the First Hill Streetcar route and earlier this summer on efforts to speed up service on the line that shares lanes with vehicle traffic on its route from Pioneer Square to Broadway via First Hill.

System-wide Seattle Streetcar ridership rose 18% in 2018 and indications show another increase in early 2019 over the same period last year. All of that jump came from the First Hill line, a 2.5 mile route that connects major medical facilities, Seattle Central CollegeSeattle University, and mixed income communities to the King Street transportation hub.

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