First Hill Streetcar testing at Yesler/Broadway (photo by the author)
First Hill Streetcar testing at Yesler/Broadway (photo by the author)

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 9.57.00 PMThree quick updates this morning on the Seattle Streetcar network.

1). Portland is getting ready to buy 3 of our used streetcars for the price of 1.

2). After a lengthy closure for Amazon HQ construction, the inbound 7th/Westlake stop on the South Lake Union line has reopened.

3). According to the streetcar’s official Twitter account, the First Hill line may run more of its route on battery power. The beleagured line has been very active in testing the past couple weeks, and we’ve been curious to see the streetcars running on battery northbound in Capitol Hill. We’ve learned that there have been unexpected conflicts with existing trolley wire, leading officials to consider running on batteries from Marion Street to Capitol Hill Station. This would mean the line would run on batteries for 62% of its alignment, but at a additional draw of only 2% of the battery’s charge. Some operators have also said they prefer off-wire operation, as streetcars using the overhead wire must slow to 7mph through all ‘special work’, or major intersections where they intersect trolley wire. Streetcars running on batteries may travel the prevailing speed limit.

48 Replies to “Seattle Streetcar Update: Battery Power, 7th/Westlake Reopens, and 3-for-1”

  1. for those who do not know … when the CCC is built, connecting the SLU and FHS streetcar lines, we will be purchasing 10 new streetcars: 6 new ones for the CCC, 1 for the Broadway extension and 3 to replace the existing 3 SLU trams that do not have the capability to go off-wire. These three are the ones that Portland has expressed interest in purchasing.

    1. You’d think Tacoma would get first crack at these, since it would lower the cost of the Tacoma link expansion… All they would need is a new paint job.

      1. Well if Portland has all three varieties of this car, there’s no reason Tacoma couldn’t have two. Point taken though.

        Is Tacoma trying to sell their existing cars?

  2. yep, should have used 12th Ave alignment for the streetcar, or better yet, should have moved the ETB trolley wires to 12th Ave. Never figured out why Metro (or really Seattle Transit System) decided to use (aka electrified) Broadway/Boren as deadhead routing, instead of using flat non grade 12th Ave instead. There is the long hill on Boren, though the City keeps it clear, due to being the main emergency route to the First Hill Hospitals from the south.

    Also scared me, thought KC Metro decided to sell off the HISTORIC Melbourne Streetcars, but it is the 3 non off wire modern streetcars that they are selling.

      1. Yes, time to realize that the politics are such that those old Melbourne streetcars that were the passion of George Benson are never going to grease the skids of current politicians that rule what passes for Public Transit in King County. Sell them and get them back into some sort of use before they become dust. But hey, we’ve got the Duck!. Unlike say NYC none of the people making transit decisions in KC actually rely or even use public transit. They wouldn’t even know how. So the mentality is for both transit and more importantly land use/zoning is that “of course” the goal is to design a system where everybody owns and drives a car. They can’t even comprehend why that can never work.

    1. The trolley bus lines running parallel to the tracks isn’t a big issue, it’s all the locations where the trolley bus crosses the train’s wire (BW & Marion, BW & Pike, 12th & Jackson, 5th & Jackson). In those locations, the train’s pantograph (the thing that sticks up to touch the overhead wire) risks getting damaged by catching on the special wire work.

      Moving the trolleys or streetcar to 12th wouldn’t have solved the issue of wires crossing at intersections.

      1. Add to your list:

        Broadway & Howell
        Broadway & Pine
        Broadway & Union
        Broadway & Madison
        Broadway & Jefferson
        Broadway & Boren
        Yesler & Boren
        Rainier & Jackson
        2nd Ave Ext & Jackson

        I’m not aware of wire at Marion. Is this a turn-back route?

      2. It’s more that they need to lower the pantograph while stopped at Marion Station before crossing Madison.

    2. It was old Seattle Metro that chose the deadhead route on Boren for ETBs. Back about 1977, when traffic conditions were much better than they are today. And I recall part of the decision was based on the possibility of using that corridor for a future in-service route, one which alas never materialized.

    3. I spent much time looking into this at the time… complete with lobbying to get the streetcar to run through Seattle University. A 12th Ave alignment was only possible in one direction due to a large sewer underneath the roadway. Faced with the option of a two-way couplet more than a block apart vs. two-way on Broadway, I dropped all lobbying efforts.

  3. What are the downsides of running on battery power? Just from this blurb, it seems better because it’s faster through intersections. There must have been a reason they didn’t prefer to do it this way though, right?

    1. I’d expect that using the batteries more will shorten their life so they’ll need to be replaced sooner.

      If it were possible it would seem ideal to run the streetcar on battery for the entire trip and forgo building the overhead wires altogether, but I imagine they need to recharge throughout the day.

    2. A worse problem could involve the constant drain on the batteries from things like ventilation, heating, and above all, air-conditioning if the batteries go down.

      Since I don’t think these trains will have a single window that opens, an AC failure will put car out of passenger service. Possibly due to shattered windows and smashed doors re: any delay being allowed to deboard.

      Remember also that with present mixed traffic running for the whole line, it’s likely that traffic itself will hold a northbound train until its batteries fail. Even without a non-transit accident. Which will also make the train very difficult to move.

      Anybody know if there’s any cross-track at all? Glenn, has Portland still got those diesel generators on flatcars that powered the historic streetcar down to Oregon City about 20 years ago? If Tri-Met still has them…can you hold them for us?

      Mark Dublin

      1. Sorry Mark. They’re still in use on the Willamette Shore Trolley. Route is currently cut short due to track removal at the Sellwood Bridge construction site, but one day the cars will be back.

      2. Is there any reason they couldn’t modify those old Melbourne cars and run them on the SLUT/Central Connector/First Hill tracks? (OK, maybe not 1st Hill due to the need for battery power and the lack of space for batteries.) I’m 90% sure there’s a voltage difference (600 vs 750), but an electrical retrofit would cure that. Or are there turning radius issues?

  4. They should have put trolley poles on the cars and called it good. They could have similarly retrofitted the current fleet as well and they would have never had any issue.

    1. San Francisco has had trolley-poles on streetcars and buses share positive wire on Market Street for decades. Not sure if pantograph cars have to come off the power to clear trolley bus crossovers. But do know that the MUNI-Metro cars do cross them. Have heard that smaller-than-LRV-size pantographs are available.

      In the same way our mechanics largely rebuilt the Bredas- “It’s Alive, Master, it’s alive, it’s alive…!”- our own shop should probably be able to refabricate some workable crossovers too. Horrible but correct way to look at it- good thing 1930’s Charles Addams cartoons aren’t around where kids can see them anymore- is that the worse the mistakes built into this line, the more street rail knowledge will expand as we fix it.

      “Some day those fools will realize!” is usually overoptimistic. With idiots, it’s always “Zere Are Some Things Mankind vas Never Meant to Know!” (Thunder like whole intersection full of special work collapsing). Well, Seattle needs to once become a place where innovation is mechanical as well as virtual.

      Mark Dublin

      1. The problem with the First Hill line is that consultants designed the line and not actual operations people. I’m pretty sure the operations people would have came up with lets put a trolley pole on the car and run the cars and trolley coaches in the same path, problem solved. Instead you get a consultant who has never heard of a trolley coach, or knows anything about the overhead for them and you get *this*. a 750vdc streetcar can work pretty well on 700 nominal overhead, you can even put an automatic pole raising/lowering system with a catch pan in alongside the pan so when you get to a certain point you can change. not rocket science, now we have rocket science cars that barely work, and probably will not age well.

      2. Um, “operations people” don’t have experience in design. And I’m sure the consultants have heard of trolley coaches. They just made a different decision than San Francisco did. It could be worth asking why rather than assuming they’re stupid. Perhaps it’s because trolley poles fall off the wire so often.

      3. With regard to Muni Metro crossing Market Street, the J-Church OCS uses a similar device to what you see on the Seattle Streetcar OCS along Broadway and at the Westlake Terminus. You can see them in Google Streetview, at the intersection of Church and Market.

        Incidentally, the old Duboce Right-of-Way and the ramps connecting the disused Eureka subway station to Market St are all still in place, along with OCS and the necessary switches. Some pavement work at Market and Collingwood has damaged the track, though, and the Market St. OCS design makes using the Breda LRVs impossible. The historic fleet mostly has no issue traveling on the Muni Metro lines outside of the Market Street subway.

  5. The link to the Portland street car purchase is wonky and after waiting for it for over five minutes I’ve determined that it won’t.

    Regarding our “old” streetcars I guess we should assume that the old cars and the waterfront streetcar line is never coming back. I guess we might as well get some money for the old cars since Seattle is never going to see them again and all we’ll have to show for it is a 99 with faux street car paint.

    1. Never is a long time, Joseph. The Scandinavians have put streetcar track into streets build in the Middle Ages. With much less clearance than anywhere along our Waterfront. Present mistake should start becoming curable when fleet of pedicabs and golf carts has to deal with first rock concert.

      Part of present thinking is that the First Avenue connector will do the same work. Problem being that the further north you get, the steeper the grade connecting the Waterfront and the rest of the city. I’m not against the Connector. In fact, the two lines can share substations, communications, and maintenance.

      I also think that the next several decades might see development around the bay to West Seattle using electric rail for both passengers and industrial freight. But the main thing about streetcars is that street rail is the only full-sized transit mode with which plaza pedestrians are comfortable.

      Now that Seattle City Council is elected by district- greet your council member first day in office. Initiating a very long, close acquaintance.

      Mark Dublin

    2. The link simply downloads a pdf. It doesn’t take you to a web page. Check your downloads folder.

  6. I can see why the Crooks would do this…but good luck when, as always, you’re left footing the bill for crooked tech, Seattle.

    Still, it is now your bill, truly.

  7. Clarification: The Seattle Streetcar-Center City Connector project scope assumes the sale of three existing Inekon Trio streetcars, and the purchase of new streetcars with battery-drive capability. Portland Streetcar would like to buy the existing vehicles when they are surplused, and has submitted a grant application to help fund the purchase. The actual sale will be a competitive process and we assume the price will be at least $1.5M per streetcar.

  8. “Unexpected problems?” I always thought it strange that the plans for that streetcar had it be a pantograph-equipped system that ran in an area with a lot of trolleybus wires, and always found it puzzling how that could work well. I’m not aware of anyplace else where that is done. San Francisco’s F-Market line uses trolley poles instead of pantographs for this very reason.

    1. San Francisco has built their overhead to handle both Pan and pole operation on most lines, On Market street all the cars they use are pole cars, so it works real well with the trolley coach overhead, the rest of the system, they have devised methods to make them work (pole/pan on rails, and trolley coach crossings). Edmonton had some locations where their Trolley Coaches crossed over the light rail line and they had special overhead for this. Not sure if Philly or Boston have any special overhead for that kind of operation however as I have never ridden their systems. Its not rocket science to use poles on streetcars, but its the price one pays when you have overpriced “consultants” doing all the work, and a set vision that all streetcars must use pans (probably because they are unable to think outside the box) but that’s just my opinion.

      1. I remember reading the consultant report on all the potential problems with mixing trams and trolleys. With all the conflicts, I just shook my head when they went ahead with both. A trolley line would have been much simpler and less expensive to build, but wouldn’t be RAIL, as promised when deleting the 1st hill station from Link.
        Yes it’s rail now, but at what long term cost to riders over the years.

      2. @mic you may want to clarify your statement. Trolleybuses and streetcars while they may be two different things, if they are both equipped with trolley poles they can share the same overhead. all it takes is to position the overhead with the positive over the center of the track, and the negative wire offset for use by trolley coaches. This would have been a real simple solution to the first hill problem. Toronto ordered trolley poles on their new bombardier streetcars. use of Trolley Poles on streetcars is not rocket science, its a 135 year old technology that works just as well today as it did 135 years ago. The only reason in my opinion that it did not come up for the Seattle Streetcar, is that you have high priced consultants paid to come up with fancy solutions to things, even though any operations person can come up with a much more reasonable solution. The Easy way would have been to use trolley poles, with a 700/750 nominal vdc system, position the positive wire over the center of the trackway, and offset the negative wire. have slightly wider lanes to account for any offset of vehicle+poles and problem solved. if the car needs to continue with pantograph, install automatic retrievers and pans for setting the poles (similar to the Bredas) and move on. this is not rocket science, this is just high priced consultants who don’t have a clue about actual on the street operations of transit vehicles.

      3. I suppose what bothers me the most, is that we *MUST* re-invent the wheel every time we want to accomplish a project in this state. We MUST use pans and fancy battery technology instead of poles, we MUST build a monorail because… well… its a Monorail! We MUST use the first of its kind largest ever TBM, and we MUST have 6 different players involved in deciding how to build and operate transit in the region. The last one has a bit of a caveat, as I don’t think mergers are good either. However, I think there are potential for improvements by breaking down silo walls and making some things more regional in nature while keeping control at the local level.

      4. Boston has no streetcar / trolleybus crossings; the streetcars and trolleybuses are in completely different parts of the city. Same situation in Philadelphia.

        Melbourne has a diamond crossing between a trolley and a electrified “mainline” train, requiring automatic switching of the voltage depending on who’s going through!

    Mike, this memo by Winter may be what you remember. SDOT got around about one-half the 45 conflicts with partial battery operation. The same type of conflicts would be present with the CCC line. Another issue is with close parallel overheads and a shared single lane of travel, as on Broadway; it forces the ETB poles to be at an extreme angle.
    The first mistake was by ST, focusing on mode rather than mobility; ETB improvements would have been much better. SDOT did have the Muni option if using ETB poles, but declined. The 12th Avenue South water main forced the FHSC alignment to deviate to 14th Avenue South, so it has a pretzel shape, always good for speed. hindsiight.

    1. I was not aware SDOT had the option of using poles. As far as I knew they never had the option. I now stand corrected. And the only comment I have Is that its their own damn fault now. Mode isn’t an issue if done right, but when one imposes their own constraints (i.e Pole vs. pan, Monorail vs. anything else) you get what you get and you will be happy with it (and to pay for it).

  10. Zach’s first new item, that Portland is preparing to buy three SLU streetcars from SDOT must wait for some actions first. Seattle would have to win the FTA small starts grant to fund part of the CCC capital cost. There will be other competing local transit projects. the new Council would have to approve the local capital (scores of millions) and operating expenditures over alternative projects, and the CCC would have to get constructed. Does its construction conflict with Bertha or the seawall?

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