Streetcar comeback … makes a comeback!


Cincinnati streetcar, provided by CAF, under live power testing in 2015. Photo via Dilemma-X.

Cincinnati streetcar, provided by CAF, under live power testing in 2015. Photo via Dilemma-X.

For a while, eager naysayers and rail transit critics said the return of streetcars to American streets — the modern-day streetcar renaissance — was over. They brandished problems with various streetcar projects, including the political cancellation of a line in Arlington, Virginia, missteps with Washington, DC’s new streetcar project, troubles with rolling stock procurements in Oklahoma City, and political cancellation of the planned streetcar starter line in Providence, Rhode Island.

But out of the gloom, new streetcar projects are succeeding, with more on the way. Those vehicle procurement problems have been resolved, and Oklahoma City’s project continues to proceed. Here’s a list of what seem to be currently the major projects in the mix:

Seattle — First Hill Streetcar, an expansion of the original streetcar system that began with the South Lake Union line, opened January 23rd. The 2.5-mile-long project was installed at a cost of $134 million.

New Orleans — The Regional Transportation Authority’s 1.6-mile North Ramparts-St. Claude Streetcar Line Project, budgeted at $40-41 million, is nearing completion, with opening expected this summer or early fall.

El Paso — The city’s 4.8-mile heritage streetcar line project, budgeted at $97 million, is now under way, with the legacy fleet of stored historic PCC cars now being renovated and restored by Brookville Equipment Corp.

Oklahoma City — A 4.6-mile, $129-million streetcar starter line project continues to proceed, with rolling stock supplier designated as Brookville Equipment Corp.

Milwaukee — The city’s 2.1-mile, $124-million downtown streetcar starter line project is now well under way.

Detroit — The 3.3-mile, $140-million M-1 streetcar project, mainly routed on the city’s iconic Woodward Avenue, continues to move ahead.

Kansas City — The 2.2-mile-long, $102-million project is nearing completion, and expected to open in a few months.

Cincinnati — The city’s 1.8-mile, $148-million core area streetcar project (see photo at top of post) is nearing completion, and expected to open this fall.

Washington, DC — Officials are now hoping the problem-plagued, long-delayed 2.2-mile H St.-Benning Rd. streetcar project, costing approximately $200 million so far, will at last be completed and able to open within a few weeks.

Tucson — The city’s 3.9-mile Sun Link streetcar starter line, opened in 2014 at an investment cost of about $199 million, continues to exceed its ridership projections.

Atlanta — The 2.7-mile-long Peachtree district streetcar starter line, completed at a budget of $93 million, also opened in 2014. ■

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Tucson Sun Link streetcar opens, meets ridership goal


Tucson's new Sun Link streetcar passes sidewalk cafe during opening day festivities. Photo: Ed Havens.

Tucson’s new Sun Link streetcar passes sidewalk cafe during opening day festivities. Photo: Ed Havens.

With dancing bands, a street festival, and plenty of other hoopla, Tucson’s new Sun Link modern streetcar system made its debut on Friday, 25 July, and by all accounts, the 3.9-mile, $198.8 million line was a huge hit. Over three days of free rides, a total of 60,000 rider-trips was recorded, with 25,000 boarding on Saturday the 26th. Automatic passenger counting (APC) door sensors on the cars tallied all the passengers.

Among those celebrating Tucson’s project was Urban Rail Today co-principal John Schneider, credited with spearheading the new streetcar project in Cincinnati. John was in Tucson for several days to ride and photograph the new streetcar system there.

Tucson’s streetcar starter line has 18 stops and 8 streetcars (manufactured by Oregon Iron Works/United Streetcar of Portland, Oregon), each with a capacity of about 150 passengers. At 10-minute headways, that means an approximately 50% increase in the people-moving capacity of each street lane.

As described by Inside Tucson Business, the nearly 4-mile-long route connects the University of Arizona, Main Gate Square, the Fourth Avenue business district, downtown Tucson, and the Mercado area west of Interstate 10. It’s “the city’s largest, most complex construction project ever,” says the paper, adding that it’s been funded with dollars from the Regional Transportation Authority, other local sources, and federal grants.

Jubilant crowd lines track for photo-op moment as Tucson's first modern streetcar approaches inauguration banner on opening day. Photo: Ed Havens.

Jubilant crowd lines track for photo-op moment as Tucson’s first modern streetcar approaches inauguration banner on opening day. Photo: Ed Havens.

Shellie Ginn, the City of Tucson’s streetcar project manager, highlighted more than $800 million of public and private investment already along the line “that’s occurred basically since we received our federal funding in 2010.” Quoted by Arizona Public Media (the umbrella organization of University of Arizona AM-FM-TV), Ginn continued:

I know that there’s multiple hundreds of millions of dollars of projects that are now going to be coming up soon, so that’s going to be increasing over the $1 billion mark. That’s one of the markers we have for how successful this project is going to be.

The streetcar project seems to be having a perceptible impact on real estate activity, such as student housing complexes that, as the Arizona Public Media article notes, have opened on the east end of downtown over the past year. Furthermore, an increase in retail and entertainment activity seems to be another result, as “new and existing restaurants are harder to get into on weekend evenings without a wait.”

Most riders among the opening-weekend crowds radiated enthusiasm about the new line. ABC TV affiliate KGUN interviewed several.

“It’s just great to see the vibrancy that’s happening in Tucson after graduating here several years ago” enthused Hillary Foose, described as “the first person in line at one of the downtown stops”. “We’ve seen it in Phoenix and we’ve seen what the streetcar will be for Tucson it will mean great things …” she added.

Another rider, Andrew Greeley, told the reporter: “We go downtown to shop and what not, we’ll park somewhere and we’ll just take this. It beats parking.”

Arizona State Senator Steve Farley, widely recognized as the “godfather” of Tucson’s streetcar project since he began campaigning for light rail in the early 2000s as a leader of Tucsonans for Sensible Transportation, was quoted by KGUN as he spoke at the inaugural ceremony and joined a number of streetcar rides. “That’s what’s so exciting…” he said, “when people who have never been on a light-rail or streetcar or anything like that before, it’s amazing the response.”

The first day of fare-paying service, Monday the 28th, was also a whopping success, with 3,500 rider-trips carried. According to State Senator Farley, that figure Monday was almost exactly what planners hoped to achieve after one year of operation. ■

Tucson: Streetcar Celebration builds public anticipation of urban rail line opening


Tucson streetcar leaves center-street station during testing. Photo:  Tyler Baker, Arizona Daily Wildcat.

Tucson streetcar leaves center-street station during testing. Photo: Tyler Baker, Arizona Daily Wildcat.

Tucson, Arizona — It’s still many months away, but public anticipation of the opening of Tucson’s brand-new streetcar system has been building. And it’s getting a huge boost from the local Friends of the Streetcar group.

In collaboration with merchants at Main Gate Square outside the main entrance to the University of Arizona, the pro-streetcar group is sponsoring Streetcar Celebration: Destination Main Gate Square, a special celebration on January 15th, one of several shindigs the organization has been initiating to raise awareness and feed anticipation for the new service.

The 3.9-mile, $196 million modern streetcar line is due to open in mid-2014 after rolling stock supplier United Streetcar delivers all eight streetcars on order.

The upcoming festivities, scheduled on a Wednesday afternoon between 4:00 and 7:00 pm, will include performances by musical groups, a street performance group called Cirque Roots (featuring stilt walkers, hoop dancers, and acrobats), “fun with 2-EEE the Clown Face Painting and Balloons, a free photo booth by Bumblebee Photobooth with souvenir photos and more”, according to a report in The Explorer, a local publication. The Arizona State Museum will be open until 7:00 pm allowing free admission, and a number of restaurants, cafes, and various retailers are offering substantial discounts.

With opening of the new urban rail system scheduled for much later in the year, these events in Tucson by local rail supporters may provide an example of how to build public enthusiasm for the service — and hopefully pay off in higher ridership when the trains actually start rolling.

Tucson — Streetcar project continues moving forward


tuc-lrt-stc-rend-x5-sideview-median-cars-2007_rta
Simulation of Tucson streetcar line. [Graphic: Regional Transportation Authority]

Tucson, Arizona — This medium-size city’s electric streetcar project continues to advance, according to a Jan. 14th report in the Arizona Daily Star.

While there’s still a lot of work to do, what’s left should be a whole lot less disruptive to traffic, businesses and neighborhoods, according to project manager Jesse Gutierrez.

Like all such projects using urban streets, Tucson’s streetcar construction has grappled with relatively ancient underground utilities, such as 100-year-old pipes in bad condition, as well as newer obstacles such as fiber optic cables. Nevertheless, according to Gutierrez and Tucson Transportation Director Daryl Cole, the construction schedule has been accelerated on some streets, including those near the Tucson Convention Center, to get heavy work finished before major events at the center coming in the next few weeks.

The article reports that most of the rail infrastructure is now in place. “There’s rail on the streets on the University of Arizona campus, University Boulevard, Fourth Avenue, parts of Congress Street and Granada Avenue.”

For more, read the article

[Streetcar simulation: Regional Transportation Authority]