Dude, Where’s My Streetcar?


The Oregonian details schedule status for the Oregon Iron Works/United Streetcar order for the Streetcar Loop.

Obviously we’re not celebrating. But I’d like to underscore a couple of points:

1) We’re not going to do anything that compromises the safety, quality or reliability of the new vehicles. If that means waiting, we’ll wait for delivery.

2) We’re going to open the Loop on time on September 22nd. If necessary I’ll be out there helping push. Worst case it means we’ll run every vehicle in our current fleet with no spares (we’ve done it before – our maintenance people are amazing), but we will have service.

For every single opening Streetcar has had, vehicle delivery has been the gating item. This opening will be no different. But on the whole, if I have sit around drumming my fingers waiting for vehicles, I’d much prefer it be for vehicles that bring local jobs.

And one point in the article is not quite accurate:

But United Streetcar has yet to manufacture a single vehicle…

In fact United Streetcar has built a vehicle, under the prototype contract. I’ve ridden on it!

It’s not in revenue service yet, but it is out on the Loop route on the east side, being tested.

See you on the 22nd!

18 responses to “Dude, Where’s My Streetcar?”

  1. From the Oregonian article: “There’s a reason there haven’t been [street]car builders in the United States for decades. It’s difficult, difficult work.”

    (Quoting Carter MacNichol, a consultant with Shiels Obletz Johnsen, which is managing the project for Portland.)

    Seriously? It is “difficult, difficult work?” So you are trying to tell us that the workers in the destabilized former eastern block have been able to crank these things out since the fall of the Soviet empire and we can’t figure out how in Portland, Oregon?

    Chris, I hate (I really do hate this) to be critical because I am a HUGE supporter of transit (I have worked with you and Portland Streetcar in the past on projects) and I love Portland Streetcar and I am also a HUGE supporter of domestic jobs, especially those in Oregon.

    But what is making this seem so damn impossible? We have all kinds of companies in the USA who make really complex and advanced things. We build airplanes and warships and sports cars and computer chips…

    Can you maybe speak to what it is that is considered “difficult, difficult work”?

    Between 1997 and 2003 the New Orleans transit agency built 31 streetcars themselves. (all ADA compliant and air conditioned).

    Sure they were following a design that dates back almost 100 years, but they still use all those streetcars every day and they work just fine.

    So what makes our streetcars so advanced that Oregon Iron Works is struggling while the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) who is a government agency was able to build 23 cars in two years (2002,2003)?

    And to follow on that – *should* our streetcars be that much more complex? The 100 year old designs in New Orleans or the 80 year old designs in Toronto still work incredibly well. I rode single car and articulated double cars in Toronto throughout the city and they worked very very well… I have ridden the New Orleans streetcars too, they work just fine.

    What if we started going back to simple designs that last seemingly forever? New Orleans is *still* operating cars that were made in the 1920s (and we brag about our old MAX cars having a long life…) I would say 90+ years of operation is a pretty good ROI. Toronto’s entire fleet dates back to the 1950s (and they have a LOT of streecars there).

  2. One issue with new cars: they need to be ADA compliant. That means low floor boarding with extending ramps, wide aisles, that sort of thing. There probably are a lot of other safety issues that are waived/grandfathered for vintage cars.

  3. John, it’s not like United Streetcar is just executing the Czech design (the prototype car was a bit more like that). The design has been updated to American standards and components, as well as having adaptations for things like ADA.

    This is literally the first of the class. We have a pretty high degree of confidence that once the first car is done, the rest will follow very quickly.

  4. As a note, the streetcars built in New Orleans met ADA compliance but that was in 2002/2003 so that may mean something different currently…

  5. Are the existing cars not ADA compliant? What kind of changes were necessary?

    I actually thought these were pretty much clones of the original cars. Will there be anything noticeably improved for operators or riders or are we talking about United Streetcar having to duct-tape the mirrors on because the American ones don’t fit?

  6. I guess this explains why I haven’t seen any of the new vehicles running on the current (pun!) route, getting broken in. I have been hoping to be able to ride on them sooner than Sept.

    OTOH, I suppose it’s better for United to get it right the first time, rather than have embarrassing problems after the launch.

  7. Are the existing cars not ADA compliant?

    Both the Inekon cars (two different flavors) and the United Streetcar cars have the origins in a Skoda design, but the paths of descent from that design are slightly different, so I think both Inekon and United have had to figure out how to make them work with ADA.

  8. A little history:

    The de facto standard for streetcars remains the PCC design, the result of an intensive and expert research and development program in the USA in the 1930s. It was replicated under license throughout the world. Most in this country were made by Saint Louis Car Company, but when that entity lost the contract for BART it ceased operations. PCC is a very versatile basic design.

    The patents were sold to Belgium. Bombardier, a Canadian company, licensed them for the MAX 100 series cars, built at a factory in the US. Pigeons coming home to roost. As I have noted before, the Bombardier units are superior in every technical respect, save the vital feature of low floors, than the Siemens 200 and 300 units that are the guts of the Max system.

    There is no reason both MAX and Streetcar could not run PCC designs if we demanded it.

  9. This is not surprising. Developing a new drivetrain is not easy. Just look at the huge delays that many other private companies have seen on new programs (Boeing 787, Airbus A380, Chevy Volt, etc).

    What are our options for getting service on this line when the September date inevitably comes and goes? Can the vintage trolleys operate the line?

    Also, why have we not been looking at longer streetcars? I just got back from a trip to Europe, and it seems that most cities use much longer cars to increase capacity. Budapest has some insanely long cars of similar design:

  10. Can the vintage trolleys operate the line?

    We could, but they are not ADA, so we don’t like using them for scheduled service.

    The likely scenario if we don’t have ANY of the new cars is to run the entire 11 car fleet at peak hours. Not having any spares puts a tremendous burden on the maintenance operation, but we’ve done it before when Inekon was late (that’s right Inekon had schedule delays as well).

  11. Also, why have we not been looking at longer streetcars?

    We would probably do this by coupling two cars. It’s really an urban design issue for the neighborhoods in which streetcar operates. It requires bigger platforms and displaces more on-street parking.

  12. longer streetcars

    I was led to believe that the Skoda streetcars weren’t designed for being coupled while in passenger operation–and the the coupling was mainly for towing, etc.

    I’d be happy to be wrong…

  13. I think I’ve read that the Willamette Shore Trolley is trying to get one of the Vintage Trolleys, but the city is wanting to keep them for now as potential backups.

    I’m not aware of any technical limitation.

    I know they can mechanically couple; the question would be whether they can electrically couple.

  14. First, $100 says vehicle 015 (the United Streetcar prototype) never sees revenue service. Second, TriMet has pulled back the decision they would loan two of the Vintage Streetcar vehicles to Portland Streetcar.

    The Oregon Electric Railway Historical Society (the organization that operates the Willamette Shore Trolley) have been told that they will receive two of the Vintage Trolleys once TriMet decides they no longer want them, but TriMet hasn’t said that yet.

    It is expected that once TriMet, City of Portland, City of Lake Oswego, and Multnomah County work out their agreements, TriMet will transfer one Vintage Trolley to the City of Lake Oswego to run on the Willamette Shore Line and be operated by the Oregon Electric Railway Historical Society. Since TriMet has decided that they won’t be loaning the vehicles to Portland Streetcar, one vehicle will probably be loaned soon to Lake Oswego.

  15. I can’t let that go by :-) Here’s the bet: when the prototype goes into service, you’ll make a $100 donation to Portland Transport.

    If it doesn’t go into service sometime in 2012, I’ll make a $100 donation to the charity of your choice.

    Are we on? Or are you just blowing smoke?

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