Portland — United Streetcar Missed Deadlines
The Oregonian reported on United Streetcar's manufacturing troubles in a lengthy investigative report published April 20, 2013.
United Streetcar LLC, the Clackmas, Ore., subsidiary of Oregon Iron Works, has had teething problems in building modern streetcars based on licensing of the Czech-built Skoda Astra model which were purchased to open Portland Streetcar.
United Streetcar has orders for five cars for Portland, eight for Tucson, Ariz., and three for Washington, D.C.
Other cities buying modern streetcars have tapped different manufacturers. Salt Lake City and Atlanta will get S70 LRV models from Siemens but configured as streetcars, meaning slower speed gearing and no multiple-unit couplers.
Dallas has purchased Brookville Equipment Corp. "Liberty" models for its Oak Cliff line. Brookville built the Philadelphia SEPTA PCC-II cars, and played a major role in construction (and post-Katrina reconstruction) of cars for New Orleans.
Cincinnati has purchased modern streetcars from the U.S. subsidiary of Spain-based C.A.F.
The prototype streetcar made by United Streetcar, painted with "Made in USA" along the cars in large letters, entered service in September, four years later than planned.
According to The Oregonian, "Officials at the city, state and congressional levels have offered unwavering political support and steered millions in taxpayer money to United Streetcar since its founding in 2005, standing by the company even as it missed delivery deadlines, turned out a problem-riddled prototype and racked up cost overruns, an investigation by The Oregonian has found."
United Streetcar's new president, Kevin Clarke, countered by saying "Anybody looking at the whole situation quite objectively would look at it and say this is an extremely complex thing that's being done, creating a company that's making streetcars and now actually delivering them," said Clarke, hired in January.
"That alone is something that presents this company in a very, very positive light."
With "Buy America" provisions in federal funding and with state support for United Streetcar, Portland felt ordering from the company was the most viable option. However, there has been some effect as the city's eastside streetcar line's opening was delayed for lack of cars and as the order for six cars was cut to five.
Tucson and Washington are also concerned about late deliveries.
Portland streetcar planning leaders and Oregon politicians, approached Oregon Iron Works about entering the streetcar field, with $3.2 million in federal funds going to the firm to build and deliver a prototype within 18 months. In July 2007 the Oregon Legislature added $20 million to help United Streetcar produce six more cars for Portland.
OIW licensed technology from the Czech firm of Skoda that had built Portland's modern streetcar fleet. But relations with Skoda deteriorated and led United Streetcar to select American partners with no experience in streetcar propulsion. Portland later insisted that propulsion equipment be sourced from the experienced Austrian firm Elin, but had to cut its order from six cars to five to cover the added expense.
Since then delays have been repeated and questions were raised about whether United Streetcar has the staff and skills to turn out the cars.
Meanwhile, two production cars have been delivered to Portland, but are still undergoing testing before being approved for service.
United Streetcar president Clarke is optimistic, being quoted by The Oregonian as saying: "Based on our performance -- which is we're building a very high-quality streetcar vehicle here in America -- based on that performance," Clarke said, "they have every reason to work with us and buy streetcars from us."