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Seattle - November 2011

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Seattle — Master Plan Considers Streetcars

Rail Transit Online, November 2011

The city has selected the Inekon Group in the Czech Republic to build six streetcars for a new line that will connect First Hill with the future Capitol Hill light rail station and downtown's Chinatown/International District. The two-mile (3.2 km) route is designed as a substitute for a light rail station at First Hill that was deleted because of engineering, geological and construction risks.

Although Inekon will manufacture the cars, they will be assembled in Seattle by Pacifica Marine Inc., the same firm that assembled five Spanish-made Talgo tilting trainsets for the Amtrak Cascades service in 1998. The Inekon-Pacifica partnership, one of three bidders for the job, will also maintain the cars for five years; the total value of the contract has not been announced.

The vehicles will feature on-board energy storage that will allow off-wire operation for about 2.5 mi. (4 km), reducing electricity consumption, maintenance costs and conflicts with electric trolleybus wires. Catenary will be installed only above the outbound side of the double-track line, providing traction power between Chinatown and First Hill; the return trip will driven by batteries that will be recharged by regenerative braking and during under-wire operation.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn sees the deal as the starting point for a new industry in his city. "We know how to build things the rest of the world wants to buy," McGinn told Seattlepi.com. "We're not just going build boats and airplanes here. We're going to build streetcars here, too, and sell them around the country." Inekon already has a foothold in the region, having supplied three streetcars each to Seattle's South Lake Union line and the Tacoma Link project in conjunction with Skoda, another Czech firm. Inekon has also sold its products to Portland and Washington, D.C.

Those were all delivered fully built but the First Hill cars must comply with "Buy America" rules requiring a minimum of 60-percent domestic content and U.S. assembly. Pacifica has an existing facility in Seattle for refurbishing and fabricating transit vehicles, although it currently has no work.

Delivery of the Seattle order should start several months before the line is scheduled to open in late 2013 and be completed in spring 2014. Meanwhile, the city has received a $900,000 federal grant to study a connection through downtown between the First Hill and South Lake Union lines.


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