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New Seattle Streetcars Too Big for Current Tracks

U.S. News & World Report logo U.S. News & World Report 7/25/2018 Alexa Lardieri
Streetcar arriving in an outdoor tram stop, Seattle, Washington, USA.: The new streetcar line is planned to connect two existing streetcar lines in Seattle. © (Getty Images) The new streetcar line is planned to connect two existing streetcar lines in Seattle.

Ten new streetcars that Seattle ordered to expand its system may be of no use to the city, as their extra-large size could prevent them from fitting on the current tracks or inside the maintenance barn.

The Seattle Department of Transportation ordered the new streetcars at a cost of $52 million to connect its two existing streetcar lines, the Seattle Times reported. However, the new cars are heavier and longer than the existing cars, Mayor Jenny Durkan's office said in a statement.

The streetcars on the current routes were manufactured by Inekon, but the city hired another company after the First Hill streetcar line opened two years late, the Times reported. When negotiating a contract with the new company, CAF USA, the city gave broad requirements for the new cars, almost all of which were larger than the specifications of the current cars.

According to Inekon , the current cars are about 65 feet long. For the new streetcars, the city requested they be between 65 and 75.5 feet long, according to the contract. Their maximum weight is around 95,000 pounds, compared to the current cars' maximum weight of only about 60,000 pounds.

However, the new streetcars don't appear to be any wider than the current ones. Both cars are around 8 feet wide.

At some point, the contract appears to have been changed to increase the length and weight of the cars.

City Councilmember Lisa Herbold wrote in a blog post that she is disappointed to hear of the error and "it appears the error will require either a change order for the design of the streetcars or incur new costs for construction of new or retrofitted maintenance barns."

The mayor's office questioned whether the increased weight and length of the new cars would "impact the current system" and if the current streetcar route and maintenance barn could "handle the additional weight" and length. As a result of "uncovering the challenges with the vehicle contract," more questions arose, including what are the related costs in making the current system compatible with the new larger cars, the mayor's office asked.

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