The new First Hill streetcars have been pulled out of service since Wednesday while technicians troubleshoot one train’s electrical breakdown.
Seattle’s year-old First Hill Streetcar line will remain shut down for “a number of days” after a mysterious railcar stall Wednesday at the corner of Broadway and Yesler Way, a city executive says.
Technicians haven’t found similar problems on the other five railcars and a similar new car on the South Lake Union line, but those will be tested at the shop and on the street without passengers, before returning to service, said Andrew Glass Hastings, director of transit and mobility for the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).
The stall happened at 6 a.m. Wednesday while the gold car ran downhill off-wire, using its hybrid battery power. The streetcar, with two passengers aboard, rolled 2½ blocks at 20 mph before coming to a stop with the parking brakes activated, Glass Hastings said at a Friday news conference.
Officials decided in the afternoon to pull all trains into the maintenance yard.
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Technicians don’t know why the glitch occurred, but they do know where.
A circuit on the car tripped off, halting power from a low-voltage battery to the internal controls, such as lighting, speakers, gauges and emergency brakes, he said. This battery, the size of two car batteries, sits just below the streetcar operator.
This system is separate from the powerful electronic systems that drive the train — an elaborate, cutting-edge technology. Officials also don’t believe there are flaws in the overhead power lines.
King County Metro operates the city-owned trains. The $135 million, 2.5-mile First Hill project was funded almost entirely through Sound Transit 2 sales taxes that voters approved in 2008.
The seven-railcar order, engineered and built by Inekon in the Czech Republic, was fulfilled two years late, due largely to Inekon’s backlogs and sophisticated electronic drive systems the city ordered.
Pacifica Marine of Seattle performed final assembly in Seattle on some trains, with local workers. Unlike most, the First Hill railcars can retract their power poles, to avoid conflicts with overhead trolley-bus wires, and run for several blocks on stored power, like a hybrid vehicle.
The streetcars began carrying passengers in January 2016. They provide a local shuttle to hospitals, Seattle University and Seattle Central College between the Capitol Hill and International District/Chinatown light-rail stations.
Ridership counts have tracked between 3,000 and 3,500 daily boardings, reaching SDOT’s first-year goal. That would rank in the low-medium range compared to bus routes, led by the Aurora Avenue E line at 17,000 passengers.
To improve the slow travel, that can exceed 20 minutes end-to-end, SDOT is studying a proposal to give the streetcars a southbound transit lane from Pine to Marion streets, by eliminating a narrow left-turn lane on Broadway, the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog reported.
The city is preparing to build a Central City Connector streetcar line on First Avenue, to connect the other two by 2020. That project has won a $75 million federal grant and requires about $60 million in local funding.