Seattle’s First Hill streetcar slower, but is it safe?

Mar 21, 2017, 4:24 PM
The First Hill streetcar was temporarily out of service in March. (KIRO Radio)
(KIRO Radio)

It’s up and running again, but still no answers on who will pay for the First Hill streetcar breakdown and when permanent safety improvements will be complete.

Related: Seattle streetcars shut down after one lost power, rolled down hill

Three weeks after a power failure sent Seattle’s streetcar skidding down 2.5 blocks, service started again on Monday. On Tuesday, the Seattle Department of Transportation said it might be months before temporary safety measures give way to permanent, technical safeguards. They are hoping some of those fixes will be in place this summer.

Until then, the car will make two safety stops before particularly steep sections of the line, and operate at a lower speed on others.

“There’s no indication that an incident like what occurred on March 1 will happen again, but to make everybody as comfortable as possible, let’s just slow the trains down a little bit,” said Andrew Glass-Hastings, director of transit and mobility for SDOT.

Council members Mike O’Brien and Rob Johnson congratulated SDOT for quickly getting the system back online, but voiced concern about demoralizing riders with slower service. Before the snafu on March 1, it’s estimated about 3,500 people rode the streetcar each day.

Related: SDOT’s out-of-control streetcar the latest embarrassment

Another concern is who will end up paying for the temporary closure and the use of Metro buses and drivers, who augmented service while the streetcar was out of action.

“So that the average rider, those 3,500 riders who are getting on and off the streetcar every day, don’t feel the pinch, Councilmember Rob Johnson told the council.

SDOT believes the streetcar manufacturers will take financial responsibility but couldn’t confirm that to the council.

“The city’s first read through our contractual arrangement with the vendor of the cars is that this is the responsibility that they bear with their insurance company,” O’Brien said.

Meanwhile the SDOT is in the planning stages of another line: City Center Connector. This line will connect the First Hill line with the South Lake Union line and serve three main hubs: Westlake Intermodal Hub, Colman Dock Intermodal Hub, and King Street Intermodal Hub. Once the line and an extension are completed, SDOT estimates Seattle’s streetcar system to serve 20,000 weekday riders.

MyNorthwest’s Stephanie Klein contributed to this report.

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Seattle’s First Hill streetcar slower, but is it safe?