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Originally published October 26, 2011 at 6:36 PM | Page modified October 26, 2011 at 6:39 PM

Local firm wins bid to assemble streetcars

The First Hill streetcars in Seattle will be assembled here by 20 local workers at Pacifica Marine instead of being imported from Europe, as happened with the three South Lake Union streetcars.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

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The next streetcars in Seattle will be assembled here by 20 local workers instead of being imported from Europe, as happened with the three South Lake Union (SLU) vehicles in 2007.

Seattle-based Pacifica Marine has been chosen to assemble six First Hill streetcars, to carry passengers starting in late 2013. The route goes from the International District/Chinatown light-rail station to Broadway, where the Capitol Hill station will be done in 2016.

The rail cars will be able to run 2 ½ miles on battery power and regenerative braking — so they draw electricity from overhead wires heading up to Capitol Hill and go wireless on the return to Chinatown.

This reduces conflicts between overhead streetcar and electric trolley-bus wires and should save energy and maintenance costs in the long run, said Ethan Melone, city streetcar-project manager.

The new jobs would pay $15-$30 per hour, under contract with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

The trains are designed by Czech-based Inekon, which built the SLU fleet. Exact details of the partnership are being worked out, but probably the car bodies will be imported from the Czech Republic, for final assembly, testing and maintenance in Seattle, using mostly North American components, according to Bill Patz, president of Pacifica. He said the plant here would "evolve" so that eventually, as local crews gain expertise, rail cars could be built entirely in Seattle.

More jobs could be added if the partnership wins contracts in some of the 20 or so other U.S. cities adding streetcars, supporters said.

Mayor Mike McGinn and City Council President Richard Conlin announced the deal Wednesday. Transit is one reason the city continues to attract employers, including Amazon and the Brooks athletic-shoe company, McGinn said.

The $130 million First Hill line is already funded by Sound Transit sales taxes that voters approved in 2008.

Since the 1990s, Pacifica assembled and retrofitted more than 65 Spanish-designed Talgo rail cars for the Amtrak Cascades line, said Patz. The Talgos are distinctive because they tilt based on track curvatures, improving comfort on fast turns. But right now, the company has an "empty shop" in the Duwamish area, said Patz.

Bid prices weren't announced Wednesday, but modern streetcars and light-rail cars are worth roughly $4 million each.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com

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