America’s Dream Streetcar System: Seattle

In 2007, Seattle opened a 1.3 mile modern streetcar line on the north side of the city.  It did fine and ridership improved.  Now, big changes are coming in 2016 and beyond.  Firstly, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) will open its second streetcar line.  The First Hill Line will be 2.5 miles and because of the existing trolleybus wires it will be primarily battery powered.  This is only the second line in the US to have battery powered streetcars.  The line will be a major transit link between an university and downtown Seattle so I expect heavy ridership.  Also in 2016, the first line will get dedicated lanes.  This will make the line run much faster and service will be much better.  SDOT hopes to connect the two lines in 2018 with a line that runs in dedicated lanes.  When that happens, Seattle will have the most futuristic streetcar system in the US.  I hope that Seattle’s combo of dedicated lanes and battery powered streetcars makes it the envy of every American streetcar city!

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DC’s Streetcar “Lionel Set”

Washington DC has been trying to start a streetcar system for over a decade.  So far, they have been unsuccessful.  Before I continue, I have to say DC is an extreme outlier in the streetcar world.  They finished construction on the H Street route in 2014 and started testing that summer.  The line has missed every deadline since and hasn’t opened.  Transit experts and rail-fans have questioned if it will open.  Here’s my opinion.  After over a decade and over a hundred million dollars, DC has itself a giant Lionel Streetcar Bump-N-Go set on H Street.  I’m not saying it’ll be unsuccessful when it opens.  On the contrary, I think it’ll be a huge success.  I judge streetcar systems first on one key characteristic, ridership stats.  How many people are riding and are the riders residents are my first two questions.  I think the H Street line will pass those tests when passenger service starts.  Until then, it is the biggest rail line flop I have ever seen.  I hope whatever the problem is, it gets fixed ASAP.  If it doesn’t, it’s reputation can not be fixed.