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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Streetcars are slow in more ways than one

The strange and unnecessary Portland eastside streetcar project appears to be running into trouble. According to this report, Oregon Iron Works, which is making the cars, isn't getting the work done on time or under budget. So now the opening will be five months late, at least. You wonder whether Tri-Met will wait that long to start canceling the buses.

Comments (20)

Hmmmm....echoes of WES train manufacturing debacle...inexperienced, unproven, probably underfunded....what could possibly go wrong?

Oh, just deliver them late....over budget...and they still won't work.

And nothing worth riding to.

Just eyeballing the track over on the CES, I wonder how anything is supposed to run on it. It has more ups and downs and crooked bits in it than I don't know what! Both MLK and Grand look that way. Sorry I don't have a picture, but maybe someone out there can take a pic and post it.

Was it not Skoda (in the Czech Republic) that produced the nightmarish Articulated Buses Tri-Met struggled with for years and came to us in exchange if they used the money we paid them to in turn buy grain from the US at half price?

As I recall Ron Wyden helped make that happen. Wonder how he will save the day now?

"Strange and Unnecessary"? Hardly, Connecting OMSI with Loyd Center via a historic and underutilized (retail-commercial)street with adjacent residential neighborhoods is a perfect location.

Having a new manufacture in our region producing a product for national consumption is absolutely fantastic. As you noted a large portion of urban transportation systems are produced outside of our borders. Oregon Iron Works is behind schedule for several months. Ask Boeing about producing a new product...3 years late?

Michael, I've ridden the street car in downtown Portland, and many days, I can walk faster than it moves. And, I don't think MLK/Grand are either under-utilized - and now with the construction, the lane with the streetcar tracks is nearly impossible for a small car to travel on - the tires are easily caught in the tracks. The construction has dealt a blow to businesses along the way, and an empty street car most days won't help. Not when I can drive it in five - ten minutes, and the street car will probably take 30 minutes to get there. Even buses go faster than that.

"And nothing worth riding to." No s*it.

I guess we just lack the vision of the gamblers, er, dreamers, er, I mean planners. Build it, and the development will come. Hasn't happened yet but don't stop dreaming.

Andy & Bax not worth riding to? C'mon!

$148 million for 5 streetcars and track. That's 29.6 million per street car. How will it ever pay for itself?

Mixing streetcars with bikes, cars, motorcycles and scooters is real scary. I bike and ride a motorcycle and I'm scared to death when I've ridden along MLK with those slippery, tire grabbing tracks. And that was on a dry day.

For way less than $148 million we probably could run luxury buses on that short route--with a hostess too.

from the linked article:
"also tapping the company to supply the electric motor system in the new cars"
JK: Sad.
There are lots of good electrical engineers in this area that could do the job. Including at least one guy in the electric car field that makes motor controllers for high powered electric cars.

The principles are well known in industrial motor control.


Don, I've also ridden both my moto and bicycle on Grand, the potholes and crumbling pavement were bad enough but those tracks are sudden death after a light sprinkling of rain. I've had my rear tire slip on the tracks when turning off of MLK, both bicycle and moto. A little scary on the moto since it felt like I might have high-sided but luckily it came back. I avoid those roads like the plague; potholes, metal construction plates, slick toy-trolley tracks, no thanks not worth the risk.

I've always loved the close-in industrial warehouse districts in inner eastside. Too bad all that will likely be bulldozed over for another Pearl yuppie playground with condo towers. Sigh...

Only in Oregon can a transportation flack suggest getting FIVE street cars for the price of SIX is a "better deal." And only in Oregon will the guppies believe it and keep voting in the status quo.

Yeah, Andy & Bax - have fun carrying that raft onto the streetcar.

Was it not Skoda (in the Czech Republic) that produced the nightmarish Articulated Buses Tri-Met struggled with for years and came to us in exchange if they used the money we paid them to in turn buy grain from the US at half price?

No. Close, but no.

The Tri-Met 700s were built by Crown-Ikarus - a partnership between the Hungarian company Ikarus (which is still in business today - and Crown Coach, a Californian school bus manufacturer that previously had a VERY GOOD reputation of building buses that lasted years. It was common to see a 50 year old Crown school bus still on the road and in good condition, until recently.

If you click on the Ikarus link, you'll even see a nice model of a Ikarus model 280 bus, which is the European version of the same bus Tri-Met purchased (the model 286, the American verison).

When Crown failed (in part due to the partnership with Ikarus), Ikarus found a new partner in the mid-west, and then eventually went on their own. Through a series of partnerships, buy-outs, take-overs, mergers and so on...the American Ikarus company became NABI: North American Bus Industries. Which, is also still in business; in fact it's parent company purchased Blue-Bird (as in, the other school bus company). NABI's track record has been questionable but their buses have been popular with the Los Angeles County MTA.

While it is quite agreeable that the Crown-Ikarus buses were a nightmare for TriMet, it should be noted that they did serve the region for 16 years before retirement, and TriMet did eventually get many of the kinks worked out. The biggest drawback in the mid-to-late years was the lack of a wheelchair lift, requiring TriMet to pay for taxis for anyone who couldn't get up the stairs. Of course their reliability suffered in the later years (just like much of TriMet's current fleet of 20+ year old American made buses - in general transit buses have a 12-15 year life span.) The last time I rode an artic, the back two doors failed to open so everyone had to board and exit through the front door; the farebox didn't work...the thing was held together by duct tape but it got us down the road.

A few of those old buses still survive...there's one sitting in a farm off of Evergreen Road in Hillsboro; another one is in Prineville. I know of a couple that were attempted to be converted into RVs (I don't think any were successful) and another in McMinnville was chopped and made into a shorter, non-articulated bus, and then sold off on eBay. Not sure what happened to that one either.

"Strange and Unnecessary"? Hardly, Connecting OMSI with Loyd Center via a historic and underutilized (retail-commercial)street with adjacent residential neighborhoods is a perfect location.

I think that's a bit glamorous of an assessment. OMSI and Lloyd Center are not complimentary destinations. Lloyd Center is not a regional draw like either Clackamas Town Center nor Washington Square but more of a urban mall. OMSI is a regional destination; but those who visit OMSI are unlikely to head north on the Streetcar. Heck, TriMet used to have a bus route that specifically connected OMSI with the Zoo (which used to be neighbors at Washington Square); needless to say that bus route didn't last very long.

Further, there's very little in the Eastside Industrial District that is appropriate for a Streetcar; and the residential neighborhoods are not "adjacent" unless you call 10 blocks away (a.k.a. a half mile) adjacent. Whatever happened to the old Eastside Industrial Sanctuary Plan, that preserved the Eastside for light industrial? Guess that agreement got thrown in the trash...

Having a new manufacture in our region producing a product for national consumption is absolutely fantastic. As you noted a large portion of urban transportation systems are produced outside of our borders. Oregon Iron Works is behind schedule for several months. Ask Boeing about producing a new product...3 years late?

The problem is that there is not much of a market for Streetcars. Many of the lookers have not built a Streetcar; federal funding for new projects is questionable at best; local funding is drying up; some cities that have decided to go ahead are buying from other companies. OIW has built to date exactly ONE Streetcar in the four or five years its been in business - and that was a demo model.

I don't see the "we need jobs" folks clamoring for Daimler Trucks North America to bring its Orion Bus unit to Portland, reactivate the old Freightliner plant (whose only current business is defense tractors) and start cranking out buses. New Flyer is the predominate bus manufacturer in America. If you want a new bus from New Flyer, you have a two-and-a-half year wait. That's right. They have over two years of orders backlogged waiting for manufacturing space. OIW has plenty of space and no takers. Gillig has a wait; NABI has a wait; Orion has a wait. Portland already has factory space, trained just won't attract the work because it's...a...gulp!...BUS. The word "bus" is like a four-letter word in Portland's political circles. Meanwhile in St. Cloud, Minnesota, they're happy creating jobs.

The Streetcar has done nothing except reward developers and contractors, while directly taking funds from regional transit resources and dumping it in downtown - an area that clearly doesn't need MORE transit. Many of the Streetcar trips used to be walked to - people simply don't repark their car in downtown Portland when they need to go a couple blocks. The streetcar is not a transportation project, it's a development project that takes transportation dollars away from transportation. And here in Portland, the Streetcar fans are tripping over themselves trying to rob someone of money because - oh my God! - we're losing A streetcar. Never mind that over 200 of TriMet's buses are eligible for 90% federal replacement funding, and TriMet is actually turning down that money - for no good reason. Those old buses are unreliable and are directly related to bus ridership declines - why take the bus if you don't know it'll get you where you need to go? Those buses serve far more than just downtown Portland and greedy, out-of-state developers. They serve people who need that option from Forest Grove to Troutdale and from Sauvie Island to Oregon City and from the Airport to Sherwood. The Streetcar serves...TrendyThird, Portland State University, SoWhat...and coming soon, the largely vacant Eastside Industrial District, the Metro World Headquarters, the Oregon Convention (only ten weekends a year) Center, the (non-vibrant) Rose Quarter...oh, and underneath the Fremont Bridge.

Too bad the Germans at Daimler North America (aka Portland) don't care to play games with the local pols and get some buses built here. Or they could do the market research and see that there is a ripe market to be picked.

Go ahead Trimet, sue Oregon Iron Works. The lawyers for OWI will love it -- Jack Hoffman, Lake Oswego Mayor, will benefit no matter which way the pendulum swings. His law firm represents OWI and every new project puts money in his pocket one way or another. Doe he want a streetcar in LO? Do bears eat honey?

Or they could do the market research and see that there is a ripe market to be picked.

The fact that Orion Bus currently manufactures buses in...of all places...NEW YORK would think that Oregon would have a sure-win to attract business. Oregon actually could say that the taxes are lower, without resorting to tax credit gimmicks.

And that Oregon still can't win...(yet New York City MTA had no problem citing over and over how its recent bus purchase from an in-state company protected and/or added hundreds of new jobs...and just HOW many jobs are down at United Streetcar?)

Erik H. - New York State is not one big entity. There are lots of different demographics to the state. Much like Oregon. The Orion bus factory is in Oneida County.

Here's some relevant demographics: Males had a median income of $32,194 versus $24,295 for females.

Folks who live around there don't make a lot of money. Factories largely left the NE a long time ago and small cities and towns lost that income base long ago. So wage expectations are not that high.

The fact that Utica, NY is in Oneida county probably inflates the overall wages of the county.

Here's the demos for MultCo from the same source: Males have a median income of $36,036 versus $29,337 for females.

More on that propulsion system problem:

Google these:
500 hp AC motor control
500 hp DC motor control

Off the shelf or custom. They are out there without cutting deals with the competition.



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