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Notes from streetcar propulsion meeting

If you follow BeyondDC on Twitter you know that I attended last night’s seminar on streetcar propulsion technologies. I had intended to live-tweet the entire meeting, but my phone died a few minutes in, scuttling those plans.

Greater Greater Washington has a good write-up of the meeting, which I won’t attempt to replicate, but here are my notes, including the handful of tweets I got out early in the meeting:

  • Tweet: At streetcar power seminar: historian says cable car companies in cahoots w/ legislators who enacted wire ban.
  • Tweet: Even portland wire is over engineered & can be less obtrusive.
  • Tweet: Bordeaux wireless system so ineffective they’e had to supplement w/ battery.
  • Tweet: DC streetcars have existing batteries for up to 100 feet.
  • Philadelphia’s SEPTA has streetcar components still in use that are over 100 years old. Streetcars are a capital investment that lasts.
  • FTA requires “risk assessment process” that makes it harder to get federal money for unproven technologies.
  • Summary of available wireless technologies: Batteries and battery-like capacitors are the only viable alternative right now that isn’t cost prohibitive. Slightly more expensive, but not much. However, they are only good for short distances.
  • Other technologies are in development and may be good in another few years, but so far are prohibitively unreliable and expensive.
  • Longest distance viable using existing wireless battery/capacitor propulsion is about 1 mile.
  • Going with battery/capacitor generally means no (or very limited) air conditioning. Big problem for DC.
  • Bordeaux’s wireless system is 7x as expensive to operate as overhead wire.
  • DC business groups propose a grass track where streetcars meet important L’Enfant city squares & circles.
  • Savannah, GA has 1-mile-long wireless heritage trolley, using battery/capacitor.
  • Major advantage of overhead wire: Best system for handling ice in winter. Easy to clear wires of ice.
  • Gabe Klein says city hoping for $500-$800 million in federal funds to help complete city-wide $1.5 billion plan.
  • The conclusion of the panel was that the only viable option using existing technology is a hybrid combining wires for most of route lengths, with short stretches using a battery/capacitor backup where wireless is most desirable. Only system that’s proven & affordable, other than 100% wires.

While the seminar panel did not specifically endorse any plan for powering Washington’s streetcars, their commentary adds weight to the hybrid solution proposed by GGW. It’s common sense. Let’s get it done.

May 7th, 2010 | Permalink
Tags: events, streetcar, transportation, urbandesign



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