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Don’t get your wires crossed!


A web of wires over Broadway and E Pine Street.

A web of wires over Broadway and E Pine Street.


Construction of the First Hill Streetcar (FHS) is moving ever closer to completion and will begin service later this year.Like virtually every other streetcar system in the world, ours will be electrically powered.  However, it will be the first in the US (and only the second system in the world) to incorporate an advanced hybrid battery system that means considerably less overhead wiring and the associated benefit of significant cost savings!

Trolley buses operate with two overhead wires, one positive and one negative, while our streetcar will use its own tracks for its grounding. Heading from Pioneer Square to Broadway, the FHS will operate on its outbound route on electrical power provided by a single overhead wire which receives electricity provided by four traction power substations strategically located along the 2.5 mile route.  On the return trip, the FHS hybrid batteries will provide the power generated through its regenerative braking along the inbound route, much of it downhill.

Even with the system only requiring the single overhead wire on the outgoing route, integrating it into the existing overhead trolley bus wiring system is a very complicated and time consuming endeavor.  Both Broadway and Jackson serve a number of existing trolley bus routes, many of which make turns on and off of those arterials that require an intricate mesh of wiring (as evidenced in the photo at Pine Street).  The power systems for the trolleys and streetcar are entirely separate from one another, yet both have wiring strung at about the same height.

A different kind of high wire act!

A different kind of high wire act.


Because streetcar wiring must be installed when the trolley wires are de-energized, the work can only be done on weekends when Metro has enough available diesel buses to substitute for the trolleys.  The result has been that a number of intersections on both Broadway and Jackson have been closed on weekends this winter. The work on Broadway is nearly finished. The work on Jackson is about half complete, so will require additional weekend closures before the work is finished by April.

Stay tuned for more updates on the First Hill Streetcar.