Tacoma Link light rail vehicles are coming

The vehicles that people will be riding in a little over a year from now as part of the Link light rail system are on their way to Tacoma from Europe, Sound Transit reported.

Leaving the Skoda manufacturing facility in the Czech Republic, the three vehicles were trucked via the Autobahn to the port at Antwerp, Belgium, where they were loaded on a ship owned by Star Shipping, AS of Bergen, Norway.

The ship set sail Friday morning local time and will travel south to the Panama Canal, making ports of call at Long Beach, Calif. and Vancouver, Wash., before arriving at the Port of Tacoma in early September.

The 1.6-mile Tacoma Link light rail system currently under construction will provide free transportation between downtown and the Tacoma Dome.

Total cost of the three vehicles is $9 million.

Each carrier is 66 feet in length, weighs in excess of 50,000 pounds and has 30 seats with a standing capacity of an additional 85.

Sound Transit officials are excited about this milestone in the Link light rail system.

“It’s huge,” said Lee Somerstein, Sound Transit media relations, upon learning the vehicles had left Europe and were on their way to Tacoma.

“That was a big thrill,” he said. “They’re actually on their way.”

There is still a lot that must be done even after the vehicles are in Tacoma before they can be considered worthy.

“There will be a lengthy testing period,” Somerstein noted. “It will be virtually a year before they’re put into service.”

When the vehicles arrive at the Port of Tacoma, they will be loaded onto flatbed trucks and transported to Sound Transit’s maintenance shed near Freighthouse Square, Somerstein explained.

Four technicians are traveling with the vehicles, he said, and they and Sound Transit personnel will go over a “punch list” to make sure the vehicles are in proper working order.

Part of the testing will include running the vehicles along two-tenths of a mile of track outside the maintenance shed.

After a few months of testing, and assuming everything works as it should, Sound Transit will take ownership of the vehicles.

Once construction on the Link light rail is completed, system testing on the vehicles will be done, mostly at night, Somerstein said.

“I hope we don’t blow a fuse and black out Tacoma,” he joked.

The new rail cars will travel the speed limit, Somerstein explained, and have priority lighting at intersections.

Safety is also a concern of Sound Transit, because the cars are “amazingly quiet.”

As the Link light rail system gets closer to actually becoming operational, Sound Transit will begin a public education program focusing on pedestrian safety, Somerstein said.

“Citizens and pedestrians should be alert,” he stated.

Tacoma Link light rail service is set to begin in September 2003.

The three Tacoma Link light rail vehicles leaving the Skoda manufacturing facility in the Czech Republic.