They're here: Tacoma Link light rail vehicles arrive

They’re finally here – the three streetcars that will carry passengers between the 1.6-miles between the Tacoma Dome Station and downtown as part of the Tacoma Link light rail system.
The cars arrived aboard the Star Indiana at the Port of Tacoma over the Labor Day weekend and were off-loaded from the ship yesterday morning.
Excited Sound Transit and Port of Tacoma officials braved the chilly early morning weather and turned out at Terminal 7 to witness this milestone in the Tacoma Link project.
The trains departed from Antwerp, Belgium on July 24.
After a southward Atlantic Ocean leg, the Star Indiana passed through the Panama Canal and headed north, making seven ports-of-call along the American west coast before docking at the Port of Tacoma over the Labor Day weekend.
For the first time in decades, there will be light rail in the Puget Sound, said Dave Earling, a vice chair of the Sound Transit Board.
“Pierce County is, by the way, the first region that will have all forms up and running,” he said, a reference to Sound Transit’s other regional forms of transportation, including express buses and commuter trains. “It’s a great day for us to celebrate.”
“The delivery of these Tacoma Link trains has tremendous economic significance for our city,” said Tacoma City Councilman and Sound Transit board member Kevin Phelps in a press release. “As we develop additional connections to the transportation network, we strengthen Tacoma’s role as a regional employment, cultural and education center.”
Prior to the actual off-loading of the cars, Port Commission member Ted Bottiger, continuing a maritime tradition, presented Tomas D. Liddaua – the captain of the Star Indiana – with a plaque and baseball cap commemorating the ship’s first visit to the Port of Tacoma.
“I’m very happy to be here,” Liddaua said.
In a mechanical ballet of sorts, the three cars – each one 66 feet long, 8.1 feet wide and weighing nearly 62,000 pounds – were individually lifted by the ship’s crane and lowered onto oversized flatbed trucks to be taken to the Sound Transit Maintenance and Operations Base near the Tacoma Dome Station.
What’s next for the cars now that they’ve arrived in Tacoma?
The cars will undergo tests to make sure they weren’t damaged during shipping, according to Winston Simmonds, Sound Transit systems engineer.
Some modifications will be made to the vehicles, technicians will get a chance to become familiar with the cars and operation rules will be developed, Simmonds added.
Part of the testing includes running the cars along two-tenths of a mile of track outside the maintenance facility, beginning in November, he said.
Total cost of the vehicles is $9 million, including spare parts, taxes and shipping.
The three cars were built by Skoda Dopravni Technica based in the Czech Republic, the same manufacturer that provided the cars for Portland, Oregon’s successful streetcar system.
Each of the quiet running cars can carry 56 passengers (30 seated and 26 standing).
With driving cabs at both ends, the cars can change travel directions without turning around.
Other amenities include cloth seats, air conditioning, a “bridgeplate” that will slide out to assist passengers with wheelchairs or strollers during boarding and space for bringing bicycles on board.
Plans call for the trains, which will travel at posted speed limits with traffic signal priority, to complete the trip from one end of the line to the other in only 7 to 8 minutes.
Trains are set to run every 10 minutes Monday through Friday, from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday, every 10 to 20 minutes for 10 hours a day.
The arrival of the three cars is another tangible step in the development of the Link light rail system.
In 1996, voters approved funding for Sound Transit to provide a regional system of transit improvements, including Sounder commuter rail, ST Express regional bus service, numerous capital improvements – park-and-ride lots, transit centers and direct access ramps – and Link light rail.
The total project cost of the light rail line is $80.4 million.
Construction of the rail line continues in downtown Tacoma, and is scheduled to be completed in spring.
Tacoma Link light rail service is scheduled to begin in September 2003.