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October 26, 2011 at 11:42 AM

First Hill streetcars to be assembled by local workers at Pacifica Marine

Like the one pictured here, the streetcars currently operating in Seattle were built in the Czech Republic. The new cars will be assembled here. (Photo provided by Seattle Department of Transportation)

The next streetcars in Seattle will be assembled here by local workers instead of being shipped over from the Czech Republic, as happened with the three South Lake Union vehicles in 2007.

Pacifica Marine will assemble the six First Hill Streetcars, to run in 2013 between the International District/Chinatown Station and the future Capitol Hill Station on Broadway. The trains will be designed by Czech-based Inekon, the same company that built the entire SLU fleet.

Mayor Mike McGinn and City Council President Richard Conlin made the announcement today.

The $130 million First Hill line is funded by Sound Transit, through a 2008 regional ballot measure that voters approved.

Pacifica has assembled Spanish-designed Talgo trains for the Amtrak Cascades line from Vancouver, B.C. to Eugene, Ore.  The Talgos are distinctive because they tilt based on track curvatures, providing greater comfort on fast turns than standard Amtrak vehicles.

The new streetcar deal should provide about 20 local jobs. Typical modern streetcars are worth $3 million to $4 million each.

Sound Transit has a similar arrangement for Link light-rail vehicles, to meet federal “Buy America” rules. They are designed and partly built in Japan, with final assembly in Everett using local workers and some North American components.

Streetcar jobs have been a high-profile issue in many cities. A new manufacturer, United Streetcar, was created by Oregon Iron Works in Portland and says it is building 13 railcars currently. The effort to create a homegrown railcar industry has been lauded by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The “love affair” in Portland is a good political boost for locally-sponsored streetcar projects, and a model for what can happen here, said Bruce Agnew, policy director of the pro-rail Cascadia Center at the Discovery Institute in Seattle. Several U.S. cities are building lines, asking for federal aid and creating a potentially broader domestic market for a U.S. builder.

Seattle hopes to someday connect the First Hill and South Lake Union lines with a yet-unfunded downtown line, so the trains and tracks must be compatible. A proposed $60 car-tab fee increase, on the November ballot, includes $18 million for streetcars — but that will go mainly to planning and engineering, and doesn’t even begin to fund a downtown connector.

Opponents of Proposition 1, and streetcar expansions in general, point to the regressive nature of the $60 fee, and the terrible state of Seattle’s streets, along with gaps in the sidewalk system.

Comments | More in Business/Technology, Government, Traffic & Transit | Topics: Mike McGinn, Pacifica Marine, streetcar

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