The test started in the dark, early hours of Friday morning and drew some curious and enthusiastic onlookers during the eight-hour dry run.
Check off another milestone for Kansas City Streetcar No. 801. Its maiden cruise was nearly flawless.
The vehicle was not using its own power along the 2-mile downtown route. Instead, it was pulled by a giant Midwest Towing truck to scrutinize clearances with station stops, overhead wires, curbs, curves and other markers.
“It went as good and better than we could have hoped,” said Tom Gerend, executive director of the Kansas City Streetcar Authority. “We ran into no critical obstructions.”
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Streetcar No. 801 is the first of four vehicles that will be used for Kansas City’s $100 million downtown starter route from River Market to Union Station. It arrived in Kansas City on Monday after a journey from the manufacturing facility in Elmira, N.Y.
In contrast to Monday’s hoopla, the test Friday began at 3:30 a.m. in River Market so the vehicle wouldn’t conflict too much with morning traffic.
Meghan Jansen, spokeswoman for the contractors who installed the track, said a small crowd of spectators turned out even at that early hour, including two parents and two children who walked for a few blocks along with the slow-moving tow truck. She said the parents were excited about the momentous event, although the kids were a bit more skeptical.
As the sun rose and the tow truck traveled south on Main Street, more and more people came out of their businesses to witness the first time a streetcar has been seen downtown since the late 1950s.
“People were enthusiastic,” Gerend said. “They thought it was more impressive than they had expected.”
It’s especially exciting, he said, to see the streetcar in downtown’s rejuvenated environment, with Union Station, the Power & Light District and other parts of the business district serving as backdrops.
Most people loved the streetcar’s sleek design and aesthetics and hadn’t realized it would look so modern, Gerend said.
David Johnson, a downtown resident and longtime streetcar advocate who watched part of Friday’s test, agreed that viewers were struck by the vehicle’s appearance.
“People really thought in their head we were getting something old-timey and vintage,” he said. “And it’s bigger than they thought.”
The vehicle is larger in width and length than streetcars in Portland, Ore., and some other cities.
“Cincinnati and Kansas City now have the largest streetcars in the U.S. based on dimensions and capacity,” Johnson said.
It has 34 seats and can carry up to 150 passengers, mostly standing. Some skeptics have wondered whether people would be willing to stand, but Johnson noted that riders will often just hop on and ride for a short distance, especially because it will be free.
By 7:30 a.m., the streetcar was at the southern terminus on Main Street near Union Station. It was then tested on the northbound tracks, finishing back in River Market about 11:30 a.m.
A few delivery trucks had to be directed to move off the tracks as the test got underway, Jansen said, but there were no traffic jams or disruptions. A police escort helped guide motorists around the tow truck and kept traffic at a safe distance.
A few traffic lights at the route’s north end appeared a bit too close to the streetcar’s top. One of those traffic light poles at Seventh and Main streets will be replaced very soon, and the other signal head can just be moved, said Sherri McIntyre, Kansas City public works director, who also watched the entire test.
Clearances with various signs, tree limbs and other potential obstacles were fine, and the pantograph — the apparatus that connects the vehicle to the overhead electric catenary — had good contact with those electrical wires, Jansen said.
The test also provided a chance to check how the doors and level boarding functioned at the station stops.
So far, all the vehicle’s mechanical system checks have gone well, McIntyre said.
“It’s met and exceeded the expectations of our operator,” she said. “It’s a very well built vehicle.”
Gerend was most pleased that the initial rail clearance test was a success because that means the vehicle can move to the next phase — traveling the route on its own electric power.
That test could be done as early as next week, he said. More information will be available later at www.kcstreetcar.org.
Delivery of the next vehicle from New York is expected in December, and the other two vehicles early next year. Each must undergo extensive safety testing.
City officials hope the system can be ready to carry passengers by next spring.