by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark assistant editor
With the opening of the Kansas City Streetcar just months away, a number of public transit enthusiasts watched the first of four modern vehicles move through the downtown Thursday morning.
The new streetcar system will be served by four streetcars powered with electricity from overhead wires.
The entirely new two-mile steel-tracked fixed line runs in existing street lanes between the River Market area to the north and Union Station to the south.
The streetcar system circulates primarily along Main Street and makes 16 stops along the downtown route. The City Market, Power and Light District, Kauffman Center, and the Crossroads are among the popular destination stops.
The sleek bi-directional streetcar, built by CAF Railway Solutions in Elmira, N.Y., is 77 feet long and weighs 78,000 lbs.
Each streetcar can transport a maximum of 150 commuters.
Since each access point offers either a flat or ramp level boarding, the public transit system accommodates rail users with bicycles, wheelchairs, and strollers.
Unlike other large cities that offer public transit systems at a nominal fare, Kansas City Streetcar is entirely free to the public.
Many observers say this should help to make the streetcar a successful and popular endeavor in Kansas City.
On Thursday, as the first of four streetcars circulated Main Street, the KC Streetcar team checked the clearance and power of the streetcar as it made its way through the city.
“The run went very well and we were able to bring the streetcar up to road speeds of 25 mph,” said Donna Mandelbaum, communications manager at KC Streetcar Authority.
Testing the streetcar at various speeds around curves and as it approaches access points continued on Friday.
If testing continues to go as planned, Kansas City Streetcar will be open to the public in the spring 2016.
When KC Streetcar is fully operational, it will be the first time in more than half a century that a streetcar system served downtown Kansas City.
Although the modern streetcar is powered with electricity much like the streetcars that circulated the city more than 50 years ago, Mandelbaum said the modern streetcars look and travel much differently than its predecessor.
“Our streetcar runs on tracks in the road but is powered with electricity from the overhead wires,” said Mandelbaum. “Those wires carry 750 volts of direct current that travel through the pantograph of the streetcar and down into the tracks…making a complete circuit of power. The power is fed from 4 power substations located along the 2-mile route.”
Heritage streetcars of the past were known as the 725-799 streetcar series. The modern streetcars are referred to as the 801-804 series.
Mandelbaum said the city’s streetcar differs from light rail in that the speed of travel is slower because it is in a dense, urban environment and designed to make frequent stops.
Streetcar commuters will experience a quiet, climate-controlled environment that is Wi-Fi enabled.
Streetcars will arrive at an entry site about every 10-minutes during busy travel times during the weekday. During non-peak times, the streetcars will run every 12-18 minutes.
Monday through Thursday, Kansas City Streetcar will run from 6 a.m. to midnight. On Friday and Saturday, the vehicles will run from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. On Sundays, it will travel from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
There are 12,486 public parking spaces located off the streets in close proximity to the two-mile track. This allows even those who have a vehicle easy access to the city's core hot spots.
Signage marks all 16 access points.