Following testing in the Czech Republic, a prototype Inekon low-floor tram with off-wire capabilities has been delivered to Seattle prior to testing on the First Hall line where it will enter service later in 2015.
The bi-directional three-section tram is fitted with lithium-ion Saft batteries and claims a capability of running for 16km (ten miles) without overhead wires. When operating on the First Hill line, the tram – part of a seven-car order worth USD30m – will be powered by onboard energy storage on each inbound trip from Capitol Hill to Pioneer Square (4km/2.5 miles), with regenerative braking charging the batteries. On the outbound return journey a conventional overhead contact system will provide traction power.
Initial tests were performed at Ekova Electric’s factory in Ostrava, followed by trial running on the city’s network. During this period, the tram reportedly ran on battery power alone for distances up to 6km (four miles) and for durations as long as 37 minutes. These results indicate that the off-wire solution could also be appropriate for segments of the planned Center City Connector extension.
The onboard storage solution was developed for the First Hill Streetcar to reduce overhead wire conflicts with the Metro trolley bus system and reduce the visual impact of further overhead contact systems in the city. A second prototype is under construction before series production begins.