2016 brought its share of both first and lasts to the streetcar project. In this conversation with Chief Operating Officer Paul Childs, here’s a look ahead to the next milestones to watch for as the QLINE progresses toward operations in spring 2017.
What’s the most significant part of progress over the past six months?
Childs: Some might say it was the delivery of the first car in September, probably because it was an exciting milestone, and it was so visible to a lot of our neighbors along the line. And the cars are beautiful – we have received a lot of comments about how sleek, modern, and impressive they are.
But other milestones were equally important – even if not as visible to everyone. We completed the final track installation and opened Woodward to traffic on November 23. And we also unveiled the station design – the first time people have been able to get a sense of how they will look, and the functionality available in each of them. You can also see that we are phasing in the permanent street lighting and should have that complete by mid-February.
And the first elements of testing have begun, correct?
Childs: Yes. Again, that was a visible sign of progress to everyone. But there has been a great deal of planning, even to get to that point. We have had to develop written procedures and processes for every phase of operations and testing and there is incredible detail in that work, which has to be approved by the appropriate oversight agencies. We’re working with our operations and maintenance company, Transdev to complete that work, as well as with our other partners, SWI, HNTB and Brookville. All parties are responsible for various elements of the tessting. And the vehicles are just beginning the testing phases, with a lot more to come before we go into operation. Couple that with the hiring of the QLINE operating and maintenance staff, and you can see we are moving towards start-up in the spring.
Since much of the testing and validation procedures are visible to the public, can you talk a bit about how that works?
Childs: There are more than 1100 federally-mandated tests which have to be completed. Just a couple of examples of the extent of the testing: Wayside Tests are the measurement of spacing between the streetcar and the stations, signs, and more along the whole corridor. Testing on the cars themselves will include validation of every communication process, procedure, and all of the equipment. The whole process is similar to ISO 9000 standardized work, in that we must document what we plan to do, and then execute to the plan – and do it exactly as we said we were going to do it. Our testing is over 75 percent complete and we continue to work to complete the balance. Just a side note, we are actually requiring some additional testing, to reinforce our focus on safety.
We encourage everyone to view our first testing video – it gives insight into how to be safe and coexist with the streetcar.
And training of operators and others has begun?
Childs: Yes. The streetcar drivers and maintenance technicians are of course new jobs to Detroit. The operators will go through extensive training on the route under various conditions and also on the vehicle itself. Our technicians are familiarizing themselves and undergoing hours of training with the entire system and the vehicles. These jobs are unique, mainly because of the technology inside the vehicle and the electrical and overhead power systems and substations which will run it. We have also held high-level training sessions in October for local police and fire departments’ first responders, with more training to come for them. And there will be information and education for the public, for businesses along the route and for everyone to understand new ordinances about parking, access, and sharing the road. This will include things like track access permits, snow removal, and how contractors will perform work in the streetcar right-of-way – for things like overhead power, work adjacent to stations, and so on. It’s a ton of work, and may mean that people will need to understand that even existing ordinances – which may not have been heavily enforced – must be enforced to assure safety for all people sharing the corridor, and for the QLINE to run on time.