Rockies Region Transit Adventures

Tucson’s Sun Link Streetcar Under Test

The purpose of my trip to Tucson is to visit friends, and not really sightsee or do anything transit related. On Tuesday afternoon though I had a couple hours to myself and went down to the University to go to some of the museums there. Afterwords I noticed just how much progress Sun Link, the new streetcar had progressed in construction. Most of the stops were finished in terms of permanent finishings, just missing ones of a more temporary nature like information panels and other signage. The stops had nothing blocking people from walking into them. I start walking down the streetcar line from the University to get photos of the various stations and curve and end up on Forth Avenue, heading towards downtown. I’ve been here once before when the Old Pueblo Trolley was still operating and got to ride it on its second hand Japanese Streetcar. The old pueblo trolly I remember had just one track in the middle of Forth Avenue but the new streetcar has two tracks one in each travel lane with a communal shared left turn lane in between. The stations are all similar, but not identical and have quite a lot of signage. Artwork is also prevalent, I guess I’m doing a station to station the next time I’m here since, unlike the Portland and Seattle Streetcars their more than just bus shelters. I also find a neat plaque about the history of the University Streetcar line (from 1985) that mentions nothing about Streetcars being back.

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I get towards downtown and the Amtrak Station. Off in the distance I hear something that doesn’t sound like a car. It’s a Sun Link  streetcar under test! It arrives from downtown and goes up a siding towards the maintenance facility and storage yard, reverses before heading back downtown and under the Amtrak station. The Streetcars are United Streetcars 200 Models built in Suburban Oregon (and nearly the same as the original Made in the USA United Streetcars used by the Portland Streetcar Lines). The main difference between the 100 and 200 designs are fittingly better and more powerful Air Conditioning for the extremely hot Tucson Summers. The streetcars are double-ended and the livery is decent, the cars based on the same Czech design used by the first modern streetcars to enter service in the United States back in 2001. I get photos of the cars passing and then going under the tunnel beneath the train tracks right near the Amtrak Station.

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I then head up and get some photos of the Amtrak station from across the tracks and then notice the Sun Link Maintenance & Operations Hub (there planning to have a fleet of 8 streetcars, 6 needed for the proposed peak operations),  this is also where streetcars will be stored and includes cleaning bays (A nice article on the maintenance facility):

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I then turn around and see the cars of the non-profit Old Pueblo Trolley, a line that operated Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays from here to the edge of the University from 1993 until October 2011 when service was suspended for the reconstruction of the tracks into the modern streetcar system. The mostly outdoor car barn with a clearly covered workspace seems to even have had its track connections severed with the modern system. Ideally the historic streetcars can be operated during busy times like weekends and special events in conjunction with the modern streetcars:

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I don’t find the streetcar again as I finishing walking downtown and to the Ronstadt Transit Center, the main downtown pulse point for Sun Tran, the local bus system. I’m taking the bus to northern Tucson to reconnect with my friends. The bus I need is there so I don’t get any pictures of the large bus palse point. I get on, pay my fare at a normal, modern GFI farebox and expect a transfer to come popping up out of it. The driver then asks “You need a transfer?” I say yes and passes a RFID smart chip transfer that calls itself a SunGO over the target on the fare box and I board. I don’t end up using the transfer, getting picked up at the Tohono Tadai Transit Center north of the city.