How will the streetcar handle Milwaukee weather?

Posted at 9:13 PM, May 16, 2018

It's the Milwaukee Streetcar (a.k.a. The Hop) versus Wisconsin Weather. TODAY'S TMJ4 gained access to one of the streetcars to see how it will handle whatever Mother Nature throws at it.

Alisha Adaway, support manager for the Brookville Equipment Corporation, helped build the Streetcars in Pennsylvania, and Darryll Simpson, general manager of TRANSDEV got streetcars up and running in three other U.S. cities before coming to Milwaukee.

The Streetcar runs on electricity. On the top of each car is a pantograph- it kind of looks like an arm. As the car is traveling around the tracks the pantograph is connected to a string of overhead cables carrying 750 V DC.

Simpson said if the power goes out, "We have 30 Lithium-ion batteries that the vehicle can run on as part of the energy supply system. The car can run on battery for six miles."

The batteries also keep the streetcar moving on the stretch of the route that doesn't have overhead cables.

If the cables come down should we worry about being electrocuted?

"There really is not threat to electrocution, but it is obviously a dangerous situation. If power lines were to come down they should trip the circuit breaker back at the substation, then the power is deenergized. If not, the fire department has direct access to all substations which they can shut down immediately," Adaway said.

The car travels about 25 miles per hour. Under normal braking, it can stop in about 75 feet. Adaway said in an emergency the car's operator can stop on a dime.

"The track brakes will drop to assist in the stopping of the vehicle in addition to normal braking," Adaway said. 

The cars each weigh 83,000 pounds, almost four times the weight of a city bus. In severe weather situations, operators will take safety precautions.

If a tornado warning is issued, "Dispatch will alert all operators and take procedures to get cars back to the barn and shut down service," Adaway said.

People waiting at stops would be asked to take shelter at the nearest safe location, just like any pedestrian would do.

The streetcar runs on metal tracks with wires overhead. What happens if lightning strikes?

"The threat is not huge," Adaway said. "But it does happen. We have a lightning arrestor next to the pantograph that takes the power surge and takes it right to the ground, off the tracks."

Wisconsin weather can bring slippery road conditions with rain, ice, and snow. Adaway said we don't have to worry about the car coming off its tracks. 

"That's the great thing about our car, " she said. "The software we have on it, it assists breaking and accelerating the vehicle and assists the operator."

There are also sensors that can detect if the wheels are slipping. 

"We also have sand that drops. For example, if we have now or rain on the tracks this will assist the wheels to slow down," said Adaway.

When it comes to snow, she said she looks to Detroit's streetcar system.

"(We) never took the car out of service. Snow is not a big deal at all," Adaway said.

Simpson said the biggest trouble he's seen in other cities is drivers who double park along the Streetcar route- the cars can't go around them.

Later this year, the Milwaukee Public Works Department will unveil a campaign that details more information about the Streetcar and what will happen in severe weather, and also what will happen to drivers who double park on the route.

The Hop is scheduled to begin carrying passengers this November. For more information click, HERE.