‘Modern, chic, new’: Testing of Charlotte’s new Gold Line streetcars underway

CHARLOTTE — Streetcars debuted in Charlotte in 1887 and are making a return in 2021.

The Charlotte Area Transit System officially launched one of six new streetcars for testing Wednesday evening.

“Once you start getting into multiple rail lines and multiple corridors you actually start feeling like a big kid now,” CATS CEO John Lewis said.

CATS will test the streetcars overnight for the next few weeks to make sure everything works, and that the line is safe. Eventually, the testing will shift to the daytime, so more drivers can get used to the streetcars.

“We expect to move thousands of people a day on this, so we have to make sure that the line was built to our expectations, and we have to certify that it is safe for the traveling public,” Lewis said.

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The four-mile route will run from Plaza Midwood to Johnson C. Smith University. The project cost was $150 million, split evenly between the city of Charlotte and the federal government.

“We are now not only looking like the 15th-largest city, we are acting like the 15th-largest city in the country,” Councilman Malcolm Graham said.

The city purchased six new Siemens S70 streetcar vehicles for $40 million. They will operate “off-wire” from the transit center to North Pine Street in uptown. They have 56 seats and can hold 199 standing passengers.

Graham predicts the project will be a catalyst for west Charlotte.

“It’s modern, it’s chic and it’s new,” Graham said. “That’s what we are trying to do along the Beatties Ford corridor. We want to respect the history and tradition, but at the same time we want to put some furniture polish on it and buff it up a little bit, and certainly the streetcar does that for us.”

If all goes to plan, Lewis estimates passenger service will start in late April or early May. It will cost $2.20 to ride. The Gold Line will operate on similar hours to the Lynx Blue Line.

“There is always the potential for something to not work as we expected,” Lewis said. “That is what testing is for. We will go back, fix it and then retest again.”

According to CATS, intermittent road closures may be necessary to accommodate pedestrian lighting installation, traffic signal installation, installation of the streetcar shelters’ art glass, completion of the roadway, curb and gutter work.

“I think it is really a big deal,” Graham said. “It connects the city in ways that it hadn’t before.”

Phase 1 of the streetcar service opened in 2015, connecting Elizabeth to uptown. The city has a goal of extending streetcar service to the Rosa Parks Transit Center and Eastland Mall, creating a 10-mile route.