A streetcar named try again: The MAPS 3 streetcar project moves ahead 

click to enlarge MAPS 3 Modern Streetcar/Transit subcommittee Jeff Bezdek, discusses possibe route changes, during a special meeting, 11-5-15 in Oklahoma City. - MARK HANCOCK
  • Mark Hancock
  • MAPS 3 Modern Streetcar/Transit subcommittee Jeff Bezdek, discusses possibe route changes, during a special meeting, 11-5-15 in Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City leaders and city staff undertook an extensive and complex process intended to bring a modern rail system downtown and to neighboring districts.

Contract negotiations took nine months, which is a reasonable timeframe. A quick Internet news search for the word “streetcar” shows about a half-dozen U.S. cities are experiencing hurdles, setbacks and delays as streetcar projects drag months behind schedule.

Inekon Group is the streetcar producer of choice for a number of U.S. cities, including Seattle, Portland and Washington, D.C.

In late September, Oklahoma City joined the list of American cities working with the Czech Republic’s Inekon for the MAPS 3 Modern Streetcar/Transit project. Damages clauses and insurance requirements were written into the $23 million contract. After approval from the Oklahoma City Council and two MAPS 3 boards, Mayor Mick Cornett signed the 69-page document.

A month later, however, the agreement is null and void, according to city attorney Amanda Carpenter. Inekon failed to produce the performance and warranty bond requirements and requested an extension only days before its Oct. 30 deadline. Three days later, the company sent another letter to city officials that requested an additional 45 days to obtain the necessary credit documents.

Moving along

Now, city leaders are shifting gears toward their second choice, Brookville Equipment. In 2012, the Pennsylvania-based company introduced its first modern streetcar design and produced vehicles for Dallas, whose officials ordered two more after a successful four-month run. Additionally, Brookville is working to fulfill a six-vehicle order from transit officials in Detroit, who also had negotiated unsuccessfully with Inekon.

Oklahoma City consultants from Jacobs Engineering Group expressed confidence in striking a deal with the U.S.-based manufacturer, as Brookville already is familiar with the project. The recommendation came at a Nov. 5 special meeting called after the Inekon contract was broken.

“(Brookville) came second in the evaluations,” explained Jacobs’ Rob Edgcumbe, who addressed the MAPS 3 Transit/Modern Streetcar Subcommittee by phone to discuss the next step. “At no point did we see them as an inappropriate supplier … it was just that they didn’t win the first time around. Their ability to deliver the product is something we feel they can do. We have some areas we are going to work [on] with them, just as we did with other bidders and Inekon. It just worked out this way, and I think we can make it work.”

The subcommittee unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the city to negotiate a contract with Brookville. About 30 minutes later, the MAPS 3 Citizens Advisory Board approved the same resolution, moving the document to the council for its approval at the Nov. 10 meeting.

A representative for Brookville told Oklahoma Gazette the company was not “in a position to comment on this matter at the present time.”

New route

If talks begin with Brookville, questions will center on vehicle design as well as how it fits into Oklahoma City’s rail infrastructure, already at 60 percent completion in the planning phase. The Brookville streetcar reportedly is heavier than Inekon’s product, which prompted questions about platform alterations and future maintenance issues.

A key component of Brookville’s design is its battery system, which is “similar” to Inekon’s. The vehicles will require battery power to run through some portions of the 4.6-mile line.

Additionally, Brookville streetcars come with a higher price tag. In the company’s bid, vehicles were priced around $4.7 million each, compared with Inekon’s bid of around $4.4 million each. The difference of about $1.5 million for five planned cars doesn’t bother the streetcar subcommittee, as it holds a $3 million surplus from phase 1 of the project.

City leaders believe working with Brookville will be a smoother ride. Company officials sent numerous letters to city leaders explaining its interest in the project, even after Inekon edged it out in the proposal stage. Brookville is new to manufacturing modern streetcars, but its resume includes building locomotives, mining cars and heritage streetcars and trolleys.

Many subcommittee members viewed the company’s strategy as too “aggressive,” but now they hope to see that eagerness transition into the timely manufacture of five modern streetcars.

“One can only hope that they are as aggressive in their delivery and production as they are in their lobbying,” said subcommittee member Mark Gibbs.

click to enlarge MAPS 3 Modern Streetcar/Transit subcommittee member, Mark Gibbs listens to details during a special meeting, 11-5-15 in Oklahoma City. - MARK HANCOCK
  • Mark Hancock
  • MAPS 3 Modern Streetcar/Transit subcommittee member, Mark Gibbs listens to details during a special meeting, 11-5-15 in Oklahoma City.

Re-route

As contract talks continue, the subcommittee also plans to revisit route plans to determine the feasibility of connecting streetcar lines to other MAPS 3 projects like the new downtown convention center and neighboring public park. Current plans show the streetcar will haul passengers through the central business district, with links to Midtown, Automobile Alley and Bricktown. The closest stop is six blocks away from the proposed convention center, according to Jeff Bezdek, subcommittee member.

“We have some serious work to do to make our system respond to this major public investment down there,” Bezdek said. “We don’t need to redraw the whole route, but certainly the southern portion needs to be revisited.”

Re-examining the route reflects subcommittee members’ diligence for ensuring the signature project of the MAPS 3 program meets its goal of improving transportation in Oklahoma City, he said. Alterations could further delay the service start date, but group members also don’t want to exclude key locations from the route.

“The subcommittee is dedicated to making this the best streetcar system the city has ever seen,” Bezdek contended, “since the first one was built over 60 years ago.”

Print Headline: A streetcar named try again, The MAPS 3 streetcar project moves ahead after a Czech manufacturer fails to meet contract terms.

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