Current Affairs Washington tram operations seen as calling card for Czech firm

15-01-2014 15:13 | Chris Johnstone

Czech trams, or should we say streetcars, are now running on the tracks of the US capital in what promises to be a prestigious shop window for their manufacturer and a further opening onto the booming US market.

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Photo: archive of Inekon GroupPhoto: archive of Inekon Group It has been a long haul, but Czech trams are now running on the streets of Washington DC. Passengers are unfortunately not on board quite yet, but the trams are running in tests to get drivers used to the equipment and traffic and the gridlocked capital is getting a taste of its transport future. Altogether three Czech trams should be running commercially on what will eventually be 37 miles of tram lines in the city district. The Washington deal was part of a 24 million dollar contract landed by Inekon Group, whose tram construction division is based in the eastern city of Ostrava. The contract involved three trams each being delivered each to the US cities of Portland and Seattle.

The same sort of low floor two way trams already operate in the Moravian cities of Ostrava and Olomouc.

The debut of the Czech trams in Washington has been a bit of a bumpy ride. They were initially shipped to the states in 2009 but have been in mothballs ever since due to delays constructing the new tram lines. After many false promises, it is hoped the Washington trams will be serving passengers by the spring.

But Inekon’s head of foreign sales, Milan Haloun, believes the wait should be worthwhile: ‘I would be really proud if our vehicles were operational in Washington DC. I think it would be a really great stimulus for other US cities which are intending to build new streetcar projects. At the moment they could only visit the north-west part of the US and the cities of Portland, Seattle, and Tacoma, and see our vehicles running there.’

Inekon tram in Seattle, photo: archive of Inekon GroupInekon tram in Seattle, photo: archive of Inekon Group Seattle is perhaps the biggest success story so far. It has now bought seven trams with an option for a further 19 and the almost 100 percent fault free operation so far is regarded as a key reference for further sales.

The US is going through something of a streetcar revival as cities go back to the past to free up their clogged centres. Three US cities, including Washington, are expected to open new tram circuits this year with another 12 cities expected to take the first steps towards construction of circuits.

Washington and district operated an around 250 mile tram circuit until the start of 1962, when competition from cars and buses forced its closure. More than half a century later congestion and city centre pollution have laid the tracks for the comeback.

Inekon is not resting on its laurels in the US. It is prospecting for further contracts in China and the rest of Asia as well as its well established European market.

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