Streetcar vehicle at OMC

The start of Tempe Streetcar service is SO CLOSE! Soon, it'll be the ticket to transport students and people along the hottest areas of Apache Blvd, the Gammage Auditorium, Downtown Tempe and homes and businesses along Tempe Town Lake. If you've been in the area, you may have seen the streetcar on the streets already. It's lean, it's green (in more ways than one), and it seems ready to go... so why can't we get on it already?

The answer may be familiar to many Sun Devil students: testing. Lots and lots of testing. And in the case of the streetcars and the wider streetcar system, it's all about safety.

Interior of Tempe Streetcar
Skilled engineers make sure Tempe Streetcar is ready to enter service

So far, Valley Metro has received three of the six streetcar vehicles slated to serve downtown Tempe.  Each of them is getting thoroughly tested in a process that's called "burn-in. " Each of the streetcars needs to be on the road for a while to make sure they do exactly what they're expected to do. That includes basic things like starting when they should start and stopping when they should stop. 

However, it also includes functions that no other vehicle needs to worry about, like raising and lowering the streetcar's pantagraph. That's the "mast" that extends from the streetcar to the overhead lines that provide power. We want to make sure the pantagraph keeps contact with the wire at operating speeds. 

Streetcar Testing
Each streetcar needs to have "burn-in" time to make sure it's safe to operate

While that's happening, tests are also being conducted on the system. We want to make sure that when the streetcar pulls up to a station, there's adequate clearance between the edge of the station and the edge of the streetcar entrance. We don't want it to be too much, and we certainly don't want it to be too close, which could lead to damage to these brand new beauties.

There's also a test that involves simulating the weight of a fully-laden streetcar. How do they do it without stacking people into a vehicle that's still being tested? They do it with water! They’ll place stacks and stacks of bottled water on the streetcar to reach the weight of several people to make sure the streetcar's suspension and braking systems work as they should.

One of the tests involves filling a train with bottles of water to simulate the weight of passengers
It takes a LOT of water to simulate the weight of passengers!

It won't be long! You'll soon be able to board the Tempe Streetcar and take advantage of all that downtown Tempe offers, along with connections to light rail at 3rd Ave/Mill Avenue  and Dorsey/Apache Blvd. Just be patient and know that every day that goes by, the streetcar system is getting another test that will make the system better for everyone.  And if you’re driving in Tempe and are behind a streetcar, remember to treat it just like any other vehicle. For more tips, check out this blog.

Picture of Dorsey/Apache Blvd streetcar station
The streetcar stop at Dorsey Lane and Apache Blvd is right next to the light rail station
Alex Tsotsos
Alex Tsotsos
Rail Operations Communications Specialist
Writer, editor, musician, gamer, and former news professional. Frequently seen at Phoenix Rising matches and jogging around Gainey Ranch. May throw things in the presence of typos.