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Streetcar wires going up

Credit Bill Rinehart / WVXU
750 volt DC line for the Cincinati Streetcar, in Over-the-Rhine

Crews this week are putting up the overhead wires in Over-the-Rhine that will power the Cincinnati streetcar.  Crews worked Wednesday along Elm Street, between 14th and Henry. 

Project Executive John Deatrick says they're putting the line up at night, but are still concerned with other construction projects along the line.  “We’ve been working with people already though on that, about how they position Dumpsters, how they position lifts as they work on facades.  For example, Urban Sites is going to rehab the building down at 12th and Race, by the church, and we’ve been meeting with them about how they position their lifts so they can get that work done,” he says.

Deatrick says the line will carry 750 volts of direct current.  He says any work within 10 feet of the wire will require a special permit from the city, special training, and a track access permit from Metro, which will operate the streetcar. 

“If anyone needs to set up ladders or any kind of equipment like that, in the street, on the sidewalk, that will put them within ten feet of the wire, they’re going to have to get a track access permit.”  Deatrick says it will be a quick process, but an important one.

In case of an emergency, like a fire, along the streetcar route, Cincinnati Fire Department doesn't need a permit.  Deatrick says they will be able to turn off the power to the line when they arrive on the scene. 

So, if there’s a structure fire along the route, Deatrick says the streetcar will stop.  “It’s possible to sectionalize sections of the line,” he says.  “Let’s say the Over-the-Rhine loop had to be shut down for some reason, you can still run the Central Business District loop.  But, the immediate effect would be that the streetcar would shut down completely.  Then they could back off and see if they could run part of the route.”

There will eventually be 300 poles holding the power line about 20 feet off the ground, along the entire 3.6 mile streetcar loop, from the Banks to near Findlay Market. 

Right now, pulleys are hanging from the poles that are up.  But they’re just temporary.  “Those pulleys will go away.  There will be a permanent little bracket that gets attached to those arms,” Deatrick says.  The pulleys are just to aid in keeping the wire taut.  “It’s a continuous pull that they did from down here at 12th Street to Henry.”  The wire will need constant tension so it maintains contact with the pantograph of the streetcar.

The pantograph is, as Deatrick describes it, “a trapeze-looking thing on top”.  It picks up the electricity from the single overhead wire to run the streetcar.  Cincinnati’s original streetcar system, which stopped running in 1951, used two overhead wires. 

The Over-the-Rhine loop should be finished by this summer, with vehicle testing to follow soon after.  Construction of the Central Business District portion of the track is scheduled to be completed by spring of next year.  Passenger service is expected to start in September 2016.

Rinehart has been a radio reporter since 1994 with positions in markets like Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; Sioux City, Iowa; Dayton, Ohio; and most recently as senior correspondent and anchor for Cincinnati’s WLW-AM.