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A streetcar connects to the Overhead Catenary System (OCS) via pantograph.

The planned extension of the streetcar system's NS Line to Montgomery Park in Northwest Portland will look a little different from past projects. Why? There won't be any overhead wires!

The overhead catenary system (OCS) has been used on every inch of the Portland Streetcar system to date, connecting each streetcar vehicle by pantograph (that metal piece sticking up from the top of the streetcar) to provide power. The overhead wires offer a consistent source of electricity, allowing us to carry riders with 100% renewable energy.

Battery technology on streetcar systems has come a long way in the last decade. Battery-powered streetcars are in use in many other cities such as Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Charlotte, North Carolina, where vehicles go off-wire for sections of their trips. This technology also provides additional resiliency in the event of a power outage--if a section of our system loses power, the vehicle and its riders won't be stranded.

Battery-powered streetcars charge while connected to the OCS and store that energy for use when running off-wire, meaning there isn't a need for additional charging time during which the streetcar would be out of service.

Why Off-Wire?

The complex infrastructure in this part of Northwest Portland makes catenary wires costly--and where this project meets the right-of-way of Highway 30, likely impossible. Building the project off-wire will make construction less expensive and less complicated without sacrificing later maintenance and operations needs. The versatility provided by off-wire vehicles can maintain consistent operations across the system in the event of a power outage, ice storm or other issues created by tricky spots on our alignment such as the Broadway Bridge.

Where will new vehicles come from?

Portland Streetcar's original fleet of vehicles are nearly 25 years old and are in need of replacement. Later in 2024 the City of Portland will begin procuring up to 15 new streetcars that will have off-wire capability, meaning that by the time this extension opens the vast majority of Portland's streetcar fleet will be able to serve this area. Because this is an extension of the NS Line and not a new route of its own, we don't need additional vehicles for the project.

Will I have to transfer?

No. Streetcars will simply lower their pantograph at a defined spot before entering the off-wire section, providing a seamless transition for riders.

Will this cost more money?

The use of off-wire technology provides substantial cost savings for this project. Eliminating the need for excavation, construction of poles, power substations and vaults, hanging wires and testing will save nearly $20 million dollars in construction costs according to preliminary engineering estimates. Because we're buying new streetcars anyway, there isn't an additional cost to the project for making any changes to our fleet or how we operate.

The short version?

Utilizing off-wire battery technology will save money building this project while also making our entire system more versatile and resilient. Investing in replacing our aging original fleet means cleaner, safer and more efficient vehicles and a better experience for our riders.