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Convergence in…Streetcar manufacturing? June 30, 2006

Posted by Tom in Community, Economic Development, Innovation, Workforce.
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Richard Layman of Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space and I swapped bookmarks, and we started a dialogue about my topic area – aligning workforce and economic development – and one of his projects:

Well, speaking of convergence. I want DC to do a joint manufacturing thing and build the streetcars locally. If our plans work out, we’ll have more streetcar lines using new trainsets of any area in North America. Especially if Virginia and Maryland go forward with similar but less ambitious programs. You might be interested in this blog entry: DC as a center of Streetcar Manufacturing excellence.

In his linked blog entry, Richard continues:

…we have an opportunity to rebuild streetcar technology in the United States, in the DC region, because the plans for re-introducing streetcars in DC and Arlington County are amongst the most extensive of any “new systems” proposed in North America (remembering that San Francisco, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Toronto have maintained such use all along).

I guess I need to get out more. I had no idea until just recently that streetcars were making a comeback. I suppose that means that subway programs like DC’s fabulous Metro system won’t be seeing major expansions in the near future. (At a base logic level, streetcars make financial sense if the community is willing to accept the additional street congestion that they cause.)

(Side note: Who knew? Columbus, Ohio also is looking at downtown streetcars as well.)

Back to the dialogue….it appears that the new streetcars are being built in Czechoslovakia (by Dopravní Podnik Ostrava). Without any detailed analysis of the streetcar manufacturing environment, one can presume that American streetcar manufacturers, if there are any, were not competitive with the Czechs. If urban centers are developing a higher demand for this product line, why wouldn’t an American manufacturer start production?

And, to follow Richard’s lead, why not build where the demand presumedly would be highest? It could provide economic stimlulus to the community, employ people with sustainable wages and build a new industry specialization for the Washington, DC area.  Fascinating idea.

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