Seattle has a long history of streetcars and trolley buses serving its citizenry, reaching back to before the days when the city became a jumping off point for the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897. By the turn of the 20th century, the fast-growing city had over 50 miles of track. In due course, popularity of the automobile and the high expense involved with operating an electrical train system would literally derail the streetcars into “trackless streetcars” (powered by electrical cables running overhead) as well as conventional buses that are still used today.
Like most metropolitan areas, getting approval for new transit at a predictable price has been a plodding, bureaucratic affair including taxpayer plebiscites to gain approval for their often astronomical cost. Right now, though, no single project speaks to the importance of the First Hill neighborhood and its world class medical facilities quite like the fact it has its own state of the art and oddly charismatic streetcar system.
Eight long years after improved transit service was promised to connect downtown with First Hill and Capitol Hill, commuters are finally able to ride from Pioneer Square, the Washington State Ferry Terminal and Chinatown past the Harborview Medical Center, the Swedish Medical Center and Seattle University. Right now, the line is only 2.1 miles long but that could change as early as 2020, when the First Hill Streetcar will eventually link up with the South Lake streetcar line that currently services the Westlake neighborhood and the University of Washington campus.
Fun fact: Cars on both the South Lake Union Transit line and the First Hill Transit Line are designed by Czech based Inkeon, in a joint venture with American upholstering company by Pacifica Marine.