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As Tests Continue, CATS Says Streetcar Will Reopen In Late Spring

Charlotte Area Transit System workers and contractors walked along with a streetcar during initial testing that started in February.
Charlotte Area Transit System
Charlotte Area Transit System workers and contractors walked along with a streetcar during initial testing that started in February.

Testing continues this week on Charlotte Area Transit System's $150 million Gold Line streetcar extension. CATS says service could begin in late spring.

If you've been uptown late at night recently, you may have seen an odd sight: Teams of workers in yellow safety vests walking alongside streetcars as they crawl slowly along the tracks. It's part of on-track testing of the Lynx Gold Line.

"We literally are at walking speed," said David McDonald, CATS' transit planning manager.

"We're observing the rail, we're looking for any anomalies," he continued. "We're listening for the sounds of the wheels, making sure that everything clears and everything is operating as it's supposed to. And then the next night we come out and we go faster."

He said the testing has drawn fans.

"A lot of residents came out and saw the trains and had their phones out and kind of videotaping it and asked us questions about it," McDonald said. "So it's exciting to be nearing the end."

The Gold Line phase 2 project adds stops west of uptown and east of the current terminus at Hawthorne Avenue and Fifth Street.
Map shows the extension nearing completion and future plans for Charlotte's Gold Line streetcar.

Tests started last month and will continue for a few more weeks. Then in April they'll start a month of what's called "pre-revenue testing."

"That'll be in the day, and we'll start simulating service," McDonald said. "It allows us to train our operators and to, you know, work out any final kinks."

For now, the tests are overnight and involve a sort of rolling street closure. But those "pre-revenue" tests will be in live operating conditions, with traffic.

The Gold Line opened in 2015. Work on the 2½ mile extension began four years ago and was supposed to finish last summer. But construction delays — including a contractor's "do-over" on the Hawthorne Lane bridge over Independence Boulevard — pushed that to this year.

McDonald said if all goes smoothly, passengers will be using the service by late May or early June.

When it reopens, the line will be 2½ miles longer, running from Johnson C. Smith University west of uptown to the Elizabeth neighborhood. And CATS has replaced old trolley-style streetcars with modern ones.

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David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.