The company building Tucson's streetcars has reassigned most of the workers on the Tucson project to the already-delayed Portland, Ore., system, potentially triggering a domino delay for Tucson.
The company, United Streetcar, also lost two key senior managers at the production plant, City Sun Link Co-Manager Andrew Quigley wrote in a memo to the City Council late last week, warning of "potential schedule delays."
Tucson's first streetcar is supposed to be ready for testing by Dec. 26, Quigley said. That's still possible, he said, but a technical review team that visited the plant has advised him the changes "could impact the production schedule for the Tucson #1 vehicle."
Portland was supposed to receive its first vehicle for testing on city tracks earlier this month, but that has been delayed to address design issues discovered in testing at the factory, resulting in United Streetcar shifting "nearly all of their manpower to the Portland vehicles," Quigley wrote.
Despite his warning to the council, Quigley insisted there's no reason to think United Streetcar won't have Tucson's first vehicle ready for testing on Dec. 26 and delivered sometime in February.
"We don't believe there's going to be a schedule impact at all," he said when asked about the memo. "The schedule remains on schedule."
United Streetcar, a subsidiary of Oregon Iron Works, is the first American company in 60 years to build streetcars. Portland and Tucson are its first customers.
But it has struggled with numerous design and propulsion-system problems over the past few months. As a result, deadlines and delivery dates had to be shifted.
Both the Tucson and Portland vehicles have already been delayed about three months.
Tucson was supposed to receive the first of its eight cars in October. Portland was supposed to receive all five of its cars by Sept. 22. So far, the company has only delivered one vehicle, a prototype, to Portland.
The executive director of Portland's streetcar project, Rick Gustafson, said it comes as no surprise to him that there's another delay, since transit has such stringent safety requirements.
"The rules on safety are absolute … and schedules don't change that," Gustafson said. "You must get 100 percent (on testing). Not 95 percent and not 90 percent. And that's a good thing."
Portland's prototype went through about four months of testing before being certified, Gustafson said. It is currently in service on Portland's new streetcar line.
While United Streetcar's deadlines were achievable, Gustafson said, the company failed to account for any setbacks when it was setting its timelines.
"You want to believe there aren't going to be any," he said. "But each time you have one, it could cost you three weeks in the schedule."
Based on his experience with the prototype, Gustafson predicts testing on the next vehicle will be considerably shorter.
But he said, "You only get to find that out once you conduct the tests and make sure all of the components are working properly."
United Streetcar President Chandra Brown was out of the office this week and did not return the Star's calls.
Tucson's first vehicle was getting its floor installed last week. So far, it's mostly just a painted shell with no wiring, propulsion systems or seats.
Quigley said he expects all of those things will be in place by Dec. 26.
The other cars are in various stages of production.
Jeremy Papuga, director of transit services at the Regional Transportation Authority, said all they can do at this moment is wait and see what happens next.
"We are monitoring the situation with our partners at the city of Tucson," Papuga said. "We are keeping our eye on it at this point … and we are waiting for the OIW (Oregon Iron Works) team to move forward on the Portland project."
The city isn't sitting idly by though.
According to the memo, the city's technical team overseeing the streetcar production process is "identifying mitigation measures" such as double shifts, increasing the staff and flying in parts so they can be installed quicker so the project remains on schedule.
City Councilman Steve Kozachik said the city staff should just level with people when it comes to the streetcar project.
"I know I've been a thorn in staff's side for two years now on both budget and schedule, but the reason is that we need to manage people's expectations. It's not a sin if we take delivery late, especially if there isn't anything we can do to control it," Kozachik said. "If OIW has shifted all of their staff to focus on Portland, and our No. 1 vehicle is still sitting on an assembly line, let's just prepare people for the probability that they're going to be late. I don't see why that's such a hard message to deliver. Then if they get here on time, it's gravy."
Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.