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Thread: Can a streetcar go through a floodplain?

  1. #1
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    Can a streetcar go through a floodplain?

    I am wondering if anyone with streetcar planning experience has any information about the ability for a modern streetcar to pass through (and potentially have a stop/turnaround within) a small area that is within the 100-year floodplain. Is minor flooding something that renders the streetcar inoperable? Are there any implications on federal funding/NEPA if the alignment passes through the floodplain.

    Much thanks for your help.
    -MLS

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    I don't know much about the technical aspects of flood plains, but I'm pretty well acquainted with the DC/Columbia Pike systems. Where exactly are you thinking of doing this? Battery cars will behave differently than overhead wire cars in high water situations. I would imagine you would not want to do this in an area where you're going to have to use battery power/APS to power the streetcars, as you have high voltage equipment that will be closer to, if not in contact with, the road surface at all times. United Streetcar has datasheets for their Type 100s on their website, which I imagine will be close to, if not exactly the same as, the Inekton cars you're going to be using. However a quick glance at them does not reveal the height of the floor above the rail head.

    To be safe, I would suggest having an emergency switchback or loop outside of the flood plain in case it ever floods, as the truck mounted motors probably have minimal waterproofing on them and wouldn't be able to withstand more than the occasional light splash before problems would develop. That being said, as long as the water level is below the bottom of the motors, you should be fine.


    Another thought: This seems like something that Skoda/Inekton/United Streetcar, or someone would have tested at some point, so perhaps they might be able to shed some light into what the maximum water level is that these could operate in. There are also several historical pictures, here, and here, of streetcars operating in high water, so the contacts between the wheels and the rails shouldn't be a problem.

    Disclaimer: I am not a licensed electrical, mechanical, environmental, or civil (yet) engineer, I have had no experience operating or designing streetcars or streetcar systems.
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  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    I don’t think you can safely run ANY public transit vehicle, or any traffic for that matter, through a flooded area. Water getting into the engine is one issue, but there may also be unseen debris on the road and water or mud may affect braking and traction. When a road is flooded it should be closed to all traffic. Therefore as long as the streetcar or LRT can reverse or turn around it would be just the same as a bus, although a bus might be able to take a detour around the affected area. The question is how often will the road be closed? If it is a 100 year floodplain one would assume your system would only be affected for a few days every century, which might mean never at all during the life of the system, and in my mind that means it’s not an issue as long as the streetcar or LRT infrastructure itself doesn’t increase the likelihood of a flood (e.g. constrain the floodway).

  4. #4
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    In Washington DC, streetcars drew their power from a conduit slot in the pavement, not overhead wires.

    From Wikipedia:

    The system was tried in the beachside resort of Blackpool, UK (see Blackpool tramway) but was soon abandoned as sand and saltwater was found to enter the conduit and cause breakdowns and there was a problem with voltage drop. Some sections of tramway track still have the slot rails visible.
    For a conduit system, the answer is probably "no".
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  5. #5
    Cyburbian Plus
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    NO,
    because if your floodplain management ordinance is current you would have such a definition and prohibition

    CRITICAL FACILITY – A structure or related infrastructure, but not the land on which it is situated, that if flooded may result in significant hazards to public health and safety or interrupt essential services and operations for the community at any time before, during and after a flood.
    but I am not a CFM but been around/involved in the NFIP/CRS program long enough (10+ yrs).
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  6. #6
    Cyburbian Random Traffic Guy's avatar
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    As an engineer I'd be remiss not to say that with enough money we could get a streetcar to go through a floodplain even when it is wet
    But even a conventional one I'd think could run through a floodplain as long as you didn't expect it to run while it is flooding, and it was overhead power. Water drains off and you run a cleaning crew along the line, no big deal? Regulatory rules impose their own difficulties through. I would be hard pressed to call most of the ones I've seen a critical facility, though.

    I just responded so I can show this picture of an awesome roundabout/streetcar/fountain junction from Oslo, Norway (from The Overhead Wire blog). I'll know both streetcars and roundabouts have finally become accepted in the US when we can do something like this
    Last edited by Random Traffic Guy; 15 Nov 2011 at 2:43 PM.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    In Washington DC, streetcars drew their power from a conduit slot in the pavement, not overhead wires.

    From Wikipedia:



    For a conduit system, the answer is probably "no".
    That was for the old system. The one currently planned will use a combination of overhead lines and batteries to power the cars, although I personally think they should have gone with APS, because then they can acquire a vintage car from the NCTM or some place and retrofit it. The issue is that as streetcar technology has gotten better, the floors of the cars has gotten lower, and thus the space between the traction motors and the road surface is less and less. Thus, while this may not have been an issue with older cars that have traction motors perhaps a foot off the ground, newer cars (such as the three Inektons that DDOT already has) probably couldn't traverse more than an couple inches of water, if that.

    As I said before, best bet is probably to put a switchback before entering the flood plain, just in case.
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  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Random Traffic Guy View post
    As an engineer I'd be remiss not to say that with enough money we could get a streetcar to go through a floodplain even when it is wet
    But even a conventional one I'd think could run through a floodplain as long as you didn't expect it to run while it is flooding, and it was overhead power. Water drains off and you run a cleaning crew along the line, no big deal? Regulatory rules impose their own difficulties through. I would be hard pressed to call most of the ones I've seen a critical facility, though.

    I just responded so I can show this picture of an awesome roundabout/streetcar/fountain junction from Oslo, Norway (from The Overhead Wire blog). I'll know both streetcars and roundabouts have finally become accepted in the US when we can do something like this
    Similarly, this is a great section of track in Houston:


  9. #9
    Cyburbian Queen B's avatar
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    Howl, we need to bring you up to speed about the 100 year flood. That does not mean that it will only happen once a century. It is actually a 1% chance flooding. There is a 1% chance it could happen every year. SO although a small chance it can happen. It can even happen over and over again.

    As far as Critical Facility, I am not sure that a street car would be in that catagory. Hospital Fire Dept. Nursing home but how critical would it be that the street car had to get into an area. Floods disrupt all kinds of transit if you just cant go through you cant go through. AS long as the electrical was over head then it should not be a bother. Heck ask them in New Orleans what they do/did. The streetcar there did go through a floodplain. DId they put it back???
    It is all a matter of perspective!!!

  10. #10
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    It is just that during a period of flooding where railheads are not visible and dry, electric-powered traction cannot operate. Same thing with regular diesel-electric powered railroads. Traction motors and standing water do not get along very well. OTOH, back in the steam days, it was not unheard of for railroad crews to ford flooded areas, so long as the water was not so deep as to submerge locomotive firebox grates.

    Mike

  11. #11
    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
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    I would imagine the answer is yes. You could show that the track is and/or build the track high enough above the BFE or somehow have a plan of operations that prohibit the use of the streetcar during flood events? But definitely no streetcar in a floodway.
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  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Queen B View post
    Howl, we need to bring you up to speed about the 100 year flood. That does not mean that it will only happen once a century. It is actually a 1% chance flooding. There is a 1% chance it could happen every year. SO although a small chance it can happen. It can even happen over and over again.

    As far as Critical Facility, I am not sure that a street car would be in that catagory. Hospital Fire Dept. Nursing home but how critical would it be that the street car had to get into an area. Floods disrupt all kinds of transit if you just cant go through you cant go through. AS long as the electrical was over head then it should not be a bother. Heck ask them in New Orleans what they do/did. The streetcar there did go through a floodplain. DId they put it back???
    I know what a 100 year flood line is. A 1% chance of it happening every year means that on average it will happen once every 100 years. While it could happen more than once in any 100 year period but it might not happen for well over 100 years. Climate change and human manipulation of the environment (e.g. dams, environment remediation) may actually turn a 100 year flood line into a 50 or even a 25 year flood line in some watersheds or into 500 year flood lines in other watersheds.

    I was working on a transit project recently and we had a choice of running the LRT through a downtown area that was within a 100 year flood plain or along the top of the bank above the downtown in order to avoid the floodplain. To stay above the floodline we would have needed to follow the river embankment and in places build supports into the valley (e.g. move the floodline) in order to squeeze the line in around existing features. The authority in charge of establishing floodlines and maintaining integrity of the watershed preferred the option of putting the LRT within the floodplain rather than affecting how the water flowed by keeping it out of the floodline. In other words, from an environmental and hydrodynamic point-of-view, as long as the line doesn't negatively affect the flow of floodwaters, putting a streetcar/LRT in a floodplain is not a problem.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Howl View post
    I know what a 100 year flood line is. A 1% chance of it happening every year means that on average it will happen once every 100 years. While it could happen more than once in any 100 year period but it might not happen for well over 100 years. Climate change and human manipulation of the environment (e.g. dams, environment remediation) may actually turn a 100 year flood line into a 50 or even a 25 year flood line in some watersheds or into 500 year flood lines in other watersheds.

    I was working on a transit project recently and we had a choice of running the LRT through a downtown area that was within a 100 year flood plain or along the top of the bank above the downtown in order to avoid the floodplain. To stay above the floodline we would have needed to follow the river embankment and in places build supports into the valley (e.g. move the floodline) in order to squeeze the line in around existing features. The authority in charge of establishing floodlines and maintaining integrity of the watershed preferred the option of putting the LRT within the floodplain rather than affecting how the water flowed by keeping it out of the floodline. In other words, from an environmental and hydrodynamic point-of-view, as long as the line doesn't negatively affect the flow of floodwaters, putting a streetcar/LRT in a floodplain is not a problem.
    I was thinkng the same, glad you said it better than I would have.

  14. #14
    Enjoy the simple 17-step federal environmental review process -- it's a breeze and anybody can knock it out without the least bit of trouble.
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  15. #15
    Quote Originally posted by Gedunker View post
    Enjoy the simple 17-step federal environmental review process -- it's a breeze and anybody can knock it out without the least bit of trouble.
    The EIS for any rail transit expansion will be a tedious process that may take years. On the plus side it keeps some of us employed.

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  17. #17
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    In at least one city (Cincinnati) many years ago, there was a flood and they brought out sections of track like toy train track and set these on the street so the streetcars could run over the water.

    But running through just a few inches of water can short out a streetcar's motors.

    If the best route in terms of loading and dropping off passengers is through a 100 or even 50 year flood plain, it is probably best to build it that way and halt service if the track gets flooded.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    I've heard that, after Katrina, the New Orleans streetcar system reverted to horses, but I don't know if that's true or not. They were back to running on electricity within a year or two, and I have yet to see a post Katrina "horsecar" picture, so I wonder if this was just hearsay.

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