Safety a mission for streetcar

When we first began working on the Atlanta Streetcar, we had one overarching goal: to plan, build and operate the safest and best streetcar system in the United States. It’s an important investment in Atlanta’s future, and we are doing everything necessary to ensure the safety of this system.

Our commitment to safety includes constructing trackway and facilities that incorporate both new and time-tested streetcar technologies. We have brought in leading streetcar, rail, transit and safety experts from across the country to work with us, advise us, train us, and serve in management and operations positions. And we chose to use new Siemens S70 vehicles with the most advanced streetcar design and technology available.

Our streetcars and infrastructure have completed and passed numerous tests to ensure their safety and ability to perform under a variety of circumstances. We tested clearances, stop interfaces, communications, electrical power systems, traffic signals and emergency systems. Each vehicle has undergone a 50-mile burn-in period, operating continuously with no problems. These tests have been witnessed, accepted and documented by the streetcar’s Safety and Security committee, which includes members from the city, MARTA and contract personnel.

Our employees have been trained, tested and certified in every aspect of the system, from basic rail safety, vehicle orientation and customer service to risk and hazard analysis, emergency evacuations and fatigue management. Each operator came to us with a background in transit operations and now has more than 40 hours of time driving our vehicles.

Operators have a heightened sense of awareness about what to expect as they traverse the downtown corridor. We also have launched an extensive safety outreach program to help educate Atlanta’s drivers, pedestrians and cyclists about the need for them to increase their awareness around streetcars and ensure they obey traffic signals and limit lines.

Every day before the Atlanta Streetcars roll out on the route, maintenance personnel inspect tracks and overhead wires to ensure there are no hazards along the right of way. This is part of our track maintenance plan standard operating procedures.

Our training with the Atlanta Police Department and Atlanta Fire and Rescue has included vehicle familiarization, facility familiarization and use of emergency re-railing equipment. We recently conducted a full-scale exercise with these organizations to give our personnel a chance to practice many of these skills, and they performed admirably.

This entire process — from construction, to receiving the vehicles, to hiring and training personnel, to conducting and documenting each test — takes time. And time is the other element we’ve invested with the Atlanta Streetcar. We have taken time to go through this process thoroughly and correctly. We also want and need to be good stewards of our citizens’ tax dollars, which is why we have taken steps to conduct several of the necessary tests simultaneously to open the Atlanta Streetcar as soon as we can do so safely.

Michael Geisler is chief operating officer of the Atlanta Streetcar.