June 23--The $97 million El Paso Streetcar Project took a step closer to rolling.
On Wednesday, contractors for the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority, which is in charge of constructing the project, welded the first set of steel rail lines that will run along Oregon Street, from Glory Road to University Avenue.
"It is a big day. It is a huge step forward for this project here in El Paso," CRRMA Executive Director Raymond Telles said.
The project, which is being funded through the Texas Department of Transportation, will restore trolley service to areas within and near Downtown El Paso.
It will run 4.8 miles on Stanton Street near Downtown to the University of Texas at El Paso and then loop around Glory Road. It will then run back south on Oregon Street.
Paso del Norte Trackworks will build the infrastructure, including constructing the tracks and overhead wires. Paso del Norte Trackworks is a joint venture between California-based Granite Construction and New York-based RailWorks Track Systems.
Wednesday's rail welding was part of the construction of the tracks and street infrastructure that began in January.
Sean McCray, project manager of RailWorks Track Systems, said about 35 pieces of girder rail will be used to make up each of the left and right rail tracks along 1,900 feet of street from Glory Road to University Avenue.
Each steel piece measures 59 feet long and weighs about 2,300 pounds. About 900 pieces will be used throughout the entire project.
McCray said this phase is expected to be finished Friday. Crews will begin to work over the weekend on installing a heavy-gauge rubber boot around the rail, which will insulate the rail and reduce noise and vibration, he added.
Granite Construction is expected to finish placing the concrete slab along the route by the end of the July 4 week.
While that is happening, crews will move to begin installing rail lines, tentatively, on Kansas Street, from Paisano Drive south to Father Rahm Street, McCray said.
Currently, six vintage President's Conference Committee streetcar vehicles that were used in El Paso until 1974 are being restored in Pennsylvania while the tracks are being built.
The first phase, which includes the track construction and trolley restoration, is expected to be completed by mid-2018, officials have said.
Once construction is completed, Sun Metro will assume operation and maintenance of the streetcars and associated facilities, officials said. Sun Metro also will own and operate the trolley, including the streetcars and the tracks on which they'll run, as well as the maintenance facility to be located Downtown.
Michael Herrera, associate director for Planning and Safety of Sun Metro, said the streetcars will be tested in the Downtown loop for about three to six months before the service opens to the public.
The testing period will include certification of the entire trolley system by the Federal Railroad Administration, he added.
"We will be offering free rides while we test the system and make sure the equipment responds as it was designed to respond," Herrera said.
Officials expect the streetcar project is open to the public by the end of 2018.
Lorena Figueroa may be reached at 546-6129; email@example.com; @LFigueroaEPT on Twitter.
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