Streetcars for Tucson

At a Glance

  • Project Description:
  • Engineering services for vehicles and systems for the new Sun Link streetcar line, an urban circulator
  • Project Duration:
  • 2009-2014
  • Project Cost:
  • $196 million

The Challenge

Taking a neighborly approach to transportation. 

Integrating a modern streetcar line into the fabric of central Tucson neighborhoods and the University of Arizona’s main campus required planners and designers to be sensitive to the needs of other street users – motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians – and to develop facility and systems designs of high aesthetic quality. In the areas of vehicles and systems, the project aspired to offer patrons attractive modern streetcar vehicles, to blend the streetcar line into the walkable streets of Tucson, to power the streetcars from an aesthetically designed, minimally intrusive overhead contact system (OCS), and to achieve a high level of operating safety using appropriate communications and traffic control technologies.

The Solutions

LTK served on the City’s consulting engineering team for the design of the streetcar system. Our initial responsibilities included assisting with streetcar vehicle procurement and preliminary design development for all systems elements of the project. Additionally, LTK assisted in establishing functional requirements for the maintenance facility and developed its overall layout.

During final design and construction, LTK prepared technical specifications for the vehicles, participated in the industry review process, and assisted the City with the evaluation of carbuilder proposals. The City ultimately awarded a contract to Oregon Iron Works/United Streetcar of Portland, OR, for these vehicles. LTK conducted design review and provided oversight of production and testing.

LTK also provided final design for the traction power system (substations, OCS, corrosion control), train-to-wayside control (TWC) to protect train movements in city streets, communications (CCTV and integration of the bus AVL and communications system into the streetcar design), and fare collection.

The Results

Streetcars have returned to Tucson. The new line extends through downtown Tucson and northeast to the University of Arizona and Arizona Health Science Center. Eight modern streetcars are used on the 3.9-mile, double-tracked alignment, serving 17 stations. Opened to passengers on July 25, 2014, the streetcar was an immediate hit and  ridership has since grown to about 4,000 weekday trips. A recent study of streetcar rider demographics[1] found that 67% are students and 25% are working professionals.

[1] Hein, Chloe et. al. Demographic Survey of Tucson’s Sun Link Ridership. University of Arizona, November 2015.


Did You Know?

  • The streetcar line connects major activity centers: The University of Arizona, Arizona Health Sciences Center, University Main Gate Business District, 4th Avenue Business District, Congress Street Shopping and Entertainment District, and the Mercado District.
  • Sun Link restores streetcar service to Tucson after an absence of more than 80 years. Horse/mule drawn streetcars began operation there in 1897, replaced in 1906 by electric streetcars, which were replaced by buses in 1930.
  • The streetcar was Tucson’s largest construction project ever, and it has already made positive impacts, including: 500 construction jobs created, 1,500+ new housing units, 50+ new restaurants, bars and cafes along the route, $63 million+ in streetcar federal funds, $800 million invested from the private sector to-date along the route
  • From adoption of the streetcar as the city’s preferred transit mode, the project was planned, designed, built and commissioned over a period of eight years from 2006 to 2014.
  • Sun Link has improved the city’s transit service, adding service frequency, hours and capacity. Streetcar service is integrated with Sun Tran bus routes and the university’s Cat Tran system.