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Kansas City's streetcar will be shut down for weeks because of a track failure. What happened?

Workers use construction equipment to repair the Kansas City streetcar line on Main Street. Parts of the downtown skyline are present in the background.
Carlos Moreno
Construction workers are working day and night to fix the Kansas city streetcar tracks following a major track failure last week.

As construction on the KC Streetcar extension to UMKC continues, crews are now working 24/7 on emergency repairs to address a track failure on the line above I-670. It will take weeks to complete the repairs, and service is suspended in the meantime.

On the Fourth of July, the Kansas City streetcar experienced a track failure on the Main Street bridge above I-670 because of the midsummer heat.

"We had a rail ultimately pop, expand, get hot," said KC Streetcar Authority executive director Tom Gerend. "We had some deterioration of the adjacent track slab and the rail protruding from the ground."

Now, the streetcar will beshut down for weeks as crews work on repairs. In the meantime, streetcar riders are encouraged to use the Main Street MAX bus line, which has been re-routed to cover the streetcar route from Grand Boulevard to Main Street.

Gerend told KCUR's Up To Date that investigations are underway to learn more about other factors that could have caused this event so it doesn't happen again. He said this is an opportunity to learn and ask questions about how to improve the safety of the streetcar.

"Are there things that we need to fundamentally reconsider with regards to the baseline assumptions for how resilient our infrastructure is and the span of temperatures that it's designed to really be able to accommodate and support?" Gerend asked. "Clearly, our goal is to be able to have a reliable and safe operation."

When it comes to the streetcar extension that will take the Main Street line down to the UMKC campus, Gerend said they're about halfway done with the project.

"Really, by the end of next year, calendar year 2024, it will be largely completed and we'll be actually running streetcars for testing up and down Main Street," Gerend said. "So, it really isn't that far away."

The KC Streetcar Authority is also actively working on feasibility studies for additional streetcar lines, including an east-west route and another that would connect riders to the Northland.

Plans for an extension that would take the streetcarfrom River Market to the Berkeley Riverfront are much further along.

"That's out for bid right now," Gerend said. "We're hopeful and optimistic we'll have that project under construction by the end of the year with an opening to Berkeley Riverfront in the 2025 timeframe."

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As a host and contributor at KCUR, I seek to create a more informed citizenry and richer community. I want to enlighten and inspire our audience by delivering the information they need with accuracy and urgency, clarifying what’s complicated and teasing out the complexities of what seems simple. I work to craft conversations that reveal realities in our midst and model civil discourse in a divided world. Follow me on Twitter @ptsbrian or email me at brian@kcur.org.
As Up To Date’s senior producer, I construct daily conversations that give our listeners context to the issues of our time. I strive to provide a platform that holds those in power accountable, while also spotlighting the voices of Kansas City’s creatives and visionaries that may otherwise go unheard. Email me at zach@kcur.org.
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