Bombardier, the manufacturer of Flexity light rail vehicles, just announced and demonstrated a new power system for light rail vehicles that doesn’t have an overhead wire, called PRIMOVE. Additionally, the power system transfers energy by induction, so no electrical connection is required. The new power system might be an option for downtown DC, where overhead wires are currently prohibited by federal law.
I’d like to see how much more the system costs than conventional overhead wire. The presentation/fact sheet (PDF) states that vehicle performance is not affected. The system might require more complicated electrical systems that cost more to maintain. The contactless system eliminates the hazard to cyclists or pedestrians of inadvertently energized electrical systems at ground level. That hazard and the additional system lifecycle costs were what prevented me from supporting the previous state-of-the art wireless system INNORAIL (PDF) used in Bordeaux, France. That system also is susceptible to contact with snow or rain.
From the Bombardier promotional video, it appears the same vehicle is capable of receiving power through either an overhead wire, or retracting a pantograph and running on the PRIMOVE system.
These are all issues for DDOT to take into consideration when designing and installing DC’s streetcar system (currently two lines in planning, one in Anacostia SE/SW and one on Benning Road/H Street NE/NW).