The new Milwaukee Streetcar system has been in the planning, design and construction phases for over 10 years and on November 2, 2018, operations with a combined overhead contact system and streetcar battery power commenced ushering in a new era of growth for the City of Milwaukee. Many challenges in the design and construction of the overhead contact line and power system were encountered during this time period including budgetary constraints, multiple pole location changes, underground obstacles, low clearance bridges, alignment changes, utility conflicts, and changing vehicle requirements.

The line was originally designed for pantograph operation but soon adapted for pole/pantograph current collection and then changed back to pantograph only current collection during the final design. The original design consisted of underground feeder cables to supplement a 4/0 contact wire but eventually not utilized due to budgetary constraints. Instead, a larger 350 kcmil contact wire was used with no paralleling feeder cables. The added weight of a 350 kcmil wire with wind, ice and low temperatures created high forces in the overhead contact system (OCS) leading to challenges in pole and foundation design where compliance to the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) was required.

The OCS style originally proposed and finally constructed used an inclined pendulum suspension (IPS) system that was constant tensioned with rotating springs deemed by the installing contractor superior to balance weights. The pendulum system was chosen as it is simple, lightweight, less visually obtrusive, and more economical than other suspension systems such as stitch and steady arm that are being used on other streetcar or light rail systems. IPS has provided Milwaukee with an excellent operating overhead contact system.

Buildings along the route that were not historic structures were utilized where possible for span wire attachment but in many locations long bracket arms up to 40 feet long had to be used requiring special designs to keep the size of the pipes standard with the rest of the system. Challenges arose at low bridge underpasses where the contact wire had to be below required code height and special precautions had to be undertaken. Other areas such as the St. Paul Lift Bridge proved challenging as well where special electrically interlocked OCS devices were initially designed to de-energize the overhead wires and is further discussed with the reasoning for their use.

This paper outlines the phases of design, the changes to the design that occurred over time, the challenges encountered to the OCS design, the method of design, and the final disposition of the design for construction. It further outlines the construction of the system and problems encountered with poles, foundations, bracket arms, traction power substations, contact wire, feeder cables, and winter conditions affecting the integrity of these structures and how some of these problems were solved.

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