EL PASO, Texas - The El Paso Streetcars will make their debut later this year, and those in charge of the project said the process of training streetcar operators has begun.
"It takes a lot of training. It does. One of the things that I require for our operators is to start off with basic transit training. I call it Transit 101," assistant director of streetcar operations Carl Jackson said. "We will be hiring out of the bus driver pool because that's where they receive that. One of the things that we definitely require is memorizing our rulebook."
Jackson has been involved in streetcar projects for Seattle, Atlanta and Kansas City. In 2016 he was recruited to El Paso to help. He said they plan to hire about 20 operators.
"We go through the basic theory of rail vehicles. How do rail vehicles work? How do they steer? How do they go down the track? What are the rules? We have a lot more in the way of guidelines, rules and procedures than most standard transit vehicles," Jackson said.
For people who have previous transit experience, the training will be 30 days.
"The streetcar doesn't steer. Right off the bat, that's one (difference). The operator has to be a lot more aware of his or her immediate surroundings," Jackson said. "I like to say that they have to have a much higher degree of situational awareness."
Right now the streetcar trainers are watching instructional videos and reviewing a 250-page manual. Carlos Guadian is a current Sun Metro driver who applied and was chosen to become a trainer.
"We've been looking at a lot of videos, reading a lot of manuals and it looks like a lot of fun," Guadian said. "It's a big challenge. Something that's new to all of us going from the buses to the streetcars."
Guadian said he has fond memories of riding the streetcar as a kid.
"I originally lived in Juarez and we would go back and forth. I was probably about six years old with my mom and my grandma," Guadian said. "It's going to be a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to it."
Jackson said the streetcars will be coming to El Paso soon to begin testing. He said there is a slight delay because there is a small fracture in the kingpin steering mechanism in the streetcar. It's currently being fixed in Brookville, Pennsylvania.
Jackson said the delay should not affect the official launch of the streetcar project which is set for late 2018.