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Milwaukee public gets first look at streetcar rail construction

Mayor Tom Barrett was joined by Bradley Tech High Schools students to learn how professionals utilize their specialized education and training for the Milwaukee Streetcar on April 7.

Construction crews were in the process of welding steel for the Streetcar line, along a stretch of Milwaukee Street, by the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) and Juneau Avenue. The welding was performed by Progress Rail, using special equipment with the assistance of local laborers and operators.

“This is the first time the public has been able to see visible signs of the work that we are doing on the Streetcar,” said Mayor Tom Barrett. “Work has actually been occurring for several months. A lot of utility work has already been completed. But the rails have arrived and now we are seeing the work that is being performed before it is actually laid into the ground.”

The 80-foot sticks of rail are welded together using a technique called “Electric Flash-Butt Welding” to make approximately 320-foot-long segments, or a single length of track that stretches the distance of a football field. The technique is cost effective, provides flexibility, assures the strongest welds, and limits welds needed in the street during construction of the system. The result for passengers and the public are rides that are smoother and more quiet.

“When I first saw the steel arrive last month and then the welding today,” said Alderman Robert Bauman, “I had to pinch myself to make sure that it was not a dream.”

Before being elected to public office, Bauman was the owner and operator of the Milwaukee Rail Car Corporation. He has continued to support metropolitan rail and transit systems, and the Streetcar is the result of 26 years of lobbying efforts. The last of Milwaukee’s old Streetcar lines ended in the late 1950s, as the push for automobiles and suburban development depleted resources from the city.

“We also have with us today some students from Bradley Tech who are taking welding there. That is purposeful, because Bradley Tech is a great school with a great program for welding. And we want make sure that the students see how we build the city of Milwaukee,” said Mayor Barrett. “We want to make sure that the students were part of this, because of they are future of the city of Milwaukee. A lot of this has been done for them, so it is really exciting day.”

Located in Walker’s Point, Bradley Tech has a special partnership with the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC). Those Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) students are taught by MATC instructors. They can take college credit classes in career pathways that include construction, design, manufacturing, and pre-engineering. The opportunity gave the high schoolers a real life look at employment possibilities from their education.

The city looked at recent figures for construction jobs, and Milwauke outpaced the state of Wisconsin and the nation. Projects this year include the Northwestern Mutual towers, a new BMO Harris building that will break ground soon, the Bucks Arena, and hundreds of apartments and condominiums. All the developments make the Streetcar even more important, because the long-debated transit option connects them.

“Right now this is an amazing time in Milwaukee’s history, because we are basically in an unprecedented period of construction in the heart of the city,” Mayor Barrett added. “So this level of energy, this level of investment, this level of construction, it has not happened by accident. A lot of work has gone into all this.”

The Milwaukee Streetcar is slated to begin operating in late 2018.

© Photo

Lee Matz

Read the article and view the photo essay that were produced as companion features for this news report.

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