QLine ready to roll, but its electrical lines are concerning

Detroit’s harsh weather conditions, above-ground electrical lines cause troubling concerns with the way the QLine runs along the city’s new M-1 Rail

QLine Electrical Lines Electrocution

Recently, people who work or live along Detroit’s Woodward Avenue have been seeing something they’ve waited a long time for: the QLine streetcars finally running along the M-1 Rail.

The sleek, red/orange-and-white cars are still in test runs but are scheduled to officially start commuter service May 12. They will take passengers from the foot of Woodward to the New Center Area along a rail that spans 3.3 miles in each direction.

It’s great to see an outgrowth of affordable public transportation in any city today. It’s even more pleasing to know that for 60 percent of each round trip, the cars will run solely on 750-volt rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.

But there is one area that is causing me concern already as an electrocution attorney. Namely, the deadly combination of exposed electrical lines and Michigan’s extreme weather conditions.

Regarding this risk of possible future electrocution, one of the QLine’s contractors says the rail will have more miles of non-overhead wire track than any other streetcar in the country, but that doesn’t mean we’re in the clear when it comes to safety and the possibility of shock injury or electrocution.

Risks for downed power lines at two QLine Detroit locations

The thing is, those batteries will still be recharged continually via an overhead wire system called a catenary line, which are set up at two spots along the M-1 route. These kinds of power lines have been used traditionally to power light-rail trains in the U.S. and Europe — and, according to Mass Transit magazine, both manufacturers and rail lines have been seeking to do away with them for years:

“A catenary line is a live wire suspended in the air. Weather issues therefore become serious safety concerns. Tornadoes and high winds can bring them down, which then puts a live current on the ground, exposing anyone nearby to danger of electrocution. Heavy snows or ice storms also have the potential to wreak this kind of havoc.”

Metro Detroiters know all about freezing rain and snowfall, as well as wind storms like we saw in March.

And knowing where the QLine catenary line sections run, I’m concerned — not just as an attorney who sees many electrocution-related cases across the United States, but also as someone who likes to go to a sports game or an art exhibit when I’m spending time in Michigan.

One catenary line section runs from just below I-94 to Warren Avenue. This is an area that sees scores of Wayne State University students and visitors to the Cultural District — which includes the Detroit Institute of Arts and Detroit Historical Museum — every day.

The other line? Right next to the under-construction Little Caesars Arena, a stadium that already has events booked for the fall and will be the permanent home for the Detroit Pistons and Detroit Red Wings.

Think of the thousands of hockey fans dispersing onto Woodward following a game to get to their cars, and the possibility of a downed power line greeting them.

QLine should take a cue from other powering methods

While the QLine is touting itself as a modern, efficient method of transportation — with WiFi availability, interior bike storage and heating/cooling systems built onto the roof — the real state-of-the-art breakthrough could have been in how it would be powered safely.

I’ve long advocated for underground power lines to prevent electrocution deaths, and Mass Transit points to alternatives to catenary-less power. These methods would keep pedestrians safe from accidentally touching a downed power line and maintenance workers protected when a wire needs fixing.

If the QLine proves to be a success, we could see demand for an extended line to be built farther north on Woodward — perhaps even up to Ferndale. I can only hope safer options to overhead power would be built along with it.

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