D.C. to start testing streetcars, but riders left with longer wait

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Photo - H Street NE (Examiner file photo)
H Street NE (Examiner file photo)
Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir

D.C. residents will start to see the city's new streetcars running as soon as this winter, but they likely won't be able to ride them for at least a year after that.

The city is planning to start testing its three existing streetcars this winter to get them ready for service and to start training operators.

The testing will occur in Anacostia, along S. Capitol Street at Firth Sterling Avenue, and not along the planned H Street-Benning Avenue line where the trolley service will begin. The streetcars have been in storage for years, first in the Czech Republic and now in a Metro warehouse.

For neighbors, the testing could serve as a harsh reminder that the proposed Anacostia line has been pushed back with no start date, even though it was supposed to be the city's first streetcar line. Officials are still conducting environmental and historic assessments to determine if and how the Anacostia line can be extended to the 11th Street Bridge, said District Department of Transportation spokesman John Lisle.

But despite the promising sign of streetcar testing, the H Street-Benning Avenue line also has been delayed.

As recently as this summer, city officials had said they planned to open the H Street line by July 2013. But this month, city officials said it will be late 2013 -- and could be pushed even further back by a recent effort to give the intended site of the system's trolley barn, Spingarn High School, historic landmark designation.

"Our goal hasn't really changed in getting the system up and running as soon as possible, but there are a lot of moving parts," Lisle said.

He said the contracting process for finishing the H Street line and building a car barn to store and repair the streetcars took longer than expected. The city also has to work out how Pepco will supply the power, coordinate the traffic signals for the streetcars and automobiles to share the roadways, and design oversight of the system, now slated to be handled by the D.C. Fire and EMS Department. And the first two of the three remaining streetcars on order won't arrive until August 2013. The system will need at least five cars to run, with a sixth car, functioning as a spare, slated to arrive in December,

Then the city will have to run the streetcars along the H Street and Benning Avenue tracks to certify that the system works properly, but again without riders aboard. The city has not set a date for that, Lisle said.

"We're looking at every opportunity we can to make up time," he said.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kytja Weir

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner