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D.C. Streetcar Tests Will Begin In March

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D.C.'s streetcars are a ways from being road-ready, but tests are expected to begin in March of next year.
D.C.'s streetcars are a ways from being road-ready, but tests are expected to begin in March of next year.

The District Department of Transportation says it will start testing its streetcar system next spring, and there's a lot more details to be arranged before the cars will go into service.

D.C.'s first streetcar line (not including 19th century horse-drawn streetcars, of course) will be on the H Street/Benning Road corridor in Northeast. It will stretch about 2 miles with ten stops.

But streetcars won't start carrying passengers until the end of next year at the earliest. First, the District will begin testing street cars next March on a commissioning track it is building in Anacostia, says Nick Nicholson, DDOT's chief engineer. The goal is to launch them into service late next year or early 2014 on the planned H Street/Benning Road corridor.

"In order to get going, we have three cars available to us right now, to start training operators, to start getting our operators up to speed," Nicholson says. "From a safety standpoint, we have to start what we call burning in the cars, to get them used to the traffic systems. We have to make sure everything, especially the emergency response, is working well.  Sometime after we complete that burn-in period and get a safety certification, we will begin revenue service."

Fares and operating hours have not been decided, but officials said they are looking into seamless fare payment technologies, including using Metro’s SmarTrip cards. They are also still working on some infrastructure necessary for the line, including switches, power plants, overhead wires and a maintenance facility.

There will also need to be a public information campaign for businesses along H Street and the people who frequent them. Delivery trucks will have to alter their schedules or find alleyways in which to idle because the fixed-rail streetcar system cannot swing around them like buses. 

"We think pedestrians will probably be used to streetcars because they are used to buses. Our real concern is the automobile driver because he is used to having the road to himself," Nicholson said. "Those cars in the District that like to double park or just stop and wait in a streetcar path, they're going have to move on."

The H Street/Benning Road line is the initial piece of a planned 22-mile streetcar system that will stretch from Benning Road to Georgetown, from Buzzards Point up to Takoma, and Anacostia to Buzzards Point. It will take five to eight years to complete, barring further delays.

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