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Streetcars Return To D.C.

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A D.C. streetcar being unloaded at a testing facility in Anacostia.
Martin Di Caro
A D.C. streetcar being unloaded at a testing facility in Anacostia.

The last time a streetcar ran in D.C. was 1962, but today city officials welcomed them back.

Mayor Vincent Gray and officials from the D.C. Department of Transportation gathered this morning at a facility in Anacostia, where three of D.C.'s new streetcars are being delivered this week for testing ahead of a formal rollout on H Street NE later this year. Over the next two months, D.C. will hire eight people to manage operations and maintenance of the streetcars; they will be moved to the H Street tracks in the fall ahead of the start of formal public service in late 2013.

The streetcars, made by Czech company Inekon, were originally purchased in 2005 and were shipped over to a Metro storage facility in Greenbelt in late 2009, where they remained until this week. Standing at 66 feet long and eight feet wide, each streetcar can fit 157 people—more than a standard Metro rail car. Last year D.C. ordered two more streetcars from an Oregon-based manufacturer; those are expected to be delivered later this year.

Though nothing has been finalized, Gray said today that D.C. might follow Portland, Oregon's lead and offer rides on the streetcars for free—initially, at least. He said today that Portland's streetcar system started with free fares—at one point, Gray said, 85 percent of all rides were offered free—and the city has reaped billions in economic development.

"Frankly from an economic development perspective it might not even be a bad idea to have some of these free to get people to come and see. The idea of getting on here and riding this thing, I think it's going to have tremendous interest value."

D.C. officials have envisioned a 37-mile streetcar network criss-crossing the city, though it will take decades to fully construct it.

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