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D.C. Streetcar To Make Long-Awaited Appearance (But You Still Can't Ride It)

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The streetcar will be transferred from Anacostia to H Street NE on Friday, weather permitting.
D.C. Department of Transportation
The streetcar will be transferred from Anacostia to H Street NE on Friday, weather permitting.

The first streetcar to glide down tracks in Washington in half a century will make its first appearance Friday, as the District Department of Transportation intends to transfer one of its new streetcars from its Anacostia test track to the H Street/Benning Road NE corridor with the intention of starting testing early next week — weather permitting.

Contractors worked on Wednesday to finish fastening the overhead power lines that will energize the 2.4-mile streetcar line through the busy commercial corridor. Construction workers were lifted from street level in bucket trucks to reach the wiring running both parallel and perpendicular to H Street, while other workers used a high power vacuum to suck out the sludge clogging the yet-to-be-used streetcar tracks. DDOT also deployed a “hi-rail” car to make sure the real streetcar will fit through the corridor by simulating its actual size.

“The hi-rail vehicle basically helps to confirm the clearances that are present within the corridor,” said DDOT project manager Thomas Perry. “It makes sure the streetcar can properly fit against the [platform] stops.”

The hi-rail car moved slowly down H Street and Benning Road, clearing cars parked against the curb on its right. Perry said the size of some of the platforms had to be adjusted.

“Part of what the hi-rail does is to make sure there are no pinch points. A pinch point will damage the streetcar as it moves through. The [hi-rail] envelope will rub against the edge of this curb and then we will have to do a repair to make sure the curb doesn’t impede the streetcar,” said Perry in an interview with WAMU at the corner of H Street and 8th Street NE.

When the actual streetcar arrives at the end of the week it will be towed through the corridor before the overhead power lines are energized for further testing. The days of double parking and unloading delivery trucks on H Street are over.

“Everyone here in the corridor — the pedestrians, the bicyclists, the motorists and the general public at large — is going to have to look up and see streetcar,” Perry said.

Spot towing by the Department of Public Works targeting cars blocking the streetcar tracks will begin next week, and DDOT plans to issue warning tickets to remind drivers changes are coming. Business will have to find alternate locations to park delivery trucks.

“We are still in the initial phase of implementing that plan. We are about to begin testing next week so it will be a trial-and-error process as we move forward,” Perry said.

Several months of testing will be necessary before federal safety officials will certify the line. DDOT has declined to estimate the start of revenue service after first predicting the streetcar would open this year. A late winter/early spring opening seems likely given the amount of work that lies ahead.

The initial 2.4-mile streetcar corridor is the initial segment of a planned 22-mile streetcar system that will integrate with Metro buses and the D.C. circulator. DDOT is conducting a one-year study of a nine-mile streetcar line between Buzzard Point in Southwest D.C. and Takoma in Northwest that would cross the National Mall.


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