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DDOT Best-Case Scenario Targets November Opening For D.C. Streetcar

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A streetcar being tested on Hopscotch Bridge on H Street Northeast will soon be a more common sight along the busy retail corridor.
Martin Austermuhle/WAMU
A streetcar being tested on Hopscotch Bridge on H Street Northeast will soon be a more common sight along the busy retail corridor.

The H Street-Benning Road streetcar line, Washington’s first in a half century, will open for passenger service the first week of November at the earliest, according to a project source.

Under this best-case scenario, the streetcar would open almost a year after the District had first hoped. Multiple predictions by officials, most notably Mayor Vincent Gray, that the streetcar would open by the end of 2013 proved hollow.

Source offers rough outline

While the District Department of Transportation is providing few details about the streetcar’s timeline publicly and only a vague estimate of when it will carry its first passengers — “by the end of the year,” according to a DDOT spokesman — a source with immediate knowledge of the operational and testing process provided a specific breakdown of the remaining work.

Next week, four streetcars that have spent the past several weeks at the Anacostia test track will return to H Street Northeast for further testing with the aim of wrapping up “systems integration tests” the last week of July. Three of these streetcars were built by the Inekon Group in the Czech Republic. The fourth was manufactured by United Streetcar, a subsidiary of Oregon Iron Works.

DDOT is targeting early August for the start of operator training, a process that may take four to seven weeks. Once streetcar operators each receive at least 30 hours of training, project managers will begin “pre-revenue operations,” which may last 30 to 45 days.

Simultaneously, DDOT will move to wrap up the system’s safety certification with the District’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department under criteria established by the Federal Transit Administration.

If each of the above processes takes the minimum amount of time necessary for approval, the streetcar will make its maiden voyage down H Street and Benning Road in early November. The source cautioned the opening date could be pushed into December or January if any aspect of testing or training takes the maximum amount of time. Also, the conclusion of safety certification falls on an uncertain timeline because this is the first time DDOT is establishing the process with D.C. FEMS. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the news media.

Business owners prepare for the change

Meanwhile in the busy commercial corridor on H Street Northeast, the Department of Public Works began ticketing cars on Monday that were parked in a way to block the streetcars’ path. Parallel tracks line each side of H Street, sharing a lane with vehicular traffic and leaving just enough room for cars to be parallel parked against the curb.

Violators will receive a $100 fine and be towed to a nearby street to clear space for the streetcars to proceed.

“Wow, a $100 ticket!” said Lakisha Mulheron, a government employee whose mother lives in the neighborhood, when informed of the new policy after parking near the corner of H and 11th streets.

“It’s just a way for them to make money,” she said. “I didn't ask for the streetcar tracks.”

While the streetcar is expected to be a financial boon for H Street businesses, owners continue to seek out new locations for their delivery trucks to unload shipments, since double parking outside storefronts — on top of the streetcar tracks — will soon be illegal.

Enock Adewuyi, the owner of a pharmacy at H and 11th streets, said he has decided to have his delivery trucks park on a nearby side street.

“For now we are working with it,” he said as he tended to customers at the register Monday afternoon. “The truck is long and it will block part of the road.”

There are few practical alternatives, he said.

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