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Another Year, Another Delay: D.C. Streetcar Won't Carry Passengers In 2015

Multiple mayors have made promises on the start of passenger service on the D.C. streetcar — only to see those promised start-dates delayed.
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Multiple mayors have made promises on the start of passenger service on the D.C. streetcar — only to see those promised start-dates delayed.

Another calendar year is about to pass without streetcar service on H Street and Benning Road Northeast.

It is all but guaranteed that the delay-plagued, $200 million project will not open in 2015, despite Mayor Muriel Bowser’s assurances to the contrary that she would ride the 2.4-mile line in her first year in office. She made her remarks during an appearance on The Politics Hour on WAMU 88.5 in September, only to see her top transportation official tamp down on those expectations a month later.

Earlier this week, she similarly told a Fox 5 reporter that she hoped to have passenger service start before he end of the year.

But now Bowser's office is all but conceding that passenger service won’t start until sometime next year.

“The mayor is committed to opening streetcar as soon as it is safe to do so. The next step in the accreditation process is ‘pre-revenue operations,’ which we expect to start in the coming weeks,” said spokesman Michael Czin in a statement to WAMU 88.5.

When pressed to explain, Czin responded, “Starting pre-revenue operations is a first for the program and brings us one step closer to passenger service beginning.”

‘Pre-revenue operations’ — or PRO — is a final test phase that will take 21 days. Upon its completion, safety oversight officials within the D.C. Fire & EMS Department would then have to grant final approvals to open the line to the public.

The fact that only 27 days are left in the year, therefore, shows time is running out in 2015. Moreover, there is no indication as to when oversight officials, led by Fire Captain Kelton Ellerbe, will give the go ahead to start PRO. His office continues to grapple with project managers inside the District Department of Transportation over the approval of documentation for the line’s safety systems.

Capt. Ellerbe could not be reached for comment. WAMU’s requests to interview streetcar launch manager Tim Borchers were declined without explanation from DDOT.

The safety certification process has dragged on since fall of 2014. Streetcars have been making test runs since summer last year. From 2013 Mayor Vincent Gray repeatedly promised streetcar service was about to start, but when Bowser took office in January, her appointee to run DDOT, Leif Dormsjo, hit the reset button.

Dormsjo brought in outside experts from the American Public Transportation Association to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the streetcar project. The streetcar vehicles were repaired, platforms were ripped down and rebuilt, and personnel were retrained. Just about every aspect of the project was reexamined and retested.

Yet one year later the streetcars, at least in the view of the safety oversight officials inside D.C. Fire & EMS, are not ready for passengers yet.

This story will be updated.

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