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Start seeing streetcars soon

You could start seeing streetcars running in the District as early as this March, though just on a test track in Anacostia, and appearing for testing on H Street next fall. After that, the line can open, DDOT will extend it east of the river and build a line in Anacostia, and on to Georgetown, Georgia Avenue and more.


Photo by DDOTDC on Flickr.

DDOT officials gave the press an update on the streetcar program today. Basically, you could break up the streetcar work at this point into 3 rough stages: getting the first segment on H Street/Benning Road done, building a few more lines, and then building everything else.

For the first line, H Street and Benning Road from Union Station to Oklahoma Avenue, DDOT is mainly focused on just getting the thing built. Most of the tracks, as we know, are already there. DDOT plans to start installing the tracks at the ends, which weren't part of the H Street streetscape project, in March.


All images from DDOT.

Poles for overhead wires and streetcar signals will go up from May to August, wires August to October, and then they can bring the streetcars over and start testing them. They need to run them back and forth for a while before revenue service can begin.

Before the cars go to H Street, they will be on a commissioning track DDOT is building in Anacostia, right along the edge of Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling on South Capitol Street. Streetcars will arrive there in February, if things go as planned, with testing starting in March and drivers getting trained soon after that.

As for the car barn at Spingarn, DDOT Chief Engineer Ronaldo ("Nick") Nicholson said that they are redoing the car barn design, which started out more contemporary, in a more classical way based on comments from the Historic Preservation Review Board and Historic Preservation Office.

HPRB landmarked the Spingarn site last month, and DDOT officials don't know or didn't want to say how much this will delay things, but they claimed that the H Street line could even start running before the car barn is done; DDOT will just have to maintain the cars in a more ad hoc way in the interim.

Besides the 3 streetcars DC already owns, there are 3 more coming from Oregon Iron Works, 2 due in August and the third in December.


Shell of a streetcar being built for DC in Oregon.

On the west end, you'll have to walk through the Union Station parking garage, down 3 escalators, into the Amtrak concourse, then over to the Metro to transfer to the Red Line. DDOT would like to build an elevator directly from the Metro to the garage to speed that part up a bit, and is studying that, but would have to come up with money or find federal funds to build such a thing.

Before and when the line opens, DDOT will reach out aggressively to area residents and businesses to educate people about not parking in the streetcar lane. Director Terry Bellamy said that they expect to have to tow a few cars at the start, and will work with DPW to have more tow trucks at the ready in the area, until people get used to the new setup.

For deliveries, trucks will have to park somewhere other than the tracks, or switch around delivery times. Consultant Steve Carroll, who worked on systems in Norfolk, Tampa, Tucson, and many more, said that in most cities, the businesses just rescheduled deliveries to come outside streetcar hours.

After H Street, Minnesota-Benning, Anacostia, and more

The next steps are to extend the streetcar over the Anacostia River to either Benning Road or Minnesota Avenue Metro station; DDOT is finishing up a study to decide that. They'll also build a line through Historic Anacostia, and are close to finishing a study on where to run that line. After that is another study to look at the best route to Georgetown.

These would be the first pieces in a 22-mile "priority system" DDOT has picked out from the original plan. The general idea consists of 3 lines: Benning Road to Georgetown (the "One City Line"), Anacostia to Buzzard's Point, and Buzzard's Point to Takoma.

To achieve that, DDOT is looking for a partner who can design, build, finance, operate, and maintain (DBFOM) the system. This concessionaire would handle the whole project under DDOT's management and with promised funding from DC to pay off the financing and cover operations.

They haven't decided on the exact alignments for each line; this map shows the alignments from the 2009 streetcar study. A subsequent Office of Planning study suggested some alternatives, and the two agencies will work together with others to actually study each line in detail.

Chief among the potential changes is running the Georgia Avenue line to Silver Spring, a far more obvious endpoint than Takoma as people could ride it both directions to jobs and connect to the Purple Line. Nicholson said DC officials have been talking with Maryland counterparts, and both sides are interested, but they haven't reached any firm agreements.

What about car barns? Those lines will need some number of new car barns, and DDOT plans to undertake yet another study, also with the Office of Planning, to figure that out. Car barns can be pretty small, even on the underground parking level of a mixed-use building using a streetcar elevator (or "lift"). If there could be more of them, each can be a lot smaller, or a larger area could hold a major facility that can handle more cars.

And beyond...

The rest of the 37-mile system isn't forgotten, either, and will follow the 22-mile "priority" set of lines. Nicholson said the car barn study will look at locations for all of those lines as well, not just ones for the priority lines.

Bellamy emphasized that they are going to work hard to put every car barn in Ward 5. No, he didn't say that. In fact, he reiterated that they will go all across the city.

We didn't discuss the later lines much in the meeting, but it's clear they will depend a lot on the early ones. As we've seen with other types of streets, like the recent streetscapes that add two-way traffic and bike lanes, once an agency has a bunch of engineers who are used to building one type of thing, they can just march along building it more places without a lot of trouble.

If the first few lines become a big success, DDOT will be able to expand the program and turn its by then finely-honed streetcar-planning, community-involving (hopefully), and concessionaire-driven streetcar-building machine to more corridors as long as the District is willing to make it a priority to pay for them.

You can see the complete slideshow DDOT presented at today's briefing.

Update: Here's Martin Austermuhle's report on DCist.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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I really hope any future lines are more aggressively planned and built - in order for streetcars to really be a transit improvement and benefit residents they must be real improvements. Center-running or in dedicated lanes should be a priority going forward.

by MLD on Dec 13, 2012 3:53 pm • linkreport

Any insight into why the H Street line won't follow H Street to 7th & H St NW, to allow for easy transfer to Metro & buses there?

by Matt Ashburn on Dec 13, 2012 3:55 pm • linkreport

Rosslyn-Georgetown-Tenleytown-Friendship Heights.

Dupont-Chevy Chase - Wheaton

Friendship Heights - Ft. Totten

Three lines that only require a minimal amount of non-overhead wire technology.

by Andrew on Dec 13, 2012 3:57 pm • linkreport

Three cheers to the commenter above, re: Rosslyn-Georgetown-Tenleytown. Connecting lower Wisconsin Ave. to metro at upper Wisconsin Ave. should be on the high priority list.

by Brian on Dec 13, 2012 4:14 pm • linkreport

When did they start? 2002? The thing should have been up and running about five years ago. No wonder they're getting flak in Virginia about building lines there.

by Marian Berry on Dec 13, 2012 4:18 pm • linkreport

How long have they been referring to the nearly-built tracks between JBAB and Anacostia as a "provisioning" track? IMNSHO, this makes vastly more sense than the idea to run passenger service between the north entrance to JBAB and Anacostia with a stop at Barry Farms, which is what I had thought the plan had been. In fact, I recall that DDOT had kept telling us that the streetcars they are in physical possession of were actually destined for revenue service on this diminutive Anacostia Line (so don't worry that they need overhead wires because overhead wires are OK in Anacostia and they haven' bought the streetcars for H street yet). But this update seems to clearly spell out that no, they aren't going to run line to nowhere that nobody will ride.

by thm on Dec 13, 2012 4:24 pm • linkreport

Have they figured out what the exact path for the streetcar line is from H Street NE into Union Station? I thought that was still one of the sticking points.

by Bradley Heard on Dec 13, 2012 4:38 pm • linkreport

It's going to go up onto the Hopscotch Bridge for now. You will go through the parking garage to get to the station. It's really not ideal.

by David Alpert on Dec 13, 2012 4:39 pm • linkreport

Possibly a silly question, but I'm curious what the fellow commenters on GGW's feelings are about streetcars lately. I'm all for transit options in the city, but they seem less efficient than Metro and more costly than busses. Am I missing part of the equation?

by Austin on Dec 13, 2012 5:47 pm • linkreport

Yes.

A very good list from the now gone infrastructurist.com:

http://pedestrianviewofla.blogspot.com/2009/06/36-reasons-streetcars-are-better-than.html

by NikolasM on Dec 13, 2012 7:22 pm • linkreport

@Austin Streetcar skepticism isn't welcome at GGW. Not really sure why Wisconsin Ave buses, for example, aren't getting the job done now.

by Erik on Dec 13, 2012 7:27 pm • linkreport

Erik,

You ride on those buses regularly? Do you think they're getting the job done now? I sure don't.

by Dizzy on Dec 13, 2012 8:11 pm • linkreport

Hmmmmm...this article appears to only source info from ddot. I wonder what other district agencies, or their federal counterparts, think of this 'news'

by Arl on Dec 13, 2012 9:05 pm • linkreport

Erik,

Read the list, streetcars are quieter, cleaner, able to carry A LOT more people, and are able to attract investment along its corridors.

by Drumz on Dec 13, 2012 9:23 pm • linkreport

Nikolas - Thanks, that link was a helpful read. If I may interpret a little, it sounds like a lot of the benefit of the streetcar comes from people's perceptions about it. Which, if it gets people using public transit, is all fine and good to me.

by Austin on Dec 13, 2012 9:49 pm • linkreport

This route is a no brainer: Rosslyn-Georgetown-Tenleytown-Friendship Heights.

The sooner, the better. And no, buses don't compare and won't ever compare.

by Ben on Dec 13, 2012 10:02 pm • linkreport

Erik: Different points of view are always welcome at GGW. Some points of view might engender more commenters disagreeing, but that's very different from not welcome.

Plus, I personally have been critical of the management of the streetcar program at times:
http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/16404/landmark-nomination-could-further-delay-streetcar/

I think many people develop a mental model in their heads about what "everyone" at GGW thinks and use it to draw incorrect conclusions, but there's nothing you can do about that.

by David Alpert on Dec 13, 2012 10:47 pm • linkreport

@ Andrew, Brian, Ben -

Add Bethesda and Medical Center to that route, and you've got a deal.

Or at the very least, a continuous bus route along that corridor.

by Frank IBC on Dec 14, 2012 1:57 am • linkreport

I'd put a plug in for a Chinatown-Petworth-Silver Spring line. The whole east side of Rock Creek Park/Georgia Avenue has a lot of potential for development, and considering the traffic the new transit center in Silver Spring will gather, it would pull a lot of traffic off the streets. As to how street cars do better than buses, it's really about dedicated right of ways rather than the actual vehicle chosen. Any form of dependible transit will beat street traffic becasue it's all about one's personal time and where to spend it, although the best long term investments are the most expensive. Here's where I'm really counting on Obama. Hit me with a gas tax, Please!

by Thayer-D on Dec 14, 2012 7:00 am • linkreport

@Thayer-D

I believe the Buzzard Point - Takoma line is essentially Georgia Ave, which is why I didn't include it. There are all sorts of "dream lines" we can create, but the ones proposed obviously make the most sense to start. I am looking at an expanded Phase 2 or Phase 3.

@Frank IBC
Yes, I think extended (as it did back in the 1920's) to Rockville makes sense, or at least as you suggest. I also think a CT Ave line (which used to go to Chevy Chase Circle and then Chevy Chase Lake, could connect Dupont Circle to the purple line, Kensington and Wheaton.

Same with Route 1, Route 4 etc.

by Andrew on Dec 14, 2012 7:15 am • linkreport

Essentially, what needs to happen is that the streetcars need to ignore jurisdictional borders and run to their natural termini. Using the example provided here, we can all agree Takoma is an infinitely inferior endpoint when compared to Silver Spring, and Takoma only exists as a choice due to a goal of keeping it all in DC.

by Justin..... on Dec 14, 2012 7:43 am • linkreport

That's why I referenced the Georgia Avenue line. This plan needs to think of how the area works as a region, which means fudging the political boundarys when needed.

by Thayer-D on Dec 14, 2012 9:10 am • linkreport

Another second for the Rosslyn-Georgetown-Tenleytown-Friendship Heights line.
The 30s have constant issues (bunching, capacity during rush hour, large gaps between metro) that streetcars are best posed to fix. But the real question with streetcars is will the city still allow parking on streets that carry streetcars. If the city doesn't remove parking on streets with streetcar lines - get ready for gridlock when there is an accident involving a streetcar.
I'm a huge fan, loved having them in cities I've lived in before DC but you have to either remove parking or have very wide boulevards.
16th may be wide enough but H street, M Street, and Wisconsin are not.

by andy2 on Dec 14, 2012 9:15 am • linkreport

I predict that the streetcar will open on H Street to great fanfare in mid-2014, most of us will take exactly one trip on it, from Union Station to Rock n Roll hotel, cab home and never ride a streetcar again. Sad that so much time and money has been thrown at this.

I used to really like the streetcar idea, but the more I've learned about it, the more I think it is just a gimmick to revitalize certain parts of town and has nothing to do with creating real transit options for residents. Taking years to build a 1.5 mile stretch of track has seriously killed the buzz so many people once had for this project. And now once it's done, it will be utterly useless unless you live on H street. Outside the context of a city-wide system, this is just a side show.

by MJ on Dec 14, 2012 9:25 am • linkreport

Presumably a Rosslyn-Wisconsin Avenue line will be done in cooperation with Arlington County (as Georgia Avenue would be with MoCo) I have not heard that its at all on ArlCo's radar - not part of the discussion on this side of the river (where ArlCo is enmeshed with politics about the Col Pike and Crystal City street car lines)

It may be time to start the discussion in Arlington.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 14, 2012 9:26 am • linkreport

I predict that the streetcar will open on H Street to great fanfare in mid-2014, most of us will take exactly one trip on it, from Union Station to Rock n Roll hotel, cab home and never ride a streetcar again. Sad that so much time and money has been thrown at this.

Make an assumption out of nowhere, then present that as fact, then express disappointment about "reality." QED, this project (which is not open yet) is horrible and worthless!

And now once it's done, it will be utterly useless unless you live on H street. Outside the context of a city-wide system, this is just a side show.

You have to start somewhere. The Metro started with 4.2 miles. Now there are over 100. The idea that there are only two steps - nothing and everything - and anything else is worthless isn't going to get us anywhere.

by MLD on Dec 14, 2012 9:39 am • linkreport

Let's see, at the rate of a decade for a mile and one half. The full 37 miles "planned" would be done 24 decades from now. I'll start the clock or something.... This project has been throughly botched so far. And people are pitching much larger and longer street cars? A slogan proposed by someone else -- "Streetcars: For All The People Who Won't Take a D*@N Bus".

by Tom M on Dec 14, 2012 9:45 am • linkreport

@MJ I predict that the streetcar will open on H Street to great fanfare in mid-2014, most of us will take exactly one trip on it, from Union Station to Rock n Roll hotel, cab home and never ride a streetcar again.

Have you ever ridden an X2 bus? They tend to be insanely overcrowded, in my experience. This wouldn't be a line just to serve hipsters who want to drink on H St.; it would also serve the many many residents along the H St. corridor, who could very much use a better connection to the rest of the city. Bringing more business to the shops and restaurants along the line is great, too. As people often have trouble understanding: Just because you personally don't use a service doesn't mean it isn't worth providing.

Of course, it'll be a lot better when it runs further than the Union Station parking garage, but it should make a significant difference right away.

by CapHill on Dec 14, 2012 10:11 am • linkreport

A Georgetown-Tenleytown transit connection is sorely needed, but I'm not sure the streetcar is the best way to do it. The buses get caught in traffic with all the stoplights and narrow streets over there - not sure how a streetcar would fare any better. The best solution is an underground Metro line. That'll be ready in about 2058, I assume.

by BB on Dec 14, 2012 10:20 am • linkreport

I, like most everyone here it seems, want to see the street car to serve dense areas just on the other side of the border (Rosslyn, Silver Spring, Bethesda) but given the history of Metro, I'd rather not dilute control of its operations by allowing MD or VA in in the say so. DC needs a system that serves itself first. We can talk about extending lines into Bethesda and the like after we accomplish that.

And Austin, a streetcar without a dedicated lane is simply a bus on steel wheels. The main problem with busses, IMHO, is that they aren't reliable. ( I ride the bus every day, fwiw.) They aren't reliable because they get stuck in traffic. I just don't see how the street car on H is going to be any better than the X2 bus given that it's in a shared lane.

by 7r3y3r on Dec 14, 2012 11:06 am • linkreport

Drumz:Read the list, streetcars are quieter, cleaner, able to carry A LOT more people, and are able to attract investment along its corridors.

So, this list is problematic as a transit planner.

Most of the things on this list are related to the quality of service provided (and not something intrinsic to the the mode). FOr instance, next arrival signs being provided? Streetcars are faster than buses? None of these things are true by nature of the vehicle. It has to do with the quality of service provided.

Other things - streetcar tracks are cheaper to maintain than the roads they displace? One realizes that you have maintain tracks AND the roadway, right? And that requires an additional track maintenence (and catenary maintenece) equipment? It's not cheaper.

The current fleet of streetcars (if you're looking at DC's, for instance -62 foot Skokas, or Portland's) - has the same capacity as a 60 foot articulated bus. If you're referring to larger vehicles (Portland MAX, San Diego's, Baltimore's), you're referring to street running light rail.

And that's my major thing with streetcars - it isnt adding any capacity. If you're running larger, longer vehicles, then THAT is when the benefits of rail become apparent (the ability to 'train' multiple vehicles). The savings in maintenence becomes apparent when you are carrying more people. But most streetcars are simply swapping out for buses that were carrying people on the same route.

Now, if a city wants to use it for economic development, sure. I absolutely agree that there is a perception issue that will support redevelopment in some circumstances (True in Portland and Seattle, not true in Tampa)

But spreading scarce transit dollars on some singular boutique investment when you need to improve transit service for everyone isn't the right decision.

by AA on Dec 14, 2012 11:10 am • linkreport

I just don't see how the street car on H is going to be any better than the X2 bus given that it's in a shared lane.

The streetcar holds a lot more people than even an artiulated bus, can load and unload quicker because of the raised platforms and pre-payment (I may be wrong on whether it will have pre-payment or not but it's not hard to implement), and is a much smoother ride. Plus there is no need to weave in and out of stops like a bus does.

Those are why a streetcar can do what the X2 and such are having trouble doing now.

by drumz on Dec 14, 2012 11:13 am • linkreport

clearly the biggest bang for the buck on on LRT is when its in dedicated ROW, where you will save on roadway maintenance.

In mixed traffic the biggest benefit is higher volume vs conventional buses - the question of the cost efficiency of articulate buses is debatable.

In mixed traffic where conventional buses have not maxed out in terms of capacity, the benefits are the boost in ridership due to modal preference (a real observed effect, the reasons for which are debated) and the impact on development (also debated).

My sense from the above is that DC is clearly looking to put the street car in seperate ROW in many places, and that in some places where it will go in mixed traffic its places that are or will have bus capacity issues. Plus it will be used as a development tool.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 14, 2012 11:17 am • linkreport

The DC streetcars will have a capacity of 144 compared to a articulated bus capacity of 94. It's being run to provide service like the circulator rather than scheduled stops like Metro buses.

http://www.dcstreetcar.com/uploads/6/1/6/2/6162393/dc_streetcar-h_st_benning_rd_quarterly_update_meeting_12-6-11-final.pdf

And they are cleaner and quieter than metro buses. And a smoother ride. Those are intrinsic to the vehicle.

by drumz on Dec 14, 2012 11:19 am • linkreport

And they have a much greater shelf life than buses. The fact that many cities (including philadelphia) are using street cars that are decades old is a feature, not a bug.

by drumz on Dec 14, 2012 11:21 am • linkreport

"Streetcars are faster than buses? None of these things are true by nature of the vehicle. It has to do with the quality of service provided."
- How many times does it have to be said, it's about dedicated lines, not the speed of a vehicle on an open road.

"Other things - streetcar tracks are cheaper to maintain than the roads they displace?"
- Yes if you assume how much time they'd give back to riders working 60 hour weeks. Yes, if you consider the amount of asma inducing fumes they take off the road. Yes, if you're on tracks, versus asphalt that flakes of at the first freeze thaw cycle. Yes, when you see how much development it would carry on much less infrastructure.

"The savings in maintenence becomes apparent when you are carrying more people. But most streetcars are simply swapping out for buses that were carrying people on the same route."
- Wrong, when empirical evidence shows many more people would ride a reliable street car than a bus stuck in traffic

"Now, if a city wants to use it for economic development, sure"
- Great! Becasue we're not Tampa.

"But spreading scarce transit dollars on some singular boutique investment when you need to improve transit service for everyone isn't the right decision."
- See above.

by Thayer-D on Dec 14, 2012 11:22 am • linkreport

Other things - streetcar tracks are cheaper to maintain than the roads they displace? One realizes that you have maintain tracks AND the roadway, right? And that requires an additional track maintenence (and catenary maintenece) equipment? It's not cheaper.

Actually, buses put a *TON* of wear on the roads.

If you take a look around town, you'll notice that DDOT uses concrete instead of asphalt under most bus stops.

Now, go find a bus stop without a concrete pad, and notice that the asphalt there is very likely in *terrible* condition compared to the rest of the roadway.

When you funnel many buses through a single portion of roadway, it quickly becomes apparent that the heavy vehicles do a ton of damage to the roads beneath them.

Streetcars, on the other hand, sit on top of the rails, which are supported beneath the road surface. There's a lot less wear & tear on the actual road surface.

by andrew on Dec 14, 2012 12:18 pm • linkreport

Oh, and also, DDOT and WMATA really don't like operating articulated buses. They're not a great alternative to streetcars -- at best, they're a stop-gap measure that you can use to temporarily accommodate heavy ridership while a permanent streetcar is planned and built on the corridor.

WMATA has complained several times that the buses are complicated to operate and maintain, and suffer from reliability issues.

Apart from also having a higher upfront cost, WMATA also only expects articulated buses to have 8 years of useful service life, compared to 12-15 for a regular bus.

It's possible that other transit agencies have had better experiences (Seattle sure operates a lot of them), but NYC and London both had some very high-profile failures when they tried to expand articulated bus service.

by andrew on Dec 14, 2012 12:23 pm • linkreport

Anacostia-Georgetown

by aaa on Dec 14, 2012 12:24 pm • linkreport

Ok now that all the streetcar lovers are satisfied with their expensive new toy what kind of a world is presented to the car drivers ( cars? Remember them?) you've taken away a whole lane of traffic and turned confusion into chaos on the rush hour roads. We remember O Roy Chalk of DC Transit. Back in the sixties and how he made our lives miserable. We had to threaten him with to get the tracks removed. Now you want them back! Crazy! But typical of GGW
Bunky

by Bunky on Dec 14, 2012 12:55 pm • linkreport

you've taken away a whole lane of traffic and turned confusion into chaos on the rush hour roads.

Oh noe! Chaos on the rush hour roads!

Seems to me we have that already, streetcar or no.

by oboe on Dec 14, 2012 1:35 pm • linkreport

What Oboe said, and a lane isn't being lost anyway. Which is it. The streetcar is a failure because it doesn't have a dedicated ROW or the streetcar is a failure because it takes away a lane?

by drumz on Dec 14, 2012 1:46 pm • linkreport

Why aren't the bus stops adn trolley stops unified?

there seems to be no reason for the busses to not use the Trolley stops on H St.

by pat b on Dec 14, 2012 3:04 pm • linkreport

"(cars? Remember them?)"

Yes, let's spare a thought for the poor, put-upon single-occupancy vehicle motorist of the United States, truly the most neglected and downtrodden demographic in modern history.

by RickT on Dec 15, 2012 9:39 am • linkreport

Why not just replace the busiest and or longest bus routes in DC with streetcars completely instead of these bastardized routes.

the X2/9, 90/2, 70, 32/4/6, 54, 60/4, 80, 82(to end in DC), L1/2, S2

To keep them in DC why not just end them all at Eastern, Western or Southern Avenues that go in to MD and have minor bus service between the end points and the Metro Stations outside of DC

by kk on Dec 15, 2012 10:43 am • linkreport

I would really like them to have the ambitions of restoring the former 200 mile DC streetcar network of streetcars and and Interurban lines running between DC and all the little towns around it. Some sections of DC you even have former streetcar tracks running above the pavement or running along the centers of streets. In terms of planning the new streetcar lines they should pull out the old maps of the former system and try to rebuild for modern needs. But do to the fast growth of the area the old system might have to be a bit bigger then the old one.

As for this existing system they want to build now I really hope that they could build some new reproductions of the old streetcars and mix them in with the modern ones to add some favor to this system.

by Ocean Railroader on Jan 4, 2013 9:36 pm • linkreport

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