Greater Greater Washington

H Street streetcar is still on target for 2013, says DDOT

Recent reports that the H Street streetcar won't open until 2014 may be inaccurate. DDOT says they're still working to begin service in late 2013.


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Yesterday, NBC reported that it could be 2014 before passenger service begins on H Street. That report was based on DDOT's statement that streetcar testing will begin in October, and that no one knows exactly how long the testing will take. If it takes longer than expected then opening day could be pushed to 2014.

Technically that's true, but it doesn't mean there's a delay. The point of testing is to make sure there are no unanticipated problems. If there aren't any then there won't be a delay. Since no one can anticipate an unanticipated problem, no one knows if there will be a delay.

It's a federal requirement that all new rail lines go through such testing. Doing so guarantees that everything will run smoothly, and that there are no inherent safety problems with the vehicles or infrastructure.

Testing began on the Silver Line in Tysons Corner a few weeks ago, and so far there are no big problems. When WMATA's new 7000 series railcars arrive, they'll have to be tested too.

Besides testing, there are other issues that could potentially delay the streetcar. DDOT has 3 streetcars right now, but needs more to operate the route. 3 more streetcars are on order but haven't arrived yet. If the delivery date slips, so will opening day.

Also, the car barn still has to be built. DDOT might be able to run streetcars before the barn is finished, but only temporarily. If the barn becomes a sticking point and doesn't move forward, opening on time will be harder.

Still, DDOT says they're on target. Unless that changes, rumors of potential delay are just that.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for the Arlington County Department of Transportation. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives a car-free lifestyle in Northwest Washington. His posts are his own opinions and do not represent the views of his employer in any way. He runs the blog BeyondDC and also contributes to the Washington Post Local Opinions blog. 

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I hope the car barn gets built quickly, apologies to all those who are about the have the side-view of a high school ruined.

What does "temporarily" mean anyway in terms of a car barn-less opening? Weather? Reduced service?

by drumz on Jan 30, 2013 2:16 pm • linkreport

I'll believe it when I see it -- which I sincerely hope I do. I was briefly subletting by H and 3rd, or to paraphrase Shel Silverstein "Where the Streetcar Tracks End". When asked I've been saying "by 2014" since at least 2011 to hedge my bets.

What did they ever decide about Hopscotch Bridge by the way?

by Alan B. on Jan 30, 2013 2:19 pm • linkreport

If there aren't any then there won't be a delay. Since no one can anticipate an unanticipated problem, no one knows if there will be a delay.

This one made me chuckle a bit. Am I inclined to believe that the current mayor and council has given this process enough resources to ensure that there will be no major problems... No.

by Kyle-W on Jan 30, 2013 2:24 pm • linkreport

If there aren't any then there won't be a delay. Since no one can anticipate an unanticipated problem, no one knows if there will be a delay.

We've always been at war with Eastasia!

by MLD on Jan 30, 2013 2:36 pm • linkreport

Anticipating unanticipated problems...is that like not knowing unknown unknowns?

by Clark on Jan 30, 2013 2:39 pm • linkreport

I support this investment in the streetcars but how many years have they sat in storage while we wait for DDOT to complete this? 3 years? 4 years?

by Ben on Jan 30, 2013 2:42 pm • linkreport

With the lack of maintenance and electrification facilities, I have an extremely hard time seeing this streetcar line operating any time soon. Realistically, I think it's probably at least a few years off.

by Ron on Jan 30, 2013 2:47 pm • linkreport

The streetcars have been in storage since 2009 at $860,000 per year. This is $4.3M to store these vehicles until they begin operation, to say nothing of the technology improvements for the streetcars in a half-decade. $4.3M is a lot of new Circulator routes, teachers, or affordable housing the District could have provided.

http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/citydesk/2009/04/02/nearly-1-million-for-streetcar-storage/

by Ben on Jan 30, 2013 2:49 pm • linkreport

I thought the short line in Anacostia was the first to open?

by Jasper on Jan 30, 2013 2:55 pm • linkreport

I'd have to find the confirmation but I remember reading that the reason they bought the cars when they did was Portland was buying cars for their line and it was cheaper to bundle the purchase with Portland's.

Jasper,
Again I'd have to check but I remember a story on here where the mayor switched the opening of the two lines.

by drumz on Jan 30, 2013 3:04 pm • linkreport

@drumz:

Possibly, but there have been several other street-car and light rail openings since 2009 that DDOT could have bundled their purchases with.

by Ben on Jan 30, 2013 3:10 pm • linkreport

2013?

hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha etc.

by Tom A. on Jan 30, 2013 3:12 pm • linkreport

I'm just saying that was the rationale for buying so early. I can't comment to the wisdom of it at all.

by drumz on Jan 30, 2013 3:16 pm • linkreport

The streetcars are not in the Czech Republic, they are sitting in WMATA's Greenbelt yard. No clue if WMATA is charging DDOT for that privilege but we have not been spending $860K per year storing the cars.

I thought you could see the streetcars on google maps but I can't seem to find them.

by MLD on Jan 30, 2013 3:20 pm • linkreport

@MLD:

As per this article, DDOT is paying WMATA to store the streetcars: http://washingtonexaminer.com/costs-for-storing-d.c.-streetcars-rise-as-delays-continue/article/151507 .

by Ben on Jan 30, 2013 3:27 pm • linkreport

Dis [deleted] ain't never gonna happen. Bet.

by Yo' Momma on Jan 30, 2013 3:42 pm • linkreport

Jeez...talk about trying to skin seconds from a week.

Oh, jeez...so you start operating them in December of 2013, not January 2014, Man, you were right, it isn't delayed till 2014!

Considering this think is 4 years late as it is, I find it pretty asinine to try to claim DDOT awesomeness because they managed to beat the calendar by a month on a project thats 4 years late.

by DCr on Jan 30, 2013 5:15 pm • linkreport

Clark, the streetcar would be known unknowns. The engineers know about possible unforeseen problems. Unknown unknowns would be stuff that no one anticipates because it's outside of engineering experience.

by Cavan on Jan 30, 2013 5:26 pm • linkreport

Oh, jeez...so you start operating them in December of 2013, not January 2014, Man, you were right, it isn't delayed till 2014! Considering this think is 4 years late as it is, I find it pretty asinine to try to claim DDOT awesomeness because they managed to beat the calendar by a month on a project thats 4 years late.

it sounds to me like the author is basically saying the same thing, but about the sensationalist NBC headline. it isn't that ddot is so awesome, it's that a big headline about how the streetcars are going to be delayed to 2014 isn't really a fair representation of the possible delay.

by Ballston Guy on Jan 30, 2013 6:09 pm • linkreport

In other news, nobody knows nothing.

by sadlycynical on Jan 30, 2013 8:08 pm • linkreport

I'll believe it when I see it.

Let's just hope the rolling stock that's been sitting on ice for the last 5 years isn't obsolete by the time they finally wake up one morning and discover that they've actually finished the project.

by ceefer66 on Jan 30, 2013 8:39 pm • linkreport

Considering the haphazard way the DC streetcar project has progressed, one could easily assume that the extent of planning was limited to someone showing up at work one morning and saying "Hey, guys, the mayor and I think it would be really cool if DC had streetcars. Let's get to work!".

Downright ridiculous.

BTW, I support the streetcars. But the progress on the project has been a joke to the point that the only reason to finish it is so DC doesn't come looking even sillier than it already does.

by ceefer66 on Jan 30, 2013 8:45 pm • linkreport

Seriously, there's not even catenary…ugh, I want DC to have a comprehensive and robust streetcar system to complement Metro and open up doors (pun intended) for new development across the District, but this is just ridiculous.

by Phil on Jan 30, 2013 8:51 pm • linkreport

I know that Gabe Klein is something of a folk hero on this site, but let's admit the obvious. This project was poorly planned and has been even more poorly executed. There is no way that the barn is ready by the end of the year. What do they plan to do? Have the streetcars just sit there on the tracks all night long? Is there even a definitive answer as to how these things will be powered?

2016 at the earliest

by Frustrating on Jan 30, 2013 9:25 pm • linkreport

lst i heard the decision was made for an overhead catenary everywhere except at the Maryland crossing. The cars need some modification to add some
battery to make it across the intersection.

Installing the catenary will be quick, the cable and transformer is being added underground the towers will go up quick as the sockets for them are ready.

the car barn is a mess, i think it's a bad idea to ruin the only greenfield on Benning witha car barn. Far better to put it out at the old transfer station.

by pat b on Jan 31, 2013 3:12 am • linkreport

"The point of testing is to make sure there are no unanticipated problems. If there aren't any then there won't be a delay. Since no one can anticipate an unanticipated problem, no one knows if there will be a delay."

If they're not building testing 'failures' into the schedule, that's gross mismanagement.

Nothing works completely right the first time.

Nothing.

by Kolohe on Jan 31, 2013 7:37 am • linkreport

If nothing else, the streetcar project has shown why it's difficult to get anything done in the District. "Overhead wires are an abomination!" "This housing project is a protected historic site!" Meanwhile, the last thing we have to worry about is that the streetcars are "obsolete". Aren't there trollies from early last century still operating around the country?

by oboe on Jan 31, 2013 9:14 am • linkreport

Is there even a definitive answer as to how these things will be powered?

Overhead catenary. That much is definite at this point.

That said, I'm also a bit miffed that we just bought all new street furniture for H Street, knowing full well that we'd need to replace the lamp posts with different models that could hold the wires.

I'm not sure I want to hold Fenty/Klein for mismanagement. The project was progressing nicely along before Gray was elected, at which point any planning or construction came to a screeching halt.

by andrew on Jan 31, 2013 9:36 am • linkreport

By the time those trolleys go into service they may be ready for their first major overhaul. < g >

There is a basic problem with the H Street line. At 15th and H the original Benning Road trolleys (Routes 10 and 12 for Kenilworth and Seat Pleasant) changed from overhead wire to underground conduit. This was due to a Federal law that forbid overhead wires within the center of the city. That law was enacted in the 1890s and to my knowledge it has not been rescinded.

H Street is well out of the view of Washington landmarks so the line might get by with overhead wire. Once it reaches Union Station that is another story. That could be interesting because the desired route is to use the H Street underpass, which the Benning cars once used, to reach a transit terminal under Union Station. There is a passageway linking it to the Metro station and it would be convenient to the inter-city bus station. Unfortunately, Amtrak does not want the trolleys to use the underpass. It worked until 1949. It is unfortunate it cannot work today.

How the trolleys will get their power in downtown is a big problem. Conduit is very expensive and not really practical. Stud contacts can work but as with conduit, snow and ice would make it unreliable. There is news of a technology with coils buried in the street that are energized as the car passes over them. A pick-up coil on the car gathers electricity to power the car.

In case you ever wondered why Kenilworth Avenue (DC-295) is so narrow and treacherous, it used to the right of way of the Benning Line. There was also a freight operation that switched coal for Pepco. The Kenilworth cars continued to the District Line. The Seat Pleasant cars turned off at Deane Avenue (now Nannie Helene Burroughs Avenue). Along the way to Seat Pleasant was the Suburban Gardens amusement park.

by Bob M on Jan 31, 2013 12:19 pm • linkreport

If this is a priority it can get done. Heads should roll over these endless delays.
Mayor Gray - Get this done! We have a surplus - time to use some of it to finish this. You get this done - you may just win re-election - have it stall any longer - you might not.

by andy2 on Jan 31, 2013 12:27 pm • linkreport

That law was enacted in the 1890s and to my knowledge it has not been rescinded.

Several years ago the Council passed an exception specifically for the H Street project.

by MLD on Jan 31, 2013 12:38 pm • linkreport

Andrew, I am no gray fan but the street cars are more than 4 years late. Gray has been mayor for 2.

Klein bungled this...he bungled it bad.

by Streetcar on Jan 31, 2013 3:08 pm • linkreport

Just a note of history here. Klein inherited both the streetcar projects from Dan Tangherlini and the 2 interim Directors. To my knowledge, without Klein these projects never would be where they are today and were completely umplanned. Also, He left 2 years ago, so hard to blame the prior administration when they are not running the show.

by Bumsley on Jan 31, 2013 3:43 pm • linkreport

So the tracks still just terminate at the bridge behind Union Station, right? What's the deal with that? Isn't installing a crossover or turnaround or whatever kind of a big deal that obviously won't be done in 2013 or even 2014?

by MetroDerp on Feb 1, 2013 9:42 am • linkreport

Streetcars -- For Those Who Cannot ABIDE Buses... My new slogan offering IF there is ever an operating line to hang a slogan on...

by Tom M on Feb 4, 2013 11:16 am • linkreport

@ Bob M

H Street is out of the view of what Washington landmarks?

I'm quite sure some can be seen from H Street and you can see H Street from some.

by kk on Feb 5, 2013 7:37 pm • linkreport

I reside at the 1700 block of Benning Road. This area is devoid of Peace. Why and what is the purpose to place additional transportation here??? The X line runs minutes apart.

by Kim Barnes on Oct 17, 2013 4:46 pm • linkreport

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