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H Street streetcar opening slips to 2014

Delays from the government shutdown mean that the H Street/Benning Road streetcar will open in early 2014 and not by the end of this year, DC Streetcar officials said at a community construction update yesterday. They also announced that DC will partner with a private company to build, but not finance future streetcar lines.

Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Thomas Perry, the streetcar program manager at the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), said that the agency currently plans to move the first streetcars to the 2.4-mile line, coinciding with the delivery of the first US-built United Streetcar vehicle. DDOT will start testing the line in December, and open it early next year, when the next two streetcars will arrive.

DDOT has long held out hope that the streetcar line would open before the end of the year. But many believed that the date would slip into 2014 as construction proceeded slower than initially outlined.

Catenary progress and pedestrian improvements

By the end of the month, all of the catenary poles on the corridor will be in place, said Ron Garraffa, a senior construction manager at streetcar program manager HDR. Stringing of the catenary wire will begin in early November and take place overnight from 7pm to 7am. He characterized the installation as "quiet" work, but noted that the contractor understands that no construction work is completely quiet and said that they are working to minimize any disruptions at the update.

The recent federal government shutdown delayed the wires. The imported catenary wire was stuck in US customs while non-essential US government employees were furloughed for 16 days earlier in October, said Garraffa. This delay pushed wire-stringing back to November from this month, as it was previously scheduled under DDOT's construction timeline.

Residents on the western end of H St NE were happy to hear that the crossing at 3rd St NE could reopen as early as mid-November. The crossing has been closed for those walking north or south on 3rd due to the streetcar construction near its western terminus on the Hopscotch Bridge.

With the reopening of 3rd St and the impending arrival of a streetcar vehicle in December, Steve Carroll, head of the HDR team, said that safety education will begin shortly. This includes flagging parked cars and delivery vans that block the tracks from November as well as reaching out to residents to be aware of the trains when they are walking and cycling.

Private partner will build and operate, but not finance streetcar

DDOT will procure the initial 22-mile streetcar system as a design-build-operate-maintain (DBOM) deal with a private sector partner, Perry said at the meeting. The agency will release a request for qualifications (RFQ) for interested firms before the end of the year, he added.

This is a change from the request for information (RFI) that the agency released for a possible design-build-finance-operate-maintain (DBFOM) concession in June 2012. The private partner will still build, operate and maintain the streetcar system, but will not finance the construction.

"We would be essentially paying a premium for what the District could do itself," said Perry, on why the agency selected this project model. He added that a DBOM is a "better value" for the District.

The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail in New Jersey, which opened between 2000 and 2011, was built and continues to be operated under a DBOM deal. Meanwhile, Maryland is pursuing a DBFOM concession for the Purple Line in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

The 22-mile system includes a proposed extension of the H Street/Benning Road line, which will run between Union Station and Oklahoma Avenue, west to Georgetown and east to the Benning Road Metro station. There would also be a north-south line, currently under study, from Buzzard Point to either Takoma or Silver Spring. Eventually, DC plans to build out a 37-mile, 8-line system.

Edward Russell is an air transport reporter by day with a passion for all things transportation. He is a resident of Eckington and tweets frequently about planes, trains and bikes. 


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You might want to edit this a bit.
"We would be essentially paying a premium for what the District could do itself," said Perry, on why the agency selected to project model. He added that a DBOM is a "better value" for the District.

The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail in New Jersey, which opened between 2000 and 2011, was built and continues to be operated under a DBOM deal. Meanwhile, Maryland is 22-mile system includes a proposed extension of the H Street/Benning Road line, which will run between Union Station and Oklahoma Avenue, west to Georgetown and east to the Benning Road Metro station.

On the plus side, at least they've admitted that it won't open in 2013 and given a rough projected date. WMATA still hasn't done that for the Silver line.

by Gray on Oct 23, 2013 11:48 am • linkreport

Using a 16-day shutdown an a partial explanation for a months-long delay is patently absurd.

by MJ on Oct 23, 2013 11:56 am • linkreport

Well, it looks like we're going to have to wait a little longer to move more slowly down less of H Street than the X2.

by Anonymouss on Oct 23, 2013 12:00 pm • linkreport

@MJ I suggest you take a scheduling class and learn about lead times and linked activities to understand how a 16 day delay can push a whole construction schedule off months.

by jj on Oct 23, 2013 12:09 pm • linkreport

Echoing Gray's comments, it seems that a sentence about the Purple Line was partly cut in the final paragraph, and appended to some unrelated text.

by JimT on Oct 23, 2013 12:16 pm • linkreport

So how are they going to start operating this in March if "the agency will release a request for qualifications (RFQ) for interested firms before the end of the year"? Shouldn't they know who's going to operate it by now?

by Ginger on Oct 23, 2013 12:21 pm • linkreport

Don't the safety-nazis require 3 months of testing?

by JJJJ on Oct 23, 2013 12:24 pm • linkreport

DDOT will operate the initial streetcar segments on H St/Benning Rd NE and in Anacostia. The RFQ will cover the entire 22-mile system with the initial segments being included with the operations of the entire system - how exactly that transfer will work has yet to be outlined, though it should be in the RFQ.

by Edward Russell on Oct 23, 2013 12:28 pm • linkreport

Anyone who knows anything about this kind of stuff knew that a 2013 date for "revenue service" was extremely unlikely.

But politicos push announcements for other reasons. And if you work for them, and you speak up, you get fired or pushed out to the sides. So most people don't speak out.

And yes the 3 week shutdown would contribute to further delays, although, again, this was gonna happen anyway.

by Richard Layman on Oct 23, 2013 12:53 pm • linkreport

@RichardLayman; all true, but you don't have the opening line blame the goverment shutdown. Annouce the delay, then drop in the skeptical claim is was to blame on the shutdown next to some quotes about doubting the 2013 deadline anyway.

by charlie on Oct 23, 2013 12:59 pm • linkreport

My project is now 20 days behind because of the 16 day shutdown. Extra time was wasted preparing for the shutdown and starting things up after the shutdown.

Now a full month, probably a little much, but if you are running behind schedule it is natural to not know exactly how far behind, just that you are behind. When you shutdown and then start up again the first thing you are going to do is determine how the shutdown affected your time table which means getting to the bottom of your schedule and then finding out exactly how far behind you are. So this makes sense.

by Richard on Oct 23, 2013 1:14 pm • linkreport

So...DHS didn't furlough any Customs staff whatsoever. Of their 232K national employees, DHS furloughed 8% of them as most of what DHS does is considered essential.

Secondly, JJ if that poorly crafted yet convenient excuse was true, this would be a pure day for day slip as it was purely an installation issue, so not getting the wire for 16 days wouldn't push the overall effort back by months.

Lastly, I can't believe how immovable DC streetcar defenders are. The project is tens of millions over budget and what, 4 years behind schedule and yet the attitude is "nothing to see here folks".

And y'all take DDOT at its word that it can buildout the rest of DC for 1.4 billion ! If every phase ever does get built out, it will be a 4 or 5 billion dollar project by the time its done.

by Streetcar on Oct 23, 2013 1:25 pm • linkreport

I neither a politician nor a project manager but I would like these people would want to be more realistic about the timefront up-front, at the start of the project, rather than continuously having to announce delays. Each separate delay brings more media coverage about poor planning, project management, etc... This could be avoided by being more realistic initially.

by 202_cyclist on Oct 23, 2013 1:26 pm • linkreport

"I neither a politician nor a project manager but I would like these people would want..."

I am neither... I would think these people..."

The perils of multi-tasking.

by 202_cyclist on Oct 23, 2013 1:28 pm • linkreport

@Streetcar, this is from wikipedia referencing a WSJ article:
Since U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency which regulates trade and inspects cargoes, has not shut down, imports and exports are continuing. However, many products require approval from other agencies before they can be brought into or out of the country. With many of these regulators furloughed, importers and exporters are experiencing delays. For instance, furloughs at the Environmental Protection Agency have resulted in a halt to all imports of pesticides to the United States. Imports of lumber and steel have also been delayed as have exports of semiconductor manufacturing equipment.
So it definitely seems possible that whoever needed to inspect these imports was not there to perform inspections.

Additionally, pushing things back into the holidays can definitely extend the delays significantly. If they were going to be able to open things up December 10 but experienced a 16 day delay, they would surely not be able to open until at least mid-January now. Not to mention the cascading effects these delays can have, particularly over holidays.

by Gray on Oct 23, 2013 1:32 pm • linkreport


In feb 2013 I suggested to goldfish that it was very likely that the street car would be open by June 2014, he claimed there was zero chance of that (due to a variety of obstacles).

Now it looks like it will open in March 2014 instead of Dec 2013. So, yes, I would say there is nothing to see.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 23, 2013 1:36 pm • linkreport

charlie -- no argument from me. It was a sham. Maybe they could have managed a public test run by the end of the year, but not revenue service.

But it reminded me of people fired during the Fenty Admin. over the debacle over the summer youth program. My sense is that administrators didn't advise Fenty that his public statements of what they could do in a particular time frame couldn't be met by their processes (not unlike the problems with the Obamacare website), because they figured he would just fire them.

As you know, all the statements about "telling truth to power" e.g., on the West Wing tv show, are bullsh**.

Of course, in the end, they were fired anyway.

But when the Mayor is the one making the pronouncement, he won't fire himself.

by Richard Layman on Oct 23, 2013 2:01 pm • linkreport

I am still hoping the Silver line and the H Street streetcar open on the same day.

by 202_cyclist on Oct 23, 2013 2:57 pm • linkreport

In other news, Elected Official Allows Deadline To Slip On Project That He Associates With Rival Politician And Has Repeatedly Shown Little Interest In Himself

by Tom Veil on Oct 23, 2013 2:58 pm • linkreport

Is all the track laid in through and including the terminal facilities?

by A. P. on Oct 23, 2013 3:29 pm • linkreport

The only thing remotely surprising about the announcement of the delay is that they didn't put it out at 4pm on a Friday, i.e., the Friday afternoon bad news dump. It is a bit facile to put the blame on Oregon Iron Works, and the even more ludicrous shutdown excuse, when the real culprit is DDOT's poor in-house project management capability.

by Paul on Oct 23, 2013 3:44 pm • linkreport


I agree. DDOT has had the Czech streetcars for nearly four years now. If the delay was really the result of the Oregon streetcar manufacturer, DDOT should be pursuing compensation for this delay but I haven't seen anything to indicate that DDOT is doing this.

by 202_cyclist on Oct 23, 2013 3:50 pm • linkreport

Has DDOT ever released a study that compared the value of a DBOM approach against a DBFOM approach? Given the difficulty DDOT has experienced launching this initial section, a full DBFOM approach, similar to the recent transit projects in Canada, could create real value for District residents. Actually anything that could be done to eliminate the endless delays would be a major step forward.

by Where Is My Streetcar? on Oct 23, 2013 4:10 pm • linkreport

I agree with @WhereismyStreetcar. I would be very interested in a study or comparison of DBOM versus DBFOM. Somehow an off the cuff remark from a DDOT staffer at a community meeting doesn't really hold the weight or water of a broader presentation, perhaps to the Council.

by William on Oct 23, 2013 4:15 pm • linkreport

Two silly questions.
A: Why are they waiting for the additional streetcars?
The Czech ones have been waiting around for almost a decade, if memory serves
B: Why do they need to import the wire? I know there are at least a few mills in country while make large scale wire.

by scratchy on Oct 23, 2013 4:17 pm • linkreport

This doesn't surprise me. Rarely does any project of this magnitude get finished or start on time. That it is going to start a few months into 2014, as opposed to late 2013, isn't a surprise.

by Rain17 on Oct 27, 2013 9:35 pm • linkreport

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