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Silver Line will beat DC streetcar to opening, but Tucson shines a streetcar light at the end of the tunnel

When Metrorail's new Silver Line opens to passengers on July 26, it will soundly beat DC's H Street streetcar in the unofficial race over which opens first. But one day earlier, a sister project to the DC streetcar will have its day in the sun.

Tucson's Sun Link streetcar opens July 25. Photo by Bill Morrow on Flickr.

At 9:00 am on July 25, less than 30 hours before the Silver Line opens, Tucson's Sun Link streetcar will carry its first passengers.

Although Tucson is 2,000 miles away from H Street, their streetcar project is related to DC's. Manufacturer United Streetcar built the railcars for both DC and Tucson, and the same factory delays that have slowed delivery of DC's streetcars also mired Tucson's.

Sun Link was originally supposed to open in October, 2013. Its 10 month late opening is just as frustrating for Arizonans as the late transit openings are for us in the DC region.

But frustrations aside, the impending opening dates for the Silver Line and Tucson streetcar are also a light at the end of the tunnel for H Street. Overcoming the obstacles of a big new infrastructure project is hard, and takes a long time, but these projects do eventually open.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


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Its 10 month late opening is just as frustrating for Arizonans as the late transit openings are for us in the DC region.

Maybe, but Tuscon started its streetcar line at the same time as DC, but managed to build a line that is 60% longer with pretty much the only delay being from the streetcar production. The H St line would be lucky to have that as its only delay thus far.

by Scoot on Jun 23, 2014 2:26 pm • linkreport

@ "Sun Link was originally supposed to open in October, 2013. Its 10 month late opening is just as frustrating for Arizonans as the late transit openings are for us in the DC region."

No comparison whatsoever.

Construction on the 2.4-mi H ST/Benning line began in 2009, and is 3 years late (and counting) since we were told it would open.

Construction on Tuscon's line began in 2012, is longer (3.9 mi), required the construction of a new bridge, and cost less per mile. Huge difference!

by Brett on Jun 23, 2014 2:47 pm • linkreport

As someone who is from Tucson and has lived in DC, I'm excited for both projects. Here's to a healthier, cleaner, transit-filled, reduced-car future!

by Omar on Jun 23, 2014 2:54 pm • linkreport

I went to the Streetcar presentation at the NCAC APA conference. The guys seemed nice enough but I'm really starting to get the impression the whole thing is one giant clusterf*

by BTA on Jun 23, 2014 2:57 pm • linkreport

The streetcar was never supposed to open in 2011. Late 2012, yes.

BTW saw they were pressure washing the rails today on h to get the gunk out of the inside. Hope that means intensive testing will begin soon.

by h st ll on Jun 23, 2014 3:13 pm • linkreport

I've more than given DC the benefit of the doubt on the H Street streetcar.

The fact that nobody has ever been able to give a "big picture" view (or regular status updates) on the project is completely inexcusable. We've gotten lots of hand-waving, and vague and broken promises for the delivery of the simplest streetcar line imaginable.

Given the CSX land issues, the city legitimately has very few good options for the Anacostia line. That project should have either been scrapped, or fixed. Nobody benefits from allowing the project to sit in indefinite purgatory (or building random segments of track without a plan to ever operate a viable transit service on them).

I firmly believe that streetcars will be a great addition to the city, providing a service that is currently unmet by our existing transportation infrastructure, and enabling future growth. However, I'm finding it difficult to blame the detractors, given how much of a mess this current project has been. I don't think that the council is being entirely unreasonable by de-funding the city-wide network, given the current state of affairs.

How do we fix this and move forward? I don't care about pointing fingers -- I just want to get this thing built, and continue improving transportation options for the people who live here.

by andrew on Jun 23, 2014 4:43 pm • linkreport

@ "The streetcar was never supposed to open in 2011."

In 2009 we were told it would open in 2011. Then in 2010, we were told "Spring 2012," with April 2012 as the target.

Regardless, H ST still took far longer, was delayed longer, is shorter, and cost more than Sun Link.

by Brett on Jun 23, 2014 5:06 pm • linkreport

I think the only real takeway is that state or local DOT are not really capable of handling the management of a large, new capital project.

by charlie on Jun 23, 2014 5:41 pm • linkreport


At least TDOT's project took about 2 years to completion whereas DDOT's is 5 years and counting.

by Brett on Jun 23, 2014 5:54 pm • linkreport

well i'm stuck with the carbarn across the street, on what used to be the last Greenfield on Benning Rd.

Had DDoT any vision, they would have done what it took to setup the carbarn at the old Pepco generation plant.

that would have been awesome.

nice easy build, add some more track,

and retain a green field for a large future developement.

by patb on Jun 24, 2014 1:39 am • linkreport


The Pepco plant is not remotely ready to have anything built on it. The remediation process is just in its first stages. Luckily when we are ready for a "large future development" the Pepco plant site will be right there ready to accept it!

by MLD on Jun 24, 2014 8:27 am • linkreport

The Sun Link's color scheme is much better than DC's streetcar. Fire engine red, the color or rage, aggression, blood, and emergency, is the worst possible color choice.

by likedrypavement on Jun 24, 2014 9:01 am • linkreport

That Tucson route is so much more useful than the H Street line. It connects a huge public university to the civic center.

by mtp on Jun 24, 2014 11:14 am • linkreport

Tucson failed to link the airport to downtown with the streetcar. It's not a great example.

by Redline SOS on Jun 24, 2014 11:45 am • linkreport

Any word on what the operating hours of Sun Link will be? I couldn't find them on the website.

When I had a summer job in Tucson in 1991, the municipal bus system shut down at 10 p.m. on weekdays and an atrocious 6 p.m. on weekends. That REALLY clipped my wings, since I didn't have use of a car, only a borrowed bike that didn't fit me very well.

by Greenbelt Gal on Jun 24, 2014 11:55 am • linkreport

Tucson failed to link the airport to downtown with the streetcar. It's not a great example.

The airport is like 7 miles from major activity centers in Tuscon. Not exactly feasible on a 4 mile streetcar line.

Airports are not a huge generator of transit trips for a bunch of reasons and shouldn't be at the top of the list of places that need to be connected to a rail line.

by MLD on Jun 24, 2014 11:56 am • linkreport

@Greenbelt Gal:
The hours for the SunLink are:
Sun: 8A - 8P
Mon-Wed: 7A - ?
Thur-Fri: 7A - 2A
Sat: 8A - 2A

by Matt' Johnson on Jun 24, 2014 12:14 pm • linkreport

@Redline SOS: I can't think of any good reason to run a streetcar to an airport.

by Mike on Jun 24, 2014 1:32 pm • linkreport

Live in L.A. NO rail to the airport ! ! ! PDX opened the Red Line to downtown Portland on 10 September 2001. Carries large volumes of folks. MAX drops folks off downtown with connections to Portland Streetcar. Portland Streetcar loops downtown areas, new line across the river to N.E. and S.E. Portland. September 12, 2015 the Streetcar will loop across the Willamette River over a new Cable Stayed Bridge that will carry ONLY MAX light rail trains, Portland Streetcar, city busses and pedestrians. NO CARS ! ! !
Tucson and D.C. -- Glad you are purchasing Made In USA Streetcars! They are great . . . enjoy the ride !

by Tom Gilles on Jun 29, 2014 9:05 pm • linkreport

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