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D.C.'s new streetcars arrive from Czech Republic

Tuesday - 12/15/2009, 12:57pm  ET

D.C. Streetcar (Courtesy of DDOT)
D.C.'s new streetcars arrived at the Port of Baltimore over the weekend. (Photo courtesy of DDOT)
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Adam Tuss, wtop.com

WASHINGTON -- What good is a streetcar without tracks to run on?

That's the question D.C. officials have been answering since WTOP first reported that D.C. streetcars have been rolling around the Czech Republic while tracks for the cars are built in the District.

Now, with two streetcar lines under construction in D.C., WTOP has learned that the much talked-about city streetcars have finally made their way to the area.

Three modern, sleek streetcars arrived at the Port of Baltimore over the weekend, and were in the process of clearing customs Tuesday morning.

The cars will be loaded and sent to the Greenbelt Rail Yard, where they will be further inspected.

"There are a number of things we have to do to make them street-worthy again," D.C. Department of Transportation spokesman John Lisle tells WTOP.

"The suspension has been changed for shipping, the wire cable on top has to be re-attached, there's wax coating on them. It will take a little while to get them ready."

The arrival of the cars in the D.C. area is a landmark. Streetcars last rolled through the city in 1962, when several lines headed into and out of Maryland and Virginia.

DDOT has been trying to resurrect the streetcar system since the agency's previous permanent director, Emeka Moneme.

The hope for this new, modern system is that it will connect neighborhoods throughout the city and increase property values near the lines.

"Not only is this a way to link people and neighborhoods, but it is also a way to rebuild neighborhoods. And there are parts of our city that have struggled to rebuild since the original streetcar network was paved over and the riots happened in '68," DDOT Director Gabe Klein recently told WTOP.

Right now, two streetcar lines are under construction in D.C. Anacostia and the Benning Road/H Street Corridor will be the first two sections to see the new transportation network.

Plans call for those lines opening around 2012, but city officials say they are working to accelerate that timeline.

DDOT recently unveiled an ambitious plan for 37 miles of streetcars with eight lines.

The three streetcars that arrived this week cost D.C. about $10 million. They were built and maintained by a company named Skoda-Inekon, which specializes in streetcars.

Skoda-Inekon manufactures streetcars in Plzen, in the Czech Republic. The company has produced similar vehicles for Portland, Ore. and Tacoma, Wash.

(Copyright 2009 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)