D.C. streetcar won’t open until late summer or fall

WASHINGTON — Streetcar service in Washington, D.C., will not open until late summer or autumn, D.C. Department of Transportation officials say.

D.C. Mayor Vince Gray had hoped passenger service along H Street-Benning Road could begin before the end of 2013, then it was pushed back to this spring. The new timeline reflects delays in building the car barn near the old Spingarn High School, as well as several snow storms and delays from the company building the streetcars.

“The car barn is very critical. We can’t go into any revenue service without that. And we expect to have a completed car barn, phase one, this summer,” says Carl Jackson, associate director of Mass Transit at DDOT.

Currently, the streetcars are being stored at the Hopscotch Bridge. However, the car barn is necessary for storage and maintenance.

“Once we get the car barn, we have to simulate revenue service without real revenue service. We’ll be operating with 10 minute headways, using real drivers in an actual operating environment.”

Once the simulation runs are complete, DDOT can certify the system is complete and then it gets turned over to the Federal Transit Administration. It could then take up to another 90 days before the FTA certifies the streetcar line as safe for passengers.

The 90-day clock is the same clock that Metro will use when it receives the Silver Line from the Airports Authority this month. Metro will also need FTA approval before passenger service can begin.

So when could the project go to the feds?

“It could be as early as late this summer,” says Jackson. “But the clock really does not start until we turn over the system to the safety oversight folks. Once we get the car barn constructed, once we get through simulated service, and once we turn it over, then I expect that clock to start.”

While 90 days is the general clock, Jackson adds that it could take less time to get final approval. Nonetheless, it appears that H Street-Benning Road service will not begin until the fall.

“It would be safe to say that we could do it in the fall, but we can also do it earlier. It all depends on something that’s outside the control of DDOT. But we’re going to do our job to deliver a safe system to the inspectors and the passengers,” says Jackson.

He says there are several causes to the delays.

The main reason is that Spingarn High School was declared a historic site in late 2012. The result was that DDOT spent several months in 2013 working with the D.C. Historic Preservation Office.

“That happened at a time when the streetcar project had left the station, so to speak. We lost 90 days right there. Then as a result of that, we lost nine months,” says Jackson.

As WTOP first reported, DDOT had to deal with additional delays from Oregon Iron Works. United Streetcar, a subsidiary responsible for building the streetcars, ran into problems during construction and delivery to other clients in Portland, Oregon and Tucson, Arizona.

Jackson also says the snow storms this winter caused delays. He says DDOT lost several weeks worth of testing and construction because of the snow and harsh temperatures.

DDOT plans to take reporters on a streetcar trip along H Street-Benning Road in the coming weeks.

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