Streetcar Lurches Closer to Passenger Service

The streetcar system’s fourth car is arriving this weekend from the West Coast, and drivers are now being recruited, but it’ll still be a while before anyone can ride.

By: Benjamin Freed

The District’s streetcar system, still months away from taking passengers, is taking delivery of a fourth car next week when a trolley making its way from Portland, Oregon, arrives at the District Department of Transportation’s commissioning site in Southeast DC on Monday. The streetcar, being hauled a massive flatbed, is currently somewhere between Indianapolis and Cincinnati.

The newest streetcar also has the distinction of being the first American-made vehicle in the system, and will have a much shorter layover than its three predecessors. Those cars, now being tested along the streetcar tracks on H St. and Benning Rd., Northeast, came from the Czech Republic in 2009. The model from Oregon will spend about a month in the shop before it begins field tests.

Test runs of the first three cars are proceeding gradually, says DDOT spokesman Reggie Sanders. The next phase of testing, scheduled for later next week, will include full runs of the 2.4-mile line between Union Station and Oklahoma Ave., Northeast. At times, Sanders says, the streetcars will run at about 10 miles per hour, the speed at which they will operate once passenger service begins.

As for when that service will actually begin, DDOT does not have a firm date, and it’s a sure thing that Mayor Vince Gray’s overly optimistic prediction last year that “we’ll have passenger service probably starting in January, not later than early February,” is wrong. The streetcar program is holding a job fair on January 27 to recruit drivers and technicians, and while the system is making plenty of visible progress, city officials are trying to be measured about when it will actually enter service.

But, Sanders says, “we’re not necessarily off-track."