News & Politics

Why Mayor Vince Gray Is (Probably) Wrong About the Streetcar

In a television appearance Thursday, Gray set up streetcar fans for more potential disappointment.

Maybe someday. Photograph via District Department of Transportation.

“The streetcars will start, you know, actually moving around in December,” DC Mayor Vince Gray told NewsChannel 8’s Bruce DePuyt. “And we’ll have passenger service probably starting in January, not later than early February, when we get an additional car.”

Actually, it’s likely that we won’t have passenger service by then. Gray’s incredibly optimistic forecast does not hold up against what the District Department of Transportation said a few weeks ago about the continuously extended streetcar project, and the mayor’s comments feel more like setup for another missed goal for the streetcar program. The middle of next spring seemed like an optimistic start for passenger service based on comments made by the streetcar’s managers at a November 5 press briefing.

Today, DDOT deployed a service vehicle that can switch between road and rail to perform the first tests on the streetcar tracks, but it still hasn’t started field tests of the actual streetcars. DDOT’s own engineers estimated the testing and certification process will take at least three months, based on the testing period for a comparable streetcar line in Tampa, Florida.

Even if the trolleys begin their test runs the first week of December and run at a similar schedule to Tampa’s streetcar line, the certification process won’t be finished until early March, well past Gray’s suggestion today. And even then, it will still be up to another month between the end of the test phase and the first passenger-hauling run.

But with Gray’s projection Thursday morning, DDOT’s new line is to back the mayor up, even if it doesn’t jibe with assessements made barely more than two weeks ago. “Our focus is going through the safety procedures,” DDOT spokesman Reggie Sanders tells Washingtonian. “With that process in mind, we think we can reach the mayor’s goal. Things ebb and and flow.”

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.