News & Politics

DC Streetcar Finally Making Public Debut Friday Night

But you still can't ride it for a few more months.

It's almost here! Photograph courtesy District Department of Transportation.

It’s still months before DC’s new streetcar system takes on riders, but starting tomorrow night, you’ll at least get to move your car to make way for it. After years of missed deadlines and flexible scheduling, the District Department of Transportation will place the first of three trolleys on the tracks running along H St., Northeast, for long-long-long-awaited field tests.

DDOT spokesman Reggie Sanders says the streetcar will be moved from its commissioning facility in Southeast DC to the intersection of H and Third streets tomorrow evening. Although it will disrupt early evening traffic, Sanders says, DDOT hopes the move will be a welcome sight.

In order to move the streetcar from its current location, DDOT will use a portable crane to lift it onto a massive flatbed truck, which will then crawl its way to the starting point by about 9:30 PM. Police and road crews will closing H St. in intervals as the truck lurches ahead. The streetcar will be placed on the tracks about 10:15 PM, Sanders says. And though the process will surely frustrate drivers and pedestrians, Sanders says it will be worth the momentary inconvenience.

“It will be the first time in 50 years people will have seen a streetcar on the streets of Washington, DC,” Sanders says. It also means an end to delivery trucks and other vehicles being able to double-park along the curbs of H Street, which bustles at night with people flocking to its restaurants and music venues. Several restaurants along the corridor have complained that the alleys abutting their buildings are too narrow to handle deliveries.

The actual testing will probably not begin until Sunday or Monday because of a snow forecast for Saturday. Over the next few months, the streetcars will run between Union Station and the 2.4-mile line’s eastern terminal at Benning Rd. and Oklahoma Ave., Northeast, just short of the Anacostia River.

But it will still be a long while before residents can climb aboard. Based on previous estimates given by DDOT’s streetcar engineers the testing phase could last four months, followed by another month for local and federal safety certifications. Even with the first trolley materializing before the public’s eyes tomorrow, Mayor Vince Gray’s recent prediction of having passenger service available by February continues to seem like a pipe dream.

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.