Tourists come to the Nation’s Capital to see monuments, museums, and—at this time of year—festive features of the holidays, such as the National Christmas Tree near the White House.
If they’re lucky, they may also catch a peek at an empty streetcar making yet another test run along its 2.4-mile route between H Street and Benning Road, much as it has since the summer of 2013. It’s a rolling reminder that yes, Virginia…er, DC, there is a streetcar line to make your travels easier. It’s just not ready yet.
The “ghost streetcars” are part of the initial $200 million phase of what the District of Columbia Department of Transportation (DDOT) envisioned as a 22-mile, $3 billion network crisscrossing the Nation’s Capital was due to begin operation in late 2014.
But a series of problems with construction (misaligned platforms and broken rails), rolling stock (a rooftop electrical fire), and operations (hitting parked cars on a snowy night) pushed the start date further into the future.
Then there was the matter of following up on 18 recommendations for safety and operations improvements identified by an American Public Transportation Association (APTA) panel of experts. Those deficiencies were to be corrected by summer’s end, according to DDOT’s Streetcar Launch Manager Tim Borchers, who insisted they were no different from hiccups experienced by other streetcar start-ups.
However, the remaining tests and certifications weren’t immediately scheduled, leaving the public to watch the supposedly repaired streetcar system continue making test run after test run.
Now comes word that the streetcar line will finally begin 21 days of pre-revenue operations sometime in December. It’s up to officials in DC’s Fire & EMS Department to schedule those tests, then make the final determination that the streetcar is safe to start carrying passengers.
However, no date for those tests have been set, nor has it been determined how long it would take the Department to analyze the results and issue a go/no go decision. So long, 2015; hello 2016 start-up…maybe.
A full explanation of why the streetcar project has experienced repeated difficulties and delays since its 2011 inception gets complicated as the project has spanned different mayoral administrations with different priorities. As for details on the construction-specific issues, design-build contractor Dean-Facchina, declined to participate in both the linked Washington post story, as well as a planned ENR story about the project.
Meanwhile, as the rest of the city gears up (and clears out) for the holidays, DC’s streetcars will continue their lonely test runs up and down H street--seemingly ready to serve, but unable to take passengers along for the ride.