DC Streetcar System Officially Debuts

A decade after initial plans for the D.C. streetcar project were announced, the system finally made its official debut Saturday.

A decade after initial plans for the D.C. streetcar project were announced, the system was finally officially launched Saturday.

After a decade of work and more than $200 million in investment, the District Department of Transportation and Mayor Muriel Bowser officially unveiled the D.C. streetcar Saturday.

The streetcar, which begins behind Union Station and runs for 2.2 miles along H Street and Benning Road N.E., east of the Capitol building, offers eight stops. The cars will operate every day except Sunday, from 6 a.m. until midnight on weekdays and 8 a.m. until 2 a.m. on Saturdays. In 2010, officials estimated that the cars would carry 1,500 people every day, according to The Washington Post.

Bowser announced that the streetcar will be free to passengers for six months. The District Department of Transportation has not yet decided on the amount it will charge passengers when it has the means of doing so, as the fare collection system was not finished in time for the launch.

“I’m proud to announce that Streetcar is ready for passenger service,” Bowser said in a press release Feb. 27. “As a way of saying ‘thank you,’ fares will be free on the system for an initial period of time.”

The District’s attempts at establishing an operating streetcar system have been plagued with issues in the past. Bowser is the fourth mayor to hold office since plans for the streetcar were announced in 2004. Former Mayor Vincent Gray had intended to launch the system by the end of his term, but during DDOT testing the streetcar simulation service was involved in eight collisions (“Streetcar Project Delayed Repeatedly,” The Hoya, Jan. 23, 2015).

Over the years, the streetcar system has cost over $200 million to implement.

The DDOT plans to expand the streetcars westward, through center city toward Georgetown. The project will be completed by 2022 according to officials, who are also open to expanding the railway eastward.

D.C. already has X-Line metro buses that run further east and west on the same route and carry more than 12,000 riders a day. According to The Washington Post, these buses take about 19 minutes to pass through the same 2.2-mile route, which takes the streetcars 26 minutes to complete. To walk the route would take about 27 minutes. The streetcars currently run every 15 minutes, but DDOT officials said they hope to reduce this to 12.

Because areas of the track run next to parking spaces on H Street, streetcar operators must constantly slow down to look for drivers pulling out and in as well as other pedestrians going to their cars.

In a press release Feb. 27, DDOT Director Leif Dormsjo said the Bowser administration discovered several issues with the streetcars shortly after the mayor took office in 2015, including poor safety oversight and faulty infrastructure that required replacement. However, Dormsjo expressed cautious optimism about the future of the streetcars.

“Mayor Bowser charged my team with taking a failed streetcar program and making it work for District residents,” Dormsjo said. “After years of overspending, mismanagement and a lack of direction, we made it happen.”

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