Streetcars are returning to Washington, DC, almost 50 years after the District shut down the old system in 1962 when DC Transit was ordered by Congress to switch to buses. Congress had forbidden overhead wires in the city as early as the 1880’s to preserve views of the White House and the Capitol.
At one time, there were almost 200 miles of tracks running through Washington DC and its suburbs. And about the time the streetcars became history, America was falling even more in love with its automobiles, contributing to what would become the DC traffic nightmare.
The new streetcars are on their way from Ostrava in the Czech Republic where they were built. They were trucked from Ostrava to Hamburg and from there are traveling by cargo ship to the US. A DC transportation agency spokesman says the cars will be housed at a yard at the Greenbelt metro station, storage paid for by DC.
Purchased in 2006 at a cost of 10 million dollars they are modeled after those of the highly successful Portland, OR streetcars. That system opened in 2001. That city estimates that their streetcar system is responsible for $3.5 billion in development. The cars, which are painted to look like the DC Circulator buses, are expected to arrive in DC in mid-December. They were stored abroad all these years due to a stall in construction of the tracks.
Eight streetcar lines are proposed and will be built in three phases. The first two will be the H St. line and the Anacostia line. Tracks are being laid on H St. and Benning Road and construction is underway on a small segment in Anacostia. There are plans to have lines running through many of the neighborhoods that were badly damaged during the riots of 1968. It is hoped that this new transit system will bring rebirth and development to many of the neighborhoods it will serve. The estimated date for the first lines to be up and running is 2012.
The transportation department has held open houses in all eight wards to explain the city’s plans and respond to questions. The new transit system should be a boon to those who live and work in DC. and should ultimately make it easier for visitors to the nation’s capital to get around the city.
But in typical government fashion, they bought and had built these new streetcars way before they were ready for them, so now they have to pay for storage for them. Good ideas, poor execution.
The District’s Department of Transportation has provided a web site for interested DC residents at DC Streetcars.