After 18 months of trials, the DC Fire Department finally signed off the safety case for the 3.9km (2.4-mile) H Street/Benning Road tramway (Union Station – Oklahoma Avenue NE) in Washington on 16 February. It was then announced that the opening would be on Saturday 27 February, with free rides for at least six months, but no Sunday service.
After a number of false starts, this time the schedule was kept and Mayor Muriel Bowser, the fourth city mayor to be responsible for the project, performed the opening ceremony at 10.00, thanking residents for their patience and apologising for years of project mismanagement. Her predecessor, Vincent Gray, had pledged to have the streetcars running before he left office more than a year ago, only to see that promise fall short following failed safety reports.
Leif Dormsjo, Director of the District Department of Transportation, said in a statement: “Mayor Bowser charged my team with taking a failed Streetcar program and making it work… After years of overspending, mismanagement and lack of direction, we made it happen.”
Trams run every 15 minutes using three Inekon trams (101-103) and three US-built clones from United Streetcar (201-203), operated by the RDMT joint venture of RATP Dev and McDonald Transit. The much-delayed project, which saw its first tracks laid and first trams delivered in 2009, has cost over USD200m. Metrobus service X2 (Lafayette Sq – Minnesota Avenue), which duplicates the tram route, and runs every 16 minutes, will continue to operate.
It is hoped that the line just opened will form the basis of a cross-city tramline from Georgetown to Anacostia, but the Hopscotch bridge behind Union Station will have to be rebuilt first. Initial plans for a 60km (37-mile) network of lines across the city have since been scaled back to a 35km (22-mile) ‘Priority Streetcar System’, which includes a further north-south line, a city loop and a spur to Buzzard Point on the peninsula formed by the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers.
DC’s first-generation tramway, with its PCCs operating on the conduit system, closed in January 1962.