Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New streetcar tracks being laid along Benning Road and H Street NE in Washington, D.C.


The District's Department of Transportation has launched two construction projects for returning streetcars to Washington, only this time with catenary. (Power on the original system, which ended in 1962, was carried through an underground conduit and accessed through a slot centered between the rails.)

We reported earlier on work that began this summer in Anacostia, mostly along Firth Sterling Avenue. Now we have photos taken October 26, 2009 while driving along the downtown project, which runs from Benning Road and Oklahoma Avenue NE on a westward course to the intersection of H Street NE and 3rd Street, near Washington Union Station. You can see this route on the map above, highlighted in bright yellow.

My wife, Sheila Wexler, drove while I shot through the windshield or popped up through the sun roof with my camera, like a prairie dog. Given the congestion, which you'll see below, we had no illusions about stopping repeatedly as I hopped in and out of the car! This was all done "on the fly."

We began our rolling photo adventure at the east end of track, where Metro crosses above Benning Rd at the intersection with Oklahoma Avenue. Most pictures were taken looking west. In the background you can see construction barricades, where the line begins:

A closer look at the east end of the line, platforms plainly visible:

End of track at this same intersection:

A close-up of track construction. This is a two-track line, but at this end-point it wasn't clear whether the two came together into one, or not. As stated above, I never got out of the car:

An overview of this final stop on the east end. The Oklahoma Avenue sign is visible on the pole on the right (background):
This is one of my prairie-dog shots taken through the sun roof and shooting behind us (looking east). The intersection is Benning and 20th St NE. Note that at this end of the line, vehicular traffic moves on both sides of the streetcar tracks:

Facing west again, this was taken at Benning Rd and 19th NE:

Benning Road and 1uth Street, looking back toward the east:

Benning Road becomes H Street NE at 15th Street and continues west. This westward view is at H and 12th. Note that construction had not begun between the previous photograph and this one; the project apparently began at each end and is working toward the middle. On the other side of the street beyond the turret, however, you can see where construction resumes--now on the north side of the street instead of the middle:

A view of early work at H Street NE between 9th and 8th Street:

Here's where they're going to it full tilt at the west end of the line: H Street and 8th Street:

Looking back east at H Street and 4th Street NE:

And here we reach the western end of track, at H Street and 3rd NE:

The same location (H and 3rd) in September, 1947:
It was not clear, however, when this line will be finished. Mayor Fenty has asked that the H Street line's work be accellerated. Originally the city's plans called for this and the Anacostia line to be done in "3 to 5 years" (from 2009). Time (and funds) will tell . . .

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Anacostia Streetcar track construction begins

The map above reveals the plan for the D.C. Department of Transportation's new streetcar system, intended to demonstrate the viability of such a system and return streetcars to downtown D.C. Given the state of the economy in 2009, however, expansion will surely have to wait.

Meanwhile, the city is proceeding with the first phase of the "Anacostia Initial Line Segment." This short line runs mostly on the right of way of the former B&O/CSX Shepherd Branch, mostly along South Capitol Street, Firth Sterling Avenue, and a short piece of the Suitland Parkway, where it will terminate at the Anacostia Metro station. The southern terminus will be a short distance south of where Firth Sterling crosses under I-295. A maintenance facility will be erected at that point.

Phase two will extend the north end by running tracks through the middle of the historic Anacostia business district in the middle of Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. and terminating at the intersection with Good Hope Road.

Construction began in spring 2009 but it's not clear when it will conclude. When it does, three new streetcars purchased from a company in the Czech Republic will be brought to Anacostia and service will begin.

For reference, here are aerial shots of the area under construction. These maps, from Microsoft's www.bing.com, appear to have been taken about two years ago. CSX's Shepherd Branch rails are clearly visible in all four photos.

The first photograph is of the Anacostia Metro station, the north end for phase one. The contractors have not put one shovel in the ground at this location yet. Phase two will bring the tracks from the station over to MLK Jr Blvd (lower right corner) and run them north:

Just south of the Metro station, where Suitland Parkway crosses Firth Sterling, is as far north as construction has reached. This picture was taken, of course, before construction began. Note the railroad in the middle of that boulevard-like right of way:

Here's the next section proceeding south, where Firth Sterling runs under I-295. Construction has made it south only to a spot under the interstate highway:

This last aerial shows Firth Sterling passing under I-295 for a T-junction with South Capitol Street. The Shepherd Branch is clearly visible, running at a diagonal where it once crossed S. Capitol. We're not sure if the streetcar line will do exactly that, but it will definitely turn left on S. Capitol and head south a few blocks to its southern terminus and shop:

Our curiosity sufficiently piqued, Mike Schaller and I grabbed our cameras and went to see for ourselves on Tuesday, September 29. The photo below looks toward the I-295 overpass where Firth Sterling passes underneath:

A closer view of construction near I-295:

Same location, with a closer look at the concrete road bed and rail being installed:

At the corner of Firth Sterling and Stevens Road, we looked north at the crew pouring what appeared to be a concrete sidewalk next to the concrete rail bed:

A closer view of the crew along Firth Sterling between Stevens and Eaton Roads:

New lightweight rail awaits installation:

Looking north where Firth Sterling crosses Suitland Parkway. The streetcar tracks will apparently turn right here toward the Metro station. The fresh asphalt reveals where the Shepherd Branch rails had been:

From that same intersection, this view turns around and looks south past a vestige of B&O days--a grade crossing signal control box:
Mike stares wistfully at Shepherd Branch rail yanked from the right of way and grade crossing. He had documented on film and published an article about CSX's last run on the branch, shut down in mid-December 2001 for security reasons following 9/11.

That's all for now. We'll revisit the scene in a couple of months to check progress . . .