Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Building the D.C. Streetcar System, or Watching Grass Grow (June 26, 2011)



This is the fifth in a series of progress reports on the District's new streetcar system, based on a tour of the two lines Sunday afternoon, June 26, 2011.

Since my last report (October 19, 2010; see Archives), some progress was evident but there's more to be done before streetcars can roll. There are two line segments: H Street NE from 3rd Street (near Union Station) to 14th Street, then down Benning Road just past 21st Street, where the line ends in the middle of the street--2 miles in all; and the very short Anacostia "initial line segment" from Firth Sterling at Suitland Parkway down South Capitol Street to a point where it runs out in the woods, near nothing inhabited--0.75 miles in all, currently nowhere to nowhere. Eventually (no doubt pending funding) it will connect the Navy Annex to the Barry Farm area and then the Anacostia Metro station.

H Street trackage is now continuous over the line's entire length. Since my October visit, the gap at 14th Street NE has been closed, all right-of-way concrete has been poured, and the catenary/lamp poles are all installed. Except . . . there's no catenary yet. Some asphalt is being poured along one or two blocks to bring the street up to grade level with the concrete in which the tracks have been laid.

Ditto for the Anacostia line. All the rail is down, all the right-of-way concrete poured, the spur is completed that leads across South Capitol Street into the empty lot where a shop is to be built. And no catenary. But they saw to it that grade-crossing signs were put up. That's optimism.

[CLICK PHOTOS TO ENLARGE THEM]

The H Street Line







Across the street, young women hang clothing on an old brick wall painted with a Uneeda Biscuit "ghost" sign:


On our last visit to the H Street line, work on this area--near 14th Street, where five roads converge--had barely begun. Now it's a wrap:

We're now following the tracks onto Benning Road:

The tracks end about two more blocks down  this hill, just before the barely-visible Metro overpass:

The Anacostia Line

This is the southern terminus of the line, on South Capitol Street. This streetcar will need a lawn mower on its plow:


The turnout into the shop--well, where one day there'll be a shop--on South Capitol Street:


We've all seen grade crossing signs left standing long after a rail line has been abandoned. Here's a grade crossing sign put up well before the line is activated, which should make a few motorists' heads snap:

Facing south toward the end of the line:


Finally, we drove north on South Capitol Street, turned north onto Firth Sterling Avenue, and followed the line to its current northern terminus at the intersection with Suitland Parkway:

Meanwhile, near Howard Street and Firth Sterling, a block north of the streetcar line's end-of-track, rails from the abandoned CSX (B&O) Shepherd Branch host a convention of weeds off to the right:

DDOT had said in a presentation last fall that these lines would open in 2012, but WTOP, in a bit of old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting, interviewed officials and announced June 29 DDOT is now looking at "late 2013." Quoting from the report, "'In terms of over the next several months, we hope to finalize a contract on the design-build portion of H Street,' says [DDOT spokesperson John] Lisle. In the 'design-build' process, things like power substations and overhead wires will be set up along H Street. In addition, D.C. is still in negotiations with Amtrak about constructing a storage facility under what is known as the 'Hop-Scotch' bridge on H Street behind Union Station.'The goal is to start building early next year,' says Lisle.
And while those negotiations and contract details get figured out, the District still has another issue on its hands: It needs more streetcars. Right now, DDOT has three streetcars, but Lisle says H Street alone will need five or six. The three streetcars the city purchased years ago cost roughly $10 million total.A source also tells WTOP that the Anacostia segment of the streetcar system -- which was supposed to be the first segment running -- has now moved in back of H Street. An environmental review process is currently underway on the Anacostia line segment, and service on that line now isn't likely until somewhere nearer 2014, or possibly even later."

Stay tuned for future reports . . .

John

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