Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Those D.C. streetcars are coming--really!

For most of the past year not much has happened on the construction sites of the new D.C. streetcar system. They had built to a point and stopped. Then, last spring, they finished hanging catenary, completed the test facility on South Capitol Street in Anacostia, and began running streetcars on that short piece of track (about a mile) to see how they performed.

This summer work resumed on the H Street NE track, scheduled to open for business in December although some consider that optimistic. Track that had been laid earlier along H Street from 3rd Street (near Union Station) almost to where the elevated Metro crosses above Benning Road is being extended on the west end to the top of the Hopscotch Bridge. Catenary pole base supports have been installed. Tracks switches are being set into the pavement where streetcars will reverse direction. Signaling equipment is being put in place. A substation is under construction at 12th and H Street NE. Passenger shelters are being erected. It's starting to look a lot like a streetcar system.

This update consists of photos taken during my visit to the H Street line Thursday, September 5, 2013, and from an earlier visit (May 3, 2013) to the Anacostia Test Facility.


The H-Street Line (September 5, 2013)

 Above: Looking west along H Street NE beyond 3rd Street NE, toward the Hopscotch Bridge. The new building on the right houses a Giant grocery store at the corner, and above the store, apartments or condos. A couple of years ago it was an empty lot. Behind the chain-link fence, streetcar infrastructure is being constructed.

 Above: Foundation for a catenary support pole.

 Above: Rails climb the Hopscotch Bridge. The parking garage for Union Station is on the left. The height of the rails, currently set on wooden beams, suggests concrete and supporting material will be poured around the rails at that height, rather than drill into the bridge and set the rails flush with the bridge's surface--undoubtedly a structural consideration.

 Above: An eastward view from the top of the Hopscotch Bridge. The tracks currently end there. Is that the west end of the line? At one time there was talk of building a loop track in Union Station's garage, but from the view below, that doesn't seem likely:

 Above: Looking eastward from end-of-track at the top of the Hopscotch Bridge.

 Above and below: Passenger shelters.

 Above: A power substation under construction behind the tarp, corner of H St and 12th NE.

 Above: The eastern leg of the line along Benning Road just east of Five Points. Prefabricated switches are being installed for a loop track that will allow streetcars to change direction and maintain right-hand running.

 Above: The black box between the rails houses an electromagnetic machine that switches the track position.

 Above: The small black boxes are part of the signaling equipment.

 Above: Another view of the electromagnetic switch box.

Above: Trackwork continues eastward along Benning Road toward the Metro overpass. Currently it stops at Oklahoma Avenue, near the above location. One day it will pass under the Metro, turn southward, run through Anacostia by the Metro station, and join up with the piece already at Firth Sterling Avenue and South Capitol Street.

The Anacostia Test Facility (May 3, 2013)

Last winter (2012-2013) DDOT was busily erecting a streetcar test facility on South Capitol Street across from Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (formerly Bolling AFB). On May 1, the first of three streetcars arrived at the facility and was greeted by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, members of the city council, and a host of reporters. The Washington Post quoted Gray as exclaiming, “Isn’t it wonderful to have streetcars back in the District of Columbia?” 

 According to the Post article published May 1, city officials do not expect the initial 2-mile-long streetcar system to attract many riders, and those who do ride it will probably do so for the novelty. But as the system is expanded, ridership is, of course, expected to follow suit. 

On May 3, two days after the mayoral event, I photographed the facility from the outside looking in:

 Above: The new test facility as viewed from the west side of South Capitol St looking east. The streetcar tracks run along the west side of the road, behind me, continuing northward to Firth Sterling Avenue. A connecting track crosses South Capitol near the blue automobile to enter the test facility.

 Above: The connecting track is barely visible as it crosses South Capitol beneath the bagged traffic lights.

Above: End of the line. This is as far south as the South Capitol St line currently runs. It could be extended if a plan were developed to provide service for personnel at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, but for now, it only provides access to the test facility via the connecting track at the signals above. There's no "civilization" anywhere around to patronize the line. Incidentally, the old CSX (ex-B&O) Shepherd Point Branch is in the weeds off to the left about 25'.

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