By Ashley Gilmore and William Hicks
WASHINGTON — Created with the intention of connecting Northeast Washington with the rest of the District of Columbia’s public transportation system, the DC Streetcar has been beset with problems from the start.
A streetcar, also known as a trolley, is a large passenger vehicle similar to a bus, powered by overhead electrical wires on a set of fixed tracks that runs next to regular traffic.
After laying down 2.2 miles of track connecting Union Station to neighborhoods near the Anacostia River, testing began in the fall of 2014. Five riderless streetcars move up and down H Street NE and Benning Road seven days a week.
“Three or four months, they have been going up and down the street testing,” said 70-year-old resident Ella Middleton, “What are they testing?”
Since testing began, the streetcars have had 11 accidents with other vehicles and one even caught on fire, causing the start date for passengers to be further delayed.
“They need to shut it down,” said resident Marcus Lawrence, 61. “They’ve spent $200 million and wasted the people’s money.”
The problem stems from proximity of the streetcar tracks with parked cars on H Street and Benning Road. If cars are parked outside the lines, they could block the path of the streetcar stopping it or causing a collision.
As frustration mounted, the district’s Department of Transportation director, Lief Dormsjo, said the streetcar project might be scrapped altogether if safety concerns are not alleviated.
Dormsjo asked the American Public Transportation Association to do an independent review to decide whether to move forward on the project.
D.C.’s original streetcar system was dismantled in the 1960s, making way for other means of transport.
In 2002 transportation officials wanted to bring the system back. The development of the streetcar was proposed in 2010 by the D.C. Transportation Office to run every 10 to 15 minutes, seven days a week, carrying an estimated 6,000 riders daily. In 2011 a report released by D.C.’s Office of Planning projected the streetcar would produce almost 8,000 jobs and increase building property values by almost $6 billion.
The streetcar project has extended across the reach of three mayors and is expected to cost the city $3 billion if it ever gets on track. The American Public Transportation Association began the week-long review Monday with the goal of producing a report on the future of the streetcar by late April.