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New streetcars arrive in D.C.

New streetcars arrive in D.C., If city officials’ predictions are correct, the District of Columbia will have a new mode of public transportation for city residents, tourists and commuters by the end of the year. During a news conference Wednesday, Mayor Vincent Gray and city officials announced the arrival of three new streetcars.

The streetcar vehicles have been in storage at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) Greenbelt yard for more than three years, while the city constructed the tracks and infrastructure necessary to operate the vehicles for passenger service.

Over a two-day period, the District transported two streetcars to the District Department of Transportation’s (DDOT) Anacostia facility, which will serve as a temporary rail yard and testing facility. Officials expect delivery of the third streetcar May 2. Three more cars are on order and are expected to begin shipping by September 2013. A full fleet of six cars will run on the completed system.

During the next several months, each streetcar will be tested and certified before going into service. Certification involves the testing of each component of the system, including the brakes and safety systems, to ensure the vehicles can safely operate on the streets. After certification, passenger service will begin on the H Street/Benning road corridor.

The District has not had streetcar service for more than 50 years. Between 1862 in 1962, streetcars were a common site in the city. The system began to dismantle after bus service became the more widely used mode of public transportation.

Aside from basic public transportation, Mayor Gray said he hopes the streetcars will convey a much more neighborhood friendly environment.

Gray visited Portland, Oregon on two occasions to get a sense of streetcar operation in that city. “The interaction I found from people on the streetcars was qualitatively different than it was on the buses and light rail and I think the same thing will prevail here,” said Gray.

The District is still working on funding the completion of the entire rail system, which might include overseas financing, according to the mayor. The final cost of the system will determine what the passenger pays to ride. Some have suggested that initial rides might be free, but that is unknown at this time and probably unlikely.

“Right now we’re working to look at our fare structure, which is going to be similar to what we did with Circulator,” said Terry Bellamy, Director of the District Department of Transportation. “[Fares] will be reasonable,” he added.

Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, Chair of the Council Committee on Transportation, said of the new streetcars, "This is just another step forward in this effort that we have to make this city the most progressive and the most environmentally friendly and transit friendly city in the entire nation."

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