More than 500 people apply for D.C. streetcar jobs

More than 500 people showed up Monday at the Department of Employment Services headquarters for a job fair hosted by the District Department of Transportation and DC Street car. The line of applicants for about 34 positions in four departments snaked around the building. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post) --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
More than 500 people showed up Monday at the Department of Employment Services headquarters for a job fair hosted by the District Department of Transportation and DC Street car. The line of applicants for about 34 positions in four departments snaked around the building. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
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While there’s no start date yet for the first modern streetcar service in D.C., more than 500 people lined up at the Department of Employment Services on Monday to apply for 34 jobs with the new line.

The line of applicants, many of whom waited for hours outside employment services headquarters on Minnesota Avenue, curved around the block onto Benning Road, said Reggie Sanders, spokesman for the District Department of Transportation, which is supervising the streetcar project.

There are four types of positions open: operators, service attendants, mechanics and materials handlers.

D.C. streetcar
The first streetcar arrived for testing on H Street in December. (Eva Russo/For The Washington Post)

“Our number one priority is operators,” Sanders said. One of the streetcars is under testing along the H Street/Benning Road NE line. A second car, manufactured in Portland, Ore., arrived in the District this month, and another from Portland should arrive in a few weeks.

Hiring operators, who will make about $20 an hour, is a top priority for the transportation department because of the extensive training required. They must learn to “cohabitate with traffic,” Sanders said. The District hasn’t seen streetcars in half a century. Placing them in service will be a learning experience for everyone involved — the operators, car drivers, delivery truck drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians.

The streetcars, built to carry 156 passengers, are eight feet wide, or a bit narrower than local buses. They are six feet longer than an articulated bus, the big, bendy kind that Metrobus operates.

Unlike the Metrobuses that operate along H Street and Benning Road, the streetcars will run on fixed rails, and when they encounter a double-parked car, or a truck stopped for a delivery, they can’t go around. Drivers, pedestrians and cyclists all will need to pay more attention to their surroundings. A public education and enforcement campaign is underway. But the operators also will need to learn a safety protocol for dealing with the busy corridor, which serves as a commuter route during rush hours and also as the main path through an emerging entertainment zone.

The District government has always viewed the streetcar project as more than a transportation system. It’s also partly an economic development project, encouraging the rebirth of the H Street NE corridor east of Union Station and — as illustrated by the popularity of Monday’s jobs fair — an employment opportunity. In addition to operators, the streetcars need mechanics for maintenance and repair, service attendants to clean the cars and other equipment, and materials handlers to take care of the warehouse operations.

Candidates submitted their applications Monday. The most qualified will be called back for follow-up interviews before the hiring is done, Sanders said.

Much of the power system, signaling and wiring for the two-mile route is in place, but the testing program is continuing. A federal review and approval will be needed before passenger service can start. The District government envisions the H Street/Benning Road line as the start of a 22-mile network of lines to be built over several decades.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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