There are “no fatal flaws” that would prevent the District’s troubled streetcar system from opening to passengers, according to outside transit experts brought in to inspect the city’s 2.2 mile line.
The findings by a group from the American Public Transportation Association represent a critical endorsement for the streetcar line along H Street and Benning Road NE. Leif Dormsjo, appointed head of the District Department of Transportation by Mayor Muriel Bowser in January, had asked for the review as part of his reexamination of the effort.
Although the city has spent $200 million on the program so far, Dormsjo had declined earlier this month to guarantee the line would open, saying he would first wait for the results of the “peer review” and other safety and internal assessments before making such a declaration.
On Friday, Dormsjo said he has the information he needs and his task now is to get the system open.
“The mayor wants to get it right, so she’s asked me to put together the work plan to launch the streetcar. We’re committed to getting it open,” Dormsjo said, noting that much work will need to be done by current project staff and consultants as well as new specialists he plans to bring in.
The transportation association gave the city a list of 18 items that need to be resolved before the line can open, including fixing problems with the track and rail switches, making sure all six city-owned streetcars work, bringing on a chief safety officer, bringing in a new project manager and developing a master schedule for everything that needs to be done.
“The team believes that with the appropriate resources and commitment by DDOT, it is possible to open the streetcar system,” according to a letter from APTA. A detailed draft report will follow in mid-April.
Streetcar practice runs, dubbed “simulated service,” will be halted while track work and drainage improvements are made along the line, according to DDOT.
Streetcar supporters, who had recoiled at the suggestion that problems with the system could be fatal, were pleased to learn it would open.
Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), a longtime streetcar backer, said in a statement that he appreciated Dormsjo’s “clear-eyed review” and the conclusions of the industry group.
“The District has asked a great deal of our small businesses on H Street and Benning Road, the surrounding neighborhood, and the residents. I expect DDOT to address APTA’s checklist items with all due speed...” and move the system forward, Allen said.
Dormsjo said he had no cost estimate for making the necessary fixes and no schedule for how long the work will take.