The first D.C. streetcars, like this one being tested near Union Station, will operate on H Street and Benning Road NE. (Robert Thomson/The Washington Post)

The D.C. Department of Transportation plans to start simulated streetcar service next month.

The official route testing along a 2.4-mile segment of H Street and Benning Road NE will bring the District a step closer to returning streetcars to city roadways a half-century after they stopped running in the city.

“After that we can move forward with passenger service,” said Thomas Perry, DDOT’s program manager for streetcar engineering and construction.  “It is an exciting time— it is a big milestone and we are very positive about the progress we will be making going forward.”

Passenger service is expected to begin by the end of the year, Perry said.

DDOT has been training operators since early August, getting them acquainted with the route, the cars and equipment. By October, DDOT says it will be ready to start running the cars as if they are providing actual service, doing everything but allowing passengers on board. This will allow operators to get comfortable with the system, engineers to assess the performance of the cars, and DDOT to establish a maintenance routine.

“It is an overall engaging of the system so that on day one, when we are ready to accept passengers, everything is in its place, and it works and it’s safe,” Perry said.

During the simulated service, DDOT will submit a certification and safety package to the office of State Safety Oversight for D.C. Streetcar for review and approval that would give the green light to start passenger service.

Meantime, DDOT has yet to finalize some service details, including schedules and a fare policy.  For now, plans call for cars to  run every 10 minutes, seven days a week. Service hours are tentatively set for 6 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday and extended until 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Sunday hours are tentatively set for 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

DDOT officials are still developing a fare policy that could mirror that of Metrobus, meaning the fare could be set at $1.75.  But that remains to be determined. Perry said the city is considering beginning passenger service without a fare to introduce streetcars to the city. DDOT has also yet to finalize how users will pay fares.  Under consideration is a pre-boarding system.

The line being tested runs east on H Street from behind Union Station, then along Benning Road to Oklahoma Avenue. The H Street/Benning Road Line is the first in a 22-mile network that could eventually cover 37 miles.