Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Recent reports that the H Street streetcar won’t open until 2014 may be inaccurate. DDOT says they’re still working to begin service in late 2013.

Yesterday, NBC reported that it could be 2014 before passenger service begins on H Street. That report was based on DDOT’s statement that streetcar testing will begin in October, and that no one knows exactly how long the testing will take. If it takes longer than expected then opening day could be pushed to 2014.

Technically that’s true, but it doesn’t mean there’s a delay. The point of testing is to make sure there are no unanticipated problems. If there aren’t any then there won’t be a delay. Since no one can anticipate an unanticipated problem, no one knows if there will be a delay.

It’s a federal requirement that all new rail lines go through such testing. Doing so guarantees that everything will run smoothly, and that there are no inherent safety problems with the vehicles or infrastructure.

Testing began on the Silver Line in Tysons Corner a few weeks ago, and so far there are no big problems. When WMATA’s new 7000 series railcars arrive, they’ll have to be tested too.

Besides testing, there are other issues that could potentially delay the streetcar. DDOT has 3 streetcars right now, but needs more to operate the route. 3 more streetcars are on order but haven’t arrived yet. If the delivery date slips, so will opening day.

Also, the car barn still has to be built. DDOT might be able to run streetcars before the barn is finished, but only temporarily. If the barn becomes a sticking point and doesn’t move forward, opening on time will be harder.

Still, DDOT says they’re on target. Unless that changes, rumors of potential delay are just that.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


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Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and an adjunct professor at George Washington University. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado and lives in Trinidad, DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post. Dan blogs to express personal views, and does not take part in GGWash's political endorsement decisions.