Public Transit Group: No “Fatal Flaws” Stopping DC Streetcar

The District of Columbia has a long way to go before its troubled streetcar program can get off the ground, but an analysis by the American Public Transportation Association indicates that the problems ailing the system can definitely be fixed.

If you live in Washington, DC, and your social calendar has been limited by the lack of a streetcar, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) has some good news for you.

Long story short, the city’s streetcar—which goes through the hip H Street commercial district—can open soon, as long as the District holds up its end of the bargain. The association found no “fatal flaws” preventing the launch.

“The team believes that with the appropriate resources and commitment by DDOT, it is possible to open the streetcar system,” APTA Senior Program Manager Charles Joseph wrote in a letter to the District Department of Transportation.

The association launched the test at the request of the local transportation department, which had run into a variety of setbacks with the streetcar program—a system that has been dogged by bad press, crashes, and various issues that arose during a months-long testing period.

While the city now knows that its system is strong enough to offer passenger service eventually, the association has a number of recommendations that vary in level of difficulty, from ensuring all six of the streetcars are operational (relatively easy) to improving signal-light coordination (fairly challenging).

Reassuring the Boss

The newly appointed director of DDOT, Leif Dormsjo, has suggested in the recent past that he’s not opposed to shutting down the streetcar project entirely, despite the city having spent more than $160 million on a project that’s basically been completed. But in an interview with WAMU, he said that APTA’s findings were enough to give him faith in the troubled project.

“Before, I didn’t have enough credible, expert advice to know whether we were a ‘go’ or ‘no go.’ I really now feel we are a go,“ Dormsjo told the radio station.

Some of the issues raised by the document are workaround solutions implemented in the testing phase, including the use of handheld radios rather than the onboard radios included in the streetcars. But others will take time to complete, including the completion of a safety test.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” Dormsjo said to WAMU. “It is clear from the APTA review that there are some systems, some plans, some practices that need to be upgraded. There is some physical work that needs to be completed.”

But while APTA’s letter emphasizes that progress is necessary in order to get the streetcar ready to move, it notes that the city appears to be taking the necessary steps to fix the problems.

“The review team recognizes that DDOT is already striving to complete some of the recommendations made by the peer review team and implement the project as designed,” Joseph stated in his letter.

The association will send a draft report of its findings to the city’s transportation department next month.

(Ted Eytan/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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