WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Streetcars are moving again in Washington.
For the first time since 1962 four streetcars maneuvered up and down H Street and Benning Road in Northeast, D.C. They carried no passengers, only the people training to be among the first crews of streetcar operators.
Over the next four to seven weeks, 22 operators hired by the District Department of Transportation will receive 30 hours of on-the-road training, mixing with cars, buses, bicycles and pedestrians along the congested commercial corridor.
"I am pretty sure I will do good, not very nervous," said Saundra Harrison, a D.C. native who piloted one of four streetcars starting Monday morning. She has been piloting streetcars on the isolated Anacostia test track, but now on H Street there is traffic to contend with.
"Today I guess there are just more people watching," she laughed.
The tracks, running 2.5 miles from Union Station to Benning Road, were installed years ago. But several delays involving other aspects of the District's streetcar program held up the final stages of testing until this month. Passenger fares have yet to be set, and no passengers may board a streetcar until the system is safety certified under criteria established by the Federal Transit Administration.
For now, DDOT needs to trains its operators and educate the public to avoid crashes and traffic tie-ups.
"It's a blending that we haven't done in about 40 or 50 years, and it is going to be a transition both for DDOT and the operations, but also Metro bus, the bicyclists, and people just driving their cars," said DDOT streetcar operations chief Ralph Burns.
Harrison did not pilot her streetcar for more than a few blocks before she had to stop for an extended delay. A fire truck and ambulance were blocking the tracks, tending to an injured pedestrian. The streetcar did not start moving again for about 30 minutes, while buses and cabs continued to move around it. The streetcars operate on a fix track and cannot maneuver around obstacles.
At the new H Street Market in the heart of the commercial district, shop manager Ayele Gebrehiwot said he is in the process of figuring out where his delivery trucks will stop to unload. The days of double parking are over because of the streetcar tracks.
"That's a problem," said Gebrehiwot, who said the usual 18-wheeler cannot fit outside his storefront anymore. For now, the delivery truck is parking on a nearby side street while he negotiates with the District about possibly using parking spaces right outside his front door.
A high-level project source with direct knowledge of the testing and training process says after the completion of operator training and pre-revenue operations, which consists of running streetcars along the corridor as if there were carrying passengers, the streetcar system must undergo final safety certification. Under a best-case scenario, the streetcar would be ready for passengers in early November.
DDOT's goal is to run three streetcars at ten-minute headways. If traffic congestion slows down operations, DDOT will deploy the rest of its six-car fleet to maintain the ten-minute headways.