DDOT Clarifies Streetcar Future

No Plans to Discontinue Use of Current Fleet

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Car 201, manufactured by United Streetcar Company and delivered in 2014, pulls up to a stop on DC Streetcar Launch Day, Feb 27, 2016. Image: DDOT?DC Streetcar

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has responded to reports indicating the agency intends to scrap the current H Street NE streetcar fleet.

Reports were published Monday suggesting that the agency is planning to replace the six-car fleet currently in use. The agency says that they are only considering how –or whether—to integrate the streetcars into their next six years of planning, especially in light of two future extensions.

“We have no plans to discontinue use of the current DC Streetcar fleet,” said a statement released by DDOT. “As we make plans to purchase additional vehicles for extensions to Benning Road and Georgetown, we are evaluating the capabilities and cost-effectiveness of new vehicle types as well as their compatibility with the current fleet.”

The purchase of new streetcars for the extensions has caused the agency to evaluate the whole fleet, the representative added. According to DDOT materials distributed in public meetings about the project, 15 new streetcars will be required for the Union Station to Georgetown Corridor alone. DDOT also plans a Benning Road extension which would reach from Oklahoma Road NE to either the Benning Road or Minnesota Avenue Metro Station.

Map showing DDOT planned streetcar extensions, including the 3.5 mile segment of the USGT (in green) and Benning Road (in blue). Courtesy: DDOT

The agency is not considering getting rid of the fleet now, but rather what should be done with the vehicles as part of this future planning. Part of the process considers the condition of the current fleet when the new streetcars are added. “’Disposition’ is probably a better word choice than ‘disposal’,” said DDOT spokesperson Terry Owens. “If we have vehicles that are being replaced, we want to assess whether there would be a market for us recouping the cost by selling to other systems, not just disposal.”

Another factor in planning is that the streetcars currently in use were manufactured by two different companies, one overseas and one no longer in business. Inekon Trams A.S., located in the Czech Republic, has streetcars in operation in Seattle and Portland in addition to cars 101, 102 and 103 on the H Street Route. In 2012, Oregon Iron Works company United Streetcar was contracted to build cars 201, 202 and 203. The Portland-area manufacturer was the only domestic company making streetcars until the company dissolved in February 2015.

The dissolution of the company reduces access to manufacturer-produced replacement parts for cities that obtained cars from the company, including markets such as Portland and Tucson, AZ. 

The Czech-manufactured cars were completed in 2007, but sat in the Inekon yards until 2009 because of delays in route construction. The United streetcars were delivered in 2014, meaning the cars range in age from four to ten years.

The streetcars are not currently experiencing unusual maintenance issues, said DDOT, although it is more challenging in some cases.

“For some parts on the existing vehicles, we need to either rehabilitate existing parts or fabricate as needed,” he said. “For others, parts are commercially available.”

DDOT did not rule out the possibility that the original streetcar fleet might be sold after the next planning cycle. If that should occur, the streetcars will have had relatively short useful lives on District streets. While the Inekon streetcars themselves were complete long before their route was operational, even six years from now the cars will only be 16 years old. The Federal Transit Authority (FTA) has determined the streetcar rolling stock life as 31 expected useful years.

By comparison, the bulk of the streetcars in use in Toronto, Canada, North America’s largest streetcar system, were produced in the late 1980s. These are only now being gradually replaced by newer, wheelchair-friendly units manufactured by the Canadian Bombardier company.