What Does this Mean? Will Streetcars be powered by Overhead Wires or not? Or some sorta combination?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

Admittedly I’m not one to study reports and dig through the minutia of stuff that quite frankly I don’t understand. But one thing I have been able to understand is that there is a group that strongly opposes the use of overhead wires anywhere in DC (even if seemingly there are no views to be blocked). It was my understanding that the only way to power H St, NE’s proposed line was by overhead wires. Maybe I’m wrong but I thought I read that somewhere. Now DDOT issues a press release saying in part, “DDOT will also pursue a vehicle capable of operating without overhead wires in early 2011.”

So I ask you dear readers, who are far more knowledgeable about these sorts of things than I am – please explain what this means. Maybe the lawyers can help me understand what, “DDOT will also pursue a vehicle capable of operating without overhead wires in early 2011.” actually means. Does this mean, new tracks will be not be powered by overhead wires? Does it mean overhead wires will be installed and then removed when a vehicle “capable of operating without overhead wires” is procured? Does it mean where overhead wires are installed will remain overhead wires or are overhead wires completely off the table at this point?

Is it just me or were we once told that it had to be overhead wires?

And just to be clear on my end, from a personal level, I support the installation of street cars with or without overhead wires on H St, NE. Having said that, if it is possible without being prohibitively expensive, I too would prefer the cars be powered in other ways. Either way, I hope we’ll really see street cars in 2012.

Full press release after the jump.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) today is issuing a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the completion of the H Street/Benning Road Streetcar line. DDOT is soliciting design/build proposals to make the line operational and ready for revenue service in 2012, and the agency will issue a separate RFP this month for the purchase of additional streetcars. DDOT will also pursue a vehicle capable of operating without overhead wires in early 2011.

“These are exciting steps forward for the streetcar system,” said DDOT Director Gabe Klein. “They set in motion the final work needed to get the streetcars rolling for District residents, who can only benefit from more transit options and services.”

DDOT has also launched an Environmental Assessment (EA) and Historical Preservation Study (Section 106 Evaluation) for Phase 2 of the Anacostia Streetcar Line. DDOT is proposing an extension that will run from the Anacostia Metrorail Station to the 11th Street Bridges, providing service to the Downtown Anacostia business and Historic Districts, and across the 11th Street Bridge which will be streetcar ready when completed in 2013. The EA and study will identify the potential impacts of the project and devise ways to mitigate those impacts in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

In addition, DDOT is commissioning a Streetcar Finance Taskforce to develop a strategy to leverage private investments in future segments of the DC Streetcar network. It is anticipated that the 37-mile system will be funded by a combination of local, federal and private dollars, an investment that will pay great dividends by creating jobs, boosting property values and promoting economic development.

For more information about the DC Streetcar system, please visit our website at ddot.dc.gov/DCStreetcar.

12 Comment

  • The phrase , “DDOT will also pursue a vehicle capable of operating without overhead wires in early 2011.” is a non-statement that doesn’t commit DDOT in any way whatsoever. It’s like aggreeing to consider something. It’s meaningless.

  • I hope these streetcars aren’t just glorified buses. I thought that part of the attraction of streetcars is that they are more environmentally friendly (electric powered)…

  • True, it doesn’t commit DDOT to anything, but what it most likely is pointing to is the fact that DC will be exploring a new generation of “hybrid” streetcars which will operate on overhead lines where available but will be able to store power on board for areas where no overhead lines are available. A company called Kinkisharyo just rolled out a new model hybrid streetcar specifically targeted at DC an a couple of other cities.

  • The “group” with the problem, only has a problem with overhead lines in the L’Enfant city where overlead lines are currently forbidden and powering streetcars via the overhead feeder lines would require the repeal of that law by Congress, not the DC City Council.

    I don’t know whether the repeal would be an easy thing for Congress to do. I am guessing not as every Congressman from podunk nowhere loves to dictate District law.

    Of course had DDOT pursued the repeal of this law years ago rather than after the entire system was planned, scheduled and a preliminary budget identified then it wouldn’t be a problem.

    DDOT’s oversight, laziness or arrogance on the matter..whiatever it is, is no reason to try to slam through a repeal of a valid law at the last minute because DDOT is screaming about additional cost if its delayed when they could have addressed this 7 or 8 years ago.

    I for one think that there are a number of sufficently mature technologies out there that would allow a streetcar system without overhead wires in the L’Enfant city, DDOT identified many of them in their “alternatives” study.

  • Take some time to look up the LFX-300 vehicle by Kinkisharyo here: http://kinkisharyo.com/ourvehicles.html.

    It’s a hybrid electric-battery powered streetcar that seems ideal for D.C. They can operate for up to 3 miles on battery power, which is then re-charged through regenerative breaking (like Amtrak’s Acela) and sections of track with overhead wires.

  • It seems irresponsible for a city with a forecast budget deficit of over $345 million to spend $1.5 billion on a streetcar system that is projected to lose another $7 to $8 million annually in operating costs prior to factoring Mayor-elect Gray’s proposal to drop $6 million from the Department of Transportation annual budget. The Council could simply give more money to WMATA and have them expand surface transit over the same lines. This railcar system seems to be a boondoggle.

  • DDOT’s plan is to begin building out D.C.’s 37-mile streetcar system on the H Street-Benning Road and Anacostia lines using streetcars powered by overhead wires, but DDOT hopes that battery technology will evolve quickly enough so that D.C. can soon begin purchasing hybrid streetcars that can be powered by overhead wires or batteries as a secondary power source (which can be used to avoid the use of overhead wires in key viewsheds like crossing the National Mall.)

    DDOT has extensively investigated alternate technologies that use ground-level power sources — thereby avoiding the need for overhead wires. Alternative power technologies are few, proprietary (read, expensive sole source contracts), and not necessarily appropriate for D.C.’s climate (because D.C. uses sand and salt on the streets when it snows, which would affect underground electrical infrastructure). For these reasons, DDOT sensibly determined that a hybrid power system using overhead wires and batteries provides the most flexibility to start building out the system now with the hope that eventually some or all of the wires could be removed as battery technology hopefully improves.

    Finally, to respond to an earlier point of confusion, earlier this year, the D.C. Council passed emergency legislation permitting overhead wires to be used on the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line, which is under construction (the Anacostia line is outside of the area where overhead streetcar wires had not been permitted). The legislation also established a process for permitting the use of overhead streetcar wires for other streetcar lines. My understanding is that the Council had to also pass the bill under regular procedures because emergency legislation is only in effect for a matter of months. To my knowledge, the Council has not yet taken action on permanent legislation.

  • You understand that these street cars are suppose to run in front of the captial in this 37-mile street car system. So are you OK with having overhead lines on the mall in front of the Capital? Read the routes that they are proposedfor this system. Are they going to revamp the system once the streetcars have been implemented? Are we going to end up with non-overhead wires in the end? Lets do this the right way the first time, to start, we need to design this correctly. Don’t let this become a political agenda. This is our money, our streets, our city.

  • Actually, we are very fortunate to have a very progressive city and especially DDOT and WMATA. The streetcar network is fixed rail. Fixed rail such as our subway system and new streetcar network promotes economic development along its corridor which is why H Street is one of the first to get the line. Get it…put in fixed rail and let the development come in and finish up the streetscape, empty lots, abandoned buildings, etc. Adding more surface buses just adds more buses, pollution, and they can be moved, canceled, re-routed at any time. Streetcars and bikes are the future for urban cities.

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