Workers continue to prepare Benning Road and H Street for the streetcar's arrival.
Workers continue to prepare Benning Road and H Street for the streetcar's arrival.

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Maybe what the streetcar really needed was a good Death Watch.

The District Department of Transportation has just announced the conclusion of a review of the streetcar’s long-delayed inaugural line by American Public Transit Association, and the prognosis is… not awful. APTA finds that the streetcar, set to run along H Street NE and Benning Road, is devoid of “fatal flaws” that would prevent revenue service, although there are still issues that need to be addressed before that service can begin.

The findings by APTA, conveyed in a letter to DDOT and set to be released in a draft report next month, don’t clear the streetcar for operation. First, it needs to pass the ongoing review by the State Safety Oversight Agency, part of D.C.’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services department. There are also other fundamental issues to be worked out, like the not-insignificant question of how fares will be collected.

But for a streetcar system that’s received nothing but bad news in recent months, culminating in DDOT Director Leif Dormsjo‘s announcement that the streetcar may never run even on the tracks that have already been laid on H Street and Benning, it’s a welcome change of pace. Dormsjo, who’s shied away from the predictions and proclamations of his predecessors, reacted to the news cautiously.

“This letter from APTA underscores DDOT’s guiding principle for the DC Streetcar that it will only open once it is deemed safe,” Dormsjo said in a statement. “The APTA peer review helped give us a pathway toward a Streetcar service that can meet safety certifications and the needs of passengers that it will eventually serve.”

The APTA panel that reviewed the streetcar progress provided DDOT with a list of items that still need to be executed before the streetcar can begin carrying passengers. On the list: more training for the maintenance team, a review of operations and maintenance procedures, and additional DDOT hires with streetcar-operating experience. DDOT is working to establish a schedule for completing these tasks before launching the system. The agency is also conducting ongoing maintenance and repairs, such as water drainage mitigation and rail-break fixes, that require simulated streetcar service along the corridor to shut down temporarily.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery