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The Gray administration is pledging to begin passenger service on the H Street streetcar as early as January, a highly ambitious timeline given the formidable scheduling obstacles.

“The streetcars will start, you know, actually moving around in December,” Mayor Vince Gray said this morning on NewsTalk With Bruce DePuyt. “And we’ll have passenger service probably starting in January, not later than early February, when we get an additional car.”

“We are in lockstep with the mayor’s date, that we can get it done by then,” says District Department of Transportation spokesman Reggie Sanders.

Here’s what needs to happen between now and the beginning of passenger service. First, the street construction and the overhead wiring need to be completed. Then safety certification needs to take place. DDOT chief engineer Ronaldo “Nick” Nicholson said earlier this month that certification would begin in December; Sanders says that’s still the expectation. Ron Garraffa, an engineer with HDR, one of the city’s contractors for the streetcar, said at the same press conference that certification varies between cities; for Tampa’s streetcar project, on which he also worked, it took between 90 and 120 days. But he said D.C.’s certification would be more complex because there’s more traffic on the route and the streetcar will be sharing a lane with cars for the entirety of the line, so the D.C. certification will likely take longer. Finally, when the certification is complete, Nicholson said the streetcar would begin passenger service within 30 days.

So let’s do the math. If certification begins on the earliest date possible (Dec. 1) and takes as long as the lower end of the Tampa estimate (90 days), and then passenger service begins immediately upon certification (very unlikely), that would mean March 1—-later than Gray and DDOT say it’ll happen.

In order for passenger service to start in January, as Gray says is probable, certification would have to begin on Dec. 1, and the length of the certification process plus the time for the streetcar to begin rolling would have to total no more than 60 days.

That would mean a very expedited certification process relative to Garraffa’s expectations. Sanders says “there’ll be no shortcuts,” but “there’s confidence that we can get it done by the mayor’s goal of January or February.” The certification will be carried out by the State Safety Oversight Agency, part of D.C.’s Fire and EMS Department. It’ll be the first such certification by the State Safety Oversight Agency.

The mayor’s NewsTalk appearance is below.

Screenshot from Gray’s appearance on NewsTalk