Wednesday, April 21, 2010

D.C. backers eye streetcar extension to Union Station

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The H Street-Benning Road streetcar line in Washington, D.C., now under construction, could be extended to provide a link to Union Station, under a plan being advanced by the District Department of Transportation. DDOT is recommending use of an underpass to allow streetcars to traverse Union Station property underneath existing rail infrastructure.

DDOT officials will seek federal funding for extension. The current H Street-Benning Road work, funded by the city, is now scheduled to open in 2012 after numerous setbacks. It likely would utilize three Inekon streetcars only recently arrived from the Czech Republic, originally purchased for use on another city streetcar project, the Anacostia Line, which began construction last year.

Last week city Councilman Jim Graham urged the H Street link be given priority over the oft-delayed (and partially rerouted) Anacostia Line. But DDOT spokesman John Lisle said, “We are accelerating the timetable for the H Street/Benning Road line to be operational, and we expect it and the Anacostia Line to begin service in 2012.” Lisle added, “They are both priorities.”

The H Street-Benning Road route has its own problems, as it would enter the federal historic portion of the city that bans overhead catenary wire. Continued clashes with some preservationist groups has prompted DDOT to explore hybrid streetcar options. A dual-mode streetcar, utilizing catenary power or battery power, is under consideration to mollify preservationist groups. (Some of those groups appear determined to thwart streetcar development regardless, rail advocates assert.)