DC Streetcar: Light Rail System in Washington, D.C.

All You Need to Know About the District's Modern Streetcars

DC Streetcar on H Street NE, Washington, D.C.
••• DC Streetcar on H Street NE, Washington, D.C. Wikimedia Commons/Mariordo (Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz)

As one of the country's fastest-growing cities, Washington, D.C., added the DC Streetcar, a surface streetcar network that gives residents and visitors another public transportation option. This system, which opened in February 2016, currently has one line as of 2017, with plans to add more. Once fully expanded, the streetcar system will cover 37 miles and cover all eight wards. If you will be visiting the District and taking public transportation, here is some helpful information for using the streetcars.

Goals of the DC Streetcar System

The streetcar system was developed to do the following:

  • Make it easier for residents to move among neighborhoods, unlike the Metrorail
  • Offer more extensive transit options for residents
  • Reduce traffic congestion, parking demand, and air pollution
  • Encourage economic development and affordable housing along streetcar corridors

Modern Streetcars

The DC Streetcars operate on fixed rails on public streets. They run in mixed traffic or have a separate right of way. Electric motors power the streetcars, which collect power from electric wires 20 feet above the lanes used by the streetcars. As the system expands, the streetcars will be powered wirelessly.

The streetcars feature air conditioning and low floors that make it quick and easy to board. They are about the length of an articulated bus but hold more passengers -- from 144 to 160 seated and standing. The streetcars accommodate wheelchairs, bicycles, and strollers.

DC Streetcar Fast Facts

  • The streetcars are free to ride until the District Department of Transportation changes its fare policy.
  • Headways are between 10 and 15 minutes, which means that you'll never have to wait more than 15 minutes to board, unless bad weather, traffic, or accidents affect the schedule.
  • East-West trips average 20 minutes.
  • Police visit the stations and security staff are on board the streetcars.
  • Monthly ridership is currently more than 100,000 passengers.
  • The most popular stops are currently Union Station, 8th St/H St, and 13th St/H St.

    DC Streetcar Operating Hours

    • Monday–Thursday: 6 a.m.–midnight
    • Friday: 6 a.m.–2 a.m.
    • Saturday: 8 a.m.–2 a.m.
    • Sundays and holidays: 8 a.m.–10 p.m.

    H Street/Benning Road NE Line

    The DC Streetcar system's first line, the H Street/Benning Road NE segment, is 2.4 miles with eight stations. It serves riders from Union Station on the west to the Anacostia River on the east. Eventually, it will go beyond the Anacostia at Benning Metro to the Georgetown waterfront.

    Expansion Lines

    The expansion will first focus on the first 22 miles of the 37-mile proposed plan. These are the new lines under consideration:

    • Anacostia Extension: Between the Anacostia Metrorail Station and the 11th Street Bridge, through historic Anacostia
    • Anacostia Initial Line: Connects the Anacostia Metro Station with the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB), via Firth Sterling Avenue and South Capitol Street
    • Benning Road Extension: Across the Anacostia River, connecting with either the Benning Road or Minnesota Avenue Metro stations
    • M Street SE/SW: Along the Southwest waterfront from 12th Street SE to 14th Street SW and from the Southwest/Southeast Freeway south to the Anacostia River/Washington Channel
    • North-South Corridor: A 9-mile, north-south corridor that starts in the Buzzard Point/Southwest Waterfront area and extends through Takoma or Silver Spring
    • Union Station to Georgetown: West of Union Station to the Georgetown Waterfront

    History of Streetcars in Washington, D.C.

    Streetcars were a common mode of transportation in the District from 1862 until 1962. The first streetcar was horse-drawn and ran from the Capitol to the State Department. In 1888, the first electric-powered streetcar was put in service and overhead wires were installed around the city. By the mid-1890s, there were numerous streetcar companies operating in the District and lines that extended into Maryland and Virginia.

    In the first half of the 20th century, the streetcar network included more than 200 miles of track. As bus service became more prevalent, the popularity of streetcars declined and service was abandoned in January 1962. Streetcars are now making a comeback to fill in the gaps in transit around the city.