On Tuesday, The Overhead Wire, a pro-electrified transit blog, published comments arguing that Congress should repeal a century-old federal law prohibiting the use of overhead wires for streetcars, freeing “the District of Columbia to operate clean, green, efficient, electric surface mass transit on any of its streets.”
The commenter goes on to argue that a single overhead wire — the type D.C. plans to use — should be permitted throughout the District:
“Until more reliable forms of power become available, the best system for more than 100 years to power streetcars is from a simple almost invisible overhead wire. This is how more than 400 other electric surface transit systems operate around the world and within other US cities. However, Congress banned overhead wires in parts of D.C. more than 100 years ago stifling electric surface transit progress and ultimately killing it almost 50 years ago.
It’s time for Congress to take a leadership role and change that law to allow streetcars to use single simple, non-polluting almost invisible wire above their tracks and return to all of D.C. When the law was passed more than 100 years ago it was well intended to remove masses of utility wire from city streets. Utilities can bury their wires but transit cannot. The old underground conduit system used by the now abandoned D.C. streetcar network is too expensive and difficult to maintain or reinstall and not at all desirable.”
The District government plans to build and operate an extensive streetcar network in Washington, but the National Capital Planning Commission has resisted the use of overhead wires to power streetcars, citing an 1889 federal law prohibiting overhead wires in the downtown area falling within the historic part of Washington laid out by Pierre L’Enfant. The initial streetcar line planned for Anacostia falls outside the overhead wire prohibition area; however, a portion of the streetcar line planned for H Street and Benning Road N.E. (and other lines to be built later) would be affected by the overhead wire prohibition. The District Department of Transportation has not yet stated publicly how it plans to overcome this obstacle.