By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Washington on Saturday is set to launch its long-delayed streetcar line, the first in the U.S. capital since 1962 and part of a nationwide trolley revival.
The start of service on the $200 million, 2.4-mile (3.9-km) line marks the end of more than a decade of planning and construction marred by blown deadlines and rising costs.
The six-car service will link Union Station, the city's train terminal, to Benning Road in northeast Washington along H Street, a gentrifying corridor of restaurants, stores and apartment buildings.
“I want to thank the residents of the H Street and Benning Road communities for their patience during the construction and testing of the system," Muriel Bowser, the fourth District 16
of Columbia mayor to have a hand in the project, said in announcing the launch.
Bowser has said rides will be free, at least initially.
The H Street line is part of a streetcar system that a 2005 District transportation plan said would reach 25 miles (40 km) by 2030 and cost $1 billion. The first leg was supposed to open in 2006.
But cost overruns and delays have plagued the project, and the system has been scaled back under Bowser to about a third of that size.
District Transportation Director Leif Dormsjo, brought in by Bowser last year, said in a statement, "After years of overspending, mismanagement and lack of direction, we made it happen.”
Despite the headaches, Washington is part of a growing number of cities that turned to the railed vehicles for transportation.
Five cities, including Charlotte, North Carolina, and Atlanta, have started service in the last five years, according to the American Public Transportation Association.
New York is planning a 16-mile (26 km) line, and U.S. streetcar ridership rose last year to 50.84 million trips, a 3.4 percent increase, the Federal Transit Administration said.
But in a sign of opposition, Arlington, Virginia, a Washington suburb, canceled two projects in 2014 after residents protested against the $550 million cost.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson Editing by W Simon)