Completely destroyed or severely deteriorated streetcar rails are giving the contractors behind the O and P Street project something to ponder. The team must come up with new, historically accurate rails to replace center rails that have been exposed to the elements in the streets of Georgetown.
As the streetcar tracks began to come out of the ground in October, the contractors quickly discovered that most of the center rails were grossly worn away. The center rails, which once served as the electrical conduit for the city-wide streetcar system, had been exposed to the elements because of a drainage channel for the electrical system.
The future is uncertain. Four blocks of tracks have been dug up, another four remain, though only one and a half of those have any center rails left to speak of. The other two and a half have completely eroded with age and exposure. The side rails were less impacted because they were sealed in concrete, without a drainage channel.
At the most recent Advisory Neighborhood Commission meetings, Commissioner Jeff Jones told the community that the project was facing a setback because of the poor quality of the streetcar tracks. But Dara Ward, a spokesperson for the O and P Street Project told Patch, "We don't really see this as a set back. We’re not experiencing any delays."
As part of the project to upgrade the street, the project team was tasked with maintaining the "structural integrity" of the historic streetcars. Ward said as they exist, the center rails would compromise the integrity and safety of the street, an unacceptable risk.
The rails came out of the ground "pretty deteriorated" and in some cases, "beyond rehabilitation," according to Ward. Because of the unique nature of the streetcar system in D.C., finding historically similar replacement parts is nearly impossible. The contractor is working with the project team to determine the best way to replicate what once existed.
Ward said the process of removing the remaining rails from the street affords the project time to come up with a solution to the lost rails, so at this point she does not foresee any delays.
In terms of costs, the team does not expect any additional work to drastically impact the $12.3 million project. The cost will be "fairly negligible," said Ward. "We’re not talking millions of dollars. It’s not going to be a big issue." In the end she said it could mean a two or three percent increase in the budget.
Should the creation of new, historically accurate center rails set the project back, Ward said her team would "absolutely communicate that to the community."