In order to put my proposal in context, I should qualify my candidate projects. It is tempting to assume unlimited funds and total political palatability for transit projects when making fictional transit plan. At the same time, I also wanted to create a plan (or elements thereof) that have a feasible chance of being constructed. And while the strength of any plan like this is its uniqueness, it is often difficult find ideas that are not merely a rehashing of other plans. Yet there is value in showing a potential future. An organization which I was affiliated with in
My plan for the
The first part of my plan to be posted here on Track Twenty-Nine is the regional and commuter rail plan. I’m releasing it first simply because it was the first section of my plan to be completed and it represents one of the modes with the greatest potential and some of the greatest limitations.
Before I do so, however, it is necessary to lay some groundwork. After I set out to write a post describing my proposal for a regional/commuter rail system, I realized that the post was too long. So I divided it. This post talks about what we have, ideas for the future, and obstacles to their achievement. The next post will outline my plan. Ideally, these posts would be taken as a unit, but I think they will also stand alone quite well.
In addition to connecting Washington and Baltimore’s central business districts, MARC also serves the job centers of
Recently there have been calls to expand
Others have called for merging the two systems under one operating agency. Cross-regional trains and an integrated fare system could go a long way to reducing congestion and transportation issues in the area. My plan does not make any assumptions about agency organization, although I will not hesitate to suggest that the fewer transit operators the better when it comes to a seamless transit system.
Unfortunately, there are some serious barriers to creating such a unified system. Aside from organizational issues, there are physical limitations which must be addressed if a truly regional system is to be created. This is a very brief look at some of the major hurdles.
Across the country, the difficulty of adding trains is a common issue. Neither MARC nor VRE own any of their own tracks. MARC trains operate on tracks owned by CSX and Amtrak while VRE uses CSX and
In addition, both commuter railways have to store trains in downtown
One of the major obstacles, physically, at least, is Union Station. There is a limited amount of space being shared among MARC,VRE, and Amtrak trains. Union Station has two levels, upper and lower. There are 14 tracks on the upper level, which is accessible only to trains coming from the north. Six more tracks are located on the lower level which is shared by all trains that arrive or depart to the south.
Union Station lower level
Typically, MARC uses 8 tracks on the upper level. Amtrak uses another 6 there for trains operating along the Northeast Corridor and on the Capitol Limited. Of the 6 lower level tracks, VRE usually only uses 2, with Amtrak reserving the remaining 4 for their own operation. If MARC run through service is initiated to
Some expansion of Union Station is possible, albeit expensive. When the station opened in 1907, there were 29 tracks (not related in any way to the title of the blog, which refers to the fictitious Track 29 at
Passenger trains from the south reach Union Station by way of the First Street Tunnel under First Street SE/NE. The tunnel only has two tracks, although it widens to 6 as it passes under the Union Station headhouse. The tunnel dates to 1907 and probably warrants replacement, perhaps with a double-deck tunnel, if run through service is to be started. A three or four-track tunnel would allow for additional commuter and inter-city trains.
South of the tunnel, the double track merges with a two-track CSX freight line, becoming a three-track line. Currently only one track is dedicated to commuter use, with peak-direction VRE trains using the track to serve the L’Enfant Station. Southwest of L’Enfant, the tracks pass through a cut which would be difficult to widen to more than 3 tracks.
The Long Bridge from
the front of a VRE train
However, the three-track section is short and leads to a bottleneck at the two-track
Another obstacle, though not an insurmountable one, deals with the height of station platforms. Just to clarify the terminology, platforms are defined here as either “high” or “low.” High platforms are like those seen on Metro, one need not ascend steps in order to board the rail vehicle. Low platforms, on the other hand, are located at ground level, and passengers must climb stairs in order to get into the railcar.
A high platform at Balto.
Camden Station (above)
A low platform at Manassas
Boarding is expedited by high platforms, but those can’t be located anywhere other than MARC’s Penn Line because of freight traffic, which requires wider clearance than passenger coaches. Since all VRE service is located on freight rail lines, all platforms are low (including all platforms on Union Station’s lower level). Therefore all rolling stock is limited to low platform boarding. Most of MARC’s rolling stock, however (the bi-level and single level cars), is able to be used interchangeably on low or high platforms, but gallery cars, which operate on the Brunswick Line only, can only use low platforms.
If any VRE trains are to operate north of Union Station, they would either have to operate via the
There are many good examples of regional commuter rail systems across the country, but few have the organizational and physical obstacles or unique advantages of the
Of course, it is also true that
None of this, however, means that the barriers are insurmountable. It does indicate, though, that achieving a system like that of