Tuesday, March 11, 2008

RLS Kicking In

So for the last week or so, I've been bogged down with all sorts of work, and I haven't been able to continue blogging. I have often heard this referred to as "Real Life Syndrome" (RLS). It certainly feels like a syndrome to me.

And unlike the pharmaceutical marketing ploy with the same initials, this RLS actually does disrupt your blog. (Just kidding).

Anyway, I wanted to take this time to respond to comments left regarding my last post and to ensure everyone that, yes, I am still working on getting the rest of my transit plan out there.

Alex B.:
Interesting ideas.

The downtown tunnel idea is interesting, but I'm not sure it's the best use of resources. I'd be more inclined to create the New Blue line for Metro through this part of downtown, offering another connection at Union Station, giving passengers there two lines to access the core of downtown with. I realize that's not part of your scope here, but I think that would be a far more useful investment for the rest of the city, beyond just regional commuters.

Great job, though. Any ideas on how (or even if) to relocate the L'Enfant tracks, as per the NCPC's plan? I've always had in the back of my mind the crazy idea of re-routing all freight traffic outside of the District somehow, and building a new 'South Station' above the air rights on 395, which could then connect up to the existing 1st street tunnel. This would allow Maryland and Virginia Aves to be rebuilt and piece some of that area back together. Also, having a station there means some trains from MD could bypass Union Station by using the current single track tunnel under the SE Freeway to get to the new L'Enfant station.

Just an idea of mine. Great stuff.

I agree. Building a regional rail subway though downtown would not be cheap. It certainly should not come at the expense of the M Street Subway either. In my opinion building a subway to relieve chronic overcrowding in the Blue/Orange subway should be one of the region's highest priorities. But a regional rail subway serves a different purpose. It would make somewhat of a dent in getting Maryland commuters off of the busy Red Line, and could encourage more riders to ride. It worked in Philadelphia and I think it fits here as well.

As for the Virginia and Maryland Avenue tracks near L'Enfant Plaza, I think that they must remain in passenger service, if nothing else. There is no other direct route for passenger trains to use from Alexandria to Union Station, and service to L'Enfant is vital to our region. Freight service, on the other hand, is less desirable in the corridor. I don't see an easy way to relocate the tracks, however. Improvements will need to be made, as this corridor is an increasingly busy freight corridor through the Northeast.

Love the plan. On the Baltimore end, though, why not continue along the old Baltimore Belt Line base Mt. Royal? Instead of joining up with the NE Corridor, this would give stops in southern Charles Village (at 25th St.) and Cold Spring before ultimately joining back with the NE Corridor in East Baltimore. I believe MARC actually has such an idea in its long-range plan.

You are correct. The MTA has plans to use the Baltimore Belt-Line right-of-way to connect the Mount Royal Tunnel. I felt, however, that a connection between the regional rail line M1 at Penn Station was important to link commuters coming from the Perryville/Wilmington corridor to downtown Baltimore. Remember, I'm proposing bi-directional service of 15-30 minutes, which is better than light rail service is at present. A station at the Baltimore Belt-Line Railway and Charles Street is only 8 tenths of a mile north of Penn Station, approximately 15 minutes walking. While it would be great to serve Charles Village, I think it is outweighed by making a transfer available at Penn Station.

I am glad you commented though. This is the kind of feedback that I like. On a side note, at one point I considered running the M1 up Charles Street/York Road in subway to Towson. I think a light or heavy rail extension would do more justice to the corridor though.

I'm pretty sure that MARC already has plans to extend Penn Line service up to Wilmington. Don't have a link handy, sorry.

You are correct--sort of. I linked the document in the post "Make No Little Plans I", which I posted a day prior to this one. MTA's plans only call for an extension to Newark, Delaware, where passengers could connect to Philadelphia's SEPTA regional rail service. The link, if you want to see it, is: http://mtamaryland.com/projects/marc%20plan%20full.pdf

One thing I think you missed is regional rail service to Loudon County. (e.g. Leesburg and beyond)

Interesting idea. I would be glad to hear suggestions about getting to Leesburg, though. Unfortunately, one of the most difficult parts of transportation planning is figuring out how to penetrate the urban core. With commuter/regional rail, usually existing train tracks are used. There are none in this case. I suppose one could use the W&OD right-of-way, which is currently a biking/walking facility. However, the Silver Line will be making stops as far as Route 772 (Ryan Road) in a few years if the FTA decides to fund it. If they don't fund the Silver Line, I doubt they'll fund regional rail out there.

Anonymous: (from Make No Little Plans I)

From my understanding of the issue, the clearance issues that led high platforms to be banned have to do with not providing enough clearance for railroad employees riding on the side of train cars. It's a regulation that made sense in the old days, but makes much less sense now, especially given all the inconvenience that it causes for wheelchair users and others.

The issue is not one of safety, but clearance. The freight railroads that own both of VRE's lines and the MARC Camden and Brunswick Lines require low platforms because freight cars are wider than passenger cars. You'll note that the only high platform stations on these all four of these routes are at Greenbelt and Camden Yards. Greenbelt has two "loop" tracks for passenger service only, meaning that at Greenbelt MARC Station, there are four tracks and freight trains never use those adjacent to the platforms. Camden Yards Station is off of the CSX main line, because it is north of the point where the freight trains dive into the Howard Street Tunnel.

So, as long as commuter trains operate on freight tracks (as opposed to separate ones alongside), we'll have to deal with the low-platform issue. The alternative would be to build stations like Greenbelt at every location, but that is infeasible in a lot of places with space constraints, like Downtown Manassas.

All of you, thanks for the input! I'd love to have more comments. Stay tuned for the rest of my transit plan, due out as soon as I can get it.


Steve said...

I like the idea of a line out to Loudon County. The ROW is still there, it's just a trail right now (W&OD). With such a line it would be possible to have a limited-stop service to Dulles, which would be 10 times more useful as Metro to Dulles.

Alex B. said...

Thanks for the follow up. I have a couple of comments:

With regard to the downtown commuter rail tunnel, the problem with comparing that to Philly's tunnel is that the Philly tunnel connects two terminals, while the proposed tunnel here would not. For that reason, I think the service it would provide would be somewhat redundant to the new blue line subway, especially with that subway doubling the connectivity to Union Station.

Along those lines, my idea with a new L'Enfant station was to create another downtown rail terminal. To clarify, I would build the station on the air rights above I-395, just to the south of L'Enfant plaza. Tracks would connect to the east into the existing Long bridge, and to the west to the existing 1st street tunnel and Virginia Ave tunnel. This would require a lot of reworking of 395, but that's something that should be done anway (preferably with the removal of the SE SW freeway, but that's another issue). The idea here is that you've provided a second downtown terminal around a major employment hub, also offering more connections into the downtown area proper, via existing subway lines (orange, blue, green and yellow). The new station is already positioned along the main rail axis through town, and would provide more potential capacity than a commuter rail tunnel through downtown.

On the W&OD line, there are several huge issues with it, though people always seem to bring it up as an alternative to Dulles rail. For one, it doesn't go to Dulles. It gets within the ballpark, but it's nowhere near the terminal, and extending the rail there would cost just as much as a Metro extension. Two, it no longer connects to existing rail. Follow the ROW in from Loudon Co, and parts of it have been encroached upon by various uses (including I-66). Once it crosses south of the Columbia Pike, it runs in the large median of Four Mile Ruin Dr. After you cross under I-395 however, the right of way large disappears, before you've come anywhere near connecting to existing rail tracks. You can see from aerials where the ROW used to be, but a great deal of it has been developed. Converting that ROW to commuter rail as is would come at a tremendous expense (especially since there aren't any tracks there anymore).

Batman said...

Great plan overall! I am honestly not knowledgable about the DC side, but I can talk to the Baltimore side atleast. A few comments:

I agree with Josh, keep the Baltimore Belt Line. This would open up access to a whole new part of Baltimore's downtown. Besides, Penn Station is about 3 blocks from Mount Royal and connnected by the existing LRT. The Belt Line could probably extend all the way to the Penn Line Bayview station, providing a nice transit center in North East Baltimore (Penn Line + Camden Line + proposed Red Line). Also, you did not mention that the Howard Street tunnel could be double-tracked, since it is currently single-tracked to allow clearances for freight cars.

I also appreciate the M6 line - Baltimore's West side is not only congested, but also has poor highway access to downtown. Both of these factors would work well for ridership from Ellicott City and Sykesville.

M2 is definitely needed, though I disagree on the routing. I would personally tie it in to the NEC directly somewhere near Bowie to allow routing of trains to Baltimore or DC. Keep in mind Maryland will probably pay for this (since most of the line would be in MD and serve the capital), so it makes sense to link it to the largest city.

A conncection from the Penn Line to the Camden Line has been studied previously, however CSX was hostile towards it for fear of more passenger trains taking away their freight capacity on the Camden Line.

A possible additional line to consider - the former Western Maryland out to Reisterstown and Westminster. This line originates at the Wye adjacent to the B&P tunnel's western portal. It then heads Northwest, parelleling the Baltimore Metro to Owings Mill (allowing interconnections). I would see this line as operated with DMUs (such as Colorado Railcar) as a shuttle to Baltimore Penn (the same route WM commuter trains ran) to allow transfer to Light Rail, Penn Line, or Amtrak.

And finally, vehicles. Choosing SEPTA style EMUs (such as Silverliners) is a perfect choice, since they allow high speeds and meet FRA crash criteria to mix with freight. However, the lines are already at crush loads in the immediate DC area, so double-deck EMUs (such as METRA's Highliners, though they may not make NEC clearances).

Anonymous said...

Not sure you're correct about freight and high platforms not mixing. Even at a station as local as New Carollton, freight passes the high platforms on slightly-displaced gauntlet tracks.

Matt' said...

You are correct that a gauntlet track would be one way of allowing freight and passengers to mix. Of course, installing them at every commuter station in the region would take a lot of work and money. And conversion to high platform rollingstock would also be an issue, but not an insurmountable one.

Anyway, the gauntlet track at New Carrollton has been removed. Freight service has to use the easternmost track, which does not have a platform, now.