Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Make No Little Plans II

Yesterday I prefaced the introduction of my transit plan for the Washington region with a discussion of issues facing commuter rail in the area. In the face of these issues, I have formulated a potential system expansion plan. Below I will elaborate on the different aspects of my plan.

I will note once more, however, that this plan is constrained by a sense of feasibility and political palatability. At the same time, it is clearly beyond the current resources of the region. Yet, in my opinion, it represents a possible and desired outcome which could be achieved. I chose the segments of the rail system based on today’s circumstances and tomorrow’s potential. That is to say that I limited my proposal to what could be supported today rather than what will be needed two decades from now.

My Plan

Under my plan, I make no assumptions about operating agencies, but I do propose that a unified system will be created with cross-system fares and a common naming/numbering system.

The system’s main function is to bring commuters into the central business districts in both Washington and Baltimore. The system also has a major role in linking the cities themselves. Additionally, service to Annapolis will give Marylanders rail access to their government.

For the most part, existing services are not drastically changed. I’ve done away with the names for the existing lines because with overlapping routes, it is clearer to define routes in the same fashion as Philadelphia’s regional rail system. At the same time, I will use the present-day names to define particular sections of track—not routes.

New Regional Services

In order to maximize capacity and destinations two new SEPTA-like regional lines will be created. I have dubbed these services M1 (to Baltimore) and M2 (to Annapolis). These trains would use new rolling stock, perhaps similar to the Silverliners used in Philadelphia. Trains would operate at relatively high frequencies in both directions throughout the day. Peak headways would be at a minimum of 15 minutes, with off-peak trains coming at least every 30 minutes. High service levels would make travel between Washington, Annapolis, and Baltimore as easy as travel along existing Metro lines.

Regional Rail Subway
To reduce demand on Washington’s Red Line subway, I propose a two-track subway be constructed from Union Station to Farragut Square. An article in the Washington Post last year reported that the most common trips in the Metro system take place between Union Station and the other downtown Red Line stations. A commuter rail subway would alleviate overcrowding and reduce travel time for commuter rail customers. Connections exist to the Washington Metro at Archives, Metro Center, and Farragut Square.

North of Union Station, both Regional Rail Tunnel services operate along the Northeast Corridor to New Carrollton, where M2 services to Annapolis split off. Lines M1 and M2 travel together to BWI, their last common station. Some improvements would probably be needed along the corridor, including new platforms (high-level) and additional tracks. This section of America’s busiest passenger rail line is currently only 3 tracks. In order to increase service, at least on additional track will probably be needed.

At the Camden Line overcrossing, M1 services curve to the northeast to run with M4 services into Camden Station. Along the Penn Line, M3 services continue toward Penn Station, using improved tunnels. These tunnels are a major bottleneck on the Northeast Corridor, and are in need of replacement. As part of that project, an infill station would be constructed at Upton, where connections can be made to the Baltimore Metro.

Along the Camden Line, additional tracks could be constructed as needed to allow for additional commuter services. North of the Penn Line crossing, new tracks would need to be constructed to accommodate increased passenger service on the M1 routes which would join and run concurrently into Baltimore.

Howard Street Tunnel
In Baltimore, freight trains travel north through the city under Howard Street in a century-old tunnel. A new freight tunnel is long overdue, and once cargo can be moved to a new tunnel, the Howard Street Tunnel will be available for passenger service. My proposal calls for the establishment of frequent regional rail service through the tunnel.

At Camden Station, new high-level platforms could be constructed under the existing light rail station. Further north, a new subway station for commuter trains would be constructed at Lexington Market, for convenient transfer to both MTA Metro and Light Rail. At the northern end of the tunnel, trains would serve a reopened Mount Royal Station. Trains on the M1 route would then use new tracks to reach Penn Station before continuing along the Northeast Corridor to a new station at North Broadway and along a spur route to Johns Hopkins Bayview.

In order to connect Washington and Annapolis, a new rail line will be built alongside Route 50 as far as Annapolis Mall. At Route 450, the line would follow the route of an abandoned rail line as far as Washington Street. The line would be electrified and would use the same rolling stock as the M1 line.

A New Concourse
Services operating along the Virginia Lines (V1, V2) still remain mainly commuter-based. Some reverse commute trains are operated, but the population and job density south of Alexandria does not warrant the intensive services that would be operated along the Washington-Baltimore-Annapolis routes.

In order to free up space on Union Station’s lower level for Maryland run-through service, I propose a new concourse be constructed under Columbus Circle. This subterranean terminal could have several stub-end tracks for Virginia trains.

Over the River
The Maryland services not using the Regional Rail Tunnel would either terminate at Union Station or continue south toward Alexandria. The number of trains using the First Street Tunnel would be based on capacity, however all Penn Line (M3) services would continue to Alexandria. Many peak-period trains on the M4 and M5 lines would continue to Alexandria, but some would stop at the present MARC terminal at Union Station.

While the Regional Rail Terminal allows commuter services to access the major office district downtown, but run-through service through the First Street Tunnel gives similar access to the major job centers at L’Enfant Plaza, Crystal City, and Alexandria.

Between Union Station and Alexandria, several capital improvements are needed. I propose a double-decked version of the First Street Tunnel, with lower level tracks leading into the South Concourse platforms. The upper level would accommodate trains operating into the existing lower level. Additionally, a new tunnel would support turnouts for the Regional Rail Tunnel if separate platforms cannot be constructed at Union Station.

From the First Street Tunnel to Alexandria, two dedicated tracks would be constructed for passenger use only. The minimum total width of the railroad right-of-way south of the Tunnel would be four tracks. This widening project would require a new span adjacent to the Long Bridge over the Potomac.

Along the way, new island platforms would be constructed at L’Enfant Plaza and Crystal City. At Alexandria, freight bypass tracks would be constructed and a new pedestrian tunnel would directly linking the commuter platforms with the King Street Metro concourse.

South of Alexandria commuter and regional trains can access a storage facility to be constructed near the existing Metro Alexandria yard. This storage yard will relieve the overburdened Ivy City Yard near Union Station.

Existing Routes and Expansion
In addition to the new routes operating to through the Regional Rail Tunnel, I propose a series of improvements to existing routes. I have already talked about the routings of M3 and M4 (Penn and Camden Lines). In my plan, these services would see an increase in frequencies, although for the M3, that is mainly in the form of limited stop and express service since the M1 will dramatically decrease headways. In addition, infill stations will be constructed on the Penn Line at Severn, Upton, North Broadway, and Chase. The Camden Line will see one extra station at Lansdowne, in southern Baltimore.

As is the current practice, some M3 trains (one-half to one-third) continue north of Penn Station. My plan calls for a further expansion of the Penn Line, by extending it north of Perryville. Trains would operate to Wilmington, Deleware, where a connection could be made to Philadelphia’s regional rail system. Trains operating to Martinsburg on the M5 will be extended to Hagerstown under my plan. The M5 and M55 (spur to Frederick) remain mainly commuter lines, but some bi-directional service would provide access to the job centers in Frederick and Hagerstown.

In Virginia, a short extension of the Fredericksburg Line (V1) to Crossroads is a cheap and easy expansion already being eyed by VRE. I don’t feel that the market exists at present to extend the commuter line to Richmond. Track capacity expansion in Northern Virginia, however, may allow for increased inter-city Amtrak service to Richmond and the Hampton Roads areas. Virginia’s other line, the V2 to Manassas, would be extended to Haymarket and Remington, another expansion being considered by VRE.

The Old Line
I also propose connecting Frederick and Baltimore with limited bi-directional commuter service along CSX’s Old Main Line Subdivision. This rail line would have several stops along the line that marked the beginning of railroading in America.

The Future

I’d love to hear what you think about my plans. I hope that Track Twenty-Nine can become a forum for discussions like this. As I mentioned before, further plans are forthcoming, but this is my first blush attempt at a regional rail plan.

One of the elements that leaves a bit to be desired, though, is a name. I haven’t come up with a catchy name for this proposal yet, but I suppose it’s not absolutely necessary to do so. As far as I’m concerned, this plan is achievable without changing the organizational structure of the region’s commuter rail system.

Whether my proposal proves feasible or otherwise, I have achieved my goal: to contribute to the discussion. I've done my part. Now it's time for you to do yours. So tell me what you think (and tell your elected representatives too).


David Alpert said...

Looks great! I like the idea of the regional rail tunnel through the heart of downtown.

Anonymous said...

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.

Anonymous said...

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.

Adam said...

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

Anonymous said...

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

Seth said...

This looks like a really interesting plan. One thought I might offer is some sort of merging of the V1 and V2 with M4 and M5 when possible. This would allow better through connections for workers from VA with jobs in Silver Spring or Rockville or for MD residents heading to Fort Belvoir. As to a catchy name, it seems to me that, since DC already has "metrorail," "metrobus" and the proposed "metrotram," how about "metroregional"?

Anonymous said...

This looks like a really wonderful plan. I am an intern working with Maryland PIRG, and we are currently trying to produce a comprehensive vision for central Maryland's transit infrastructure. Our big campaign for the summer is on public transportation. We were looking at your M6 line, and wondered if you know of any proposals that include this line, or have any other resources that were particularly helpful to you. I'd love to talk to you about this-- You can get in contact with me by calling Maryland PIRG at 410-467-0439. Ask for Elizabeth Himeles.

Anonymous said...

How about Monorails?


It my opinion one or more of the systems above would make a great fit to your plan.
Would cost less.