A "Transformational Projects Action Plan" for a statewide passenger railroad program in Maryland
Executive Summary: Using the positioning device of "Climate Change" and the fact that Maryland, Virginia, and DC are members of the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states which aims to take a joint approach to reducing the impact on climate change from transportation-related activities, Maryland (and Virginia) should develop a statewide approach to the promotion and extension of railroad passenger service, beyond the current approach which is focused on moving Marylanders to and from DC for work.
-- "Nine States and D.C. to Design Regional Approach to Cap Greenhouse Gas Pollution from Transportation"
Using what I call the "Transformational Projects Action Planning" approach, which suggests that master planning approaches include an element outlining anchor projects to drive the plan forward it's worth outlining a program for Maryland's railroad passenger program.
It's especially relevant in light of a couple recent articles, GGW's "Maryland wants to slash its funding for transit, and it would hit Baltimore hard," in response to the State of Maryland's proposal in the Consolidated Transportation Program, the six-year capital program for the state's transportation program, which proposes to cut funding for transit significantly, and the piece, "On Transit, Pondering What Might Be and Lamenting What Might Have Been," in Maryland Matters about a recent forum on transit/transportation sponsored by the Greater Baltimore Co.mmittee and the Greater Washington Partnership.
- In 2006, I started writing pieces about how Maryland and Virginia should merge their railroad passenger programs and develop a more expansive service profile, based on a bunch of ideas first outlined by Dan Malouff/BeyondDC in the late 1990s.
-- "Why don't Maryland and West Virginia think about expanding MARC into a true regional system?," 2012
-- "More on Union Station DC and the need for innovative master planning," 2011
-- "DC State Rail planning," 2015
- Later I called the proposed service RACER, for Railroad Authority for the Chesapeake Region [insert cool graphic here].
- To provide more regularized commuter services comparable to S-BAHN service in Germany, RER in Paris, or the London Overground, I laid out a program to better integrate DC area Metrorail with regular railroad service using the London Overground model
- To move this idea along, I suggested merging the MARC Penn Lines and the VRE Fredericksburg Line into one line, and worrying about the rest of the program later
It would also have the advantage of providing the opportunity for real railroad service to and from National Airport.
-- "A brief comment on ground transportation at National Airport vis a vis VRE rail service," 2016
- Also to provide a means for implementation, I suggested the creation of a German style "transport association" linking transportation planning organizations and mobility providers including transit agencies across DC, Maryland, and Virginia.
- Also, the proposals for a "complementary transit network improvement plan" spurred by the development of the suburban Purple Line light rail line in Montgomery and Prince George's County Maryland include a number of MARC-related items:
-- Item #3 calls for integrating MARC fares into the SmarTrip/CharmCard fare system
-- Item #4 proposes all day bi-directional service on the Brunswick Line
-- Item #5 proposes a more Metro-like fare system on the Brunswick Line between Montgomery County and DC
-- Item #6 proposes that the proposed White Flint infill MARC station be built forthwith
-- Item #7 proposes an infill MARC station in Northeast DC
-- Item #14 reiterates the concept of merging the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg lines to spur the creation of a regional passenger railroad system
A passenger rail vision for all of Maryland, not just getting to and from DC. It's not like Maryland doesn't do rail planning. In 2007, Maryland produced a wide ranging program for rail expansion, including more service, bi-directional service on the Brunswick Line, and weekend service on the Penn Line.
-- MARC Growth and Investment Plan (2007), Maryland MTA
-- MARC Growth and Investment Plan Update: 2013 to 2050 (2013), Maryland MTA
-- MARC Growth and Investment Plan: Overview and Status Update (2018), Maryland MTA
But this was just before the onset of the Great Financial Crisis and instead of expanding, the system pulled back. Since the plan, only weekend Penn Line service has come to fruition.
Today, the 2007 document isn't even on the Maryland DOT website. Although to be fair, MDOT is updating the plan in the meantime.
But the big problem with the plan from a vision or "Transformational Projects Action Planning" approach is that Maryland's railroad planning is DC-centric, focused primarily on getting commuters to DC for work and then back home.
It's not focused on developing a broad program of railroad passenger service for the entire state, with the aim of creating a full-fledged network with frequent service--I call this network breadth and network depth--and if not 24/7 service, at least 18/7 service, so that most of the state can benefit from passenger railroad service.
New rail routes "Beyond DC." MARC service today is based on historical passenger railroad service patterns. By the 1970s, three Maryland-based commuter services still existed, serving Baltimore and Washington: the Penn Line from Perryville to DC; the Camden Line from Baltimore to DC; and the Brunwick Line from Martinsburg, WV to DC. The latter two were provided by the B&O Railroad (CSX); the Penn Line by Penn Central and later Conrail.
MTA Maryland/MARC commuter railroad map
Starting in 1974, in response to threatened cuts in service, Maryland began providing subsidies to these routes, first to the B&O lines and then to Conrail. When Congress mandated that Conrail, which inherited the Penn Line commuter service, cease providing passenger services, Maryland paid Amtrak to run the line.
In 1984, the state's railroad operations were organized into and branded as MARC and over time operational arrangements for the three lines have changed. In Maryland and Virginia, Amtrak also provides some complementary service.
Amtrak Virginia program spearheaded by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. In fact Gov. Northam of Virginia has declared October "Passenger Rail Month" to bring more attention to the Amtrak Virginia program.)
The first BeyondDC graphic, "Washington-Baltimore Regional Rail" shows the basic concept of a statewide rail passenger program, although some parts of the state aren't covered.
1. To set the stage, merge the MARC Penn Line and the Virginia Railway Express Fredericksburg Line, to provide through running and Maryland connections to key Northern Virginia destinations, especially Crystal City, which will be home to Amazon's HQ2, and National Airport, along with a direct connection to L'Enfant Plaza in DC.
This is dependent on an expansion of Long Bridge, the rail bridge connecting DC and Virginia, to four tracks (Plan for Long Bridge expansion moves forward," Washington Post) and is in keeping with Virginia's goals concerning rail expansion.
VRE, Virginia Railway Express commuter railroad map
2. Beyond the current lines, it shows the following changes to the service footprint in Maryland:
- An extension of the existing Penn Line service from its endpoint in Perryville to Wilmington Delaware where it would connect to the SEPTA service out of Philadelphia
- Service between Annapolis, the State Capital and Washington
- Service between Baltimore and Annapolis
- Service between Baltimore and Westminster in Carroll County
- Service between Baltimore and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
- Service between Martinsburg, West Virginia and Hagerstown, Maryland.
- Service between Baltimore and Frederick
- Service between Martinsburg and Cumberland, Maryland
- Service between Annapolis and Maryland's Eastern Shore, although historically a passenger railroad, the Baltimore, Chesapeake and Atlantic Railway provided service between Baltimore and Ocean City and freight railroad service is provided in the Delmarva Pensinsula.
- Service between DC and Southern Maryland, especially Charles County, but including stations in DC between Union Station and the DC-Maryland state line
- Although an MTA study, the Southern Maryland Commuter Rail Service Feasibility Study proposes service to Charles and St. Mary's County by branching off from the Penn Line, whereas my idea was to do this via DC south from Union Station
- Consideration of the addition of a line to the I-270 corridor, from Frederick to Bethesda and then to DC and Northern Virginia (it would be electrified and a goodly portion would run in a tunnel created through cut and cover construction under I-270).
It should be studied and is mentioned as an item in "Revisiting the Purple Line (series) and a more complete program of complementary improvements to the transit network," 2019.
5. Adding infill stations across the existing system, such as:
- the three stations for Baltimore proposed in the original Growth and Investment Plan but later dropped: Bayview and Madison Square in East Baltimore; and Upton in West Baltimore
- in DC in the New York Avenue corridor on both the Camden and Penn Lines
- in DC at Fort Totten as a redundancy platform vis-a-vis Union Station (although the Silver Spring MARC station also serves this function, etc.
My previous writings never anticipated a significant change in the profile of the Camden line service because the stations aren't particularly well-placed to generate significant ridership increases, but an objective study would evaluate the line for changes also.
Conclusion/Positioning. The reality is that the current governor, Republican Larry Hogan, does not support transit. But he has continued to support efforts by the State of Maryland in association with other Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states for joint initiatives aimed at staunching climate change through the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.
Perhaps by positioning this approach in that vein, as well as serving many more parts of Maryland outside of the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas, and in terms of creating a legacy that would be unmatched by any other U.S. state, at least at this time (no state really has a statewide railroad transportation program quite like this) maybe Governor Hogan can be convinced to support the expansion of MARC into a true statewide passenger rail service that goes far beyond its existing footprint as a DC-focused commuter rail service.
Other states should do two stage rail planning too. All states with some form of rail passenger service have created state rail plans in order to comply with the federal Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008. Some plans are better than others. I can't say I've read many of the plans.
But none of the plans lay out a bigger vision for a complete state-based passenger rail network, unlike the existence of a complete road and freeway network. It's unlikely any of the plans I haven't read are organized at the two scales I propose here:
(1) a big vision, Transformational Projects Action Plan and
(2) what is called a "Constrained Plan" based on the availability of capital both current and reasonably projected. (Also see "New Transportation Planning Paradigm: Constraints-Based
Planning in the Era of Limited Transportation Funds.")
Note that the MARC plan for 2050 isn't particularly visionary. It calls for additional service, but not a lot more service, and more dedicated tracks where needed in the current footprint, but it doesn't call for any passenger railroad service outside of the basic footprint provided today. It definitely doesn't call for full bi-directional service on the Brunswick Line between Frederick and DC.
And really, this is merely trying to re-create what once existed.
-- Kilduff's archive of Maryland railroad stations
(if you click on the map it goes to the much larger image at the Library of Congress) This railroad map dates to 1876.
Labels: capital improvements planning, global warming and climate change, railroad passenger services, sustainable mobility platform, Transformational Projects Action Planning, transportation planning