My comments on the DC State Rail Planning process in 2015, included an extended discussion on the place of Union Station as a hub within the regional rail passenger transportation system, including opportunities it presents as a way to deliver (1) visitor information services, (2) museum elements and (3) tourist-focused train transportation.
From the blog entry [with updated text concerning Norfolk Southern]:
Many people are already riding trains as an element of their plans to visit DC and other cities in the region. It is a key element of the Amtrak Virginia program and generally Amtrak devotes a fair amount of marketing to tourism.
Many states have scenic-excursion railroads that are tourist attractions. There are a number of these systems in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, and the B&O Railroad Museum and the National Capital Trolley Museum have short tracks used for train riding. National Railway Historical Society chapters also organize excursion trips.
Other state rail plans, including those for Virginia and West Virginia, do discuss, albeit briefly, excursion railroads and their place in the rail and tourism systems. DC as a city-state has much different conditions than a typical state, and there is no opportunity for that kind of dedicated tourist attraction in the city.
One example was the program between Norfolk Southern Railway and the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, which offered special excursion steam engine trains throughout the year on various segments of the Norfolk Southern system from 2011-2015.
Since Norfolk Southern has trackage rights in DC, and trackage in Virginia is used for the VRE Manassas line, they would be a logical partner to work with to test and launch such a program out of DC.
At the same time, rather than just approach this haphazardly, a detailed marketing program to simultaneously promote regional passenger service should be developed in association with this program.
The DC State Rail Plan could make recommendations on excursion tourism as an element of the plan, both to serve tourist markets and as a way to market and promote passenger rail service.
However, as a way to build interest and awareness of railroad service in the region, it could be worthwhile for MARC and VRE, with the National Railway Historical Society DC Chapter, the suggested transportation museum in Union Station, and the B&O Museum, to develop a special event railroad excursion program.
Surface heritage streetcar network in DC as a visitor transportation system. A related, earlier piece suggested creating a heritage streetcar visitor transportation service on the National Mall, with major hubs at Union Station, Georgetown, and Arlington Cemetery ("A National Mall-focused heritage (replica) streetcar service to serve visitors is a way bigger idea than a parking garage under the Mall," 2013) with visitor information centers. (I submitted similar comments to the National Capital Planning Commission's Visitor Element update process for the Federal Elements of the DC Comprehensive Plan.)
Union Station as an active train museum.
Amtrak has de-emphasized this, but for decades they would rent storage space to train car owners who use and/or rent out their cars (American Association of Private Railcar Owners
). In my State Rail Plan comments, I suggested these cars could serve as a kind of museum function, displayed in the some day to be expanded Union Station.
Excursion trains could be seen as part of the museum function too, perhaps in association with the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, the DC chapter of the NRHS, and others.
Why not do excursion/tourist train trips on weekends on the MARC Camden and Brunswick Lines, and perhaps the VRE Manassas Line? Last week I bought some "Baltimore Blonde" beer produced by Guinness at their "new" US brewery in Baltimore County, Maryland, which is near the St. Denis station on the MARC Camden Line, which doesn't operate on weekends.
Tourist trains on weekends between DC and Baltimore on the Camden Line would be possible because the line is minimally used.
Steam locomotives have some environmental issues, but look cool.
Norfolk Southern No. 611 pulls a photographers’ special at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in May 2015. Photo: Jim Wrinn.
I'm not so sure about the MARC Brunswick Line, which goes from DC to Frederick, Maryland, and as far as Martinsburg, West Virginia. I seem to recall that the line isn't used that much on the weekend. But the distance from DC to Frederick is just a bit farther than the distance from DC to Baltimore on the Camden Line so it seems realizable.
Both the Camden and Brunswick Lines are owned by CSX Transportation, so the lines are primarily for freight.
The VRE Manassas Line is owned by Norfolk Southern, although from Alexandria to DC it also runs on CSX track. From Virginia to DC, the big chokepoint is the two track Long Bridge across the Potomac River. But there could be capacity on the weekends that doesn't otherwise exist during the week. And while not benefiting Union Station so much, it could be possible to run some tourist trains not from DC, but from Alexandria's Union Station to Manassas and back, to stay on the NS trackage.
VRE special event train at Manassas Station
At the very least, a Manassas Line tourist train excursion program could be experimented within in association with the Manassas Heritage Railway Festival in June
. especially as pre-pandemic, it did include excursion train trips, but not with heritage equipment. VRE offers a similar excursion trip in association with Clifton Day in October
. So clearly, these are events to build on and scale.
It would be awesome for NS to run one of their steam locomotives on this line, which was done in 2016 in association with that year's Railway Festival ("611 steam engine will return to Manassas
," Potomac Local News) and the Virginia Transportation Museum. VTM could be another partner for such a program.
This Southern Railway train traveled from New York to New Orleans, including stops in Baltimore and Washington.
These lines would be the place to focus with excursion trains, likely with the Camden Line and the B&O Railroad Museum to start, as they already run trains on a short length of track on their museum campus.
A Thomas the Tank Engine train shared across the lines would be a no brainer.
Neglected train cars left on Port Jervis tracks are impeding plans for a transportation museum.
Photo: Jessica Cohen, Gazette.
Labels: cultural heritage/tourism, railroad passenger services, railroad stations, tourism planning