Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Two train/regional transit ideas: Part 2 | Running tourist trains from Union Station

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.

For example the DC chapter of the National Railway Historical Society operates the fully restored Dover Harbor Pullman car (photos below).

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.  

I was thinking that it would be cool to be able to get to that brewery by train ("Maryland’s new Guinness brewery is a destination for fans — and everyone else, too," Washington Post), and then had the eureka idea that the Camden line would be a perfect way to realize this idea of train tourism from Union Station.

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.

NC Department of Transportation bought a retired Barnum & Bailey Circus Train, figuring to refurbish it for use, but they don't need it anymore and it's up for auction ("NCDOT bought part of a Ringling Bros. circus train and now isn’t sure what to do with it," "Miss your chance to own an old circus train car? NCDOT will try again to find buyer," Raleigh News & Observer).  That would be an opportunity to develop tourist train rolling stock for the DC area.

2.  While traveling to an artist education center in Pennsylvania, we discovered a large stock of train cars mouldering in Honesdale.  Apparently they are owned by a tourist railroad, the Delaware, Lackawaxen & Stourbridge ("Stourbridge Line adding locomotives," Tri-county Independent, "Donated train cars coming to Port Jervis museum," Times-Herald Record).  Maybe it would be possible to work with such an organization as joint partners, to better leverage their inventory of train cars and locomotives.

Neglected train cars left on Port Jervis tracks are impeding plans for a transportation museum. 
 Photo: Jessica Cohen, Gazette.

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At 6:40 PM, Anonymous h st ll said...

Greater DMV definitely could use some tourist train attractions. IMO they would be well patronized.

The Great Smoky Mountain Railway in Western North Carolina is beautiful and fun and always has a large ridership when i've ridden it. Not apple to oranges tho

At 9:04 AM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

Tourist trains would be fun, but they're not going to drive the actual improvements that are required.

To put it another way, it's far better for tourists to have good, quality transit, rather that a nostalgia train. When I visited Paris, I went to Versailles via the RER, not some tourist train.

In the same way, the appropriate tourist transit option to the B&O RR museum, or to Manassas, is frequent regional rail - not a nostalgia train.

Likewise, we also need major improvements in walkability to make progress. Even if we assume a large improvement in MARC service, it's basically impossible to walk from the St Denis MARC station to the Guinness Brewery.

Virginia should try to buy the line from Alexandria to Manassas from NS; but the goal when you do that is to speed up and electrify the line and offer frequent all day service. And that might actually conflict with nostalgia train operations. But that's fine if we actually get better transit.

At 10:45 AM, Blogger scratchy said...

There's also the issue of insurance. Right now, No one but Amtrak can afford the insurance that CSX and NS would charge for tourist train. Steam, on their tracks? Not going to. happen. Possibly if an org works with MARC, it could be possible, with their equipment. I have thought that on summer time, a train to Hancock with connecting buses to Berkeley springs would likely do well. With stops in harpers ferry and martinsburg.
As for the brewery, they should have a connecting bus to the halethorpe MARC station, which. does run on weekends.
Also, there are a lot of tourist routes in the DMZ, especially including the state to the north
Walkersville southern
B&O museum (which is Smithsonian affiliate)
Western Maryland Scenic

Patomac eagle (West Virginia, near Cumberland)

in pennslyvania , just York county
steam into history
Maryland and pennslyvainia
add in strausburg,
Middletown and Hummelstown,
and the soon to repopen East Broad Top
(a small coal route that has been locked at 1956)
And there's a risk of over saturation.

Virginia, has one, though the Virginia transportation museum will be offering rides in a year or two.
If you want to know the actual logistics , hit up Ross Rowland.
He own locomotive 614 at the C&O Railway Heritage Center , and has 50 years experience in the tourism train business.

At 10:56 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Hmm, you're on fire these last couple days.

Tourist trains shouldn't be equated to great rail based transit. I'm merely arguing for more expansive rail planning to include tourist trains and major stations as staging points.

It's more about fun and promoting rail, less about functional transit. Eg like your Versailles trip, if I'm going to Baltimore I'll take MARC (it's awesome that the Penn Line now has weekend service).

SF cable cars are similar, but do function as transit for people who live on the routes (rides on the cable car are included in MUNI pass products).

Wrt St. Denis and Guinness, there'd have to be shuttles. You could build it into the cost of the ride.

Wrt heritage trains promoting transit, before the creation of the modern streetcar in Portland, on weekends they ran a heritage streetcar as interstitial service on the light rail tracks downtown.

Seattle had a heritage line before light rail and streetcar along the waterfront, but they stupidly allowed the line to be destroyed by the way that the art museum campus extended for its sculpture Park, without requiring mitigation so that the streetcar service could continue. DK if it helped influence rail transit support there.

Like SF's F line, it probably was worth keeping in operation as both a transit and tourism asset. The F line has > 100% firebox recovery, because of tourists (not unlike how DC Capital Bikeshare is revenue positive in terms of operations cost recovery).

The Dallas heritage streetcar arguably influenced the creation of the modern streetcar there. The advocates who led the effort say so.

At 11:02 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Thanks for this. Perhaps I'll reach out to Mr. Rowland and see what he thinks.

At 11:07 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Berkeley Springs point is excellent. Even if just once or twice a month in the summer.

AMT used to do excursions, but with normal equipment in Greater Montreal.

When I was in Liverpool, I saw Merseytravel (the transit operator) sponsored cruises in the Manchester Ship Canal, not every day, but a few times/season. It would have been cool to ride it.

They also sponsored tours of the mobility tunnels under the Mersey River. I can't remember if they were the tunnels for the trains ir for the cars. I think the latter.

At 11:18 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Sorry, Halethorpe point very good too. I should have thought of it. ... I used to use that station some when I worked in Baltimore County. When we did field work in South County, I would just leave from there, rather than going back to Towson and then cycling to Penn Station.

At 11:22 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

At 2:59 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

New York State used to do a lobbyist booze train on the metro liner.

At least I think it was NYS. Honestly around Philly it was all becoming a blur.

At 3:53 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

When LIRR and Metro North ended their bar cars there were newspaper stories.

I'm not a big drinker but the "lobbyist train cruise" sounds fun.

... have you been watching Philly DA?

At 12:00 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Is it better to keep a historically designated steam locomotive on display or should it be used/made accessible pulling tourist trains?

Orlando Sentinel: Historic Florida steam train will become tourist attraction.

At 11:09 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Secret NYC: This Scenic Train Ride Will Take You From NYC To Vermont Through The Stunning Hudson Valley.


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