Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Washington, D.C. Railroads- Part 1: The Network

From Greater, Greater Washington:

Washington's rails, part 1: The network

Photo by the author.
by Matt Johnson

When the railroad first reached Washington in 1835, the Capital was a very different place. Over the next century and a half, urbanization, alternative transportation, and major shifts in commerce have dramatically changed the situation facing railroads. Yet the railroad infrastructure in the Washington-Baltimore area seen little change since the turn of the century.

The Washington region sits along some of the busiest rail tracks in the United States. Unfortunately, our rail network includes some of the oldest track in the country. The B&O's Old Main Line, running from Baltimore to Point of Rocks, southwest of Frederick, was one of the first railways constructed in America, and the Carrollton Viaduct in Baltimore City is the oldest operating railroad bridge in the world.

Today's trends bring new challenges and new opportunities for our railroads, but major upgrades are needed. With a new administration in the White House and stimulus dollars looking for projects, the prospects are good that we will soon see some improvements to the rail network.

A couple of rail projects are on the horizon. These undertakings will improve the flow of passengers and freight through the region. Before describing these projects, however, it is necessary to put the network in context.

Washington sits at the intersection of the main freight route from the south along the East Coast meets the main freight route traveling from Mid-Atlantic ports to the Mid-West. Additionally, Amtrak's high-speed Northeast Corridor (NEC) starts in Washington and runs through Baltimore on its way to New York and Boston.

Trains from the south approach Washington on CSX's RF&P Subdivision, traveling through Richmond and Fredericksburg. South of Alexandria, the line meets the Norfolk Southern (NS) Washington District, which approaches from Lynchburg and Manassas.

While CSX's main East Coast line runs through Washington, NS sends trains far to the west of the region. Trains on CSX's RF&P Subdivision continue northward along the Potomac, crossing the river on the Long Bridge, which sits adjacent to the 14th Street Bridges and Yellow Line bridge. At Third Street NW, the CSX line meets the Amtrak tracks leading to Union Station from the First Street Tunnel.

Freight trains, however, do not pass through the First Street Tunnel. Instead, they continue along Virginia Avenue in a southeasterly direction. After passing through the single-track Virginia Avenue Tunnel, trains cross over the Anacostia River, and turn northeast to parallel Minnesota Avenue. After passing the Deanwood Metro stop, the CSX line turns north, crossing the Orange Line and Amtrak's Northeast Corridor. Passing through Bladensburg, the line intersects CSX's main east-west route from the Mid-Atlantic at Hyattsville.

Freight trains originating northeast of Washington travel south from Baltimore through College Park on CSX's Capital Subdivision. At Hyattsville, trains can turn south or continue toward the Midwest. Trains continuing toward the Midwest head from Hyattsville down to Ivy City, just north of Union Station. At this point, Midwest-bound trains turn northwest along CSX's Metropolitan Subdivision and pass through Silver Spring and Rockville.

(see original for continuation about Baltimore)