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A Workable, Problem Solving, Low Cost Transportation Proposal for the I-270 Corridor

                                               ( After Reviewing - See Links and Photos Below )

If you would like a plan that –

Support this proposal to vastly improve transportation for the people along the I-270 corridor by upgrading the existing MARC rail line with safe, fast, dependable, convenient, modern, light rail technology.

The Maryland Transportation Administration study of the I-270 / US 15 Multi Modal Corridor (Project FR 192B11) does not take into account the importance of the MARC line as it should be. Shortsightedness aside, it is vital to consider implementing an affordable modern high capacity adaptive rail route in this region. The MARC line can be a much improved full-time regional transportation partner moving people when and where they want to go. Light rail system technology applied to the MARC line can make that happen quicker and cheaper than all the other proposals in the study. Thus, there is an alternative to adding more pavement to

I-270 and compound its traffic problems even more. Using the MARC line now for light rail is a truly sensible, economical and practical approach to decrease our regional transportation shortcomings.

The Importance Of This Route. The MARC rail line is aligned within the I-270 corridor, and has close proximity to residential and business sections along most of its route. Stations, parking, track, and feeder bus routes already exist. The MARC rail route also diagonally short cuts across the county and terminates in downtown Washington, DC. That short cut is very convenient and important for access to the Kensington/Wheaton/Silver Spring area from the up county region and its potential future connection with the newly planned light rail Purple line linking Bethesda, Silver Spring and New Carrolton. It can also stimulate reverse commuting to jobs in the up county region.

The MARC light rail system can have transfer points to Metro's Red line at Shady Grove, Rockville, Twinbrook, Silver Spring and other Metro stops, but its main feature is to be a major transportation artery in the I-270 corridor to help alleviate congestion and move people where they want to go, including travel to downtown D.C. Montgomery County rail service has its single part-time MARC line, and both ends of the Metro Red Line to move people to and from the district. Meanwhile, Prince Georges County has the MARC Camden Line, the high speed Amtrak Penn Line, the Metro Green (both ends), and the Orange and Blue lines. Limited access highways in Montgomery County include I-270 and the Capital Beltway. Limited access highways in Prince Georges County are I-95, the Baltimore Washington Parkway, US route 50, I-295 and the Capital Beltway. Is there something askew in this comparison? Yes, more and better rail service is needed in Montgomery County.

Let's Roll - Meeting The Need. The MARC line is presently two tracks and is capable of 80-mph passenger train speeds (caveat: with good track) along most of its length. The existing low-level station platforms, many free parking facilities and easy access to major roads and connecting local buses are all ideal for light rail. When converted to light rail it offers a unique opportunity for the I-270 region to expand its transportation services for the commuter or shopper between Frederick and Brunswick into the heart of Washington, D.C. and bypassing travel on I-270. It would also serve many patrons along the way needing a shorter ride to nearby communities for, jobs, schools, and shopping - and not just during weekday rush hours. Expansion of connecting local bus service can make the light rail service an even better bargain.

Limitations Of Expanding The Metro Red Line. Extending Metro's subway style Red line north from Shady Grove is far too expensive and disruptive, and unnecessary. Metro patronage is almost at a saturation point now. Metro's engineering and design is fast becoming dated and many problems exist within its infrastructure and operations. Metro's recent order for new cars has the same dated limitations as the existing ones. Adding to those woes is much too unappealing. Unlike wine, Metro's aging does not make it better. Thus, we should be looking at other opportunities.

Limitations Of The MTA Plan. Presently, the proposed master plan calls for the possible construction of a new, costly, short, circuitous, low-speed, limited-use light rail line between Clarksburg and Shady Grove Metro station leaping over and under and around I-270 at various places. Construction would have a long cycle time, have major impacts on existing traffic congestion and ultimately, when operational, dump even more people at the Shady Grove Metro station. That is not the answer to reduce I-270 and Metro congestion, and does not meet the needs of regional travelers now or in the future. Most travelers don't head for Shady Grove now, otherwise there would be little congestion on I-270 south of Shady Grove road. Clearly, people want to travel elsewhere. Another MTA idea is a so-called bus rapid transit. It would set aside expensive new automotive lanes for exclusive use by buses. No benefit here, either. Buses can already use existing segregated HOV lanes. What about the MTA plan to construct more traffic lanes on I-270? That didn't solve the problem before and it won't again. MTA's vision is myopic, lacks innovation and costs a bundle no matter how its cut - with a probable tax increase needed to cover it.

Limitations Of The MARC Line Today. The huge CSX freight railroad owns the railroad line used by MARC diesel commuter trains operating through the I-270 corridor serving Germantown, Gaithersburg, Rockville, Silver Spring and connecting into Washington Union Station. MARC trains use it from Brunswick, Martinsburg and Frederick. MARC trains use it only during weekdays, with approximately ten short trains to Washington in the morning and they return in the evening rush hours. The MARC holiday schedules are greatly reduced and weekend schedules are non-existent. Also, Amtrak's Capital Limited train runs once per day in each direction over the same tracks. All the trains on the line are operated by CSX and compete for the track space.

Current CSX Freight Traffic. The 25-30 freight trains per day now running through Montgomery County have their destinations at the Baltimore yards or terminals or travel to more distant points. No freight trains terminate in Washington or Montgomery County - except for the one servicing the county waste and recycling plant in Rockville. CSX uses the MARC line through Montgomery County only as a bypass to Baltimore. A local CSX freight train services the few Montgomery County local industries along the line - not the big time freight operation CSX enjoys.

Current levels of CSX freight traffic are a hindrance to increasing MARC service along the line, and at times, threatens the very existence of the present day limited MARC service. Frequent service degradations occur on MARC due to the freight trains. It is commonplace for exasperated, bewildered, commuters to watch freight trains roll by at the scheduled time of their commuter train, or have to give priority to a late Amtrak Capital Limited to pass them, or hear a myriad of other excuses for severe lateness or slowdowns. The pounding of heavy freight trains on this track means more track and bridge maintenance and slow downs for MARC. Without maintenance frequent speed restrictions slow the MARC trains due to poor track conditions. And when maintenance does take place, it also impedes MARC service more. It's a losing proposition trying to outrun the 100+ car freight trains which require very long stretches of track (blocks) to separate themselves from each other for safe operation and long stopping distances due to train length, tonnage and topography. They also carry hazardous materials.

But, those giant freight trains are the bread and butter for CSX, and the people and industries that depend on their products – but not good for a traveling public. They are needed to transport things like ship containers, truck trailers, coal, aggregates, chemicals, new automobiles and other large bulky commodities. Freight trains do get in the way of passenger trains and vice-versa, and that can be dangerous. Whatever the destination is now for freight trains, this plan will not impede or curtail them - just redirect them where they belong.

Light rail requires only short stretches of track between trains, has high acceleration rates and stops within very short distances enabling very frequent and convenient service. Their lighter uniform weight preserves the condition of the track much longer resulting in reduced maintenance interruptions and expense. Better track and roadbed also preserves the good condition of the light rail trains, comfort of the passengers and on-time schedules.

Relocating CSX Freight Traffic To The Old Main Line. A light rail system can easily be installed if the CSX freight trains and the few Amtrak passenger trains (nowadays 50% of their makeup is also freight) are rerouted. Rerouting can be simply accomplished without disrupting the essential services those freight trains provide. There is another route available for the freight trains and Amtrak. They don't need to operate through Montgomery County. For this plan to work, the Amtrak and CSX freight trains from the MARC line can be rerouted to the CSX rail line known as the "Old Main Line." That line is located between Point of Rocks, Md. and St. Denis, Md., connecting to the CSX Camden line just south of Baltimore City. The line roughly parallels the east west I-70 corridor between Frederick and Baltimore and along the Patapsco River. The Old Main Line is also a shorter distance to Baltimore than the trip through Montgomery County. No doubt, some agreements or concessions acceptable to CSX would have to be made. Whether paying for various track improvements, offering some new tax relief, track rental, or other benefits to induce CSX to use the Old Main Line in lieu of the Montgomery County MARC line for all its through freight trains. The new light rail system would easily handle any remaining local freight, which is another benefit of a light rail system, its flexibility. A Metro type system can’t do that.

Why use the Old Main Line? Because it is available now, underused by the CSX, and can serve the intended purpose. Originally, the Old Main Line was a double track right-of-way. Now it is equipped with only a single track. But it still has a signaled, well-maintained roadbed, track of heavy welded rail, and several mile-long passing sidings. It would be relatively easy, quick, and inexpensive to upgrade the Old Main Line route to perform the required freight handling services now done over the MARC route in Montgomery County. That would allow the conversion of the MARC line to modern light rail transit to take place. And the Old Main Line traverses a lightly populated region of the state with terrain which helps shield train presence. The very few Amtrak passengers using the Rockville station can easily get to Amtrak via the proposed light rail or Metro.

Why Use Light Rail? The transformation to light rail can be accomplished at much less cost, in much less time, and requires virtually no community interference or environmental damage as does new road building. It simply redefines the way this rail line can provide a greater public transportation benefit along the I-270 corridor than it does now. Very little new infrastructure is required. Light rail enjoys many benefits of heavy rail (like Metrorail), commuter rail (like MARC) and electric street railway technologies, all rolled into a single flexible and adaptable system. It can operate on crowded paved streets with cars, trucks and buses when required, as in downtown Baltimore around sharp street corners, or on 80-mph high-speed open track. It can operate in varying train lengths or single cars, It is also architecturally pleasing, and blends well into a country scene, cityscape, town or village - unlike Metrorail. Thus, it can quietly and safely ply the streets of Frederick or other communities if so desired and then speed along on its own unimpeded tracks to downtown D.C. Boarding the state of the art light rail vehicle (LRV) is very easy with the advent of low floor technology. Light rail inherits the nostalgia and appeal of the trolley of an earlier time, but to most people it is also an appealing transit mode well beyond that of the ordinary bus. People will go out of their way to ride the light rail - but avoid a bus. A light rail line servicing any community has always enhanced the appeal and value of the community.

The MARC line light rail system would provide needed full time and near-term environmentally sound, non-intrusive transportation services throughout this congested and growing region. It would also serve to spur development of new light rail transit connections instead of more road building. The inter county connector (ICC), if built, could include light rail.

Dual Use Plan - Support Local Shippers: This plan calls for light rail trains for people during the day and local freight trains in off hours to service shippers along the MARC line. This temporal separation is a common practice and works well on other systems worldwide. MTA’s 44 mile Baltimore light rail system between Hunt Valley and Glen Burnie (A converted freight line itself), the new Trenton-Camden line in New Jersey, and the San Diego Trolley light rail systems are some examples of contemporary dual use. Historically, many interurban electric railways (precursor to light rail) handled both passenger and freight at the same time, as did the Hagerstown & Frederick, the Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis, the Washington & Old Dominion, the Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee, Illinois Terminal, Pacific Electric, Texas Electric, Lehigh Valley Transit, Chicago South Shore, Sacramento Northern, etc.. Many of these systems operated at high speed in the countryside. On the main streets of the towns and cities they served they operated at local traffic speeds. The dual use concept is not new to light rail transit, and has numerous precedents. Dual use can be repeated on the MARC light rail line to safeguard the interests of the few freight shippers along the way.

Implementation Can Be Coordinated. During the revamping of the Old Main Line to handle increased freight train volume, the needed changes for light rail service can also be put in place on the MARC line.

Let's Recycle - Environmentally Sound. This plan calls for using existing infrastructure. Very limited new construction would be needed except small maintenance yards - which might be combined with Metrorail at Shady Grove or other suitable existing rail site. Lightweight, unobtrusive overhead electrical power distribution wires would be designed to blend harmoniously into the surroundings. The 80-mph right-of-way and existing stations could be used as is, or in time replaced with newer upgraded structures as maintenance or ridership levels demand.

Let's Recycle - The Cost Is Much Less Than Other Proposals. Because the existing infrastructure will be used, there will be costs savings in many areas including no acquisition of new rights-of-way, no construction of new lines, no access roads, no parking lots, and no stations. It's almost all in place now.

Let's Recycle - Implementation Is Quick By Comparison. Because the existing infrastructure will be used, implementation can be accomplished much faster than any of the "build" plans proposed by the county and state. The line could be ready for use just as soon as the freight trains are rerouted. The aftermath of the 9/11 events shows how fast things can be accomplished when there is a need and desire. There is much less to do here to make light rail a reality. When MARC put its mind to it the old rail spur into Frederick was revamped.

Summary. The I-270 corridor region desperately needs another full-time, full-length, rail transit service. This plan demonstrates a real viable alternative to the present congestion and proposed overbuilding of I-270 with its many new access roads, and subjecting the aging Metrorail to more capacity pains.

A real opportunity exists now to develop superior rail transportation in the I-270 corridor. By better utilizing the MARC line for light rail transit, everyone is a winner, including CSX. It simply requires rerouting the freight trains to the Old Main Line and converting the MARC line to convenient, fast, modern light rail transit. The existing MARC trains can be reused elsewhere in Maryland, or leased or sold to other commuter lines. In time, those cars and second hand locomotives would have to be replaced anyway. MARC just spent $44 million to purchase 6 new high speed electric locomotives to be used exclusively on the Penn Line local commuter trains. The $44M justification is to permit the commuter trains to go a little faster and attract more riders. What about this line? The operating costs can be offset by the same state subsidies now given to CSX to operate MARC trains.

The light rail estimated cost is $600-700 million and can be put in place in 2-4 years covering costs of conversion, upgrading the Old Main Line, electrification of the MARC line for light rail, new yards and new light rail train sets. By transportation standards, that's a bargain basement price tag for a premiere world-class transportation solution to a complex problem we all can enjoy and afford in the near future without having to raise taxes.

This visionary proposal meets or exceeds the goals of the "Thinking Beyond the Pavement" National Workshop, the seven strategic goals and objectives of the Maryland Transportation Plan, and the eight goals of the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board.

As we all know, I-270 and its supporting access roads have already transformed too much valuable real estate into tax devouring pavement - not serving more useful social or transportation purposes as promised. More unfulfilling promises and pavement is not the answer to I-270 regional congestion. More pavement makes more congestion: that should be an obvious lesson learned. But the planners continue without heeding the signals of history. Its time to change directions. The better road to travel is rail, and in this case - light rail transit on the MARC line in the Montgomery County I-270 corridor and preserve what the roads haven't already gobbled up.

Tell your elected federal, state, county and local officials to implement this transportation plan now.

George Barsky

P0 Box 4063

Gaithersburg, MD 20885


July 2002

Some very informative light rail web sites. Many others exist. Take a look.      State of the art light rail in Houston, Tx *          The light rail in Pasadena, CA.  *                                                 The Light Rail Transit Association                                          Light Rail Central - list of North America Systems                    Trams and Railroads Share Tracks in Karlsruhe         Minnesota Light Rail System  *      Many varieties of light rail

System under construction

                                      LIGHT RAIL POSSIBILITIES FOR TOMORROW






                                                THE 'MARC' ( CSX ) LINE TODAY

                                                        Dodging the Freight Trains


                                 Above:    The 'MARC' line at Germantown Station, Maryland  July 2002   [CSX Metropolitan Subdivision]


                                Above:    The 'MARC' line at Germantown Station, Maryland  July 2002   [CSX Metropolitan Subdivision]


                             Above:    The 'MARC' line at Metropolitan Grove Station, Maryland  July 2002   [CSX Metropolitan Subdivision]

                                                                                                                                      Above:    The CSX Old Main Line near Mt. Airy,  Maryland  April 2001