Solution 1.0

01. Modernize Inter City and Commuter Rail

Relative to peer regions in the U.S., the Capital Region has robust intercity and commuter rail connections that provided more than 22 million trips in 2017 across Amtrak, (Maryland Area Regional Commuter) MARC, and (Virginia Railway Express) VRE.1 The backbone of the rail network—a vital component of the region’s transportation system—connects points north of Baltimore to Washington on Amtrak-owned right-of-way (primarily serving passenger and commuter trains) and from Washington to Richmond and points south on tracks owned by CSX (serving mixed freight and passenger traffic).

Yet, this backbone is congested. Many stretches are just two tracks—the equivalent of a two-lane road trying to move billions of dollars in goods each year and attempting to rapidly, frequently, and reliably connect the central business districts of Baltimore, Washington, and Richmond. The train network also suffers from a lack of coordination across jurisdictions and service providers—a shortcoming that impedes progress on key investments that would reduce congestion on the tracks and induce greater ridership, lessening demand on the roadway network, through competitive and more reliable service.

When compared to the rail service of global peers, the Capital Region’s rail service falls short. It is far slower, less reliable, and less frequent than intercity and commuter service in many other major regions around the globe. Regions like London, Paris, Berlin, and Madrid have made investments to modernize existing rail corridors to next-generation technology, which provides speeds of 200 to 350 miles per hour, and transform their commuter rail systems into seamless and integrated components of the transport system. These investments improve regional connections, support a more inclusive transportation system, and deepen the rich talent available to employers.

Capital Region Travel Times
From To Car Car +
Additional Time Pending Traffic
Amtrak Marc VRE
Baltimore Penn Station Richmond Main Street 160 230 240
Baltimore Penn Station Washington Union Station 65 110 48 66
Frederick MARC Station Washington Union Station 80 130 102
Fredericksburg VRE Station Washington Union Station 70 110 93 93
Manassas VRE Station Washington Union Station 65 130 78 71
Richmond Main Street Station Washington Union Station 110 140 191

Units are in minutes

Advanced technologies such as Maglev and Hyperloop offer new and exciting possibilities. The region should continue advancing planning studies for both of these technologies, thoroughly evaluate the business case for both, and convene a public discussion about how these investments will move the region’s transportation system forward. Concurrently, elected officials and transportation agencies should focus on the existing corridor by making targeted and sustained investments that can increase speeds, frequency, and reliability to reduce travel time from Baltimore to Washington to Richmond by more than 1.5 hours. Improving the existing rail corridor is a viable solution to enhance the Capital Region’s connectivity and improve the region’s global competitiveness. The region has approved projects that are waiting for leadership from Amtrak, the federal congressional delegation, and state and local officials to move forward.

The Capital Region should prioritize investments in critical rail assets to transform its service and improve the speed, frequency, reliability, and economic development potential from rail travel in the region.

Capital Region Performance

Currently, more than 225 daily intercity and commuter trains2 connect Capital Region consumers to jobs, appointments, and travel and tourism destinations—reducing vehicle congestion and increasing economic growth. However, the rail system is constrained—limiting the ability of the region’s trains to approach top speeds and making trips unreliable. Both poor trip speed and reliability discourage use and limit train travel competitiveness with vehicles. Decades of underinvestment are largely to blame.

The Capital Region’s rail network is held back by four key choke points—two of which are ready for construction and two of which suffer from federal delay. The projects include: the two-track Baltimore & Potomac (B&P) Tunnel in Baltimore that opened in 1873; the BWI Station’s tracks and platform configuration, which restrict capacity and speed; Union Station, which constrains access for all trains and restricts run-through service for MARC and VRE; and the two-track Long Bridge that spans the Potomac River and, due to its capacity constraints, limits growth for freight and passenger service south and west of the nation’s capital going as far south as Florida and New Orleans and west to Chicago. These are critical projects and require sustained support from state and federal elected officials to receive the necessary funding and financing to construct the B&P Tunnel and BWI Station, and to streamline and speed up the federal planning process for Union Station and Long Bridge.

The region’s investments in its rail infrastructure will unlock the opportunity for VRE and MARC service to integrate and offer one-seat trips for Northern Virginia residents to travel to Baltimore and points north, and vice-versa, without having to transfer at Union Station—as is currently required. These railway improvements will require elected leaders to strategically plan and coordinate investment and operations across jurisdictions, and to collaborate with labor unions and third-party operations and maintenance contractors.

The Capital Region’s commuter rail corridors represent a sleeping giant for economic development. Many station areas have the potential to replicate the commercial and economic development success of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Silver Line corridor. Successful transit-oriented development (TOD) at stations along VRE and MARC corridors is not nearly as robust as development found at WMATA stations. VRE and MARC stations present untapped economic development and job creation success stories that require coordinated local and commuter rail collaboration to realize.

Investments to expand tracks and structures between Baltimore, Washington, and Richmond could allow trains to travel at speeds exceeding 125 miles per hour for the majority of the trip. These investments could dramatically increase intercity and commuter-rail capacity and ridership in the corridor, reduce traffic congestion, and increase economic growth in urban and suburban communities. To turn the region’s station areas into economic development success stories, the region should expand service and improve coordination between local governments and commuter rail operators.

Actions

Citations:

  1. Partnership analysis of MDOT, VRE, and Amtrak reports.
  2. Partnership analysis of Amtrak, MARC, and VRE train schedules.
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Action 1.1

Streamline Planning and Secure Funding for Projects That Remove Bottlenecks Limiting the Rail System’s Speed, Frequency, Reliability, and Growth

What

With limited and congested rail tracks, the number of trains traveling cannot keep pace with consumer demand—making rail a less viable travel option. Investments to expand tracks and structures between Baltimore, Washington, and Richmond could allow trains to travel at speeds exceeding 125 miles per hour for the majority of the trip. These investments could dramatically increase intercity and commuter rail capacity and ridership in the corridor, reduce traffic congestion, and increase economic growth in urban and suburban communities.

Through this improved connectivity, investments in our rail system would unlock the development potential in cities and suburbs where rail stations exist. Many of the station areas have the potential to replicate the commercial and economic development success of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Silver Line corridor. To turn the region’s station areas into economic development success stories, the region should expand service and improve coordination between local governments and commuter rail operators.

Why

Four key choke points restrict the region’s rail speed, capacity, and reliability; two are ready for construction and two are delayed by federal bureaucracy.

The two-track Baltimore & Potomac (B&P) Tunnel in Baltimore opened in 1873 and its deteriorating condition is costing Amtrak millions of dollars annually to maintain safe operation. The tunnel’s geometry restricts train travel to less than 30 miles per hour—limiting the ability for growth in the number of trains as well as the ability for Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) to offer express service.1 The existing tunnel creates a safety and economic risk since the region’s rail service does not have alternate routes to use in the event of a disruption due to maintenance or an emergency. The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) have finalized a preferred design that would straighten the tunnel and expand capacity to four tracks—potentially saving the more than 20,000 passengers traversing the tunnels daily more than 850 hours in travel each day2 at a cost of $4.5 billion.3 Since the preferred plans were completed in March 2017, neither Amtrak—the owner of the tunnels—nor Maryland have identified the funding needed for construction to begin.

Mobility Priorities

Connect the Super-Region Improve Consumer Experience Ensure Equitable Access Integrate Innovation

Replacing the B&P Tunnels, built in 1873, would save more than 850 hours daily, time that the 21,000+ riders could use for other productive purposes

The BWI Station serves nearly 150 Amtrak and MARC trains per day—accommodating the travel needs of more than 30,000 consumers and providing efficient access to the BWI Airport.4 The track and platform configuration require lower speeds and offer limited flexibility to recover time in case trains are delayed. Currently, the BWI station is at capacity and unable to accommodate the planned growth of 100 more trains per day over the coming years.5 In January 2016, Amtrak and the state received approval from the federal government to increase the number of tracks from three to four, add a new center platform, and reconstruct the existing station building at an estimated cost of nearly $550 million.6 However, since 2016, elected officials and transportation agencies have made limited progress in moving this project forward.

Union Station is the nation’s second busiest train station—serving more than 8,000 train passengers during weekday peak hours.7 It is also a multimodal hub for the region’s transportation system, connecting rail to WMATA bus and rail service, Virginia Railway Express (VRE), MARC, tour bus operations, intercity buses, District streetcars, taxis, and bicycle facilities. It is operating beyond capacity, with platforms and concourses that are overcrowded and pose safety risks. Projected growth will exacerbate these problems, and a concerted effort by more than 10 key transportation and development stakeholders is needed to transform this iconic structure into a world-class multimodal train station. Plans are underway to invest over $7.5 billion to triple passenger capacity at the station, create a new neighborhood above the tracks to the north of the station, and double train capacity.8,9 The plan requires FRA approval, which has been delayed by more than a year due to competing priorities for the project from key stakeholders.

Long Bridge is owned by CSX, and its two-track crossing of the Potomac River restricts existing and planned growth of passenger rail and freight service to points south and west of the nation’s capital, and limits the ability of MARC trains to pass into Virginia. The existing structure creates substantial delays to freight and passenger train service daily—particularly between the District and Alexandria, Virginia—and it must be expanded to meet the estimated 150 percent growth in passenger and freight service over the next 20 years.10 CSX, the District, and Virginia are currently developing plans to expand Long Bridge’s capacity. This project is currently undergoing federal environmental review, with a conclusion not expected until 2020.

There are other necessary upgrades the region should support that can happen concurrently, such as expanding the Susquehanna Bridge; deploying new dual-mode electric-diesel locomotives for Amtrak’s Northeast Regional trains; improving signaling, switches, and interlockings; and upgrading the wireless internet on the trains themselves. However, the region will be unable to transform the existing corridor—and, in turn, the region’s transportation system—until these four key choke points are removed.

Benefits

Increasing the speed, reliability, and frequency of the existing train network can drive economic and job growth in and around station stops in urban and suburban centers, while also decreasing demand on the congested roadway network. A study in the United Kingdom showed that cities able to access London within two hours by higher speed rail had lower unemployment rates, greater economic competitiveness, and more economic activity from knowledge-intensive services than neighboring cities not connected to higher speed rail.11 Between 1999 and 2006—while surrounding cities were suffering from job loss—Macon, France, saw a 13.5 percent increase in employment, which has been attributed to its higher speed rail connections to the economic centers of Paris and Lyon.12

Barriers

Investments in the rail system accrue benefits that extend far beyond the funding jurisdiction’s borders; and, in most instances, those receiving marginal benefit offer no support—political or funding—to construct the project. This reality limits political support and slows the ability to secure the funding for large rail projects. Virginia is the only jurisdiction in the region with a dedicated operating and capital funding source for intercity and commuter rail. Without dedicated funding sources, it is challenging to create sustained capital investments necessary to upgrade the system. The federal delegation, Amtrak, Maryland, and the District could join with Virginia to pledge capital funding over a set period of time to maximize each jurisdiction’s own individual investments in these critical projects.

Next moves

The region’s roadway network cannot solely shoulder the increased demand for transport between Baltimore, Washington, and Richmond, as well as travel from suburbs to the central business districts within metro areas. The Capital Region should make targeted and sustained investments to remove key choke points in the rail network and enhance the competitiveness of this travel option. These investments will advance the larger goal of transforming the region’s transportation system into a globally competitive asset for the region’s continued growth and prosperity.

Next moves are:

  • The Capital Region’s congressional delegation should work with the FRA to streamline environmental review processes and efficiently deliver the record of decisions for both Union Station and Long Bridge
  • Amtrak should identify its funding strategy to replace the B&P Tunnels, including working with MDOT to secure state investment and working with the Capital Region’s federal congressional delegation to secure FRA capital construction grants, a Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Core Capacity Grant, and a Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan to start construction
  • MDOT should work with Amtrak and the Capital Region’s congressional delegation to secure funding to expand rail capacity at BWI Airport
  • Virginia and the District should work with the Capital Region’s congressional delegation to secure FRA and FTA grants to expand and enhance Long Bridge
  • The Capital Region’s congressional delegation should secure flexibility for Amtrak and state DOTs to use local and targeted hire preferences for each of these projects, as suggested in other parts of the Blueprint

Costs

Due to decades of deferred maintenance and lack of investments to upgrade the existing rail infrastructure, the expected cost for new B&P tunnels, BWI Station, Union Station, and Long Bridge is projected to exceed $13 billion; however, independently, each project would benefit the system. Funding for these improvements would come from conventional sources such as federal grants and loans, and expanded state and local contributions—a mixture of track fees and passenger ticket surcharges. Additional funding and financing might be possible from public-private partnerships or as part of toll revenue sharing from adjacent performance-driven tolled highways (e.g., I-95).

Citations:

  1. “Final Environmental Impact Statement.” B&P Tunnel Project. Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Transit Administration, November 2016. http://www.bptunnel.com/environmental-studies/final-environmental-impact-statement.html
  2. Partnership analysis of the B&P Tunnel Final Environmental Impact Statement.
  3. “Record of Decision (ROD).” Baltimore: B&P Tunnel Project, March 2017. http://www.bptunnel.com/environmental-studies/record-of-decision.html
  4. “Finding of No Significant Impact: Baltimore/Washington International (BWI) Airport Rail Station Improvements and Fourth Track Project.” US Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration, January 2016. https://mta.maryland.gov/sites/default/files/2016-01-05ApprovedBWIFONSI.pdf
  5. Ibid.
  6. Partnership analysis of Amtrak reports
  7. Union Station Master Plan. Executive Summary. Washington, DC: Amtrak, July 25, 2012. https://nec.amtrak.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Washington-Union-Station-Master-Plan-201207.pdf
  8. Ibid.
  9. “Washington Union Station Expansion Project Environmental Impact Statement.” Federal Railroad Administration. Accessed October 2018. https://www.permits.performance.gov/permitting-projects/washington-union-station-expansion-project-environmental-impact-statement
  10. “VRE System Plan 2040.” Virginia Railway Express. https://www.vre.org/projects-plans-facility/plans/2040/
  11. Chen, Chia-Lin and Peter Hall. “The Impacts of High-Speed Trains on British Economic Geography: A Study of the UK’s Intercity 125/225 and its Effects.” Journal of Transport Geography Vol: 19, Issue: 4, July 2011. 689-704. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtrangeo.2010.08.010
  12. Melibaeva, Sevara. "Development Impacts of high-speed rail: megalopolis formation and implications for Portugal's Lisbon-Porto High-Speed Rail Link." PhD diss., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2010.
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Action 1.2

Create a Redevelopment Compact to Expand and Modernize Union Station; Redevelop Baltimore Penn Station and Staples Mill Station

What

Union Station must be significantly expanded and modernized in order to meet growing demand and keep the region globally competitive. Once the federal environmental planning process is complete, the modernization project—including a new train shed with three separate concourses, new platforms, new levels for trains and commerce, and significantly better transit and bus access—can begin. This will lead to increased capacity, a better consumer experience, and enhanced vitality for the region’s economy. This project will be transformational and will create a world-class multimodal transportation hub as well as a new neighborhood.

Baltimore Penn Station opened in 1911 and is the eighth busiest train station in the country—serving nearly three million Amtrak intercity and Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) commuter passengers each year.1 Amtrak—the owner—has secured a master developer to rehabilitate the station and redevelop surrounding properties to create a world-class multimodal station that serves as a central gateway for travel and commerce in Baltimore.

Staples Mill Station has changed little since it was opened in 1975, when it was designed for three round-trip trains per day. Today, the station sees 18 round-trip trains per day.2 Current and forecasted ridership far exceeds the original intended capacity—serving more than 1.5 million passengers annually, representing the busiest station in the Southeast.3 In 2018, Virginia’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) improved the station’s parking facility and doubled its capacity. This station is also owned by Amtrak, which is working with DRPT and Henrico County to advance efforts to plan for a redeveloped, mixed-use station.

Both Baltimore Penn Station and Staples Mill Station redevelopment projects are less complex than Union Station but deserve equal attention and effort to transform them into thriving mixed-use station developments able to spur demand for intercity and commuter rail service and reduce congestion on the roadway network.

Why

Located within a small footprint in a rapidly redeveloping community, Union Station connects nearly all surface public transportation services; attracts private mobility services like rideshare, tourist buses, and bike and scooter share; and serves as the front door for millions of tourists visiting the U.S. capital annually. A project of this magnitude will require sustained, accountable, and invested leadership from numerous key stakeholders over the next 15 years to fully realize the vision set out in the world-class 2012 Union Station Master Plan, including the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) (the owner of the facility), Union Station Redevelopment Corporation (USRC), Amtrak, Maryland DOT (MDOT), District DOT (DDOT), Virginia DOT (VDOT), Virginia Railway Express (VRE), MARC, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), intercity bus operators, and Akridge (the master developer for the air rights above the tracks to the north of the station), among others.

Many elected officials and transportation agencies are supportive of the project overall, but none have stepped forward to propel the project from its current place in the early stages of the federal environmental planning processes and ensure its success moving forward. Without supportive elected leaders championing this project and in light of competing priorities from key stake holders, the federal environmental review process has slipped by more than two years. Funding commitments will be required by all key stakeholders, but no government or transportation agency has yet had to commit to significant cash investments, which will be needed to complete the $7.5 billion investment.4

The federal environmental planning process for Union Station is expected to be completed in early 2020, at which time the key stakeholders will need to secure funding commitments from all parties to complete construction within 15 years. Without a clear champion for the redevelopment of Union Station—and with many stakeholders—a contractually-binding redevelopment compact should be agreed to by all key stakeholders to identify each entity’s role in the project, investment commitments, and revenue sharing to efficiently sustain and deliver the transformative project.

Both Baltimore Penn Station and Staples Mill Station are thriving transportation hubs for their regions, but both are at capacity and require rehabilitation and expansion to meet existing and future demand. Penn Station is undergoing a planning process by a master developer, in coordination with Amtrak, to identify projects to maintain and expand the station terminal for train passengers, and enhance more commercial and residential development at the station and adjacent Amtrak-owned properties. Staples Mill Station must identify a strategy to expand capacity of the station and tracks while also leveraging these rail assets to induce economic development at the station and surrounding parking lot. At the same time, the state, CSX, and regional elected officials should advance efforts to run all trains through to Main Street Station in Richmond’s central business district, as recommended in the DC2RVA passenger rail plan. For each region to unleash the economic potential of having leading train stations, they must each invest in their stations and their connections to catalyze growth in ridership and development surrounding the stations.

Benefits

Redevelopment of train stations can drive economic development and increase train ridership. A redevelopment compact was expertly used to deliver Denver’s historic Union Station, a 1914 Beaux Arts building. The building is owned by the regional transit agency, which, along with the City and County of Denver, created the Denver Union Station Project Authority (DUSPA)—a nonprofit, public benefit corporation formed by the City of Denver to finance and implement the project. With participation from the state DOT and regional metropolitan planning organization (MPO), DUSPA was able to efficiently redevelop 50 acres of land surrounding the train station into a 21st century transit hub.5 The project cost nearly $500 million and included a hall for commuter and Amtrak passengers, a 22-bay regional bus facility, and light rail connections.6 The public entities contracted with a master developer to transform the train station into a mixed-use development. DUSPA established a special taxing district to repay loans secured from state and federal sources. The first phase of the project was delivered in 2014, has already generated nearly $4 billion in total economic impact in the near term, and is estimated to generate another $3 billion over the long term.7

Barriers

All three stations will have to secure significant funding to redevelop each station and its surrounding land, which may prove challenging. However, unlike Baltimore Penn Station and Staples Mill Station, Union Station is a complex project—and USDOT’s ownership of the station presents a significant barrier. Other comparable station redevelopments (e.g., Denver Union Station) have vested owners that possess the vision and regulatory flexibility to incorporate all transport modes and development considerations, and have it within their mission to primarily enhance their region’s economic and societal benefits. While a significant and sustained capital investment is needed to complete this project, a federally authorized redevelopment compact will help overcome challenges from Union Station’s unique ownership structure, larger size, construction period, and the complexity of the project.

Next moves

The expansion and modernization of Union Station, Baltimore Penn Station, and Staples Mill Station would not just elevate their immediate surroundings but help improve the entire region. Union Station is a complex project that warrants a redevelopment compact to ensure it is delivered within the next 15 years.

Next moves are:

  • Amtrak, VRE, MARC, WMATA, and the private developer should agree to recommendations for a federally authorized redevelopment compact
  • Baltimore Penn Station’s master developer, Penn Station Partners, should coordinate with public stakeholders to complete a visionary station development plan and move to construct projects starting in 2020
  • Amtrak, DRPT, and Henrico County should complete a Staples Mill Station redevelopment plan and secure funding to redevelop the station building to accommodate existing and future passenger growth

Costs

While costs to redevelop Union Station exceed $7 billion,8 the recommended actions to create the redevelopment compact could be implemented with far lower investments from each stakeholder. Total costs to redevelop Baltimore Penn Station and Staples Mill Station are not yet available, but the planning can be completed for a minimal amount.

Citations:

  1. "Next Stop - Baltimore Penn Station." Planning Kick-Off Meeting Presentation. Baltimore: Penn Station Partners, July 2018.
  2. FY2018 Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program planning grant application for Staples Mill Road Station Redevelopment.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Union Station Master Plan. Executive Summary. Washington, DC: Amtrak, July 2012. https://nec.amtrak.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Washington-Union-Station-Master-Plan-201207.pdf
  5. “Project Profile: Denver Union Station.” USDOT Federal Highway Administration. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/ipd/project_profiles/co_union_station.aspx
  6. “Reinventing Union Station.” Denver: Regional Transportation District, 2014. http://www.t4america.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Denver-Union-Station-fact-sheet-2014.pdf
  7. “ULI Case Studies: Denver Union Station.” Urban Land Institute. https://casestudies.uli.org/denver-union-station/
  8. Union Station Master Plan. Executive Summary. Washington, DC: Amtrak, July 2012. https://nec.amtrak.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Washington-Union-Station-Master-Plan-201207.pdf
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Action 1.3

Create a Seamless Commuter Rail Network by Expanding and Integrating MARC and VRE Services

What

With the replacement of the Civil War-era B&P rail tunnel in Baltimore, expansion of the BWI station, and doubling of Long Bridge’s capacity, comes the opportunity to build a true high-speed four-track main line from Baltimore to Washington and to double the capacity of the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) to provide off-peak and reverse-peak trip options. Commuter rail ridership in the Baltimore-to-Washington corridor could be tripled to 75,000 passengers per day, and VRE is estimated to more than double its ridership by 2040.1 Completing these projects opens the door for VRE to have run-through service into Maryland, for Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) to have run-through service into Virginia, and to bring the two commuter railroads together to offer unified service. The resulting system would provide more frequent, reliable, and fast service throughout the Baltimore and Washington metro areas—connecting urban centers and institutions such as Fort Meade with Quantico.

Why

The region’s two commuter railroads—MARC and VRE—provide more than 13 million trips annually.2 However, the system is designed around an objective that is dated: to solely get people in and out of the District during peak periods. The existing network stops all trains in the District at Union Station—preventing MARC or VRE trains from traveling throughout the region, reducing connectivity. This leaves many thriving business and job centers without bi-directional service—and leaves many trains at capacity during peak-hour travel, leaving little room for growth. This situation has created distinctly different governance and funding structures, train sets, and platforms that join together to provide a lower quality of service to the region’s consumers.

Many global peers—such as Munich, London, Paris, and Tokyo—have integrated their commuter rail systems into urban metro systems, making them function more like rapid transit service. With more frequent service into and through the central business districts, the rail systems of our global competitors have provided stimulus to suburban communities and increased employers’ access to a deeper and more diverse labor pool.

The Capital Region commuter rail network is disjointed and is holding the region back from becoming truly integrated and globally competitive. Maryland Transit Administration (MTA), VRE, and Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) are studying the potential latent demand in providing overlapping MARC run-through service via the District into Northern Virginia and providing similar VRE service into Maryland. This study must be completed—and MARC and VRE should achieve enhanced coordination ahead of the completion of critical projects, such as the B&P Tunnel—to ensure the Capital Region can provide seamless and integrated commuter rail service regardless of mobility provider.

Benefits

In the case of Munich, Germany, the S-Bahn constructed a downtown tunnel to allow run-through service, increase frequency where appropriate, provide seamless transit and commuter rail connections, and integrate transit and commuter rail fares. The S-Bahn commuter rail system currently provides 800,000 daily trips for the region’s 2.6 million consumers—a region with 60 percent fewer consumers than the Washington metro area, but a commuter rail system carrying 93 percent more riders daily than VRE and MARC combined.3

Run-through service and further integration of MARC and VRE could achieve cost savings on top of improving consumer travel options. MARC and VRE store trains at Union Station, which is costly due to the premium on real estate in the heart of the District. This cost could be removed if trains ran through Union Station and continued bi-directional service throughout the day. In addition, run-through service could reduce the number of train sets required to provide current service, and costs could be shared for the purchase and ongoing operation of the train sets.

If MARC and VRE can become a fully integrated, seamless system, the region could greatly benefit from the standardized fares through an integrated mobility platform and enhanced connectivity with the region’s heavy rail and bus networks.

Barriers

MARC and VRE have different operations and workforces that could be better integrated and coordinated. They also have different train sets, station configurations, and energy sources that propel the trains. Most significantly, each service is funded and governed by a single jurisdiction. While each commuter train must coordinate with similar stakeholders—such as Amtrak and private railroads—to provide reliable service, the levels of service and annual investment are dictated by a single state. Moving to integrate these systems would require regional vision and leadership to overcome structural and political challenges

Next moves

The region must modernize, integrate, and expand its commuter rail network to keep up with the growing region and remain globally competitive. Creating a seamless, integrated commuter rail network will require significant infrastructure upgrades to integrate its different components and then expand service. All these improvements should be designed to enable VRE and MARC to integrate service as each project comes online. The success of this proposal hinges on a governance model that will enable the integration and coordination of services.

Next moves are:

  • MTA, VRE, and MWCOG should conduct a robust feasibility study identifying areas needing investment and operation coordination to enable coherent and integrated service
  • MTA and VRE should coordinate procurement schedules and operating contracts, and establish integrated fare systems to move each railroad toward seamless integration that best serves the region’s consumers
  • Concurrently, MTA and VRE should advance the MARC Growth and Investment Plan and the System Plan 2040, respectively, by implementing important near-term investments such as transit oriented development station improvements, train yard expansions, and signal upgrades

Costs

Significant investments in key projects—B&P tunnels, BWI Station, Union Station, and Long Bridge—will be necessary to enable run-through service and warrant the effort and commitment needed from both commuter railroads to create a seamless operation from a consumer perspective. However, integrating the two fragmented railroads into a cohesive system can be established over the next decade with far lower costs than the projects that can be built into annual capital and operating budgets.

Citations:

  1. Partnership analysis of Northeast Corridor Future Environmental Impact Statement and VRE Systems Plan 2040.
  2. Partnership analysis of MDOT and VRE reports.
  3. Partnership analysis of Capital Region population and transit ridership reports; Spieler, Christof. Twitter Post. July 29, 2018, 6:04 PM. https://twitter.com/christofspieler/status/1023740023915479041
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