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Heavy Rail Systems in D.C.

There are two heavy rail systems that operate within the District of Columbia. Amtrak owns and operates the Northeast Corridor (NEC) tracks from Union Station, located two blocks from the Capitol, to New York City via New Carrolton, BWI, and Baltimore's Penn Station. The NEC tracks are electrified, that is, a catenary wire runs aboves the tracks to allow electric locomotives, including Amtrak's Acela, to operate. Amtrak runs southbound trains and trains to Chicago and points west on tracks owned by CSX. Notably, to operate from Union Station to points south, tracks run through a tunnel under Capitol Hill to merge with CSX tracks in southwest D.C.

The Ivy City Yard, just north of Union Station, houses a large Amtrak maintenance facility. This includes the new maintenance facility for the Acela high speed train sets. Amtrak also does contract work for MARC's electric locomotives. Metro's Brentwood maintenance facility is also located in the southwest corner of the Ivy City Yard. Riding the Metro Red Line between Union Station and Rhode Island Avenue Station gives you a great aerial view of the south end of the Ivy City yard.

The area in and around Union Station is known in CSX terminology as the Washington Terminal. Three CSX Subdivisions and the NEC all connect to the Washington Terminal.

As mentioned, Amtrak runs diesel trains on tracks owned by CSX. Union Station is the main and only Amtrak terminal in the city. Southbound trains operate from Union Station, through the 1st Street Tunnel under Capitol Hill, onto the CSX tracks, known at that point as the Landover Subdivision. Continuing south, the Landover Sub crosses the Potomac River via the long bridge (parallel to the 14th Street bridges) and connects to the RF&P Subdivision in Virginia. Northbound trains on the NEC to New York move northeast from Union Station through the Ivy City yard, through the city and parallel to New York Avenue until crossing into Maryland. Westbound trains to Pittsburgh and Chicago run north from Union Station, past the Ivy City yard, onto CSX's Metropolitan Subdivision and into Maryland before turning west. Incidentally, Metrorail built the red line from Union Station to Silver Spring along the CSX right-of-way pursuant to a contract between the two entities. The Metrorail tracks run in the median of the CSX right of way, fenced off from the CSX tracks, from north of Rhode Island Avenue Station to north of the Silver Spring Station. The Capitol Subdivision of CSX's Baltimore Division runs from the Metropolitan Subdivision just north of Union Station north into Maryland with a connection to the Washington Terminal. Amtrak does not run trains on the Capitol Sub. The Capitol Sub eventually runs parallel to the green line in Maryland.

The regional commuter rail systems, MARC and VRE also run along these tracks. MARC's Penn, Camden, and Brunswick lines run along Amtrak's NEC, CSX's Capitol Sub, and CSX's Metropolitan Sub, respectively. MARC's only stop in the District of Columbia is at Union Station. VRE runs from Union Station to the Landover Sub and stops at L'enfant Plaza Station before crossing into Virginia. Before the CSX / Conrail merger, CSX operated MARC under contract and Conrail operated VRE under contract. As of 2011, Amtrak (Penn Line) and CSX (Camden and Penn Lines) operate MARC under contract and Keolis Rail Services America operate VRE under contract.

CSX freight trains operate out of the Benning Railyard in Anacostia on the east side of the city. The Landover Sub, mentioned previously, runs from the Potomac River crossing, through Southeast D.C., past L'Enfant Plaza Station and the Washington Terminal Railroad, through the New Jersey Avenue Tunnel, across the Anacostia River, into the Benning Railyard, and connects to the NEC in Maryland. Once again, the Metrorail Orange line runs along the CSX right-of-way to the New Carrolton Station. Another northbound line runs from the Benning yard along the same right-of-way and then turns north just past the Maryland line. This line eventually meets up with the freight line that runs north from the Brentwood / Ivy City Yard.

After 9/11, armed guards were posted at each end of the New Jersey Avenue Tunnel. One evening, some of D.C.'s less upstanding citizens robbed a guard of his weapon at gunpoint. The guards have sinced been replaced by a camera system.

Also of note, a now-abandoned single-track spur runs south from the Benning Yard, parallel to I-295, to Saint Elizabeths Hospital and a few other government facilities. Most operations on the spur are long since abandoned. However, up until the early 2000s, the spur was used to deliver liquid chlorine to D.C. Water's Blue Plains wastewater treatement facility. Because of security concerns regarding the transport of chlorine through the city, D.C. Water switched to trucking in a different chemical.

Another single-track spur ran from the Metropolitan Sub in Silver Spring (north of the Silver Spring Metro Station) through Chevy Chase and Bethesda to Georgetown. The spur was most recently used to deliver coal to a GSA power plant on K Street in Georgetown. The spur was built to provide the B&O railroad access to Virginia via Georgetown (the 14th Street rail bridge, formally the Long Bridge, was owned by the Pennsylvania Rail Road). The Spur was abandoned in 1985 and the right-of-way was turned over to the National Park Service and Montgomery County, MD and converted to a hiker-biker trail. For more detailed information on the history of the spur, see the Capital Crescent Trail history page . The spur right-of-way has been proposed for use as part of a light-rail transit line connecting downtown Silver Spring with downtown Bethesda.

Mainline Amtrak diesel eastbound on the D.C. side of the Potomac.

Same shot

100 meter tunnel under an office complex. Two mainline tracks on the right and an abandoned spur on the left. Location is just north of the Potomac on the main north-south tracks at 14th St.

Looking east toward the center city from the west end of the 100 meter tunnel.

Looking west toward the river on the mainline tracks.

Looking west toward the river on the abandoned spur.

Looking west on the abandoned spur. A second disused spur runs into an old GSA coal plant from the right side of the picture.

Same view with a better view of the second spur on the right and the mainline on the left.

Same position but now looking east toward the center city.

GSA coal plant near the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Viewed from the direction of the mainline spur.

GSA coal plant from 14th St.

Mainline toward the center city with a view of the Capitol. Taken from a 12th St. on the east side of the coal plant.

L'Enfant Plaza station for Virginia Railway Express and Amtrak, facing east. Located around the bend from the previous frame (rail12.jpg).

L'Enfant Plaza station facing east toward the center city.

L'Enfant Plaza station sits on top of Metro's L'Enfant Plaza Metrorail station.

East toward the Capitol from 100 meters past L'Enfant Station.

Bend facing westbound from just west of L'Enfant Station.

West toward L'Enfant Plaza on the mainline tracks.

Abandoned structure along elevated mainline tracks in the middle of the city east of L'Enfant Plaze.

Same structure from street level. Structure located at the CSX / Amtrak split.

Looking Eastboad at the split. Amtrak lines to the left, CSX tracks to the right.

The split showing the northbound Amtrak lines toward the 1st Street Tunnel & Union Station. Taken from the CSX tracks.

Another view of the Amtrak tracks looking toward the 1st Street Tunnel.

Same view taken from the split.

Looking east on the CSX tracks from the split. Amtrak tracks are to the left (out of view).

CSX tracks looking east toward the New Jersey Avenue tunnel.

Same view, different track. Note the remnants of a catenary system that was removed in the 1980s.

Eastbound looking into the Jersey Avenue Tunnel taken from underneath SE/SW Freeway. Tunnel located between Anacostia River and L'Enfant Plaza.

Entrance to the tunnel taken from the embankment. Mean armed guards looking for some terrorist payback now stationed here.

View from the tunnel entrance westbound toward the Landover / Washington Terminal split.

Spur into the U.S. Capitol power plant from the CSX tracks. Located about 50 meters from the west end of the New Jersey Avenue tunnel.

Perspective shot of the Anacostia River crossing for the CSX line. East of the New Jersey Avenue Tunnel.

Close-up of the bridge. Bridge rises to allow river traffic to move. Bridge control from a tower in the CSX yard and is manned only in the summer.

CSX tracks - Anacostia River crossing two miles east of L'Enfant Plaza Station.

CSX diesel heading eastbound toward the CSX Benning yard.

CSX diesel.

Diesels eastbound in the CSX yard after crossing the Anacostia.

CSX train pulling into the yard. In the background is the Anacostia River Bridge.

CSX diesels in the yard.

CSX diesels eastbound in the yard.

Amtrack 1st St. Tunnel from the mainline side.

Amtrack 1st St. Tunnel from the mainline side.

Tunnel from west end of the Ivy City yard under New York Avenue NE at 4th Street. View toward the rail yard.

Same tunnel. Tracks ran to a produce market and warehouse district off Florida Avenue NE.

Same tunnel.

GSA Coal and Ash House in Georgetown. Plant was served on a periodic basis by the Georgetown spur of the Metropolitan Sub until the 1980s.

Plant located on K Street near Georgetown Harbor. Tracks ran along K Street (under the elevated freeway, seen at left) and have since been paved over or removed.

A one-mile stretch of track ran along the waterfront to facilitate moving river and canal traffic. The track was connected to the later-built spur.

View from the Coal and Ash House west toward the spur. Tracks ran along the waterfront (to the left in photo) into Maryland before turning inland toward Bethesda, Chevy Chase, and Silver Spring.

View of the back of the Coal and Ash House looking toward the front.

Same position, looking in the opposite direction. Tracks end at Rock Creek, behind and below the cyclone fence. In 1914, tracks extended across Rock Creek to deliver limestone and materials for the building of the Lincoln Memorial.

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