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Modern Transportation for the Virginias

Washington, DC, Freight Bypass Study

From VARP’s On Track newsletter, spring 2007

The National Capital Planning Commission is considering three alternative routes for a freight rail bypass around Washington, DC. The study was funded by the Homeland Security Department, looking at ways to shift rail shipments of hazardous materials away from the seat of federal government. In February 2005, concerned that hazmat shipments by rail could be a target for terrorists, the District of Columbia enacted a law forbidding rail shipments of hazardous materials. The CSX mainline to Virginia, also used by Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express, passes a few blocks from the Capitol. Although CSX carries a lot of chemicals, toxic inhalation hazards—poisons such as chlorine that could be carried on the wind and not just spill onto a restricted area—are a very small percentage of shipments, said Skip Elliott, the railroad’s Assistant Vice President for Public Safety and the Environment, speaking at the Railway Age Security Forum and Expo in Washington, DC, two years ago.

“Environmental studies of the three routes must be done, which will take two to three years and cost about $10 million, said Bill Dowd, the commission’s plan and project implementation division director,” according to a report in the Fredericksburg Free Lance–Star on April 5. “Then Congress or the White House would likely choose the best route, Dowd said.

“Each project will cost between $4 billion and $5 billion to build, with the money coming from a variety of public and private sources, he said. Dowd estimated construction would take about five years.”

Three Routes Studied

The National Capital Planning Commission has recommended three routes for further study:

Crossing at Alexandria

This route would diverge from the CSX mainline (the Maryland Rail Commuter Camden line) at Hyattsville, MD, and follow existing rails through Southeast Washington, crossing the Potomac River in a new tunnel and joining the existing CSX mainline in Alexandria.

Crossing at Quantico

This route would diverge from the Camden line near Jesup, MD, and follow a new line to the Northeast Corridor near Odenton, MD. At Bowie, line would leave the Northeast Corridor alignment and follow existing right of way to Indian Head, MD. New right of way would lead to a bridge or tunnel across the Potomac to the Quantico area.

Crossing at Dahlgren

This would follow the same route as the line to Quantico as far as White Plains, MD, where the Indian Head branch diverges. From there, instead, it would follow the existing line to Pope’s Creek on the Potomac River opposite Dahlgren. It would cross the Potomac on a new bridge and use the old Dahlgren branch (some of which was recently converted to a trail) to a point east of Fredericksburg, where a new line would branch off to join the mainline south of the city.