Commuter Rail

by Virgil Soule. 0 Comments


While we’re on the subject of rail transportation, we should probably discuss the future of commuter rail service in Frederick County, which in fact, probably has none as long as the anti-urbanization faction now running the Board of County Commissioners is in power.


I am a proponent of rail transportation both for freight hauling and passenger movement. I have ridden the DC Metrorail system at times regularly and it has gotten me to the four corners of the DC Metro area. Metrorail provides good service but the system is aging and hasn’t kept pace with urban growth, particularly in the direction of Frederick.   Frederick does have MARC service. MARC is an express commuter service that takes passengers to Union Station in the District. From there they can connect to Amtrac and Metrorail. Trips can be somewhat round-about but MARC will get you there.   But Frederick County needs more. MARC is somewhat stop-gap. MARC uses existing CSX tracks and must compete with freight trains for use of the rails. For the longer-term future, we need a subway route running on dedicated rail that connects with the existing Metrorail system.   I think the day is coming when the automobile will no longer be a viable means of commuting. Granted, the highway mode is more flexible for service to Montgomery County and Northern Virginia but highways are much less efficient for mass transit than rail. In engineering terms, the automobile is much less productive than trains and buses. Trains can move many more passengers for the same cost per passenger-mile than automobiles.   On top of that, urban planners have a multitude of problems funneling automobiles through city streets and parking them for the few hours their owners are at work. Eventually, urban areas will no longer be able to accommodate the growing hordes of commuter vehicles.   MDOT transportation planners have concentrated more on I-270 as the primary mode of transportation in Frederick County. The I-270 Multi-Modal Corridor Study includes a light-rail component but only in Montgomery County. Expansion of any kind of passenger rail service into Frederick County has not been considered.   The obvious solution would be an extension of the Red Line from Shady Grove sharing the I-270 right of way to, say, Urbana. The rail alternative would be much superior to the Express Toll Lane design now proposed for the I-270 expansion. If acquisition of land for an expanded right of way by eminent domain proceedings is not a problem for the current design, it shouldn’t be a problem for a rail alternative.   An alternative to this idea would be to extend the East branch of the Red Line from Olney roughly in parallel with MD97 to, say, Cookesville. A disadvantage of this option would be that Frederick commuters would have a 20-mile drive to the railhead. A distinct advantage would be that it would avoid Frederick County politics.   The anti-urbanization faction now controlling the BoCC is generally opposed to any kind of infrastructure development that would encourage population growth. This faction cherishes a romantic view of Frederick County as a bucolic country setting dotted with farms and patrician country estates. They are doing everything they can to oppose urbanization and economic development in Frederick County.   Their main objection is people – they simply don’t want more people moving to Frederick County. This means opposing city and town annexations that would create commercial and housing developments that would in turn provide opportunities for growth. It means hemming in cities and towns with noxious zoning to retard growth. It means opposing infrastructure development like the proposed incinerator. The anti-urbanization faction sees nothing at all wrong with shipping our trash off to be buried in someone else’s (plebeian) backyard. Their idea of the future is as little economic growth as possible.   Driving tip: If you need a quick 20 hp to merge into a traffic stream or pass on a hill, turn off your car’s air conditioner.

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