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Posted at 1:59 PM ET, 03/10/2009

Build the Purple Line, Then Bury It

By Gina Acosta

In 1955, Manhattan’s last aboveground rail line, the Third Avenue El, was closed. Since that time, urban planners have placed rapid transit-trains either underground, or down the middle of well-traveled roads. Chicago has its “L,” but one of its newest lines, the Blue Line, was primarily placed down the middle of the Kennedy Expressway. Planners of the new Silver Line want to put it down the middle of Route 7 in Virginia, much as the Orange Line runs down Interstate 66.

Here in Maryland, on the other hand, transit officials want to put a section of the Purple Line smack down the middle of a bike trail, part of which runs through a residential neighborhood.

Not surprisingly, many who live in that neighborhood and use the Capital Crescent Trail oppose a train line running between their back yards. They’ve been called many names, most obviously “NIMBYs.” No one likes name-calling, but plans to put a train through the middle of neighborhood strike many as retrograde. When the Metro system was built, no one proposed running trains through neighborhoods. The lines were put underground or down the middle of major thoroughfares.

Residents along the bike trail are not ashamed to say, not in our back yards, please. Why shouldn’t the residents of southern Montgomery expect the same kind of concern that elected officials in the District and Virginia showed for their residents? This isn’t hard, especially in the 21st century, when so many alternatives exist for surface rail.

But the plans will spoil not just back yards. They will ruin a long stretch of the Capital Crescent Trail. In the 20 years since the single-track Georgetown Branch ran down it, a wonderful local resource has grown up. If a train is put on it, the equivalent of 15 acres of mature trees will come down, and never be replanted. (The two tracks and the bike path will use every inch of the right-of-way.) The thousands who use the trail hear only the sounds of human voices and birds — not trains.

There are other, more cost-effective ways to run rapid transit between Silver Spring and Bethesda. Rapid buses in dedicated lanes will cost half as much. But if the Maryland Transit Authority is determined to put a train down the trail, they should literally bury it. The “cut and cover” method will still mean all the trees will come down. But once the tracks are built, they can cover it, and replant the trees.

That way, even if our children will no longer be able to enjoy the peace and shade of the trail, at least our grandchildren will.

Ian Kelly
Bethesda

By Gina Acosta  | March 10, 2009; 1:59 PM ET
Categories:  Metro, Purple Line  
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Comments

This post, in referring to a "bike trail," conveniently omits the fact that for most of its life, the Capital Crescent Trail was not a trail at all but a railroad line -- and a freight one at that. It was the Georgetown branch of the B&O Railroad, serving the then-industrial Georgetown waterfront and a handful of other customers along the way.

While I can appreciate how the neighbors enjoy the relative quiet of recent years, restoring the right of way it to its original status as a railway is not quite the desecration the poster would have one believe. It is the return of an important and historic transportation corridor to its original use.

Posted by: Meridian1 | March 16, 2009 8:26 AM | Report abuse

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