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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.
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