Last time, I discussed the National Capital Planning Commission’s study about relocating freight rail out of downtown DC. Their proposed bypasses would be expensive, but would have advantages for freight traveling up the East Coast.  However, the NCPC Report notes the proposed Washington bypasses will not expand capacity much without other projects are in the Mid-Atlantic. One of the most important projects is replacement of the Howard Street Tunnel. Like the Northeast Corridor, CSX’s freight route along the East Coast is constrained by Baltimore’s antiquated rail infrastructure. In the same report where they looked at replacing Amtrak’s B&P Tunnel, the Federal Railroad Administration also looked at constructing a new freight route through Baltimore. Here’s a detailed map of Baltimore’s freight routes and tunnels.


The most likely candidate involves rerouting freight trains from the main line near Mount Wynans Yard and running them north along the Hanover Subdivision. Near where the Northeast Corridor crosses over the Hanover Subdivision, they would enter a tunnel parallel to or under the Northeast Corridor and then would parallel the Great Circle Passenger Tunnel. The new freight tunnel would be a double-stack capable, twin bore tunnel. Emerging alongside the passenger tunnels north of Penn Station, freight trains would run alongside the Northeast Corridor through Penn Station (on separate tracks), the Union Tunnels (in the northern tunnel), and through East Baltimore. While running alongside the Northeast Corridor, freight trains would have their own tracks, and would not share with Amtrak trains. At Bay View, freight trains would rejoin the main line. Alternatively, trains could be run from the Great Circle Freight Tunnel onto the Baltimore Belt Line, which runs through Charles Village. However, that route has more obstacles and is unlikely to be chosen.

On the other hand, the FRA report also considered a tunnel under the Baltimore Harbor. While this route is longer, more circuitous, and less convenient to existing rail infrastructure, the FRA found only one route to be acceptable. This route would take trains from Mount Wynans down the Curtis Bay branch. It would cross under the Harbor at Marley Neck, just outside of and parallel to the Francis Scott Key (Baltimore Beltway) bridge. It would surface near the Sparrows Point steel manufacturing plant and head north along the Norfolk Southern spur serving the plant. At that point, it would meet the CSX Philadelphia Subdivision at the Bay View Yard. This alternative is not shown in the above schematic, but the FRA report has some good visuals.

The Howard Street Tunnel is one of the worst bottlenecks in the Mid-Atlantic. A replacement is long overdue, but will be a large undertaking. One of the advantages of relocating freight into a new tunnel is that the Howard Street Tunnel would be available for commuter trains on MARC’s Camden Line. Trains could easily be extended from Camden Station through the tunnel to Mount Royal, Charles Village, and then to Bay View by way of the Baltimore Belt Line. In fact, the Maryland Transit Administration’s MARC expansion plan calls for that extension after the tunnel is replaced. Theoretically, the Camden Line could be extended further north, toward Joppatowne, but MTA does not have that on their to-do list yet.

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Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master’s in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Capitol Hill. He’s a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, and is an employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer.