CSX East Coast Route
West Baltimore, MD - Washington, DC
This tour segment is a portion of what has become a major railfan effort to provide a detailed self-guided railfan tour of the entire east coast from northern New Jersey (the Shared Assets Area) to the south of Miami, Florida. A description of the overall tour is here. We begin this segment in the southwest portion of Baltimore, Maryland, at the West Baltimore interlocking at Winans, and take you all the way through Maryland and the District of Columbia, and to the Potomac River at East Potomac Park. Then, as an extra added attraction, we take you back north to loop around the city via the Landover Sub and Alexandria Extension back to the wye at Hyattsville. You'll be busy if you want to take this entire tour in one day.
Contents And Navigation
Actually, most of these railfan tours don't really need a whole lot of Historical Background -- but this one is different. The line between Mt. Clare Station in Baltimore and Relay is part of the first common carrier railroad in the United States: The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. This roadbed was engineered and constructed before virtually any other overland transportation engineering had been contemplated.
It shortly became obvious to the B&O that a line between Baltimore and Washington, DC, was a necessity, and it was built from Relay, using the Thomas viaduct, to the capitol, and in fact, has always been known as the Capitol Subdivision. This portion of the CSX East Coast tour, then, includes the Cap Sub, and then goes into Washington DC. When we get to the Hyattsville wye north of Washington, John Boteler takes us on a grand tour of the CSX/AMT trackage down to Union Station, then south to East Potomac Park. From there, we go back up to the Hyattsville wye via the Alexandria Connection and Benning Yard. There aren't hundreds of miles between West Baltimore and the Potomac River, but this is an ambitious tour and it will take you several hours at a minimum. If you want to stop and see some trains, you'll need most of a full day.
For information concerning the other Frograil tours which have been put together, go to the Tour Guide. If you've never taken a Frograil tour before, you should visit this site and take advantage of the good advice and information contained within it.
John Boteler: AKA "The Bote Man," John has given us the urban railfan guide from Laurel right through the District of Columbia to Union Station and East Potomac Park. He then takes us back up north via Benning Yard and the Alexandria Connection. This is not the wilderness of West Virginia, but is every bit as challenging, and perhaps even more dangerous. John really knows his way around, and we're grateful that he's been willing to share his knowledge with us.
Peter Furnee: CSX logo
Tony Hill: Retired Frograil Webmaster and text provider for this tour, West Baltimore to Laurel
Greg Mazzie: has provided some technical details concerning Washington
Wayne Toy: Has provided details concerning the Baltimore Terminal.
Joe Castleman: Has provided details concerning the College Park - Riverdale - Hyattsville - Bladensburg area.
Train Gifs. All train gifs used within this tour are from the Ed Bindler's train gifs site, which is here.
If you'd like to contribute to this, or any other tour, please contact me at email@example.com, and let me know what you'd like to do. We'll work together: You supply the data/info, and I'll do the HTML stuff and upload it. You'll get a chance to review the fruits of your efforts before the general public sees the finished product, so you can let me have your corrections, additions and changes.
The Railroad: Baltimore to the Potomac. It's hard to visualize what this part of the United States looked like back in the 1830s, '40s and '50s. Well, to make a long story short, it was rugged. Indeed, if you attempt to hike the area today, you very rapidly appreciate the fact that this is not Kansas, Dorothy, and you'd better be in pretty good physical shape. While the Capitol Sub is easier to hike and drive trains through than the Old Main Line, it is still rugged (try running through the Patapsco Valley State Park) and is highlighted by short twists, turns and inclines that don't amount to much individually, but collectively, they can flat wear you out.
That said, the engineering of the line was superb, and today's biggest coal and intermodal trains seem to flow through effortlessly. This is more a testimonial to the folks who engineered and built the line than to those who would railfan it today. There is nothing "easy" about this line, and the fact that it looks easy speaks volumes about the men who put this engineering marvel together, well over 150 years ago. It is not an easy line to railfan today, primarily because the clearances are so tight. There is talk about expanding the trackage to 3 main tracks between Winans and Washington, but the right of way is so narrow, one wonders where the third track would go. All this is far more than idle intellectual prattle, as the need for more capacity exists right now, and is getting more strident daily. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
Mile Points: Within the Baltimore Terminal, mile points can be confusing, but they can also tell you a lot about what piece of railroad you're looking at. Wayne Toy has provided this helpful information:
BAA = Capitol Sub
BAC = Old Main Line Sub
BAK = Philadelphia Sub
BAM = Locust Point Branch
BAN = Mt. Clare Branch
BAO = Curtis Bay Branch
BAS = Hanover Sub (ex-Western Maryland)
Tour Length: The overall length (i.e. the railroad timetable distance length) of the tour is complicated to determine, but if you take the entire tour, this is a reasonable approximation.
Baltimore - Washington Terminal (north of Union Station) = 33.5 miles, not including BAA 7&8, which are no longer used by CSX.
Washington Terminal - Union Station - East Potomac Park = 3.1, based entirely on map measurements.
East Potomac Park - Anacostia Junction - SE leg of Hyattsville Wye = 6.3
Total = 45.6 miles. This is easily an all day Tour. Take your time and enjoy it.
WEBMASTER'S NOTE: I do not recommend, or even condone, walking along the tracks, as this means trespassing or exposing yourself to danger. You will have to be creative, in some instances, to avoid trespassing while getting to the detailed locations included herein, but you will either have to be creative or not visit those sites. At no point in this tour guide, or any other tour which is part of Frograil, is it recommended that you trespass or expose yourself to danger. If you are a fool and have a leg cut off (or worse), don't come crying to me: You have been warned. Trains are big, powerful, and often surprisingly quiet. Don't end up being a statistic.
West Baltimore MD - Washington, DC -- Railfan Sites:
[WEBMASTER'S NOTE: Eventually, if some contributors come forth, this will be part of an east coast main line tour from the Shared Assets Area in northern New Jersey to Miami. Most of the trackage is CSX today. Several segments are now complete, and are documented in the home page for the CSX East Coast Tour, which is here. It is important to remember that the entire tour is north/south in orientation. If you've got the knowledge and energy to become a donor to this ambitious effort, contact me, and we'll talk.]
Baltimore -- West Baltimore (east) From the downtown area of Baltimore take I-95 south, get off at exit 50-A, and go south on Caton Avenue to a rather complicated intersection with Patapsco Avenue, Washington Boulevard, and Hammonds Ferry Road. Rather than making any turns, just follow the flow of the road towards the left when it splits, and you will be on Patapsco Avenue. After you go over the tracks, take your first left onto Gable Avenue (there may not be a street sign, but a Salvation Army store is on the corner), and then take a right on Neiman Avenue and park. Walk back to Gable and tromp down to the tracks.
The area is clearly posted, but there is plenty of off-railroad property from which to get an idea of what happens here. The Metropolitan Subdivision and Old Main Line have come together at Relay (hang on fans, we'll be there shortly), and are heading into the Baltimore terminal. They actually join at Halethorpe, which is also a little south of us, and we'll get there, too. As they reach the location at which you're standing, they first go through the interlocking ["West Baltimore" MP BAA 3.2] and then have two major routings (which lead, of course, to many others): into Winans Yard and routes to Bayview (and the north), Locust Point and Riverside yards, and, via a westerly track and fly-over, the Curtis Bay complex. Put another way, everything from the south, southeast and west enters and leaves the northeast megalopolis at this point, so it's a busy place.
All Camden Line MARC traffic flows through here, but these latter are fast trains, and photos from the east aren't too practical. Indeed, this is a fairly tight area, and is good for watching trains, but not really very good for taking pictures of trains on the closer tracks. On further westerly tracks, your photos should be excellent. For afternoon photos, and a more open area, go to the west side as follows.
Frograil thanks Robert Sestero for revising and correcting this entry.
Baltimore -- West Baltimore (west) Get back to Gable and then backtrack to Patapsco. Go back over the tracks on Patapsco, and take the first major right onto Washington Boulevard. [Webmaster's note: There is a McDonald's at the SW corner, and competitively priced gas stations on the SE and NW corners. In general, this is a very busy and confusing intersection, so be careful. Further, you're in the city here, and people drive differently. Be cool, and be careful.] Go up the hill to Gable Avenue, and turn right to go down to the tracks. Gable ends at the tracks, but the road is rather tight and nasty. You might want to park and walk down to the tracks. There is no place to park near the tracks.
At the tracks, you'll note the West Baltimore electronic tower at the interlocking. The tracks immediately in front of you have diverged from the Metropolitan sub, and are starting up the hill to the flyover of Winans Yard. The remaining tracks are yard leads and the northbound two main tracks. Because of the lighting here, this is definitely an afternoon photo location, but if you just want to watch trains, this is a better spot than the spot on the east of the location, as the lines of sight are much better.
Baltimore -- Hammonds Ferry Overpass Get back up Gable, and turn left to go back down Washington Boulevard. Go one block past Patapsco Avenue, and turn left at the light onto Hammonds Ferry Road (there may be no street sign). Continue south until the first intersection, which is Lansdowne Boulevard. Park and walk back to the overpass of the tracks on Hammonds Ferry. If you like down-on shots, this is an excellent mid-day location for southbounds. As with all cuts, shadows can be a problem, but with three main tracks, the cut is pretty wide, and you'll do well here much of the day. There's a nice wide sidewalk on the north side of the bridge, but the street is busy, so remain alert.
Halethorpe -- BTSC Continue south on Hammond's Ferry, and you'll be paralleling the tracks closely, at almost grade level. However, there are no photo locations. Just as you get to the middle of the village of Lansdowne, you'll get a surprise: five cabeese lined up next to the road and tracks. One is a blue and gray CSX bay window, three are B&O in three different color schemes and two different body styles, and the fifth is a red and white W&M crummy. Worth a stop and some pix. Also, Rob Carter from Baltimore reports that pictures are fairly good from just behind the cabeese.
From this point, continue down Hammonds Ferry, until it veers away from the tracks, and then take a right onto Hollins Ferry -- watch your street names here -- and continue to parallel the tracks. There are no photo sites here, and industrial traffic is heavy, so concentrate on your driving. Just before you get to Halethorpe Farms Road, CSX has an office building which houses the Baltimore Terminal Service Center. It is located at BAA 5.6.
At trackside there is a walkway across the tracks as well as a shanty where, in years gone by, a clerk sat to capture car numbers from passing trains. The last time Wayne was there, there were a couple of picnic tables along the tracks. You are not allowed in the shanty, but you will probably not be bothered if you sit at the picnic tables.
NOTE: This location's data is courtesy of Wayne Toy.
Halethorpe. When you get to Halethorpe Farms Road, take a right. You'll shortly go under the tracks. Park to the right just after the underpass. The big tower is just over your right shoulder [MP BAA 5.9]. However, the area is not only posted, there is a barrier at the start of each of the dirt roads going up to the tracks. This is not a railfan location.
St. Denis. Continue on Halethorpe Farms Road to Washington Boulevard and take a left to go south. You'll go over the Northeast Corridor and then past the intersection with I-195. Just past the latter is a street sign pointing to the Patapsco State Park and St. Denis. Follow the MARC signs to the station. You'll end up driving on South Street, and then you'll turn right onto East Street. The station is at the foot of East Street. When you get to the tracks and walk up to the platform and small shelter, there will be three tracks in front of you. The first two tracks are the Baltimore-Washington main line. Baltimore is to your right (north), and Washington is to your left (south). The third track is the lead to the original mainline to Cumberland via Point of Rocks. If you go from here to Relay, you'll see it curving off to the west, as the mainline curves to the south.
On the west side of the tracks is a small, grassy area which provides pretty good photo opportunities. On the east side, you'll have to make do with photos from the small platform. Trains from the south are not visible until they round the sharp curve just past the station, so be alert. Trains from Baltimore (Halethorpe) are visible for miles down a straight, flat stretch of track.
Trains have been carrying passengers from here into Baltimore for over 150 years. While the big Dorsey station sees a great deal of passengers today, St. Denis sees relatively few, and its future is somewhat in doubt. It's a nice place to bring the kids and grandkids. Indeed, if you're touring with kids, take a little time to visit the Patapsco State Park, and let them run some steam off. It's a pretty place, and you can reach Thomas Viaduct from the bottom -- it's worth a visit. To get to Relay, continue on.
RelayThis is the site of the historic Thomas Viaduct. From St. Denis, go back up East Street to the T-intersection. Turn right onto Rolling Road. Go over the tracks and to another T-intersection. Turn left (onto another Rolling Road!) and drive down to the tracks. Plenty of parking and off-railroad property on the west side only. There are no photo possibilities from the east side (it's like a cliff, already!). This is a good place to watch trains, but not necessarily a good place to get photos, unless you're here at the right time of day -- certainly not in the morning. St. Denis is a better location for photos. From here south, you no longer enjoy the traffic off/onto the Old Main Line, but will still see the majority of what comes out of Baltimore heading to the south and west.
Relay -- Thomas Viaduct From Relay, backtrack to Washington Boulevard (U.S. 1) and turn right (south). You'll want to make the next right onto Levering Avenue, which comes soon after you pass under I-895. Levering also passes under I-895, and after a short distance further, under the southernmost arch of the Thomas Viaduct. Legal parking can be difficult here, but one possibility is under the I-895 roadway. It's probably wise to just drive to an area where you can park, and (carefully) hoof it back to the viaduct. If you walk on Levering to the viaduct, you'll note there is a stone stairway leading up to the track level. These stairs are NOT recommended because they're steep, and some sections of the handrail are missing.
It's interesting to note that trains have been using this structure for something like 170 years -- would that our interstates were built so well!
The information for this location was provided by Steve Okonski. Frograil extends a word of "Thanks" to Steve.
Hanover Backtrack to Washington Boulevard (It has become U.S. 1 a little north of here), and go south. Go under the tracks into the town of Elkridge. Go slowly in the left lane and watch for the sign to Old Washington Boulevard. Take a (sharp) left and you'll soon see Hanover Road to your left. Take this pretty, but winding and bumpy (a true plethora of manhole cover obstacles) road to an at-grade crossing. Park away from the crossing. This place is about as county and good as it gets anywhere in this area. Even though the area is rapidly being built up, the crossing is still bucolic and appealing. Lines of sight are pretty good, and you'll be able to get good photos in all directions, depending on the time of day and year.
Be careful to stay away from Hanover Road, as it's busier than you might think. Instead of going back the way you came, take the road that comes to the tracks from the southwest. This will become Mounds Road, and you'll meander through the area until you once again reach Washington Boulevard. Continue south on Washington until you get to the intersection with MD-100.
Dorsey -- MARC Station Get on MD-100 eastbound. MD-100 is a freeway, but do not merge into the regular traffic lanes, as you'll take the first exit, which is only a few hundred yards ahead. This exit will take you right into the parking lot of the Dorsey MARC station. Note that you cannot get to this station from Dorsey Road, which is just to the south of the station.
All Baltimore - Washington Camden Line trains on the MARC, as well as all CSX Baltimore - Cumberland/Virginia traffic rolls through here. The station itself is a modern, very nice station, with restrooms, air conditioning/heat, ticket sales and nice big windows in case you're doing your train-watching on a cruddy day. There is good viewing from either platform, but rather close angles, of course. For afternoon sun shots, there is a grassy area immediately south of the station, which offers good photo fields.
Dorsey -- Ohio Avenue. Get back on MD-100 and go back to the west and U.S. 1/ Washington Boulevard. Go south on U.S. 1, cross MD-100, and take your first left onto Dorsey Road/MD-103. Dorsey wanders and curves around, but you'll eventually go under the tracks in the old village of Dorsey itself. Just after the underpass, turn left onto O'Connor Drive. Soon you'll cross a small bridge over tiny Deep Run. Look upstream (left) towards the tracks, and you'll find an arched stone bridge, one of only two such survivors from the 1800's on the Capital Subdivision. The bridge marks a corner of Howard County. From here south, the railroad tracks define the edge of the county, which was obviously formed after the railroad was built. [Webmaster's note: I'd like to thank Steve Okonski for this bit of industrial/archeological material. This is an aspect of railroading which we all too often ignore.]
Turn around, head back to Dorsey Road, cross it to Ohio Avenue, and wind back to the tracks. Find a place to park, and approach the tracks. As Ohio turns south to parallel the tracks, you'll see a concrete foundation, which was probably a tower foundation many years ago.
To the north, signals are visible. They protect the crossovers [MP BAA 13.4], which in turn are just south of the MARC station. This is an AM site for photos, as there is no access from the west side of the tracks. Visibility is pretty decent, but somewhat tight. The absence of low brush in the cold months would improve the photos taken here. This is one of those places where the well-prepared railfan will be able to use his weed whacker.
Jessup -- Montevideo Road From the Ohio Avenue location, go back to Dorsey Road and continue eastbound. Your first real road to the south is Forest Avenue, and you'll take the right and wind through one of the prettiest drives in the area. It's growing up fast, but still retains some of the beauty of the countryside. When you get to your first real intersection, take a right on Montevideo Road, and go to the tracks.
On weekends, there is excellent viewing from the northwest quadrant from the parking lot of the Baltimore Air Coil plant. Also, there is plenty of off-railroad property on the southwest quadrant. Both eastern quadrants are fairly tight. Considering that you're in the middle of the northeast megalopolis, this is a very nice, quiet location to see trains. Go back to the intersection, and take a right. Note that Forest Avenue becomes Wigley Avenue at this intersection.
Annapolis Junction -- Transfer Facility As you continue south on Wigley, you'll come to MD-175, and you want to take a left to go southeast on MD-175. You'll shortly come to Brock Bridge Road on your right -- take it and go south. You will go through one of the few growth industries in industry-unfriendly Maryland: Prisons. When Tony was a youngster, there was a prison in Jessup, but it seems to have grown and grown and grown. The complex is really a city, not just a lock-up. There's another growth industry in the area, and that's trash generation, and it's important to CSX.
As you get back into the built-up area, you'll see the Jessup CSX yard on your right. You'll also see tracks going across the road into a large industry area. Just past the tracks is a parking lot on your right. Park in this lot. The buildings on the east side of the road comprise the "Annapolis Junction Recycling and Transfer Facility." This is a big-league operation, as literally hundreds of trash trucks come and go on a daily basis. On the east side of the facility, on a lower level than that of the road here, are flatcars with trash containers on them. These are green or gray, and are marked AWIU (American Waste Industries? That's only a guess.) There are two(?) tracks in the facility, one track going across the road, and what appears to be an almost separate yard with 2-3 tracks for these cars to the east of the yard proper.
The waste movement volume is obviously important to CSX, as these cars are handled as unit movements to Petersburg, VA, for trucking to area landfills. When added to other major northeast cities' trash volume, it appears that CSX will be hauling ever more such freight.
From the parking lot, you have good visibility of the two main tracks, plus movements in, out and through the yard. Do not, however, under any circumstances, walk out to the tracks, as that is railroad property, and the CSX special agents take their responsibilities very seriously.
One historical note: Annapolis Junction is a hamlet about mid-way between Baltimore and Washington, where, in years past, there was a branch from the B&O Capital Subdivision down to Annapolis. The railroad site was actually "Ft Meade Junction," but the village now appears on the official State of Maryland Official Highway Map as "Annapolis Junction."In reality, Annapolis Junction is a little south of here, but calling all these sites part of Jessup is somewhat confusing.
Jessup -- Yard Brock Bridge Road ends at Guilford Road. Take a right on Guilford, and you'll shortly come to Dorsey Run Road going off to your right (north). [NOTE: When MD-32 was built, many of the local roads, such as Brock Bridge and Dorsey Run were chopped off, but resume south of the freeway.] Go north on Dorsey Run, and you'll see acres and acres of new automobiles sitting prettily.
Continue until you see a good-sized sign to the CSX Jessup Yard. Take a right and drive to the yard office area. There is a big, modern office and yard tower building, vast, vast, vast parking lots, and a lot of automotive traffic whizzing around. You will not, however, find a place to watch trains. This is an auto-mixing facility, and there are unbelievable dollars worth of new cars and trucks sitting around, so you can guarantee yourself that visitors and railfans are not welcome. This is not a railfan location.
Annapolis Junction -- MARC Station Retrace your route back to Guilford, and turn left to go back the way you came. However, on your right you will shortly see Dorsey Run Road pick up again and head over MD-32. Take it over the freeway, and follow the signs into the MARC parking lot.
This is the "Savage" station on the CSX Camden MARC line. [NOTE: This is really not Savage, but Annapolis Junction is so small no one would know where it is.] Turn left into the parking lot, which is huge, never full, and free. The station itself is merely a temporary building-type ticket selling activity. For poor weather days, the station up at Dorsey is the place to be. The CSX line doesn't have the screamingly fast trains as those on the Northeast Corridor, so train watching and photography are more rewarding. Shots from both platforms are fine, depending on the angle of the sun. Be aware, however, that some CSX intermodals can be very fast and quiet here.
Area Attraction -- Savage Mill Get on MD-32 westbound and take the first exit, which is US 1 south, and follow the signs to Savage Mill. This is a c.1822 textile mill complex which has been turned into a maze of beautiful shops and restaurants, and there's also a short hiking trail along the river. Drop your wife off at the shops, go watch trains for several hours, and she'll love you for it, but you'd better hold on to your wallet!
But wait, there's an added bonus to this place. From the upper parking area or the shops themselves, walk down towards the river and the start of the hiking trail. There is an old bridge here, and it's one heck of an interesting railroad structure. This is the last of what were referred to as Bollman Truss Iron bridges. It stretches across this thread of the Patuxent River. If you're into engineering archeology, the bridge is worth a visit by itself.
In the March 2001 issue, Trains Magazine provided us some information on this bridge: "Built for the Baltimore & Ohio in 1869 as a main-track bridge, the two-span bridge was relocated to its present site on what was then the mill's coal spur, remaining in service until 1947. In later years the mill used an elaborate system of capstans, cables, and pulleys to move cars across the ancient cast- and wrought-iron structure.
"This is the sole survivor of 100 or so of these 1850-design bridges built by Wendell Bollman and the B&O. They were the first truly successful all-iron railroad bridges in the US, and led the industry away from stone and wood as bridge materials. Howard County, Maryland, acquired the site and structure in 1966 as part of its Patuxent River Park. On September 16, 2000, the National Park Service formally dedicated the bridge as a National Historic Landmark -- the country's highest form of historic designation." [Written by John Hankey]
Steve Cain has provided some data for this entry. Many thanks, Steve.
Annapolis Junction -- TarmacJust southeast of the MD-32 overpass is the Tarmac cement and aggregates plant, and at the plant is usually parked an ex-CR U-23B. The engine is still in Conrail blue, and is used to switch aggregate (the "rock trains") and cement cars which are delivered to the plant. There is a vestigial remnant of the branch trackage going about 200 yards or so, and the engine is often parked there.
Take Dorsey Run Road south past the MARC station, and it will cross the tracks and then corkscrew down to a tee intersection with Brock Bridge Road. Take a right, and go through the small village to the area of the plant, and park well away from it.
There is pretty good viewing just south of the Tarmac plant. That said, you should stay out of the Tarmac property, as they run big equipment in there, and there are lots of trucks in and out of the facility (besides, it's private property, and you have no business being there, anyway). Expect to see MARC trains during morning and afternoon rush hours (weekdays only, about 7-9 AM, and 4:30-7:30 PM, respectively), but this is, after all, the CSX mainline, and you'll see plenty of freight action, probably more than 1 per hour.
If the light favors an afternoon photo location shot, try this: Go back the way you came, pass the station, and go up to the point where you see the stop sign coming off MD-32. Take a right and go down the hill towards the tracks. Don't park in front of any industrial gates or traffic areas. You'll get perfect shots of idling power at the Tarmac plant, but you'll have to find a good place to get back from the tracks for road action. This area has been build up amazingly within the past few years, and getting decent viewing is still possible, but not like in the past.
Laurel -- Racetrack Station To continue the tour, go back over the tracks and continue south on Brock Bridge Road. You'll parallel the tracks closely for awhile, but there is no railfan location along here. You'll gradually get away from the tracks and will wind through the countryside until reaching an intersection with Whiskey Bottom Road. Turn right on Whiskey Bottom, and you'll go over the tracks (not a photo location) and come to an intersection with U.S. 1. [Webmaster's Note: Between Baltimore and Washington, U.S. 1 has several different names. To reduce confusion and verbosity, it will be refered to the street only as U.S. 1.] If you are pressed for time and need to get somewhere, you can continue west on Whiskey Bottom to MD-216, which is less than a mile from I-95. To continue the tour, take a left and go south on U.S. 1. You'll see a MARC station sign, and will then take a left onto Columbia Avenue.
On both sides of the tracks in this area are parts of the Laurel Racetrack horse racing complex. Columbia Avenue takes you to a huge parking lot, and the tracks will be on your right. Drive towards the tracks and a pedestrian underpass and park. The station, in fact, is really nothing more than a postage stamp sized platform on both sides of the tracks. Apparently, this is only for racetrack patrons and employees.
Laurel -- Downtown Station In the 1880's, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad embarked on a plan to upgrade its stations. In 1884, E. F. Baldwin was commissioned to design a station for Laurel. The result is still in daily use by MARC, is a truly distinct structure, and is on the Historic Register. Even if you're not a railfan, this is a building to see and enjoy.
From the racetrack station, go back to U.S. 1, and continue south to the middle of Laurel, which is the historic downtown district, and Main Street is the axis of the district. The station anchors Main Street and the historic district. Turn left on Main and park near the station. Parking has been very tight near the station, but there is a large, new parking lot just to the north of the property. It appears to be a free, city-owned lot, but don't be surprised if it's full during weekdays. A suggestion is to park well away and walk to the station and it's platforms. While you're in Laurel, walk around and explore the Main Street area. There are restaurants, shops and it's generally just a nice place to visit. At the opposite side of Laurel (west side) via Main is a Red, Hot & Blue restaurant, and it's the best place around to eat.
Photo angles from the platforms are a bit tight, of course, but you can do fairly well, especially for southbounds. This is a good place to bring the kids/grandkids, but be warned that some trains are pretty darned fast through here, and they are surprisingly quiet. Interestingly, in December 2004 I noticed that some old structures have been removed immediately north of the south platform, and there is now a nice little grassy area that is the best place around for photos, and the kiddies can run around a little bit, too.
This ends the segment of this tour from West Baltimore to Laurel, Maryland, as presented by Tony Hill. For the trip to continue through the Washington, DC, area requires someone with much more local knowledge, and up to the plate steps John Boteler. John was born and raised within the District, is intimately familiar with the area, is a ham radio operator who monitors public safety channels, knows lots of the local "guys," and is plugged into the local scene -- i.e., where to go, and where not to go. He delivers us through DC, detailing every photo location. You can't hit them all -- so do your homework ahead of time, and pick and choose.
John's ratings for personal Safety:
A -- As good as it gets.
B -- You might want to keep a weather eye out for potential trouble.
C -- The area is known for petty crime or industrial hazards.
D -- Don't go there at night -- and sometimes during the day maybe you don't want to be there.
F -- Fatal
WEBMASTER'S NOTE: Frograil does not recommend you visit any site rated by John as either a D or F for security, unless you have male companions with you.
John's ratings for photography:
Excellent -- Wide open vantage points, good lighting potential, easy access.
Good -- Should be no problem for most shots; possible minor obstructions from foliage or buildings , minor light restrictions.
Fair -- If you really must have a photo you could get one, but you'd have to work at it. Vantage points are difficult to access, or rails curve out of sight shortly, lots of lighting obstructions and other hazards.
Poor -- No photo access.
Because you'll be in congested/built-up areas for most of this segment of the Baltimore - Washington tour, John has also provided comments concerning area parking for most of these locations.
Laurel -- Old Bowie Road From Laurel station, duck under the railroad overpass next to the station and turn right onto Lafayette Avenue. Continue south until it intersects in a T with Old Bowie Road, and turn right to go back under the tracks and park in the Sherwin-Williams lot on the right immediately after the tracks. This is a commercial area on the west side of the tracks, with multiple unit residential properties on the east. Sometimes the area between this brick building and the track embankment is used by locals for smoking, drinking and other illicit activity; they will be watching you.
The embankment is a steep 20-foot climb, and once on top, there is no room for both people and trains, even though the fairly straight shot to the south is tempting. Not to worry, as opportunities improve as we travel south. You could probably catch a fair shot of trains passing you aloft, and while these can be impressive visually, there are better places for photography.
Safety = B. Photo = fair. Parking = fair (commercial)
Laurel -- Cherry Lane Court Drive east on Old Bowie Road under the railroad overpass, past the Prince Georges County Rescue Company #49 on the right and follow the road around to the right. Soon it will merge with MD-197/Laurel-Bowie Road. Turn right at the next signal onto Cherry Lane. Drive back over the tracks and get in the left turn lane for Cherry Lane Court and turn left. When the road forks at the two warehouse buildings, take the left fork to the 'North' building and go to the end of the lot. You will probably have plenty of parking, but there is about 100 yards of brush between you and the tracks at this point. If you have a decent telephoto lens you could snatch some decent shots in the afternoon; there is a good look towards the north, but trees obstruct the view to the south. Based on the trend in the area, John expects this lot to be developed sometime soon, so it may not be an empty lot much longer.
Safety = B. Photo = fair. Parking = good (private, commercial)
Laurel -- Cypress Street From Cherry Lane Court, turn left onto Cherry Lane and make a left at the light onto U.S. 1 southbound. Continue south, go through the light at Mulberry Street (access to area of the tracks, but not a railfan location). About 6 blocks south of Mulberry, take a left onto Cypress Street and go to the dead end at the tracks. Here the rails run in an open trench, and you can look down at the tracks, but the local residents may look at you somewhat askance. There's not much to see of trains through the foliage, but if you've got a scanner or horn telling you "My God, there's a train imminent, and you need to get trackside," than this spot will do.
Safety = A. Photo = poor. Parking = fair (residential)
Laurel -- Contee. Head back to U.S. 1 and turn left (south). Pass up Contee Place on the left; even though it looks like it goes up to the tracks. It is a private road that is chained off for the use of the car dealership next to it. Just past the signal at Contee Road, crest the hill and turn left into the driveway that leads to the Beijing Restaurant and Dinosaurs Restaurant with the aquamarine rooftops. Follow the driveway down to the promontory above the tracks on the right, where you'll see the Contee defect detector at milepost BAA 23.6 across the tracks. You can get some good shots looking north and downwards into the trench where the rails run, but the southerly direction is obstructed by trees and brush. If you're hungry, you can eat and have some adult beverages at Dinosaurs, which features both outdoor deck and indoor dining. The Beijing Restaurant is an alternative. The parking lot should be wide open during the day, even with the industrial businesses at the bottom of the lot. However, towards evening, the lot may be crowded.
Safety = B. Photo = good. Parking = excellent (except when restaurants are crowded)
Laurel -- Muirkirk Station. Back at U.S. 1, turn left to continue south. Go a little over a mile and turn right at the signal for Muirkirk Meadows Road. Loop around the modern brick offices housing notables such as Digex (one of the very first Internet service providers) and turn right onto Muirkirk Road. Go over the tracks and turn left into the lot for the MARC commuter station parking lot. During winter months, the sun will favor the east side virtually all day, owing to the northeast - southwest bias of the rails. Towards the north, the tracks curve to the right about 1/2 mile up, past the 'General Shale Brick Company' which is served by a spur.
The longest view is, however, to the south which will be right into winter's low afternoon sun. Enjoy the trains and forget the photos.
Safety = B. Photo = fair. Parking = excellent (it's a parking lot, already
Beltsville -- Beltsville Industrial Park. Leaving the MARC station at Muirkirk, turn left onto Muirkirk Road, and turn right at the signal onto Old Baltimore Pike. A short distance later turn right onto Conway Road, and follow it around to the right. Turn left down the driveway next to Vytex Windows Company. Use your railfan's nose to work your way back and a little to the right towards the tracks. Although you're on the private property of the businesses occupying the various warehouses, it's fairly open and you shouldn't have any trouble, if you are behaving in an adult manner. Be on the lookout for industrial activity including tractor trailers and forklifts appearing out of nowhere at surprising speed.
You will drive over a spur that used to service these warehouses as you make your way back to the tracks. The tracks themselves are about 50' from the end of the pavement, and you can see the remnants of the several other spur tracks that have been pulled up. There is a siding off the dual track, but it looks like it's not in the best shape. It might still be used to service warehouses further south. Again, because of the light and track bias, shots towards the north from the east are best virtually all day, and pix to the south fun afoul of the sun.
Safety = C. Photo = fair. Parking = fair (heavy industrial area)
Beltsville -- Ammendale. Thread your way back through and out of the industrial park and turn right to go south on Old Baltimore Pike. After less than a mile, take a right onto Ammendale Road, which used to be an at-grade crossing of both the railroad and U.S. 1 more to the west. There no longer is a grade crossing, so continue to the end of Ammendale and pick a spot to park in the nice lot of a business there. The tracks are about 100' from the side of the road across a drainage gully and you only have a fair look either way. If you like shots of passing trains the mornings should be best.
Safety = C. Photo = fair. Parking = good (commercial warehouse)
Beltsville -- Vansville. Head back to Old Baltimore Pike and turn right to head further south. After it narrows from 2 to 1 lane, veer right to stay on Old Baltimore Road, and drive through the commercial warehouse district in the area known as Vansville. As the road turns sharply left onto Cook Road, continue straight onto the gravel portion and mosey smack up next to the tracks. There might be trucks parked next to the tracks, but if you're lucky you might have a decent pre-noon shot to the south with the older style Powder Mill Road bridge in the background overhead, although the tracks are still curving a bit (the wrong way) at this point.
The mill-type building that you see beyond Powder Mill Road is signed with dire warnings about being owned by the U.S. Government and that trespassers will be drawn and quartered or other tortures, so you may want to kind of avoid it.
Safety = C. Photo = fair - good. Parking = fair (heavy industrial)
Beltsville -- Sunnyside. Get back out to Cook Road and turn right to head out to the spill onto Powder Mill Road. Turn left (east) onto Powder Mill and take the right at the next signal, which is Edmonston Road. It always backs up here in the afternoon, so be patient as the road narrows and then turn right at the next opportunity onto Sunnyside Avenue. Hey! This is the first grade crossing in quite a while! At least you can hear the train's horn approaching, even if you don't have a good angle to shoot photos. The south side of Sunnyside is all government property (Beltsville's National Agricultural Research Center) with strict security in place, so there is no railfan location in that direction. This is MP BAA 28.0.
Safety = B. Photo = poor. Parking = fair (commercial warehouse)
College Park -- Hollywood Park. Continue west on Sunnyside and turn left at the signal onto Rhode Island Avenue. After passing under the Beltway overpass, turn left at the 4-way stop onto Edgewood Road. When it curves to the right (at the "No Outlet" sign), watch for 53rd Avenue and turn right. Hang a left into Hollywood Park and park.
The tracks are beyond the ball field and will be obscured in warm months by trees and brush. You are now opposite Greenbelt Station, which serves both the Metro (the DC area's (primarily) subway system -- the tracks are above ground out here) and MARC, which runs on the CSX main tracks. The station is very busy, congested, and there is no free parking, so the Hollywood Park area is an excellent alternative. CSX/MARC is closest to you (west of the Metro) and are graded at a lower level that the Metro's. There are signals towards the northern end of the park, facing north, and the MARC station is towards the south end of the park. Metro has a large yard just north of here, as this is the terminus of the Green Line. The yard is nicely visible from I-95/I-495 north/west-bound as you whiz through at 0 mph during a Friday afternoon traffic jam.
While this is not a photo location, it's a nice place for you and the non-railfans with you to unwind. This public park supports an older, blue collar neighborhood, and is a relatively quiet island within the urban hustle-bustle you've now entered.
Safety = A. Photo = poor. Parking = excellent (neighborhood park)
College Park -- Calvert Road Station.
College Park -- Berwyn. Reverse course out of the park and back up Edgewood Road to U.S. 1, where you will turn left (south) at the signal. As you're now a Beltway insider, the traffic and urban congestion will only get worse as you approach the "District Line." Beyond the overpass and signal at MD-193/Greenbelt Road, turn left onto Berwyn Road, and head to the end. After passing through this residential area you'll find a handful of commercial buildings; the one on the left has numerous parking spaces that should be available. The foot bridge over both CSX and the Metro provides an excellent vantage point from which both north- and south-bound trains can be viewed for quite some distance.
There are two caveats, however: There is the obligatory sign reading "No Loitering", and the ramps up to the overpass are designed to accommodate those among us who are mobility-impaired, so it takes a surprising amount of time and effort to wind the switchbacks up to the top! Once there you will also note the siding and spur serving the Washington Post plant immediately north. Since you are looking down on the tracks through the chain-link fence, the lighting is less critical, and should be usable all day long. Just keep an eye on your car, and keep a weather eye out for trouble makers who might be passing your way on the bridge; this is a college town, after all.
Safety = B. Photo = excellent. Parking = good (private commercial)
College Park -- Old Town. Head back to U.S. 1 and turn left (south). About a mile down the road, in the midst of the University of Maryland (Terrapin Territory!), turn left onto College Avenue and drive past the older college residences to the end, and follow the road around to the left. Park in one of the 8 spaces in the little park. Walk towards the north end of the park to a grassy knoll from which you can see and photograph CSX, Metrorail, MARC, and the planes arriving and departing College Park airport across the tracks! A true intermodal experience, indeed. Note that the events of 9-11 have put a severe damper on the private airplane movements around the capital area.
The reason the photo ops are "almost excellent" and not "excellent" is that there is a Metrorail blockhouse between you and the tracks looking towards the north, which is where the longer view of the tracks is to be had. You can shoot around it, plus the elevation of the knoll gives you a view of the airport. This is an afternoon photo location. There is even a small playground with plastic sliding board and jungle gym for the future railfans with you.
Safety = B. Photo = almost excellent. Parking = excellent (public park)
[Webmaster's Note: As of Septermber 2009, Joe Castleman has provided extensive up-dates and suggestions for the area between this point and the Hyattsville Wye.]
Like so many other roads, Calvert Road used to cross the tracks and was a major east-west thoroughfare here, allowing access to College Park Airport. Paint Branch Parkway has replaced it. You can go back north and take this latter road to the Maryland Fire Training Academy, complete with burning houses and hose towers right next to this busy road. The Metro station received a multi-level parking structure in 2005, located on Paint Branch Parkway on the east side of the tracks. Parking is free on weekends and holidays, and the upper levels afford a good view of the Metro station and CSX tracks. At the station itself, the Metro platform and tracks partially obscure the CSX tracks, but there is a good view to the north. (The southern view may be better in winter.) Also to the north is a good view of College Park Airport, though this is partially obscured by large buildings in the vicinity.
Note that Metro parking requires a SmartTrip card (which is available in the station, but as of this writing, $5.00 of the purchase price is for the card itself), and parking is charged by the day, not by hours/minutes.
Safety = B.Photo = good. Parking = fair (but free on weekends, holidays)
Riverdale -- Station. From the Calvert Road station, head west back to U.S. 1 and turn left, go south about 1 mile and turn left onto MD-410/East-West Highway at the busy traffic signal. After a couple of short blocks turn right onto Beale Circle, and finally turn left onto Queensbury Road to the tracks. This is a quirky area, so a little map work before you do this tour would help. The Riverdale station is on the left with plenty of parking. This is a railfan's dream, with lots of B&O memorabilia inside glass display cases on the walls of the tiny station building. There's a stylized B&O map showing its routes at the time, some very nice photos by rail buffs, and some old newspaper articles and other stories about the station, the railroad, and the area.
(Alternate route: Leaving the College Park Metro garage, turn right (east) on Paint Branch, then another right on River Road.Head south until you reach Rivertech Court (less than 1 mile). Turn right on Rivertech; the street "ends" but the pavement continues past the front of the former ERCO factory. ERCO made small Ercoupe aircraft in this facility, which had a runway that ran along the current alignment of River Road (which also means this airport was immediately adjacent to College Park Airport to the north). This street/driveway ends at Lafayette Avenue, turn left (south) on Lafayette. Note that this street is immediately adjacent to the CSX tracks, but these will be obscured by foliage (except possibly during winter). Continue through the neighborhood on Lafayette; be careful as there are a lot of stop signs, and many are obscured by foliage. After crossing under the MD-410 overpass, you will find yourself on the east side of the Riverdale MARC station.)
There is excellent visibility both north and south for at least 1 mile, with the best access on the west side of the tracks, but the east side certainly has easy possibilities as well. You can easily see the signals to the south. All trains blow for the Queensbury crossing, and the warning bells go off with a clatter well before any train is upon you.
This is a great place to bring the children or grandkids. There is a nice, neat little old downtown district from bygone days, with a few quiet businesses in the immediate vicinity of the station, and old houses surrounding it. Other than the hustle and bustle of traffic on the MD-410 overpass to the north, you would think that you've gotten caught in the wayback machine! This is a nice little town and area, so expect to see joggers, bicycles, walkers and quite a few trains, as all CSX Baltimore/Washington and the morning and afternoon Camden Line MARC trains will pass right in front of you.
Safety = B. Photo = excellent. Parking = excellent
Riverdale -- Madison Street. From the Riverdale station head south on U.S. 1 (Baltimore Avenue, depending on how far north or south you happen to be). Take a left at an odd intersection onto Madison Street and head back to the tracks. Be careful not to go northeast on Harrison. At the power substation, the tracks are to your through the bushes. You can park in the substation gravel area for a short time without drawing the attention of the residents of the houses across the street.
Here you're about 1/2 mile north of the wye leading to the Alexandria Extension, which joins a siding that has switch points and signals just to your north (railroad east). To your right (compass south, rail west) you can see the signals approaching the wye. You should be able to get some good early afternoon shots here by climbing through the brush and getting close to the CSX right-of-way. Do NOT, however, be stupid and trespass onto railroad property.
Safety = C. Photo = good. Parking = good (private)
Hyattsville -- North Leg of the Wye. From Madison Street, go back out to U.S. 1and take a left, go south 2 blocks and then go east on Kennedy Street to behind the large auto body shop at the end of the street. You are now at the tracks. If you park as far as possible from the body shop, you'll probably be OK. Walk to the tracks. You can get pix on either side of the tracks here. However, even though this area is not posted, it is a little difficult to stay back from railroad property. Also, trains go through here pretty fast, and the speed plus the closeness to the tracks make for somewhat poor picture taking. There is a lot of traffic here, as everything going north off both the Metropolitan Sub and Alexandria Extension will pass by, but this is not a particularly good railfan location.
Joe Castleman points out that, as of September 2009, this area has been extensively redeveloped as a proposed arts district (but, as such, it has yet to really take off). Here you will find one or two galleries, a small bookshop, and a cafe, though the latter keeps unpredicatable hours.
WEBMASTER'S NOTE: John's approach to the tour south of here is quite striking. Following the Alexandria Extension south into Virginia from Hyattsville poses some logistical problems -- it's easier to drive and fan it south to north. Perhaps more important, however, if we follow the Alexandria Extension south, we miss what is probably the penultimate railfan location in the entire Washington area -- Union Station. And remember, all those MARC trains coming down the Camden Line via CSX continue west and south of Hyattsville to Union Station. What John does is take us, via the west leg of the wye, down to F tower and Union Station. After visiting the station, John takes us to the southern extremity of this tour at East Potomac Park (where the Washington - Richmond Tour begins), and then up and around the eastern side of Washington to the north leg of the Hyattsville wye -- a full 360° circle through one of America's largest cities.
Here's an outline of our tour:
Before heading towards Union Station, we'll explore the Hyattsville wye:
Hyattsville -- Municipal Parking Lot. Return to U.S. 1 and take a left once again to continue south. Drive only about 1/3 mile into downtown Hyattsville. Just past the left turn signal onto the U.S. 1 Alternate overpass, turn left into the small municipal parking lot under that very same overpass; but this will be next to impossible during heavy traffic. If there is space in this little pay lot, you have no worries about the legality of parking. Both the dual track main and the east leg of the wye are immediately adjacent to this lot with a good view towards the north. The sun favors afternoon shots here.
Franklin's, adjacent to this municipal lot, is a restaurant, brewpub, and store (the latter sells beer and wine, but also candy and toys). Within Franklin's iself, some of the windows face north, but because of the U.S. 1-Alt overpass the trains might not be very visible from within the restaurant. Still, it is a nice place to stop. The muncipal lot may be free on evenings and weekends for Franklin's patrons. Also, the area a few blocks north on U.S. 1 (see "Hyattsville -- North Leg of the Wye") has been extensively redeveloped as a proposed arts district. Here you will find one or two galleries, a small bookshop, and a cafe, though the latter keeps unpredicatable hours.
As a reminder, there is a ton of traffic coming up from DC (MARC) and the west (most of the CSX east-west traffic does not go over the Old Main Line, it goes down the Metro Sub and then up the Cap Sub to Baltimore.), and these trains can be fast. Be alert, as there is a lot happening at this location.
Safety = C. Photo = good. Parking = fair (pay lot)
Hyattsville -- Old Train Station. Turn right out of the muni parking lot onto U.S. 1/Rhode Island Avenue, and then take the next right, which is an extremely sharp turn to go up and over the U.S. 1 Alternate/Baltimore Avenue overpass of the Capitol Sub. This turn is really sharp, and there is usually a lot of traffic, so it's difficult to swing out into the left lane to make your ~120° right turn. At the bottom of the overpass, duck right into the lot where the old Hyattsville station used to stand.
This appears to be CSX property, and seems to be used by maintenance crews as a staging area. There usually is some out-of-the-way parking here. You are in the crotch of the wye, and you can see remnants of the platform and a subterranean crosswalk (which has been sealed, but not destroyed). Look to the southwest, and the double track Capitol Sub is heading towards DC and the west. To your right and behind you, the Capitol Sub has come down from Baltimore. To your left is the single track south wye track leading to the southeast leg of the wye. The Alexandria Extension up from Anacostia is directly behind you (about 1-2 blocks and obscured by buildings, the busy road, etc).
Safety = C. Photo = excellent. Parking = good (CSX property, probably)
Hyattsville -- Southeast Leg of Wye Pulling out of the old station lot, turn left onto Baltimore Avenue and make a quick right at the signal onto Decatur Street. A block later you're at the southeast leg of the wye, up close and personal. There is a small carpentry shop to the right before the tracks with a gravel lot area, but don't block him or the right-of-way to the CSX property. Despite the fact that you're at the apex of the wye here, the photo opportunities are only fair due to the curvature of the wye. You could probably get a head-on shot of a northbound (railroad eastbound) train before it reaches the split, but you'd be on CSX property to do so.
Safety = D. Photo = fair. Parking = fair (private)
Hyattsville -- SE Leg #2. Here's an alternative to the previous entry; it's only a block away, but the viewing is quite different. From the Old Station Area, take a right and go south over the tracks. There is an un-named road to your left immediately after crossing the tracks at grade level. There is no parking along here (there's a sign every 2 feet, it seems), but the photo ops are excellent for afternoon Virginia - Cumberland trains. Unfortunately, no photos are possible from east of the Alexandria Extension, as there is a most definite cliff immediately beyond the tracks.
Through here pass all Virginia/Baltimore and Virginia/Cumberland trains. This is freight only. Parking is tough here during the week. Rather than trying to park here by the tracks, travel a block further south on Baltimore Avenue past the tracks, and turn left at the funeral parlor into Emerson Street. The first street to the left will then take you to the southeast junction. Parking is available along Emerson Street. Also, the municipal parking lot is so close that you can walk this in 15 minutes, but you've got to walk over the U.S. 1 Alternate bridge.
Safety = D. Photo = fair - good. Parking = none (in the viewing location)
Hyattsville -- Burlington Road. Head back to U.S. 1 Alternate and take a left, go only one block south, and then take the first left, Burlington Road, and take this narrow road to the tracks. Even though this is just a block south of the previous location, the view is completely different. This is the north end of the Alexandria Extension's bridge over the Anacostia River. Unfortunately, while interesting, it is not a good photo location.
Safety = D. Photo = Poor. Parking = fair
Brentwood. We have now explored the area of the wye, and will proceed down the Capitol Sub towards Union Station. From Burlington Road, take a left on U.S. 1 Alternate/Baltimore Avenue and go south for a short ways. Take a right onto Charles L. Armentrout Drive, which will take you under the tracks, and on to U.S. 1/Rhode Island Avenue. Continue southwest on U.S. 1 into the Brentwood area, and watch the street names carefully, as you're getting into the city area, and there are x Avenue, x Street, x Place, etc, and they can be very close together. Driving in the DC Metro area can be confusing. When you reach 38th Avenue/MD-208, turn left and head up the hill, turning left into the parking lot of the "Evergreen Cash & Carry" enterprise.
The tracks are in a trench to your right. There's not much to see in this less-than-desirable area, and photos are going to be poor, but if you've got to get trackside, this'll do it.
Safety = D. Photo = Poor. Parking = good
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Eckington Yards. Retrace your path down 38th Avenue, and turn left onto Rhode Island Avenue to resume course into the District of Columbia. Once you cross the Eastern Avenue, you have entered the former murder capitol of the nation, in a part of town where the locals believe that you owe them something. The driving is fast and the living is hard here. About 2 miles since turning from 38th Avenue, turn left at the signal onto Brentwood Road/13th Street NE. As you crest the hill you can see the Capitol dome in the distance and down the street on you right lies the infamous Brentwood postal facility that has been in turmoil since the discovery of anthrax spores there in late 2001. If there is a good spot here, it is not apparent nor easily accessible. Security is understandably tight around the postal complex and the yard, in addition to the fact that this is an extremely rough part of town.
Webmaster's Note: On the map, this area is the Holy Grail of railroading in the Mid-Atlantic part of the country: The ex-B&O Eckington Yard being fed by both the Metro and Capitol subs, Amtrak's ex-PRR Ivy Terminal, the VRE and MARC facilities, and (if that's not enough), what's left of what was the Washington Terminal. Alas, the sad truth is that there is a gold mine of railfan potential here, but there is no way to mine this potential. Both John and I recommend that you drive through via Brentwood, and do not plan on stopping.
As you go across the bridge over the tracks, you're actually on top of the loop that starts at F tower on the Capitol Sub, and then takes CSX trains around to C tower, where they continue their journey west on the Metropolitan Sub.
Take the ramp to the right for New York Avenue/U.S. 50 west towards downtown. This takes you past a Howard Johnson motel; although it appears to be an ideal railfan hotel there are no windows facing the yard.
Safety = F. Photo = fair. Parking = none -- that means there is no parking -- absolutely none
Washington Union Station. [Webmaster's Note: John is going to give us driving/parking instructions, but the best way to get to Union Station is to take the train: Metro/AMT/VRE/MARC will all get you there, so park in the 'burbs and enjoy the station at your leisure. Once in the station, walk out to the Amtrak and MARC loading platforms. This is a great place to bring your young children or grandchildren -- it's really a magical place for very young kids. You can walk out to the end of the platforms and take a few pix, but don't hang around a long time. A telephoto would be good for switching and trains on far tracks. Virginia Railway Express trains depart from the lower level, unfortunately, and are best viewed in suburban stations. While in the station, eat some good food, buy some fudge, and enjoy yourself. Also, remember that this was a hulk waiting to be demolished less than 20 years ago.]
Continuing south on U.S. 50/New York Avenue, take a left onto 1st Street NE at the double-decker McDonalds, and drive several blocks and turn right onto K Street. From K Street, turn left onto North Capitol Street, which is the east-west divider for street names in the District. As you crest the hill next to Union Station turn left onto Massachusetts Avenue and you'll be rounding the circle in front of Union Station. There is short-term parking around the interior of the traffic circle near its exit, but it's usually full. There are several other parking options in and around the station if you wish to go inside. The station has been restored to its former glory and is a remarkable example of how the grand rail terminals used to be.
Safety = B. Photo = excellent (of the station). Parking = pay
East Potomac Park. Leaving Union Station you will cross back upon your path in the unusual concentric traffic circle and wind your way back around to Massachusetts Avenue west in a sort of screwball S-curve. Immediately, you need to get into the left-most lane and turn left at the signal onto Louisiana Avenue, which takes you southwest from the station. Where Louisiana joins Constitution Avenue, bend around to the right and keep working your way to the left lane as it jogs right and then left to stay on Constitution Avenue, while watching the signs carefully (yes, this is confusing, and yes, you'll probably goof it up, but so does/has everyone else. This is, after all, Washington, DC). Continue past the museums and turn left at the signal into the 9th Street tunnel for I-395. As you drive under the National Mall, you also pass under the tracks!
Get in the far right lane and take the right exit ramp for I-395 south "Virginia", and merge into the high speed flow. As soon as you come down off the bridge over the Washington Channel, take the right exit ramp into East Potomac Park. Turn left onto Ohio Drive, which is a loop road around the entire peninsula that forms the park. After passing under the I-395 overpass, turn left and stay in the right lane to avoid getting back on I-395.
Wind around and take the left branch where the road spits at the little bridge near the Jefferson Memorial. Follow Ohio Drive around to the third parking lot on the left and find a space. You are now sandwiched between the Metrorail Yellow Line coming from Virginia, and the Long Bridge approach which carries CSX freight, Amtrak, and Virginia Railway Express (VRE) over the Potomac River to Virginia and points south. At the other end of the bridge, we begin the CSX East Coast Tour Washington - Richmond segment.
Although it's dangerous and illegal, it's tempting to get a shot of an approaching southbound train with the Washington Monument or the Jefferson Memorial in the background. Don't try it. The shot would require climbing up the steep embankment to the tracks, finding footing somehow at the top, and remaining out of the way of the growlers as they pose for you. Of course, after 9-11-01, you might not be surprised to learn that the US Park Service Police are not amused by people pulling stunts like this. Pass this one up.
This is the southern-most point on the Baltimore - Washington segment of the CSX East Coast Tour, and is at about MP QL138.2 on the Landover Sub . But wait, as the television commercials say: We have more for you, as John takes us around the downtown area, back up to the Hyattsville wye via the Landover Sub and Alexandria Extension. Here we go:
Safety = A. Photo = excellent. Parking = excellent
L'Enfant Plaza Station. (6th and D streets, SW) This plaza is named after the fellow who designed the streets in what is now Washington, DC. If you drive these streets very often, you may not be a major fan of M. L'Enfant. Indeed, you may think that he must not have liked Americans, and Tony would have to say he had the last laugh. Definitely, if you wish to visit the L'Enfant Plaza area, you should take the Metro in, or visit at 0-dark-thirty on a Sunday morning, but if you're a fool-hardy tourist who believes in the Easter Bunny and lots of empty parking spaces, here goes:
From the parking lot in East Potomac Park turn left onto Ohio Drive, and then left onto Buckeye Drive for a short distance. Turn left onto the ramp before the Park Police headquarters building to get onto I-395/Southwest Freeway north/eastbound and stay in the right lane. At the top of the bridge over Washington Channel take the exit for 12th Street/L'Enfant Plaza, and keep right at the fork in the ramp. Merge onto D Street SW, and drive to the area of 7th Street and look for a place to park. As an alternative, you would probably be much better off taking Metro to the L'Enfant Plaza stop, and then walking a block to the VRE station at 7th and Virginia Avenue.
This trackage is technically on the CSX Landover Sub. Since this is a rail station, you are welcome up next to the elevated tracks, but as a result of that elevation, photos are long shots when this close to the tracks (aka "wedge" shots). You do have the opportunity to shoot on-coming trains from Virginia as they round the curve to the west. You'll be on the north side of the tracks; there is no platform on the south side. At least there is cover if it rains, but if it's windy, you're out of luck.
A relatively short way to the west of the station, the tracks from Virginia split, with passenger traffic diverging north to the tunnel under the US Capitol (the next stop on this tour) and on to Union Station, and the freight line going west to Anacostia, then north to Benning Yard and up to the Hyattsville wye. The junction east of L'Enfant is called CP Virginia (and is named for nearby Virginia Avenue, not for the state) in the most recent CSX Landover Sub timetable's station listing. Note that older versions of Steam Powered Video's Northeast USA atlas has this point incorrectly identified as "Anacostia Junction", which is well to the east.
Safety = B. Photo = fair. Parking = fair - poor (pay, and pay lots in some cases)
Amtrak Tunnel. Drive north on 6th Street to Independence Avenue and turn right. Just past 3rd Street bear right onto Canal Street. Head down to the area of South Capitol Street and Ivy Street. It will be difficult to find a parking space. This tunnel houses the spur that carries passenger trains (Amtrak and VRE) into Union Station from Virginia. The tracks enter the tunnel near the intersection of New Jersey Avenue and D Street. You are only a few blocks away from the United States Capitol building at this point, and security consciousness is much higher, of course, than it was prior to 9-11. It is probably best to shoot photos towards the west-southwest from the grassy area above the tunnel mouth here and be on your way. A good knowledge of the arrival and departure times makes this a timely process.
Safety = C. Photo = fair. Parking = fair
Garfield Park/New Jersey Yard. Drive south on New Jersey Avenue or South Capitol Street, and turn left onto E Street, then right (south) onto 1st Street SE and follow the curve of the road around to the left. There should be some street parking on weekends. Garfield Park is the grassy area to the south side of the street, and if you walk to the other side of the park and cross Virginia Avenue, you will be at the edge of the tracks, although there is very little room there. The tracks are shrouded by the I-395 elevated highway so photo ops are slim.
The New Jersey Avenue yard used to be on the south side here, but has since been pulled up and replaced by apartments. There is still a storage track here, however. Also, there used to be a spur diagonally across from New Jersey Avenue from here that used to run down to the Potomac Electric Power Company (PEPCO) coal-fired power plant at Buzzards Point.
Safety = C. Photo = poor. Parking = fair.
Anacostia Junction. Drive east on F Street SE onto South Carolina Avenue and turn right (south) on 3rd Street. Then turn left (east) onto G Street and follow it all the way to Pennsylvania Avenue. Turn right onto Pennsylvania, go over the Sousa Bridge crossing the Anacostia River and stay in the right lane.
At the bottom of the hill you'll see the Shepard Industrial Spur crossing the road -- more on this spur later. At the signal, turn right onto Fairlawn Avenue, go down a block, and turn right onto Nicholson Street. At the T, turn right onto Anacostia Driver, and go all the way to the end where you see the Anacostia River bridge on the left. One dirt road goes off to the left and up to the tracks. If you follow this road it will bring you to the Anacostia Tower at the junction.
To understand Anacostia Junction, a little history is necessary, and Gregory Mazzie has provided that for us:
The CSX Alexandria Extension runs from the wye at Hyattsville south to Anacostia Junction which is where it joins the Landover Sub line. The Extension is former B&O trackage and the Landover Sub is former Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR). The Landover line runs from the Northeast Corridor (now owned by Amtrak), through Benning Yard, through DC and over the Potomac to the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac (RF&P) and Potomac Yard. The Alexandria Extension joins at the south end of Benning Yard and then crosses the Anacostia River. Back when Pot Yard was one of the major yards on the east coast, Conrail (ex-PC, exx-PRR) ran freights off the Northeast Corridor to Pot Yard on this line. CSX (ex-B&O) ran their trains on trackage rights to Pot Yard.
After the Chase, MD, Amtrak/CR crash, Amtrak placed very severe restrictions on freight movements on the NEC. It was not uncommon for Conrail freights to leave Pot Yard and outlaw before they got on the Corridor. This operational impediment was the last straw for Norfolk Southern which used to interchange a lot of traffic through Pot Yard. NS decided to reroute their interchange via the B-line from Manassas to Hagerstown. They closed their yard in Alexandria, and that spelled the end for Pot Yard.
Back at the end of Anacostia Drive: Besides the dirt road leading to the tower, there is another dirt road straight ahead, and if you follow it ahead and to the right, you'll cross the tracks roughly where the engine servicing tracks used to be at Benning Yard. This road will eventually bring you up to the Benning Yard office if you turn right after the tracks. [Webmaster's Note: You must be circumspect in this location, as it is difficult to avoid railroad property; plus, this is a very rough area, and the CSX police are not hired to look after the safety and enjoyment of railfans.]
Remember the spur track you crossed at the bottom of the Anacostia River bridge on Pennsylvania Avenue? That is the remnant of the Shepherd Industrial Spur. This line ran down to a sewage treatment point at Shepherds Point. It does not appear to be in use south of about Anacostia. [Webmaster's Note: Steam Powered Video atlases that include DC (Appalachia and Piedmont, and Northeast USA) are very much in conflict all through DC. The latter is copyright 1995 and has some obvious errors, while the A&P volume is from 1997, and seems to be more accurate. Stick with our Frograil tour description because it's more up-to-date (by 5 years), and it's compiled by folks who have done the work on the ground.]
Before 1906, the B&O used a car ferry from Shepherds Point across the Potomac to Alexandria's docks. The ferry was discontinued after the railroad got trackage rights over the PRR via Anacostia Junction to Pot Yard. Back before (or very early in), World War II, the US Army Corps of Engineers actually constructed a bridge from somewhere around Shepherds Point to Alexandria. It was considered an alternative to the Long Bridge south of Union Station, should the Long be sabotaged. The bridge was used during the War, and apparently saw up to 150 trains per month. Shortly after the end of the War, the bridge was dismantled by the Corps.
Tony would like to thank John Boteler and his Dad, Gregory Mazzie, and especially, Ken Larsen and Tom Greco of the B&O Historical Society for this information. It's of keen interest to him, because this bridge was a birthday present to me, having been finished on 1 Nov 42, one day before my birthday! A good source of additional information can be found by going to Trains.com and drilling down through Railroad History/Freight. Most of the data about the WWII bridge has come from the Trains.com article.
Safety = D. Photo = Fair. Parking = fair (public park)
Bladensburg -- Lawrence Street. Reverse course out of the Anacostia area. When you get back to the Pennsylvania Avenue signal, follow the flow of traffic onto northbound I-295/Anacostia Freeway. This freeway features fast drivers, lots of curves and dips, and what seem to be very narrow lanes. Don't try anything but paying attention to your driving here. As you crest the next overpass (via the famous singing bridge -- the grooves in the pavement on the bridge make a high-pitched, "singing" sound), however, sneak a peek to the right and you'll see Benning Yard stretched out to the northeast. RFK stadium is on the other side of the river. Actually, a better view is for those driving south, as the freight line heading west to CP Virginia is very visible. In either case, if you want to do some looking, have someone else do the driving.
Continue north for about 3 miles or so, and when you come to a 3-way split at U.S. 50 (another freeway), stay in the center lane to take Kenilworth Avenue/MD-201 north. Note that you're back in Maryland. Along I-295 south of this split, you will probably see either loaded or MT coal train sets awaiting delivery to PEPCO plants or back to the mine, respectively. You'll probably also notice the distinctive PRR steel gantries which carried the catenary down to Potomac Yard.
Once on Kenilworth, get in the left lane and turn left onto Lawrence Street at the signal. This is an industrial area with little parking, but there is a grade crossing of the single-track Alexandria Extension at the end of the street. You might be able to get a fair shot to the southwest in the morning, but sight lines are limited. This is BAR 1.58.
Safety = D. Photo = Fair. Parking = poor
Bladensburg -- Waterfront Park.Go back to the signal at MD-201/Kenilworth Avenue and turn left.At the significant intersection with 48th Street on the right, take that right, and it will lead you up to MD-202/450/Annapolis Road. Take a left, go under MD-201, and cross the tracks. This is an at-grade crossing, but is far too busy to be a railfan location. At 46th Street, take a left and this street is the entrance to Prince George's County's Waterfront Park, which stretches north-to-south between the river and the CSX tracks.
For a view of the tracks, you'll need to climb up to the top of the levee for a better view. The park also has a B&O caboose, which is in fair condition (considering exposure to the elements etc.). When Joe visited, no trains went by, so he can't say how good the place is for photography (if anything, he thinks the tracks might be too close), but the view is unobscured, so he believes that it would be good or excellent as far as train watching goes. Further, he guesses that the view now is better than just a couple of years ago. Recently, a new railroad overpass was built over MD-450, and it appears in the process that the approaching track was raised, as well. So the levee in the park immediately parallels this track, maybe for 1500 feet or more.
This railfan location was contributed by Joe Castleman, and Frograil offers a tip o' the hat to him.
Bladensburg -- Upshur Street. Go back up the park entry road to its intersection with MD-202/450/Annapolis Road. Cross this major thoroughfare and continue north on 46th Street.At Upshur Street take a right, and drive to the crossing. This is another industrial area with the poor parking and grittiness that you might expect. This time you can cross the signaled grade crossing and there might be a spot here or there to park. There is a fair photo shot to the north, but not much to see to the south, as the track curves east. Note the defect detector at BAR 0.5 just to the north ("Upshur Street").
Farther along Upshur at U.S. 1 Alternate/Baltimore Avenue (seems like a long time since we were on that street) -- way back at the Hyattsville Wye, and you're almost right back to the wye. In the vicinity of Upshur and U.S. 1 Alternate you can whet your appetite for American History at the "George Washington House", AKA the "Indian Queen Tavern." You'll find a parking lot between the northbound and southbound lanes of U.S. 1 Alternate. Park here, and you can also visit the Peace Cross monument in the middle of the sprawling circular interchange to the south. The Peace Cross honors those who served in World War I from Prince Georges County. Be advised that the intersection of U.S. 1 Alternate and MD-450 is frequently clogged up.
This is the end of this pretty grueling, but thoroughly interesting and rewarding segment of the CSX East Coast Tour between Baltimore and Washington, DC. Our thanks go out to John Boteler for this excellent, extensive addition to the growing completeness of the overall tour.
Safety = D. Photo = Fair. Parking = poor