Updated January 2000
Passenger Train Service in the Area
Washington and Baltimore are served by Amtrak, two different commuter railroads
(MARC in Maryland and VRE
in Virginia), and
three transit systems (DC's Metro and Baltimore's
light rail and
subway systems. I've put information on the transit
systems with the other material for the appropriate city, but more general material
on passenger trains is here.
AMTRAK runs trains in all directions from DC, with everything except push-pull.
See your schedule for details.
As far as long-distance Amtrak trains are concerned, there is the corridor,
there is the Capitol Limited, and there is everything going south. All
of the latter are best seen in Alexandria, although you can see them pop
out of the ground south of the capitol. The Cap. Ltd. is best seen in Silver
Spring, because once it gets much west of there it is going too fast to
be seen to well. There is often private car traffic on this train.
The trip up and down the corridor isn't terribly scenic, although it is
about the only way to see the Ivy City yards. I've taken the Capitol Ltd. out west and back,
and it offers varying scenery. On the trip out it unfortunately crosses the mountains
mostly at night, but (if you like that sort of industrial stuff) you get
a great view of the Gary steel works. On the way back, the mountains are
crossed in the morning, and the scenery is glorious, particularly in the spring and fall.
I'm told the Cardinal has even better mountain scenery, but
I cannot say anything about this first hand.
MARC (Maryland Area Rail Commuters) runs commuter trains in the rush
hour, with some lesser service mid-day. There are three lines.
Equipment is not as interesting as it was in years past. There are no more RDCs,
and all the cab units are gone except one which is used for a control cab.
It also is the only unit still in the old livery. All the other engines
are either AEM-7s (Penn line only) or rebuilt GPs, either 40s or 45s, with
HEP added. Most of the coaches are converted N&W sleepers, except for
the control cabs and some other newer cars. Just recently some double decker
cars have begun to show up, of the same tapered end style as seen elsewhere, but
very snazzy with all the stainless steel.
The "Brunswick" line runs from DC to Martinsburg WV (but it does go through
Brunswick). Trains on this line run to DC in the morning and to Martinsburg
or Brunswick in the evening, with some reverse trips; there is also a single
trip back to Brunswick right after lunch. I'm not sure I'd try to "turn
around" using it.
The "Camden" line runs from DC to Camden Station in Balto. It runs both
ways in both rush hours, and with judicious use of the schedule and of
Amtrak, one can visit Laurel station. It's also a reasonably interesting
run in its own part, passing over the Thomas Viaduct and into Balto. over
some of the oldest roadbed in the country.
The third line is the "Penn" line- aka The Corridor. They run as far north
as Aberdeen and run both directions in the rush hours. The trip is not
very interesting, unfortunately. Although they run almost twice as fast
as the Camden trains, they have to go further because of PRR's roundabout
route, and thus the trip isn't that much shorter. It also costs more. There
are trains on this line throughout the day.
MARC tickets can be bought on the trains at a premium, or at the stations
with offices. Single day tickets are pretty steep. Penn tickets are accepted
on the Camden line, but not vice versa. Ticket offices are generally open
only in the morning, except in DC, New Carrollton, Baltimore and
BWI (and in several other places listed on the schedules). Tickets can
also be bought at the ticket office in the U of Md. ticket office, in the
Stamp Union. The best MARC action spots are along the metro Red line, at
New Carrollton, at Gaithersburg, at Laurel, and at Point of Rocks if you can get there.
(These last three have particularly good sight lines for photography.)
The spot I mentioned off Brookville Road on the south side of the line
in Silver Spring, near the stub of the old Georgetown Branch, is also good
in the evening.
It should be noted that the old MARC site referred to by most is defunct; not only that, but the old official site has also moved.
goes to the current official site (which isn't very good unless you're a commuter).
The Virginia Rail Express (VRE) runs only in the rush hours. Most of the
stations are simply post-modern platforms. This is strictly a commuter
operation and uses a self-service ticketing machine. The paint is very
snazzy; one can see the trains laying over next to the metro yard at the
bottom of the Ivy City yards at Union Station. The station at L'Enfant
Plaza is a super place to watch traffic to/from the south-- unless it's
a cold windy day. They are about to receive some strikingly ugly Kawasaki
(They have a super website, in
contrast to the MARC site.)