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Will Maryland build a trail with the Purple Line in Silver Spring?

The Purple Line is necessary to finish the Capital Crescent Trail, which currently ends over a mile west of its planned terminus at the Silver Spring Metro station. But if CSXT doesn't agree to give up the land where the trail would go, Maryland may simply give up on it.

Rendering of the Purple Line and the trail from the Maryland Transit Administration.

Finishing the trail requires CSXT's cooperation

Last week, the Maryland Transit Administration released its final environmental impact study (FEIS) for the Purple Line, explaining in detail how the light rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton will work and what impacts it will have. MTA will collect public comments and give them to the Federal Transit Administration, which will then issue a Record of Decision on whether to continue design development and acquiring land.

The FEIS raises a major issue about completing the Capital Crescent Trail into downtown Silver Spring that has not drawn much attention before. Today, the trail runs between Georgetown, Bethesda and Lyttonsville, 1.5 miles west of the Silver Spring Metro station, with an interim trail along local streets for the rest of the way. Current plans call for building the Purple Line alongside the trail between Bethesda and Lyttonsville, then extending the trail to Silver Spring along the east side of the Red Line tracks.

Planned route of the extended CCT with the Purple Line "Preferred Alternative." Image from the Maryland Transit Administration.

Most of the land required for this is already publicly owned, but there are a few sections where it would need to use CSXT owned right-of-way. However, CSXT's general policy is to not allow trails in its right-of-way. MTA sent CSXT a letter last November requesting that they make an exception for this project, but CSXT has still not granted one to date. The FEIS says that if CSXT doesn't want to let the state use the right-of-way, the CCT won't be built.

According to the FEIS, if the two parties can't reach an agreement by the time construction on the Purple Line begins, MTA would simply rebuild the existing Capital Crescent Trail between Bethesda and Lyttonsville and keep the interim bike route on local streets. MTA and Maryland appear ready to give up on working with Montgomery County to complete the CCT into downtown Silver Spring if it cannot get CSXT's land for the trail.

This could be devastating to the CCT and regional trail network. There would be no off-road trail connection to downtown Silver Spring, no continuous off-road trail between Silver Spring and Bethesda, and no connection to the Metropolitan Branch Trail, forming a complete off-road "bicycle beltway." The off-road CCT extension that has been promised in every Georgetown Branch Trolley and Purple Line concept study and planning document for more than two decades would be no more than a broken promise.

There is an alternative way to finish the trail

The FEIS presents a false choice: either get CSXT cooperation for the preferred trail alignment entirely in the corridor, or give up on building any off-road trail and dump the CCT onto local streets at Talbot Avenue. But it is possible to complete an all off-road CCT into downtown Silver Spring without CSXT cooperation.

A "Plan B" trail would be as safe and nearly as direct as the trail would be on the preferred alignment, and could be less expensive to build. Since most of the preferred route is already on public land, small adjustments could move it out of the CSXT right-of-way completely.

A "Plan B" off-road CCT can bypass CSXT right-of-way. Image by the author.

This aerial map shows that it is possible to bring the CCT down 4th Avenue, just a few feet east of the CSXT right-of-way, and behind the Woodside Mews townhouses to Lyttonsville Road. Lyttonsville Road is a dead-end street and extra-wide for the little traffic it carries. It can easily have a "road diet" width reduction to free the space needed for an off-road CCT while still leaving room for traffic lanes and on-street parking.

After turning south onto 16th Street, the trail can descend below the overpass This would give us the much desired grade-separated crossing under 16th Street, but may require "taking" approximately 12' of land from the Park Sutton and a few feet of right-of-way from CSXT on the west side of the street. The 16th Street Bridge must be rebuilt for the Purple Line, so the state must engage CSXT in right-of-way and construction issues at this location regardless of the trail.

If that doesn't work, another option is to cross 16th Street at a new light at Lyttonsville Road, then go down the east side of 16th Street to the CSXT. This would stay well clear of any CSXT right-of-way at the 16th Street Bridge, and would require little or no additional space along 16th Street. An at-grade trail crossing of 16th Street would be much safer at Lyttonsville Road than the existing on-road trail crossing at Second Avenue, because this crossing would be shorter, would have very little turning traffic, and could use the wide median for a "safety refuge".

From there, the trail could join the publicly owned 3rd Avenue right-of-way, which is continuous from 16th Street to Fenwick Place and is already part of the preferred route. There is other private and public right-of-way that can be used for the trail from Fenwick Lane to the Metro Plaza Building at Colesville Road.

The trail does appear to need a small amount of CSXT right-of-way at Metro Plaza, but the Purple Line will already be using this area to cross over the existing rail tracks in a structure shared with the trail. It is unlikely CSXT would try to block putting a trail here.

This avoids the only portion of the CSXT corridor where their "cooperation" is essential to building the CCT's preferred alignment, a small section behind the Park Sutton condominium at Lyttonsville Road and 16th Street. The preferred route would be relatively isolated behind the building, built behind a high retaining wall and a crash wall for trains.

By placing it on street for a short segment, "Plan B" would be only a few hundred feet longer, and it can be more inviting, more visible, and more accessible over most of its length. The cost to build the bypass route should be lower than the cost of the preferred trail route, because less retaining wall would be needed and the CSXT crash wall would be eliminated.

Looking down Lyttonsville Road from the Woodside Mews Townhomes toward 16th Street. Photo by the author.

"Plan B" has already won community support

The CSXT bypass route is a key part of the off-road "interim" trail planned years ago and described in the M-NCPPC report "Facility Plan for the Capital Cresent & Metropolitan Branch Trails," approved by the Planning Board in January 2001 and available online on the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail website. Representatives from nearby communities, trail user groups, Planning Department staff, and professional trail design group Lardner and Klein developed the plan.

At the time, plans for the single-track Georgetown Branch trolley, proposed to run from Bethesda to Silver Spring, had fallen by the wayside and it appeared that no transit would built along the corridor anytime soon. But shortly after this study was approved the movement for transit came to life again as the Purple Line. The "long term" part of "interim trail" went away, and with it the support for spending millions to build it.

David Anspacher, trail planner for the Planning Department, has recently begun to examine the "Plan B" bypass concept. He has circulated this and other alternative CCT route ideas among planning staff for comments, and has asked trail design consultants Toole Design to include this in an evaluation of CCT alternatives they are doing for the department. This work becomes ever more important as CSXT continues to withhold its cooperation on the trail.

"Plan B" needs to become a feasible option for the CCT

If we allow MTA to give up so easily on the Capital Crescent Trail and it proceeds to build the Purple Line with no consideration for a possible "Plan B" trail, we may get no trail at all. What can trail advocates do?

For starters, you can submit comments on the Purple Line FEIS, pointing out that there are options for an off-road CCT that bypasses the CSXT right-of-way, should it refuse to cooperate on the trail. Ask MTA to commit to designing and building the best feasible off-road CCT extension into downtown Silver Spring, in coordination with Montgomery County, consistent with the promises it has made to the community for over two decades.

You can submit comments online at the Purple Line website or by sending an email to with "FEIS COMMENT" as the subject heading.

Also, you can contact the Montgomery County Executive, Council, and Planning Board and let them know there are options for completing a good off-road CCT that do not require CSXT right-of-way. Ask them to accelerate study of "Plan B" options to be ready in case CSXT blocks the preferred CCT alignment. Tell them that we expect them to keep the promises they have given to us for many years to complete the CCT, and this trail is much too important for them to give up so easily.

A version of this post appeared at Silver Spring Trails.


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Sounds like you've come up with a good solution to the problem.

by Thayer-D on Sep 9, 2013 2:58 pm • linkreport

If this were a highway paperwork for a eminent domain would have been filed already.

by Jasper on Sep 9, 2013 2:58 pm • linkreport


Federal law protects the railroads from eminent domain.

by Wayne Phyillaier on Sep 9, 2013 3:01 pm • linkreport

Jasper is right.
There is another route: through the back of the parking lot of the highrise seen in the picture.

by SJE on Sep 9, 2013 3:02 pm • linkreport

@SJE: There is another route: through the back of the parking lot of the highrise seen in the picture.

What can not be seen in the picture is the elevation. The elevation drops into the parking lot, and getting back up to the elevation needed to pass under the 16th Street Bridge would require an awful multiple switchback ramp.

by Wayne Phyillaier on Sep 9, 2013 3:22 pm • linkreport

SJE, I live in that building. The better solution is the one that Wayne described. It's a very steep drop from the existing rail viaduct to our parking lot.

We have already talked to the state and county about donating a small right of way to connect the trail to Lyttonsville Road. Lyttonsville Road is very wide (I think it was supposed to be an off-ramp or something back when 16th Street was planned to carry I-270) and there is plenty of room and almost no traffic on it.

We local residents would also appreciate a safer 16th Street crossing than what we currently have.

by Cavan on Sep 9, 2013 4:56 pm • linkreport

"If this were a highway paperwork for a eminent domain would have been filed already.'

If this were a highway, a generation would be wasted on endless studies, hearings, lawsuits and whatever other delaying tactics opponents could come up with. The ICC is a case in point.

Compared to what this region goes through when planning roads, the Purple Line process is being bum-rushed. Like the Silver Line, once the funding scheme was invented, the project got on the fast track.

by ceefer66 on Sep 9, 2013 6:22 pm • linkreport

@ceefer (and everyone else):
Isn't that just kinda this region's model for infrastructure? Spend useless decades on studies, and then fast track it? It applies for roads *and* transit.

Also: viaduct over the parking lot, maybe? The CSX ROW option appears to be on a viaduct, and could require the removal of trees to build it, judging simply by the map. Seems like using the parking lot would make more sense than having it go on-street for a couple of blocks. Maybe the on-street could be plan *C*, and the viaduct be B? Also, why does CSX want that piece of ROW so much? They're pretty uninterested in increasing the number of tracks, to my knowledge...

by ImThat1Guy on Sep 9, 2013 6:38 pm • linkreport

"What can trail advocates do?"

by Chris S. on Sep 9, 2013 7:15 pm • linkreport

@ Wayne:Federal law protects the railroads from eminent domain.

That is ridiculous. Perhaps the continuity of a railroad, but not the unused neighboring land.

by Jasper on Sep 9, 2013 8:47 pm • linkreport

@ imThat1Guy: "Seems like using the parking lot would make more sense than having it go on-street for a couple of blocks."

To be more clear, the "Plan B" route would be all off-road, and would never be on-street. Lyttonville Road would be narrowed so an off-road trail could be built beside it but within the road r.o.w., and some r.o.w would be taken from Park Sutton so the trail could be built on the west side of 16th street, behind a curb and narrow buffer/barrier.

by Wayne Phyillaier on Sep 9, 2013 9:59 pm • linkreport

I use the trail and look forward to a less creepy one East of downtown, Bethesda. With the light rail, there might be some lighting capable of extending the day a bit for bicycle commuters.

by Capt. Hilts on Sep 9, 2013 11:18 pm • linkreport

"What can trail advocates do?"

Admit they belong to the Columbia Country Club!

by Capt. Hilts on Sep 9, 2013 11:20 pm • linkreport

Lytonnsville road is super wide. You fit the trail and the train on there with enough room for cars as well. It should be able to handle the trail itself easily.

by drumz on Sep 10, 2013 12:51 am • linkreport

"Compared to what this region goes through when planning roads, the Purple Line process is being bum-rushed" Yowza, this is a bit of a stretch considering they've had this idea in the works since the 1980's.

The thing I can't wrap my head around is all these images of incredibly humane cities like Amsterdam with trolleys weaving through tight streets full of bikes and people.

by Thayer-D on Sep 10, 2013 6:31 am • linkreport

@Chris S.
"What can trail advocates do?"

[Link to "friends" of CCT removed]

Join the anti-transit coalition, of course!

What people can actually do is voice their opinion that transit is needed along with provisions for the trail connection. The Purple Line is not going away.

by MLD on Sep 10, 2013 8:37 am • linkreport

@MLD "The Purple Line is not going away."

The trail certainly is.

by Chris S. on Sep 10, 2013 9:16 am • linkreport

The trail will still be there.

Just not all the trees.

As for plan B - are they not talking to much about it, in order to avoid undercuttting their position in negotiations with CSX?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 10, 2013 9:20 am • linkreport

If CSX does not allow the trail through, then I'll just have to get my coal from some other provider.

by David C on Sep 10, 2013 9:50 am • linkreport

@Chris S
The trail certainly is.

Uhh, what? Where? The part that is talked about in this article isn't even a trail NOW. It's part of the on-street "interim" trail.

by MLD on Sep 10, 2013 10:29 am • linkreport

I recall a few months ago proposing that we cyclists advocate for a bike route irrespective of the Purple Line because (a) we have been waiting for ever and (b) we might be scr*wed. So far, we are still waiting, and part (b) looks increasingly likely.

by SJE on Sep 10, 2013 10:44 am • linkreport

10...9...9...7....that's the count-down to how long it takes for the first kid or dog or even an adult to be killed by a train running alongside a hiker-biker trail, through backyards...this is why CSX doesn't want a trail on its right-of-way. Common sense. Just plain common sense. Try though they might, the big railroads can't keep people off tracks and out of train yards and people get hurt or killed. There is no safe way for the trains and the trail users to co-exist safely. This above-ground plan is ridiculous. And now I am hearing it won't even connect to the Bethesda Metro station.

Metro will need to build a southern entrance. Oh right. The Metro that has SO. MUCH. MONEY. Sure. Right.

When the time comes, I am sure they will say that this was planned, but there was no money. And there isn't. And if there was, they should use it to make the current Metro run more safely and efficiently and clean up the existing stations and trains.

This whole Purple Line is built on fantasies and willing disregard of the obvious. It needs to be a heavy line underground train.

by We all need common sense on Sep 10, 2013 4:16 pm • linkreport

There is no safe way for the trains and the trail users to co-exist safely.

It happens everyday on the Metropolitan Branch Trail where the trail runs alongside the CSX, MARC, Amtrak and metro...

by Tina on Sep 10, 2013 4:19 pm • linkreport

"We all need common sense" pedestrian and bike trails co-exist safely with light rail all over the globe.

Please keep your facts and your opinions apart.

by Capt. Hilts on Sep 10, 2013 4:29 pm • linkreport

@Tina: Not to mention that most of the Eastern branch of the Red line runs at grade. But I guess "common sense" dictates that all metro lines absolutely must be in tunnels too, right?

by Gray on Sep 10, 2013 4:30 pm • linkreport

Dear Friends of the CCT. We're sorry that the train will be running in what you had come to think of as "your" trail. Now you can apologize for the unbelievably disingenuous campaign you have launched against the Purple Line.

by Crickey7 on Sep 10, 2013 6:26 pm • linkreport

Just like CSX, the BNSF Railroad has a blanket policy of not allowing trails alongside its live railroad tracks. Nevertheless, the city of Seattle has numerous "rails-with-trails."

The way the city has solved this policy problem is to purchase the necessary strip of land alongside the track and then use it for the trail. (I believe Seattle uses condemnation if it cannot arrange a friendly purchase.) The city erects the fence and installs the signage. By doing this the city takes the liability and removes if from the shoulders of the railroad -- and the railroad can continue to assert that it will "never allow a trail on its land alongside its tracks."

Wayne (or anyone), if you want more legalistic detail on this, I can give you a connection out in Seattle. Call me at 703-522-5510.

by Peter Harnik on Sep 10, 2013 9:48 pm • linkreport

@ Peter: "The way the city has solved this policy problem is to purchase the necessary strip of land alongside the track and then use it for the trail."

This sounds similar to the agreement Metro has with CSXT for the Red Line from 16th Street south into D.C., where Metro bought the corridor, assumed all liability, and CSXT kept operaing rights. It also may be what the Purple Line will have to do for its transit tracks on the west side of the CSX corridor. It is an expensive arrangement, but it could work.

The core problem is not finding a solution to get CSXT r.o.w., or finding a good fallback route if we cannot get r.o.w.. The core problem appears to be that our own MCDOT is too quick to give up completing the long promised CCT as an off-road trail. MCDOT appears to be too ready to accept just dumping the trail onto the streets if there is resistance from CSXT, and MTA is following MCDOT's lead since the county has responsibility for funding the trail and for the trail design criteria.

by Wayne Phyillaier on Sep 11, 2013 9:03 am • linkreport

I don't get all the trail hate in the comments. The purpose of the connection to downtown Silver Spring and the people who want it are distinct from the country club based protests. If one goal is increasing car-free travel, the trail connection to downtown Silver Spring is huge. It would make pedestrian or bike commuting from Bethesda to Silver Spring more practical, more pleasant, and safer. For the neighborhoods just east of 16th St, one can go up Grace Church, cross 16th st at grade & go down 2nd or go up a steep hill on East West Highway. The proposed trail would create a fairly flat path that shaves about a 1/2 mile off these other options. In addition to being a nice commuting option, it makes walks or rides to downtown Silver Spring more practical for families with young kids.

As a transit project, building this section of trail should not be optional.

by Dan H on Sep 11, 2013 5:22 pm • linkreport

"0...9...9...7....that's the count-down to how long it takes for the first kid or dog or even an adult to be killed by a train running alongside a hiker-biker trail,"

a few days ago a cyclist was killed in prince william county while biking on a multi use path near a road.

Guess we should not build more roads near our multiuse paths.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 11, 2013 5:32 pm • linkreport

Trains are incredibly easy to avoid, don't get on the tracks.

It's my understanding that its going to be MoCo that builds the new Bethesda entrance and that its pretty much always gone hand in hand with the purple line. No need To worry about it stretching metros resources.

by drumz on Sep 11, 2013 5:40 pm • linkreport

"Try though they might, the big railroads can't keep people off tracks and out of train yards and people get hurt or killed. There is no safe way for the trains and the trail users to co-exist safely. This above-ground plan is ridiculous."

Yes there is

1 Big ass sign that says no trespassing with enforcement
2 Electric Fence with a sign that says no trespassing
3 Brick Wall

If you get on the tracks you get what you deserve for being a jackass

by kk on Sep 14, 2013 1:18 am • linkreport

Bring the trail from "behind the Woodside Mews townhomes?" No, the current plan is not "behind" but IN FRONT.
If you look at the map currently proposed, MTA and the powers that be are going to take all of our community owned property at the entrance of our property to build this trail. I have lived here for 20 years and I can tell you that no one from the county or MTA has "talked with us" about how to make a trail happen. Over 2 years ago, we attended a presentation and we were told the trail would be put further down along the CSX property -- we were not asked for our input or even given a hint as to what kind of compensation or privacy/safety considerations would be put in place. Now, the plan is to have the trail ON OUR PROPERTY with NO Fence. Also, they plan to have all the trail traffic spill across the entrance to our property to connect to a sidewalk there. How about I come over to your house and take your entire front yard and put a trail there -- oh, and not compensate you at all for it? It's easy to support a public project if it's not impacting and ruining your home.

by Cecilia Sepp on Jan 20, 2014 2:05 pm • linkreport

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