The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


All northeast US passenger rail on one awesome map

This map shows every Amtrak, commuter rail, metro, light rail, and tourist rail line from Maine to North Carolina, to scale.

It comes from, and you can even download it in a fully-editable Adobe Illustrator format.

Image from

Image from

Cross-posted to BeyondDC.

Update: The map's author has requested that you "like" their page on Facebook. Please help them out and do that!

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


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So pretty.

by Tom Veil on Nov 5, 2013 12:22 pm • linkreport

This is pretty cool. One thing that could be improved: the lines showing Washington Metro routes. For NYC, there are lines (no stations) for all the subway lines, and it looks pretty accurate. But for DC, it's really inaccurate; for example, the western Red Line crosses Green and Yellow somewhere around what would be Tenleytown, and Silver Spring looks like it's near Spring Valley.

by David Alpert on Nov 5, 2013 12:24 pm • linkreport

I have a pocket version of this from 2001. It's out of print, and sadly not that far out of date.

The to-same-scale insets for the major metros are particularly telling: DC and Baltimore are very different in our lack of commuter rail infrastructure.

by Payton on Nov 5, 2013 12:34 pm • linkreport

Fantastic map, I love that all the scenic railroads are there too.

by JJJJ on Nov 5, 2013 12:36 pm • linkreport

God, our region looks so sad and empty compared with the others in the Northeast.

by MetroDerp on Nov 5, 2013 12:40 pm • linkreport

@God, our region looks so sad and empty compared with the others in the Northeast.
Maybe, just perhaps, it's because we have far less population and density than the others and our suburban areas aren't anywhere near as vast or as old and heavily-developed.

One size doesn't fit all. The suburbs that are within 30 miles of DC are far different from those that are within 30 miles of either Manhattan, Boston, or Philly. Actually, there's very little comparison. More than 30 miles away, no comparison at all.

by ceefer66 on Nov 5, 2013 12:53 pm • linkreport

Oh come on Washington is the seventh largest metro area in the country, bigger than Boston, Miami, Atlanta, San Francisco, etc. We aren't some small town in the middle of nowhere.

by BTA on Nov 5, 2013 1:01 pm • linkreport

The issue is not so much current density as past density. Most of the commuter RR lines in the NE run on legacy tracks/ROW thats been there since the early 20th or late 19th century.

DC was a smallish place in that era.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 5, 2013 1:14 pm • linkreport

True, that may also account for why DC doesn't really have the highways either (coupled with the freeway revolts)

by drumz on Nov 5, 2013 1:16 pm • linkreport

AWITC is on it. Most of the major railway expansion was completed by 1910 (far before the car was much of a factor) so the population of that time period is most important. It should be no surprise that NYC, Philadelphia and Boston have the best rail networks. DC wasn't in the top 10:

by Jonathan P on Nov 5, 2013 1:22 pm • linkreport

Sure that is the historic reason and we are still not as dense as inner NY Metro obviously. Although I would also say DC has a smaller footprint than most major cities. New York proper is about 5 times the size of DC. Washington was approaching cities of equal size by the 40s or so.

by BTA on Nov 5, 2013 1:33 pm • linkreport

So I have a question, maybe the answer is obvious but I am not too familiar with heavy and light rail.

Can heavy rail tracks be used for light rail? If so, what are the benefits and issues with doing so? I often wondered if VRE could be used to run light rail at least part time such as rush hour and if that would be cheaper.

by Tom S. on Nov 5, 2013 1:34 pm • linkreport

Awesome map indeed!

@ David Alpert, the call-out map does a really good job of retaining accuracy for DC despite the scale of the map. Sure, Silver Spring is a bit west of Dupont, but that's not so bad.

@ MetroDerp, our region looks pretty full to me! Especially nice seeing the MARC, VRE, Amtrak, and Metro on one map.

Would be great to see the same map for West Coast (even just California), and the Quebec-Windsor corridor in Canada.

by eozberk on Nov 5, 2013 1:40 pm • linkreport

New York, Boston, and Philadelphia were also massive industrial and port cities.

Plus, think about this: it's eight miles down the road from Union Station to Alexandria. There's no shortage of people that act like that trip is miles and miles and miles to some far flung suburb. Eight miles from NYP and I think you're still on Manhattan Island. Assuming you went north.

by Another Nick on Nov 5, 2013 1:47 pm • linkreport

Love the map. My only complaint is that they didn't really differentiate seasonal/heritage railroads from year round operation routes. Maybe a dashed line would have made it more clear that they are really a different type of railroad than the rest - certainly something that the average person is not gonna be aware of.

by TomA on Nov 5, 2013 1:57 pm • linkreport

The DC area had some rail lines which were torn out.

by David Alpert on Nov 5, 2013 1:58 pm • linkreport

This just makes the commuter rail lines look much more prominent than subways, which in our area is more prominent in reality. Makes the DC area transit system look miniscule in comparison to Northeastern cities.

by xtr657 on Nov 5, 2013 2:02 pm • linkreport


thats true, the W&OD and the georgetown branch, which are both now bike trails. (Others?)

The Georgetown branch though doesnt really serve any particular places in the burbs not served by the B&O line west through MoCo.

Had the W&OD continued in operation till recent years, its conceivable it would have made a decent commuter rail line. (but please can we not get into a discussion of whether that would have been a suitable substitute for the Silver Line?)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 5, 2013 2:09 pm • linkreport

The "others" were interurbans, such as the lines to Fairfax, Great Falls and Chesapeake Beach. There was also the Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis. These would all be great assets if they were still around, in addition to the W&OD.

by Paul on Nov 5, 2013 2:15 pm • linkreport

Can heavy rail tracks be used for light rail? If so, what are the benefits and issues with doing so?

Short DMUs (Diesel multiple units) can do this effectively. Not sure about true "light rail" streetcars.

The main barrier to using anything lighter than ultraheavy railcars (including god forbid, light rail) is FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) "crashworthiness" regulations.

by Matt C on Nov 5, 2013 2:17 pm • linkreport

I noticed "Nathaniel Pendleton" on the design team. Wonder if that's the same Nathaniel who's commented here on GGW recently.

by Froggie on Nov 5, 2013 2:18 pm • linkreport

thats interesting paul.

though I guess most interurbans did not leave a commuter rail legacy (except in Philly) because, IIUC, most ceased operation before WW2 - sometimes well before.

I am interested in the line from Vienna to Fairfax though - any legacy in streetcar suburb style development SW of Vienna?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 5, 2013 2:19 pm • linkreport

Can heavy rail tracks be used for light rail? If so, what are the benefits and issues with doing so? I often wondered if VRE could be used to run light rail at least part time such as rush hour and if that would be cheaper

It can, but the problem is that light rail is really just a word. It doesn't really define anything.
So replacing the heavy rail service that VRE currently runs with something else that you call light rail wouldn't do anything unless you are sacrificing something.

You could reduce the weight of the rail cars, which would be a safety concern sharing tracks with CSX and Amtrak

You could reduce the speed of the trains, which would reduce the speed

You could implement DMUs, which would increase acceleration but also maintenance bills.

You could add electrification and run EMUs which would decrease noise, increase comfort, and acceleration while decreasing fuel costs. But electrification is expensive.

by Richard on Nov 5, 2013 2:20 pm • linkreport

@Tom S.

Technically yes, light rail vehicles can be run on heavy rail trackage. And actually this is done in Cleveland, OH where the Blue and Green lines are interlined with the heavy rail Red Line going in to downtown on the east side.

But VRE is not heavy rail - it's commuter rail. And VRE doesn't have exclusive right of way, it's shared with freight railroads. From a safety perspective it's not feasible to mix LRVs with freight and commuter traffic. Not to mention you'd need to electrify (string up catenary wires and install substations to power the electric light rail cars).

Your idea is interesting but in my mind it would make more sense to run the LRVs during off-peak (lower capacity) and the commuter trains during rush hour. But of course you'd need exclusive right of way and electrification.

by dcmike on Nov 5, 2013 2:22 pm • linkreport

Clearly there's a dearth in service south and east of DC...hopefully rail service from DC to Waldorf (and beyond) and Annapolis becomes a reality.

This is one of Maryland's fastest growing regions and it needs better transit options now.

by Burd on Nov 5, 2013 2:23 pm • linkreport


I don't think there is any strict definition but my from perspective (as someone who works in the transit industry) there is a loose set of attributes that define each mode:

Light rail: Street level boarding, overhead power, often run as single units, includes grade crossings or shares right of way with vehicular traffic

Heavy rail: Platform level boarding, third rail power, EMU, completely grade separated exclusive right of way

Commuter rail: Unpowered passenger cars pushed or pulled by diesel or electric locomotives.

by dcmike on Nov 5, 2013 2:30 pm • linkreport

@dcmike @Richard @Matt C,

Thanks for the info guys.

by Tom S. on Nov 5, 2013 2:46 pm • linkreport

Light rail: Street level boarding, overhead power, often run as single units, includes grade crossings or shares right of way with vehicular traffic

Heavy rail: Platform level boarding, third rail power, EMU, completely grade separated exclusive right of way

Commuter rail: Unpowered passenger cars pushed or pulled by diesel or electric locomotives.
So DMUs dont fit any designation?

Also I get the shared roadway vs semi separated vs dedicated ROW but if you are talking about an established set of tracks you couldn't really change out the trainset and change this.

by Richard on Nov 5, 2013 2:54 pm • linkreport

"Oh come on Washington is the seventh largest metro area in the country, bigger than Boston, Miami, Atlanta, San Francisco, etc. We aren't some small town in the middle of nowhere."
Very, very true.

But here's another truth: Boston and its nearby suburbs (like NY and Philly) were nearly fully-developed before cars became affordable to the masses. It grew up with rail, like NY and Philly.

DC didn't. But we have manage to build the nation's largest subway which to a great extent functions as commuter rail in addition to functioning as urban transit.

As for commuter rail in the further-out suburbs, they simply don't have the density to justify the cost of building and running a commuter rail system comparable to that in the northeast cities, least of all for the simple reason of rail-envy.

by ceefer66 on Nov 5, 2013 3:09 pm • linkreport


Both good points. I hadn't really considered EMUs as until very recently they were nearly nonexistent in the US. But they can be used in nearly any application.

by dcmike on Nov 5, 2013 3:09 pm • linkreport

There was also the rail line to st mary's county, and of course the streetcars to laurel.
Baltimore apparently was considering putting some streetcar routes underground (much like the red line is planning now).
I can only imagine that had that been done, some of out street car route may still be in use.

by scratchy on Nov 5, 2013 3:28 pm • linkreport

I agree with the historical reasons (nor do I really think DC has much reason to envy based on my transit experience around the country, New York being the exception), but that is not the future trend and if anything it means we need to get more serious about future transit investment.

by BTA on Nov 5, 2013 3:29 pm • linkreport

@ceefer66 @BTA et al

I totally get the historical argument and understand, but that's a pretty poor excuse. It is, in fact, possible to drive demand and density in new places by creating new options to get there. Think all the brownfield suburbs existed before highways were built out to them? And our subway system is in no way the largest in the country. It's at best 20% the size of New York's.

Metro's hybrid commuter/urban status is going to forever be its curse and prevent the region from developing proper commuter rail, connections to Union Station, and actual light rail throughout DC. When Brightwood and Trinidad and Glover Park and Georgetown don't have Metro stations but Centreville, VA and Annapolis, MD are crying for extensions, something has gone seriously wrong with the urban mass transit system.

And BTA, I don't think anything but New York would be a useful model, but there's plenty we can learn from other systems: the importance of good headways, the insanity of peak-only service, the amazing things that dedicated rights-of-way can do. We seem to have learned an inverted set of lessons and are in many ways a template of exactly what not do with transit, transportation, and land use in general.

by MetroDerp on Nov 5, 2013 3:42 pm • linkreport

The interurban line to Fairfax (city) ran down Fairfax Drive in Arlington. It's the reason for the name.–Virginia_Railway

by Paul on Nov 5, 2013 3:58 pm • linkreport

"As for commuter rail in the further-out suburbs, they simply don't have the density"

I would surmise that this region's new, 1980s-2000s suburbs have much higher density than equivalent suburbs around Boston or Philadelphia, for instance. I-495 in Boston looks like a drive through the woods compared with a drive down 28 in Fairfax.

What the outer suburbs don't have here, because they didn't have the railroad-town armature that suburbs elsewhere along the Seaboard (or in Chicago) have, are walkable centers. Sometimes we create them from scratch, as at Reston or Washingtonian Center.

by Payton on Nov 5, 2013 4:10 pm • linkreport

@Matt C: FRA just eliminated those restrictions, making it possible to import .eu rolling stock with minimal modifications.

by Mike on Nov 5, 2013 4:25 pm • linkreport

@eozberk, the website has a link to a California rail map which is laid out as a transit map.

@dcmike, "I hadn't really considered EMUs as until very recently they were nearly nonexistent in the US." ?? SEPTA, Metro-North and LIRR have used EMUs for decades because they were the systems that were electrified way back when they were privately owned railroads. Denver, BTW, is building several electrified regional rail lines that will use a SEPTA Silverliner V design.

This is a useful map as it shows how extensive passenger rail coverage is in the NE compared to most of the US, although fall far short of most of Europe. But it also shows the many gaps in coverage for local transit and Amtrak intercity service. About the DC Metro, I am often struck by how many posters to GGW fail to recognize just how fortunate the DC region is, in terms of post-1950 rail expansion, in getting the Metro system built and completed pretty close to the original late 1960s plan. Baltimore, Atlanta, Miami ended up with either 1 line or a subset of their late 1960s - early 70s plans.

by AlanF on Nov 5, 2013 4:26 pm • linkreport

I think the big takeaway from this thread is that it's almost a miracle that DC's rail infrastructure is as built out as it is, considering the period in which it experienced the bulk of its growth.

by smax on Nov 5, 2013 4:32 pm • linkreport

Something that would be neat if someone had the time and was willing to put in the effort would be draw a similar NE coverage map for passenger rail of all types for 1925 (or at the 20th century rail transportation peak), then circa 1975 for the bottom of the post-war decline. MBTA, NJ Transit, WMATA have all added new or restored routes since then, although SEPTA cut service in the 1970s and 80s.

Based on the currently funded projects and projects that are close to starting, a 2025 map will show a decent amount of expansion. In the next 5 years, Amtrak service should see expansion in VT of the Vermonter to Montreal, Ethan Allan to Burlington; restored service over the CT River Line in MA; to Roanoke VA. Over the next 10 years for the local transit system, MBTA should complete the Green Line extension, South Coast Rail; NYC should complete the East Side Access, Second Avenue Subway Phase 1 (maybe even Phase 2); NJT extensions of light rail; Baltimore Red Line, and in DC the Purple, Silver Lines, & multiple streetcar lines.

by AlanF on Nov 5, 2013 4:47 pm • linkreport

Can heavy rail tracks be used for light rail? If so, what are the benefits and issues with doing so? I often wondered if VRE could be used to run light rail at least part time such as rush hour and if that would be cheaper

By heavy rail you obviously mean what we in the US call commuter rail, as others have pointed out. Yes, it is possible. In Karlsruhe, and other cities in Germany, they do this. A light rail vehicle starts off far outside the city on one of the heavy rail lines (in Europe what we call commuter or freight rail IS called heavy rail) and travels at high speed with few stops until it reaches the outskirts of the city. It then turns onto the city streetcar lines and goes slowly, with many stops. Again, as others have pointed out, this requires both lines to be electrified, in Karlsruhe they use a special dual voltage vehicle for this service. They call this the tram-train.

by kinverson on Nov 5, 2013 5:39 pm • linkreport

That sounds like a very interesting set up.

Not that VRE is too expensive for everyday use but it is a little pricey. I feel VRE and MARC could be cheaper and become a more viable option for everyday use and just as importantly they could become a more prominent option in the minds of rider considering mass transit.

It also seems MARC and VRE could be better integrated with Purple Line and Route 7(Leesburg Pike) light rails being considered if we could have LRT to Commuter rail interoperability.

by Tom S. on Nov 6, 2013 1:27 pm • linkreport

Thank you for posting a link to our official website! But if you can, please add a link to the facebook page on the article.

We hope to use the facebook "likes" to encourage usage and perhaps get funding for this free downloadable PDF unifying rail map of the US North East, combining intercity rail (Amtrak), commuter rail, subway, light rail, scenic/historic rail, and even the PRT in Morgantown West Virginia.

Because this map was an unpaid volunteer effort, combining efforts of Alfred Twu, of Berkley California, with myself, Nathaniel Pendleton, of Washington, DC, as Co-editors of the map, posting both the current website address and the facebook page link is essential for achieving measurable success.

Alfred and I put considerable effort into creating this map with our team of volunteers and minor kickstarter money to defray tangible costs of some volunteers. I for one have put far more time into trying to market this map than even all the considerable effort I contributed to create this map with Alfred. As a minor administrative note, Alfred controls the "website" and I control the facebook page, so the facebook page "likes" really matter in building up a fan base.

The map is designed to unify rail options for people, saving them time and energy, for faster trips by existing rail, reducing need for flights and car trips, lowering trip and traffic costs, as well as lowering carbon foot prints.

This map is both meant to be a piece of art, a diagram, a act economic activism, social activism, and environmental activism, saving people time and energy, to get the job done, not so coincidentally reducing peoples carbon foot prints.

by North East Rail Map / Nathaniel Pendleton on Nov 6, 2013 10:25 pm • linkreport

Nathaniel: I've added something to the post asking people to "like" your page. Thanks for doing this!

by David Alpert on Nov 7, 2013 12:19 am • linkreport

Thank you all for the compliments!

The North East Rail Map, a unifying rail map of the US North East, answers several key questions:

1) Is there a rail line to there (on this largely geographic map)?

2) What is the line called (so I can web search for current official fare and schedule data)?

3) Where does that line cross other lines or systems (so I can connect with rail to there)?

Alfred Twu lead the computer based implementation work, and integration of the many component sub-projects of the map by many volunteers, and the kick starter, assuring a first deliverable PDF NERM map, and taking my (Nathaniel Pendleton's) numerous design edits, discussions, proposals, and design process recommendations on everything from what should design elements such as diagram line widths for each category rail service should be, and appearance of station dots for various category of rail hubs, and which elements such as airports should included and dropped and why for clarity's sake, and similar design back seat driving, to refine the design, as well as considerable and repeated proof reading, to help create the best map possible.

by North East Rail Map / Nathaniel Pendleton on Nov 7, 2013 1:33 am • linkreport

@TomA: The free downloadable and printable PDF map is not designed to reflect wildly fluctuating frequency of trains, such as seasonal passenger scenic rail trains, but rather show where the trains run, and as a free PDF, let people web search for the current status, fairs, and schedules of trains.

If anything the seasonal rail services such as Massachusetts CapeFlyer would be converted by popular demand into a year round service, in part because of the map, without need to modify the map.

by North East Rail Map / Nathaniel Pendleton on Nov 7, 2013 1:36 am • linkreport

Apple iPhone / iPad Map Download Instructions:
Under the NERM facebook page, in the "about" page and "photos", are detailed instructions for downloading the PDF map, and saving on your Apple iPhone, and/or iPad, for use even without signal, especially important for iPads.

by North East Rail Map / Nathaniel Pendleton on Nov 7, 2013 1:47 am • linkreport

@David Alpert: We agree, the map is "pretty cool", especially the several hundred (or several thousand?!?) extremely difficult design problems are solved on a single page, such as using the the "zoom-in" maps to assure universal and printable legibility at one printed size, doing something no map we are aware, not even google maps, has done for unifying all rail in the US North East into a single map. We broke substantial new ground with this map, appropriate for growing the North East's economy, and lowering the carbon foot print of the millions of people living on this map, or simply visiting. We deeply appreciate your support, and it is nice to know that when we announced this map on your GGW facebook page, on September 23, 2013, (the day after NERM v1.1 was launched, updating on our July 22, 2013, v1.0 map launch) that it turns into a real article on GGW and BeyondDC website, on November 5, 2013, because this unifying rail map desperately needs consumers and supporters.

Could you add an email confirmation from the GGW website tip submission form, sending us a copy of each tip submitted, so we never have to ask when we filed a specific tip with GGW main tip submission system? If you could add reply threading and "likes" features to comments on your comments section of each article on GGW, would greatly improve dialogs.

(I was, and frankly still, strongly considering walking away from this project entirely where I am "Co-editor" and marketing "Campaign Manager", despite how mind blowingly successful the project was from the simple metric of did we successfully unify all North East Rail in a single map, for the simple fact that there are too many financial and political problems with free and volunteer efforts, such as wanting spending money to go drink a beer, or pay for a months rent, especially if no one understands how difficult it is to design maps, and do it all for free for them. If I left, I would strongly consider redoing this project in ways that permit key rights, such as sales to pay for our work, and drastically expand the scope of this project, because my roughly 1 year of unpaid full time work has been disastrous for my finances, mostly tilted to massive design work, research, and marketing, in the last six months.)

If you know of a funding source for adding the NYC subway portion to the NERM, with 468 station and 209 miles of lines of the NYC Subway, with a second level zoom-in map just for NYC, (or 3rd level of NYC map) more than doubling the complexity of the map, by more than doubling the number of stations on the entire map by adding that one subway rail system, the one system people are most likely to have or have access to already, in some capacity (paper, web, smartphone app), the NYC Subway system map, we would enjoy your advice. We only need several tens of thousands of dollars for major redesign to double the complexity of this one free volunteer downloadable unifying map for adding the NYC Subway in detail.

And late breaking: And thank you for adding the facebook page link to this GGW article. We need and thank our supporters.

by North East Rail Map / Nathaniel Pendleton on Nov 7, 2013 1:53 am • linkreport

@Froggie: I am one and the same! Deeply opinionated, and frequently long winded when sharing what I view as key logic and data, and the worlds worst proof reader when in such a hurry as I too often am on GGW, but given my repeatedly poor proof reading here, I should deny that I repeatedly and slowly proof read this entire NERM map, but I did!

by North East Rail Map / Nathaniel Pendleton on Nov 7, 2013 1:57 am • linkreport

If anyone has a sketch proposal for solving our remaining map design concerns, such as how to put Washington DC's MARC Brunswick line station name text labels such as "Silver Spring" closer to their station dots, on the biggest map, without referring to the nearby DC specific "zoom-in" map further right on the map, while not putting such text directly over other nearby lines (e.g. "Silver Spring" text obscuring WMATA Metro Green line and MARC Camden line), nor reducing the consistently applied across the entire map station label font sizes to prevent over writing the nearby lines, nor moving (essentially) geographically placed lines, nor changing the consistent rail line diagram widths for each type of rail system to create more space, nor twisting text to vertical so the auto rotate feature on all Apple iPhones and iPads makes trying to read the such station label text nearly impossible, we welcome it.

We have focused on making this map as consistent, clear, legible, understandable, and printable (even on black and white) as possible, to serve you best.

If you find any flaw, or simply have a map suggestion, we ask you to send us a note and a sketch.

by North East Rail Map / Nathaniel Pendleton on Nov 7, 2013 2:13 am • linkreport

Would it be possible to add the entire official facebook page url link as readable text in the article text?

by North East Rail Map / Nathaniel Pendleton on Nov 7, 2013 5:11 am • linkreport

Our Twitter hashtag is


If anyone shares our north east rail map on twitter, be sure to use our hashtag, because it helps people find our map in helpful media coverage like this article!

by North East Rail Map / Nathaniel Pendleton on Sep 7, 2014 11:48 am • linkreport

That's great information, thanks for sharing.

by Jack Huang on May 19, 2016 11:46 pm • linkreport

Very useful information for railway practitioners, thank you for sharing!

by HouseLi on Sep 21, 2016 11:00 pm • linkreport

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