Thursday, December 17, 2009

Update (December 16, 2009) on the Anacostia Streetcar Project


They're here! The three Skoda-Inekon (Czech Republic) streetcars purchased several years ago by the District of Columbia's DOT floated into the Port of Baltimore Saturday, December 12, 2009. According to a DOT press release (and a Dec 16 story in The Washington Post), the three were offloaded to flatbed trucks and taken for storage to Metro's Greenbelt, Md. yard until the streetcar line is completed.

In the picture below, two of the cars are shown resting on ACLU-marked trailers of a type that apparently has tires and axles that fold flat underneath until needed for the highway:

Greenbelt, here we come!

The DDOT photos above plus about a dozen more were posted to the Department's Facebook page at but you need an account to access them. The page also has a video of the unloading, plus another of the similar Portland, Oregon streetcar system. A press release with a couple of pictures is available at the DOT's public site:

What about tracks on which to run these new cars? They're currently under construction in downtown D.C. along H Street NE, and in Anacostia. On Tuesday, December 15, I paid a second visit to the Anacostia project. (A report on my first visit, on September 29, can be found farther down this blog.)

This recent visit revealed little had changed at the north end of the line. Driving north up Firth Sterling Avenue revealed trackage has been installed no farther north than the intersection with Suitland Parkway. (I did not drive the rest of the projected route up MLK, Jr. Avenue on this visit, however, so I can't say for sure if construction has begun there.)

The construction I did see has been focused instead on the southern end, which bends south from Firth Sterling under the I-295 overpass onto the west side of South Capitol Street and proceeds south until it runs out in the bushes. The following map shows the area I covered during this visit, highlighted in bright yellow and marked at each end by a red "X":

The photo below shows the north end of the new streetcar trackage, so far as I know. The camera is looking north from Firth Sterling Avenue at the intersection with the west end of Suitland Parkway. The old-looking tracks in the street are, in fact, the new streetcar tracks. The true "old" tracks, those of the ex-B&O/CSX Shepherd Branch, had been a few feet to the right but have been pulled up. Note to those clinging to faint hope that the Shepherd Branch may one day be reactivated: Nuh, uh. It exists only in pieces today.

Backing south from the intersection with Suitland Parkway and shooting north again:

Turning around and shooting south on Firth Sterling at the Sumner Road intersection. Construction work to the right of the Jersey wall appears not to be rail-related:

A closer look at the same location:

Backing even farther south along this stretch and shooting back north toward Sumner Road and Suitland Parkway. At first I thought that "pole line" on the right was put in for catenary supports, but it looks too raggedy and unreliable. At some point we'll probably see steel structures going up and poles coming down:

And now, imagine spinning around in place and shooting in the opposite direction. The highway overpass is I-295. As the tracks pass underneath they turn south, cross South Capitol Street, and continue on the west side of that highway along a new right of way isolated from traffic:

From the opposite side of the I-295 overpass, looking back at ongoing construction--although for the life of me I can't figure out what's it for. The streetcar trackage appears to have already been completed here:

Zooming back reveals a trackage gap in the middle of South Capitol Street:

Walking across South Capitol Street, one comes upon the continuation of the line that came to an end in the photo above. This view looks due south--right into the sun, unfortunately. Note the heavy asphalt base:

In this picture I've continued south down South Capitol Street and will continue to do so in the remaining photos. The line of plastic barrels provided an excellent, safe barrier and parking space for my Jeep, which I simply kept moving south. This view, looking back north, shows rail supported by finely-adjustable jacks at their final, pre-determined height:

Two phases of track construction are visible here, the first being the rail supported only by jacks (top half of picture). The lower half, however, shows the next phase, where a cage-like structure made of rebar has been inserted under the rail and between the jacks just prior to the pouring of concrete:

"The end is near." So far, the southern end of the line peters out at the end of this picture:

Looking back north from the south end of the line:

And here it is: The end. Where will it go from here? It appears the line will go even farther after some brush-clearing and embankment reinforcement. I had hoped to find construction underway for the car barn that's to be built in this vicinity, but not yet.

Walking back to the car I noticed the old Shepherd Branch across the way:

I had first thought the streetcar line would run atop the Shepherd Branch right of way, but that hasn't been the case anywhere along the route thus far. Hmm, an opportunity for speeder enthusiasts?

And with that, we conclude this progress report. My next (TBD) will revisit the H Street line.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Update (December 3, 2009) on the CSX RF&P third-track extension

Here's a brief photo review of progress at Franconia Hill (CSX RF&P Subdivision, CFP99). On this visit to view trackwork either side of Franconia Road in Alexandria, Virginia, I noticed the contractor's name on the side of a truck: Polivka International, whose specialty (from their Web site) is railroad jobs. A list of current projects proclaimed contracts with all the Class Is. Home office is Charlotte, N.C.

In the two weeks since my last update on this location (November 17), progress was not easily apparent. For one, the south end of the new Track 1 at the Franconia signal bridge had yet to be joined to the north end of the new track only a few hundred yards to the south. Emphasis apparently has been on preparing the track bed, which was still ongoing.


Looking north from the Franconia Road highway overpass. Sorry about that bare tree in the middle; it was that or fall off the cliff!
Track bed preparation continues with roller packing at the skilled hands of a woman operator:

Looking south from the highway overpass via long lens revealed new Track 1 still has a gap here as well as north of the overpass:

Here's why any railroad places train-control employees at construction sites. Wouldn't want to encounter that beam at 60 mph or that operator wouldn't stop spinning until next Thursday:

The overall scene looking south from the highway overpass. At this time I was expecting P094 so I pulled out my scanner to check his progress.

And here he comes, right on schedule, rolling by the worksite at reduced speed as construction crews stand by. Minutes later I was visited by three (3) Fairfax police officers. Someone had spotted my scanner antenna and, of course, the camera. As usual they were polite as could be, and frankly, I don't blame the citizenry for calling me in. We currently (December 11) have five young men from Alexandria arrested in Pakistan for possible terrorism preparations.

That "suspicious-looking" scanner also alerted me to the approach of Q173, shown below easing past the worksite on the north side of the overpass, up the RF&P's ruling grade :

I then returned to the south side of the overpass to catch VRE301, the midday southbound, the cab of which can barely be seen behind the crest of Franconia Hill. The track gang backs away for the commuter to pass:

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Update (December 2, 2009): CSX RF&P girder bridge replacement over NS in Alexandria

That huge Manitowoc crane has now been fully assembled and is being put to work moving big stuff around the work site here in Alexandria, Virginia, where the CSX RF&P (near the Cameron Run signals, CFP102) crosses above Norfolk Southern (CR Tower). Today I spoke with Pete, a member of the contractor's team supervising the project. The contractor, Skanska, one of the world's largest, is headquartered in Stockholm. Pete invited me into their portable office and stepped me through a set of plans.

They're replacing the old two-track girder bridge with one that's wider, giving CSX trains more clearance between Tracks 2 and 3. They're also going to make it and the single-track bridge on the opposite side, which carries Track 1, a little higher to give NS more clearance. (One wonders for what: Stack trains?) Finally, they're shoring up each end of the CSX railroad's high earthen fill with steel piles because the new bridge will be longer and heavier.

The shoring-up has begun. You can see it in one or more of the pictures below. To replace the bridge, they're going to erect a kind of heavy-duty "scaffold" framework parallel to the old two-track bridge, the one next to the crane. Once the scaffold is completed, they will begin assembling the new bridge on top of that scaffold. To move the finished bridge, bogeys will be slipped under it so it can be rolled sideways along the steel framework, which will be grooved to provide a guideway. Portable, gas-powered (I think) hydraulic machines rigged with cables will be used to tow the new bridge over.

On D-Day ("T-Day"?), scheduled to take place next April, both CSX and NS will shut down their affected tracks above and below for four days, leaving one track per railroad in service. The monster red crane will lift the old two-track bridge out of its supports and place it aside. Then the new bridge will be rolled into its new spot. Once there it can be jacked up, bogeys removed, and jacks eased off so the bridge can settle into place.

Finally, the old single-track bridge will be jacked up to a new altitude, but I don't recall what will be done next. Something will have to be inserted under it to keep it in its higher location.

After work site clean-up, Pete said, "We can all go home."

After my meeting with Pete in the construction office, I came outside to discover a couple of CSX "suits" (black suits, to be exact--probably accounting types) had shown up for a tour:

Shoring up the north end of the bridge approaches in preparation for the new, longer one:

The scene at CR Tower has lost a bit of its allure with the arrival of contractors and their "necessities":