Sunday, March 21, 2010

Return to Georgetown Junction (March 19, 2010)

It had been years since I visited the infamous site in Silver Spring, Maryland where outbound  Amtrak 29, the "Capitol Limited," had collided with inbound MARC #286 during a snowy afternoon rush on February 16, 1996. Eleven people died in that collision, three MARC employees and eight MARC passengers. The MARC crew, apparently inattentive, ran a stop signal at Georgetown Junction just as Amtrak 29 was crossing from track 1 to 2 to avoid a stopped K951 ahead. MARC 286 collided with the nose of the lead Amtrak engine, which raked down the side of the MARC cab-control car. The rest is a horror story that's best read in the Washington Post, or better, the NTSB report, available on their Website.

My interest on Thursday, March 19, 2010 was simply to see if anything had changed at Georgetown Junction since my last visit some half-dozen years ago. As it turned out, little had. There were still CPLs at the interlocking between the junction and the 16th Street highway overpass, where the 1996 collision had occurred. I discovered after getting home and studying track charts that since the accident, CSX had moved the Georgetown Junction switch from the interlocking (near 16th Street NW) to a point some 200-300 yards west, specifically, about 50' west of the one-lane Talbot Avenue overpass.

The track that ran from the Junction down to Georgetown, D.C., i.e. the 11-mile-long Georgetown Subdivision, was pulled up several years ago and has been made into a hiking and biking trail. What remains of the original track is 0.3 miles long. It runs from the Junction switch to an industrial area near Kansas Avenue.

While driving around the Beltway in Maryland I spotted a rare sight, an eastbound coal train crossing above all the traffic on that railroad bridge near the Georgia Avenue exit. I don't think I had seen a train on that bridge since moving to Washington in 1976, so I considered this a good start to my visit. By the time I arrived at the junction the head end had already passed, so all I got was a going-away look of V842. There were to be three other trains during my visit, however: Q751, the rock runner; inbound P030; and an outbound MARC train. These three gave me a bit of a shiver as their predecessors had been involved in the 1996 accident.

V842 heads east through the Georgetown Junction interlocking.

 Q751, the rock runner, westbound through Georgetown Junction interlocking.

 P030, the "Capitol Limited," on track 2 eastbound. The Georgetown Sub track is on the left.

MARC 871 passes the switch for the Georgetown track.

Those were the trains I saw. Now, let's look at what remains of the old track down to Georgetown, now called the "Georgetown Industrial Track" by CSX. First, here's an east-facing telephoto view of the interlocking at BA8.3 (CSX Metropolitan Sub). That's the 16th Street highway bridge in the background. The Georgetown Branch switch tied in here at the time of the 1996 collision:

Today, the switch is west of the above location by 150-200 yards (my guess), and can be seen here, camera still facing east. The bridge, a single-lane affair, carries Talbot Avenue left (north) to Grace Church Road. Note the dwarf signal, not illuminated, and the unusual derailer (?):

Now, spin around on your heels and face west. The CSX Metropolian Sub curves off to the right toward Kensington as the old Georgetown Branch heads off into the weeds on the left. Let's walk it and see if we can find the end of track:

This switch controls a spur that leads into a junky warehouse or storage yard straight ahead. The Georgetown Branch continues off to the left:
 End of track for the Branch (left):
 The gravel road below is the former Georgetown Branch right-of-way. It leads to that parking area in the distance:

Next, I walked around the warehouses to that distant parking lot in search of the north end of the "Crescent Trail" (named for the crescent shape of the branch line) and found its entrance on Stewart Avenue:
 As the trail continues toward Georgetown, we spin around and head back to Stewart Avenue. The parking lot across the street is the one we saw from that end-of-track location above:

With that, it was time to go home. On my next visit, I hope (He said, ambitiously) to take the bike along and ride the trail in search of railroad structures. Whew!

1 comment:

  1. Great shots John! I am building (rebuilding) the Georgetown Branch in HO Scale here.