The CCT and the Purple Line.
Purple Line Route Map

The CCT and the Purple Line

The Purple Line may be alongside the CCT between Bethesda and Silver Spring.

The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) is studying concepts for rapid transit from Bethesda to New Carrollton. Light-rail alongside the Capital Crescent Trail in the Georgetown Branch Corridor is one of the alternatives under study. MTA alignment maps and typical profiles of the alternatives are at

Map of Interim CCT
Source: Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail Maps webpage.
The future CCT alignment into Silver Spring along the Georgetown Branch and CSX Railroad corridor.

The website SilverSpringTrails details why the CCT cannot be completed into Silver Spring as a good off-road trail without the Purple Line, and also addresses MTA concept plans for a good CCT through the neighborhoods west of Rock Creek. Most information presented on that website will not be repeated here. This webpage presents information to address several common "Save the Trail" claims.

Transit opponents centered around Chevy Chase neighborhoods are waving the "Save the Trail" banner. Their chief claims about the CCT are:
1- "The Trail will be unsafe near transit."
2- "All the trees in the corridor must be cut, harming our environment and the trail."
3- "We can finish the trail NOW, without the Purple Line."

1- "The Trail will be unsafe near transit."

Experience with rail transit shows that trail users will be safer on the planned Purple Line transit/trail than on the existing CCT.

MTA Concept Sketch
Source: Maryland Transit Administration
The planned trail profile at the Columbia Country Club.

Typical cross sections for the Purple Line beg the question "How many children will leave the trail, cross a planted buffer, climb a fence, jump down a retaining wall and step onto the tracks just as a transit vehicle is passing by??".

There is much nationwide experience on the safety of rail transit operating in urban pedestrian environments. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy reports there are already more than 200 trails alongside or within the right-of-way of active rail lines nationwide. More trails with rails are being built every year. Their study of 61 of these trails showed that they are attractive and safe. Their safety study, and other information on trails with rails, is online at their “Trail Building Toobox”.

About 1/2 of the 100+ mile Metro Rail system is above ground. Metro heavy rail trains have been running on the surface through many neighborhoods in the D.C. area for many years with only a fence to provide separation, and safety of children in the adjacent neighborhoods is seldom considered a serious issue. One example of this is in nearby Takoma Park along Fenton Street and is pictured at the bottom of this page, showing Metro and CSX rail separated from the MetBranch Trail by no more than is proposed between the Purple Line and the CCT.

View of at-grade Connecticut Avenue trail crossing.
Connecticut Avenue is one of eight existing at-grade street crossings.

The risk to trail users from being struck by motor vehicles at roadway crossings on the existing Interim CCT is much greater than any risk of being struck by light-rail vehicles while on the future Trail. There are eight at-grade street crossings on the existing Interim CCT and Georgetown Branch Trail, including crossings of several multilane state highways. Cyclists must share the road with motor vehicles for over one mile on the Georgetown Branch Trail to get into Silver Spring. According National Transportation Statistics nearly 700 cyclists and 5000 pedestrians are killed by motor vehicles annually. The Purple Line transit/trail will have bridges and underpasses that eliminate nearly all trail at-grade street crossings, and will complete the off-road trail into Silver Spring.

Purple Line opponents ignore the national safety data and our own experience with Metro, and instead they cite any rail accident they can find as anecdotal evidence that rail transit is inherently dangerous. The two accidents they most frequently cite are the Baltimore light-rail accident at the BWI station that injured 22 passengers and the 1996 MARC train accident in Silver Spring that killed 11 passengers and crew. In the BWI accident, the rail car did not leave the railbed and no one on the ground was injured even though pedestrians were standing on the station platform immediately adjacent to the accident. The Silver Spring MARC accident was tragic, but no one was hurt on the ground and only one of the rail cars came to rest more than 25' from the track. A reinforced concrete crash barrier will be built at a 25' standoff between the CSX tracks and the transit/trail project. It is very unlikely a rail vehicle will ever derail and enter the space of the future trail. Automobiles cross the path of trail users on the existing trail hundreds of times every day at the eight existing trail roadway crossings between Bethesda and Silver Spring, sometimes while failing to yield to pedestrians while making improper turns or running the stop signs or traffic lights.

2- "All the trees in the corridor must be cut, harming our environment and the trail."

The Sierra Club and the Chesepeake Bay Foundation have both endorsed the Purple Line, in spite of the potential loss of trees locally along the Trail. It is a matter of seeing the forest instead of seeing only the closest trees.

Trail at Connecticut Ave.
The trail r.o.w. is 100' wide through the Country Club and across Connecticut Ave. Trees would remain along the Corridor.

A "typical" profile for two-track transit with trail will require removing all trees within an approx. 60' swath along the length of the Georgetown Branch Corridor. But the MTA CCT design shows that over half of the length of the Corridor is much wider than 60'. Many tall trees will remain along both sides of the Corridor. This includes through the Columbia Country Club to Connecticut Avenue where the Corridor is 100' wide, from Connecticut Avenue to Jones Mill Road where the Corridor is 90' to 100' wide, and from Jones Mill Road across Rock Creek Park where the Corridor is 225' wide. The Corridor appears narrow because adjacent property owners have erected fences that encroach upon the right-of-way. The difference between the "apparent" trail right-of-way and the actual right-of-way is greatest at the Columbia Country Club, where the Club has fenced off approx. 4/5 of the public right-of-way for its exclusive private use. See the Coalition for the CCT newsletter article on how public funds were used to build these fences to benefit the Club. The Corridor is narrower at both the Bethesda and Silver Spring ends. For these sections all trees within the corridor right-of-way must be removed. But even here tall trees will remain on many of the properties adjacent to the trail.

A fair count of the number of large trees that must be removed for transit will fall well short of the claim of 5000 mature trees being made by opponents of transit. That number appears to have originated from a survey done around 1990 that counted all trees of any size anyplace within the right-of-way. That included many trees of less than 12" dia. and many trees outside of the likely limits of construction in the wide sections of the right-of-way. Many trees included in the 1990 survey would remain on either side of the transit/trail in these wider sections. But even so, many large trees will be lost.

Grass tracks are common in Europe
Grass tracks are commonly used in European cities.

The Sierra Club and the Chesepeake Bay Foundation have both endorsed the Purple Line, in spite of the loss of trees along the Trail. It is a matter of seeing the forest instead of seeing only the closest trees. These organizations have concluded that the Purple Line will support smart growth patterns and provide non-polluting transportation options that will best protect the regional air quality and the Bay. See the Sierra Club 2005 Newsletter.

Transit opponents paint a picture of a barren paved corridor that is uninviting to trail users with the Purple Line. But the corridor can be green and inviting with transit. MTA is considering using "grass tracks" like those illustrated at right for parts of the corridor. Another example of "grass tracks" alongside a trail is pictured at the Capital Crescent Trail page. "Grass tracks", trees lining the sides of the corridor, and a wide planted buffer between transit and trail can create an inviting green space.

3- "We can finish the trail NOW, without the Purple Line."

Transit opponents have no credible plan to complete the CCT into Silver Spring as a safe off-road trail.

The preferred Master Plan alignment to complete the CCT into downtown Silver Spring is along the CSX corridor. SilverSpringTrails outlines why transit is needed to obtain access for the Trail on this corridor and why an alignment on this corridor is essential for a safe Trail. Transit opponents can present no evidence that they can get CSX to even talk to the County or State about allowing a trail in their r.o.w. without transit.

The Georgetown Branch Trail crosses 16th Street on Second Ave.
Neither a sidepath nor bike lanes will fit on Second Avenue, and neither will make this a safe route.

Some transit opponents suggest we not use the CSX corridor for a trail alignment, and instead upgrade the existing Georgetown Branch Trail on-road bike route into Silver Spring by building a sidepath trail or bike lanes on that route. But most streets on this route are narrow neighborhood streets and have no room for either a sidepath trail or bike lanes. Even if possible, putting a sidepath trail or bike lanes on this route would be like putting lipstick on a pig - it would do little to cover the most unattractive features. The many turns, the dangerous crossings of busy roadways at-grade, and the failure to enter the Silver Spring transit center and connect seamlessly to the MetBranch Trail on this alignment would not be addressed.

The Interim CCT at 16th Street
Source: Capital Crescent/MetBranch Trail Facility Plan
The Interim CCT would be alongside the CSX corridor where possible. See the entire map.

Some transit opponents call for building the "Interim CCT" proposed in the CC/MetBranch Trail Facility Plan approved by the Planning Board in 2001. That plan is summarized at the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail website Action Page. The Interim CCT would follow the CSX alignment wherever possible, and would use alternate routes along neighborhood streets where CSX r.o.w. is not available. Approx. 1/2 of the Interim Trail alignment is directly alongside the CSX corridor along Third Avenue r.o.w., including under the Spring Street bridge. This route would be a significant improvement over the on-road Georgetown Branch Trail because it is largely off-road and would cross 16th Street at a safer intersection at Lyttonsville Road. But it would have numerous at-grade street crossings including at Colesville Road, and would not connect directly to the Metbranch Trail.

Advocates who assert we should build the Interim CCT, which would be largely alongside rail and would have several at-grade crossings of highways in Silver Spring neighborhoods, are often the same advocates who wrap themselves in the "Save the Trail" banner to assert that a CCT near rail would be too dangerous in Chevy Chase neighborhoods and to demand that the CCT must remain in the Bethesda Tunnel to avoid an at-grade crossing of Wisconsin Avenue. Apparently their trail safety standards depend upon whether the trail is in Chevy Chase or in Silver Spring.

The CC/MetBranch Trail Facility Plan recommends the Interim CCT only be used as a temporary trail until the final CCT can be built along the preferred CSX alignment - which is why the Facility Plan calls it "Interim". The CCCT states at its website: "The CCCT supports this Interim Trail, but only as a temporary trail. It is too indirect and has too many at-grade crossings of busy highways to be appropriate as a permanent CCT."

So how do we best "Save the Trail"?

Metropolitan Branch Trail alongside rail at Montgomery College.
The Metropolitan Branch Trail runs alongside the CSX rail corridor, shown here at Takoma Park.

Trail supporters cannot reasonably claim that building light-rail transit alongside the CCT will "destroy" the Trail in Chevy Chase while asking decision makers to complete the CCT alongside active Metrorail and CSX tracks a few miles away in Silver Spring, or to complete the Metropolitan Branch Trail alongside Metrorail and CSX tracks into D.C.

Trail supporters can certainly express a preference that the future CCT be in a park setting. But promoting an unfounded view that the Trail will be unsafe if any part of it is built near light-rail will undercut efforts to complete the CCT and the Metropolitan Branch Trail. A useful network of interconnected trails will not be possible if trails are only built in parks.

The Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail (CCCT) has chosen to neither support nor oppose the Purple Line so long as the CCT remains in the corridor as a good quality trail. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) has studied the issue carefully and has endorsed Purple Line light-rail with the Capital Crescent Trail in this corridor. The WABA position statement holds that "It is important that bicyclists reject the assertions that the trail and transit are incompatible and that having transit near the trail will devastate the trail". CCCT and WABA are both working to secure as "trail friendly" a transit/trail design as possible.

More information on the Purple Line transportation and environmental issues is at