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Washington Grove, Md., wants tracks down, not bridge up

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Dozens of Washington Grove and Gaithersburg, Md., residents told officials from CSX Corporation that it should lower its railroad under the East Deer Park Bridge rather than raise the historic span to make room for double-decker trains, according to the Gaithersburg Gazette.

At issue is 17 inches – the difference between the height of the
bridge’s understructure and the 21 feet needed to fit the taller rail
cars.

CSX project leaders met Dec. 2 with more than 50 residents
to explain four alternatives for the Gaithersburg-to-Washington Grove
bridge, one of 61 structures in six states that need to be cleared as
part of the rail giant’s $840-million "National Gateway" project to
enable its rail lines to ports in Baltimore, Hampton Roads, Va.,
northern New Jersey and Wilmington, N.C. to handle the double-decker
cars.

Though work on the bridge could begin next year, CSX has
not decided, officials said, whether to raise, lower, replace or
eliminate the 63-year-old span – also known as "Humpback Bridge" –
extending East Deer Park Drive over the CSX tracks and into Railroad
Street. So far, CSX favors replacing the bridge and has deemed lowering
the tracks as the most expensive and disruptive choice, officials said.

Lowering
"a couple thousand feet" of track would take up to six weeks and cost
as much as $4 million, Mike Hoey, CSX’s National Gateway project
manager, said at last week’s forum at the Activity Center at Bohrer
Park in Gaithersburg. One of the two tracks would be closed while
equipment dug more than three feet to build a new railway bed. That
would disrupt trains along the Brunswick line and spill onto other rail
branches, Hoey said.

The work would be complicated by the narrow gulch under the bridge, a MARC passenger platform and the at-grade crossing.

The
predominantly Washington Grove audience said that the inconvenience was
worth it. Given the promise of greater revenues from carrying more
freight in double-decker cars, residents argued that the company can
afford to lower the tracks.

"I’m convinced that if there’s a
will, there’s a way. If you put your engineers to work creatively, you
all can come up with something," said Nancy Helme, who has lived in
Washington Grove for 26 years. "Whatever drop in the bucket it is to
lower the tracks, we as a community think it’s worth it. You’ve got to
give a little; we’re giving up a lot."

CSX will review all four
options over the next few months, ahead of another forum in
Gaithersburg, said CSX spokesman Bob Sullivan.

The Washington
Grove town council passed a resolution in support of lowering the
tracks. Gaithersburg city leaders want to see what CSX comes back with
before taking a position, said Mayor Sidney A. Katz.
After a CSX
assessment in 2007, the preferred option was to replace the bridge,
Hoey said. CSX can build a bridge that expresses historical and
cultural characteristics of the existing bridge.

Raising the
bridge will wreak less environmental damage and disrupt less traffic
than lowering the tracks, Hoey said – but would cost up to $2 million.

The
defense of the bridge in Washington Grove is driven by residents’
belief that it embodies the community’s railroad-linked past. The town
started as a Methodist camp founded a few yards from the B&O
Railroad in the 1870s. A few years ago, Washington Grove residents
fought off a county proposal to replace the bridge with a two- or
four-lane span. The county settled on a $450,000 project this summer to
replace elements of the bridge’s timber support structure.

Last
month, the Maryland Historic Trust determined that the bridge is
eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, which requires
the applicant to consider – but is not prevented from – the possibility
of disturbing the area. Washington Grove is on the register, so MHT
will make sure impacts there are weighed, said Tim Tamburrino, an MHT
preservation officer.

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