Off track at the historic train station.

The restored Silver Spring B&O Station

The future Metropolitan Branch Trail is at an impass at the historic Silver Spring B&O Station.

I recently asked Is Montgomery County abandoning the Metropolitan Branch Trail? after the County Executive submitted a FY13-18 CIP Budget that would remove all construction funding for the trail. I suggested in that post that the underlying problem was foot dragging at MCDOT. But Councilmember Hans Riemer says the main problem is that the owners of the historic B&O Station, Montgomery Preservation Inc., is now refusing to grant trail access across the station property.

If the MetBranch cannot cross the station property, then the trail is left without the ability to cross Georgia Avenue on either the 5′ wide sidewalk now on the existing CSX railroad bridge, or on the proposed new trail bridge. The trail would be forced onto a new route – crossing Georgia Avenue at-grade at the Sligo Avenue crosswalk, then following along Philadelphia Avenue and Fenton Street to yet another at-grade crossing of a busy roadway at East-West Highway. This would be a huge loss to the attractiveness and safety of the Metropolitan Branch Trail.


View Larger Map
Looking west from Sligo Avenue toward
the historic Silver Spring B&O Station.

The recent decision by Montgomery Preservation Inc. to refuse trail access runs against the widespread national experience with trail-museum partnerships and against their past promises when seeking public support for their station restoration.

Rail-Trails and historic stations are natural allies!

Rail-Trails and historic stations enjoy close working relationships throughout the country. The trails bring thousands of visitors to the stations, while the stations provide historic points of interest and rest facilities for the trail users. Examples of successful trail-station partnerships in this region:
- The Purceville historic train station on the W&OD Trail.
- The Monkton Train Station on the Torrey C. Brown Northern Central Rail-Trail, and the Hanover Junction Train Station on the Heritage Rail-Trail, which continues from the Northern Centrail Trail into York County, PA.
- The Meyersdale Station and the Cumberland Visitor Center on the Allegheny Passage Trail.

A quick Google search turns up dozens more throughout the country, including:
- Five restored stations/depots along the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Katy Trail. The Katy Trail is an outstanding example of how a rail-trail can be used to educate about the history of the railroad.
- The Xenia Station that serves as a hub for five Miami Valley trails in Ohio. The Yellow Springs Station is in this trail network on the Little Miami Scenic Trail.
- The Susanville Railroad Depot on the Bizz Johnson Rail-Trail in Susanville, CA.
- The Green Cove Station and Museum on the Virginia Creeper Trail.
- The North Pemberton Railroad Station Museum and Rail-Trail in Pemberton, New Jersey.
- The Venice Train Depot on the Legacy Trail in Sarasota County, Florida.
- The Racoon Valley Trail and Depot at Redfield, Iowa.

The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy understands the benefit that trails and historic stations give to each other, and has been a leader in advocating to protect funding sources for preservation of historic stations, see Restoring Historical Rail Stations, Restoring Lost Service.

The Silver Spring Station restoration was funded with the promise that it would enhance the Trail.

The historic station restoration was funded by many private donors and public grants.

The Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission “the Preservationsist” Spring 2008:

The Silver Spring train station was preserved and restored by the non-profit group Montgomery Preservation Inc. Following an outpouring of community support to restore the station, MPI took over the title from CSX in 1998 for $1. It eventually took $500,000, raised from private donations, a state bond bill, and grants to complete renovations. A Historic Preservation grant was used to help sponsor the renovation design.

Montgomery Preservation Inc. “sold” the public on the restoration in part by promising that the station would be a historic point of interest and a rest stop for the future Metropolitan Branch Trail. I had several discussions with Nancy Urban, then the MPI Community Coordinator, after MPI acquired the property from CSX in 1998, on how the restored station could best attract and serve trail users. Ms. Urban suggested amenities such as a water fountain and a historic display case that could entice trail users to stop and come inside to visit the station museum. MPI appeared to fully understand the value of the trail for bringing hundreds of visitors into the station. It was clearly understood that the alignment for the trail would be alongside the CSX tracks and under the station canopy.

MPI was continuing to advertise the Silver Spring Station’s contribution to the community as an amenity for the MetBranch Trail at the grand reopening of the restored station in 2002. From the MPI Station Flier prepared for the reopening:

“…The former passenger waiting room is available for community meetings and will serve as a visitor center and museum on the planned Metropolitan Branch Hiker and Biker Trail.”

MPI was still holding out the welcome mat for the future Metbranch Trail in 2003, welcoming the Metropolitan Branch Trail Coalition to use the station passenger waiting room to start its Nov. 1, 2003 MBT ride to promote the future trail.

MBT Coalition co-chair Paul Meijer addresses MetBranch supporters
at the start of the Nov. 1, 2003 MetBranch Trail ride .

MCDOT believed as recently as 2009 that they still had an agreement with MPI that the trail can pass under the canopy on the rail corridor side of the station. See the report of the MCDOT briefing of the Council T&E Committee on July 20, 2009 at State of the MetBranch Trail.

Is MPI now placing meeting space rental ahead of drawing visitors?

A principal objection from Montgomery Preservation Inc. to giving access to the Metropolitan Branch Trail is that the trail would diminish the rental value of the station as a meeting space. The MPI advertises the station waiting room and canopy space for $475 for a five hour period, see their station rental description. MPI claims that if they grant the trail the access it needs under the station canopy, then they would have a loss of rental value because exclusive use of the canopy space cannot be included in the rental package.

The canopy area on the track side of the station.

The trail must follow an alignment on the west side under the canopy so it can cross to the proposed trail bridge over Georgia Avenue without removing many of the parking spaces on the other side of the station. Parking is already limited at the station, and the station location between the CSX tracks and Georgia Avenue makes pedestrian access difficult. It is important to protect the existing parking spaces.

MPI is overlooking the value that a safe and attractive Metropolitan Branch Trail can bring to the station:

  • The trail can bring many hundreds of trail users to stop and visit the station – many who would never otherwise visit. This alone can contribute more to the central MPI mission of educating the public on the history of the railroad and the station than can any other promotional opportunity available to MPI.
  • The trail can provide badly needed pedestrian access to the station. The station is sandwiched between the CSX tracks and Georgia Avenue, cut off from easy pedestrian access from several sides. The station parking lot is small and there is little parking available on-street or in public lots nearby on the west side of Georgia Avenue. The station badly needs easier access for pedestrians, and easier access to available parking across Georgia Avenue. Having a safe and attractive pedestrian crossing of Georgia Avenue available on the MetBranch Trail bridge at the station would make the station much more accessable and inviting to the general public.
  • Renting the station for special events, such as birthday parties as advertised in the station rental description, could INCREASE if an attractive and safe MetBranch Trail is immediately adjacent. Birthday party rentals of the station would be more attractive if a safe, all off-road trail is there for a party activity. Many more families would discover the rental opportunity at the station from visits during family recreational rides on the Trail. Special events at the station could include using the station for the start or finish for organized bike rides or community walks on the Trail.

MPI is being “penny wise and pound foolish” to refuse the trail in the belief that it is protecting the station.

We will all lose if we cannot come together at the station.

If MPI holds to its rejection of the MetBranch Trail, the general public will lose this unique opportunity to have a safe, attractive and direct hiker-biker trail connecting downtown Silver Spring to Takoma Park and beyond. The proposed walking and cycling network that is so important to the revitalization of the Ripley District and Fenton Village will be gutted.

But the historic B&O station will be the biggest loser. The station owners will lose this unique opportunity to increase the number of visitors to the station museum that is central to their mission. They will also lose this opportunity to increase the attractiveness and ease of access to the station that would increase their station rental value.

Community leaders, public officials, trail advocates, and especially the donors and supporters of the B&O Station need to come together and find an agreement to get the trail-station partnership back on track.

Jan. 29 update:

Several people have requested information on who to cantact at MPI to give comments about the museum and the trail.
The names of the MPI Officers and Directors is on their website at http://www.montgomerypreservation.org/aboutMPI.html.
Their email addresses are not given, but you can email their Executive Director at:
Judy Christensen, Executive Director,
director@montgomerypreservation.org.

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8 Responses to “Off track at the historic train station.”

  1. Excellent discussion — many thanks especially for the historical context of the negotiations and agreements

  2. Could you please provide us with contact information for the Board or Executive of the Montgomery Preservation organization so supporters of the Metropolitan Branch Trail will have a way to readily contact them with our comments? I’m not sure if you need to be a member of the preservation organization to get “standing” to make comments, but here is a weblink to their list of leaders: http://www.montgomerypreservation.org/aboutMPI.html

  3. admin says:

    @Sherri:

    I don’t have any more complete information on the MPI Officers and Directors than in the link you provided above, in particular I can’t find email addresses.

    I would suggest emails be sent to their Executive Director at:
    Judy Christensen, Executive Director, director@montgomerypreservation.org

    and include a request for the email to be passed on to their MPI Officers.

  4. Trail Friend says:

    MPI President: Lorraine Pearsall: ljpearsall@aol.com
    Silver Spring HS President: Jerry McCoy: sshistory@yahoo.com

    Also contact Montgomery County Planning Department’s historic preservation office to complain that this group, which gets county grant funds, should not receive future funding for reneging on its past commitment to working with the trail. No more public funding for MPI or the Silver Spring Historical Society.

  5. Adam says:

    More MPI officer e-mails, found online:

    Eileen McGuckian (Treasurer): phileen2@verizon.net
    Teresa B. Lachin (Recording Secretary): programs@peerlessrockville.org

  6. Adam says:

    Update: The e-mail above for Eileen McGuckian does not work.

  7. We were as shocked and surprised as anyone when we heard that the CIP funds for this project were cut from the budget. We were told that it was an interim solution for fiscal reasons and that eventually, the trail would be built. As for us announcing that we did not want the trail through our property, that is simply not true. We did not want the canopy fenced off from the station since we use it in our programs and hold a legal easement from CSX for its use and maintenance. We also did not want a bridge structure on the property. Below you will find our standard reply to inquiries, which I am going to post on our website and on the trail websites. There will be more information in the future. MPI is actively pursuing a route through the front of our land, but we need to recapture parking and hammer out liabiilty and other issues.

    Here is our real announcement. Let me know if there are more questions.

    MPI has NOT denied passage of the Metropolitan Branch trail through our property. This is simply not true. MPI welcomed the Metropolitan Trail as a way to showcase the historic B&O Station to trail users. Last spring DOT presented MPI with a trail alignment through our property that far better accommodates our programs, and MPI thought we were all going forth with this design. MPI asked several times to meet and address implementation issues such as the loss of parking, liability and compensation but DOT did not meet with us again.

    A Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) historical easement prohibits MPI from altering or changing the B&O Station property or structures without approval from MHT. DOT knew of this in 2005, and knew the MHT had problems with the design and wanted alternatives, yet did not pursue MHT approval We were as startled as everyone else that the County Executive recommended an interim at-grade crossing and removed CIP funding from the project. MPI was assured that this was a fiscal decision and eventually the problem would have to be resolved and the trail completed. However, this does give MPI and DOT the time it needs to deal with the implementation and approval issues with the Maryland Historical Trust. We recommend the restoration of funds for planning and consultation with stakeholders to the budget so it can move forward during this period.

    Judy Christensen
    Executive Director, MPI
    director@montgomerypreservation.org

  8. Tina Slater says:

    Wayne —

    I think you’ve pointed out a marvelous symbiotic use of the trail (under the canpoy) and the station interior for community events: could be used as the “launch” gateway for various bicycling and hiking events! Probably would bring additional rental revenue to the station. Who knows — someday a couple, who are serious bicyclists, might hold their wedding reception there followed by a group bike ride!! Loved your idea of birthday parties including bikes along the trail. All these novel ideas could really put the SS station “on the map”!

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