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,