Reagan National, Regional Rail, and Sustainability

Noah Kazis at The CityFix DC mused today that the recent Yes Men “Manhattan Airport Foundation” hoax was a reminder of Reagan National Airport’s convenience and importance to sustainability as an integral element of greater Washington’s inner-city transportation network, and as quite possibly one of the most sustainable major-city airports in the world.

Despite DCA’s limited capacity, it nonetheless serves nonstop destinations as wide-ranging as Seattle and Toronto from a base as little as 5 minutes from L’Enfant Plaza by train. And while flying out of the airport usually incurs steeper fares than BWI, the amount of time saved for those in the District or other inner-city regions in the Washington area is so great that it often recoups this premium in savings to man-hours, rail fares, and/or parking fees.

For these reasons, Reagan National is as integral to the region’s transportation infrastructure as Union Station is, and for many of the same reasons, especially as high-speed rail promises to expand robustly and become more competitive in parts of the United States and Canada.

However, as Union Station reaches capacity and DCA remains constrained by security and logistical restrictions, there will be a growing need to reconsider its relationship to the larger intermodal network. Fortunately, other airports have demonstrated an ability to meet their intermodal needs in an integrated fashion, and as sustainably as an admittedly carbon-intensive air facility can possibly be.

The most immediate example of this is in Frankfurt.

Since 1999, Frankfurt-Main airport has been connected directly to Germany’s high-speed rail infrastructure through its Airport Long-Distance Rail Station. While the airport was always served by commuter and regional rail service, the new intermodal hub provided a new fast and direct link to both Frankfurt’s financial center and other regional cities such as Cologne.

A similar opportunity for rail linkages is directly west of DCA, where the CSX tracks have otherwise acted as a barrier between southern Crystal City and the airport:

There are some hurdles to implementing an additional rail link at DCA, most notably the right-of-way relationships between the National Park Service (which maintains the George Washington Parkway) and CSX. However, if this can be resolved, not only would this improve the future connectivity of Crystal City to VRE, as well as southern Crystal City to Metro, but a high-speed regional rail link to points north and south would provide a crucial bypass to Union Station and connect both Baltimore and Richmond to an important additional airport, while providing an important element in a more comprehensive and transit-like integrated commuter rail network, not unlike those in Paris or Philadelphia, as alluded to in BeyondDC and envisioned recently by Alex Block and others.

I’ll admit there are problems with this (frankly rather long-term) station proposal, not least that it sounds like a more earnest version of the prank served up on Central Park. But maybe there’s a way to satisfy everyone here; I’m welcome to thoughts on it.


~ by J.D. Hammond on July 28, 2009.

3 Responses to “Reagan National, Regional Rail, and Sustainability”

  1. Is Reagan really a better option than Dulles (or even BWI) when it comes to high-speed rail access? Dulles will be connected to the Metro before any high speed rail could be built. It has the space to expand and serves a large international base. An international traveler flying into Dulles could then hop high-speed rail to Baltimore, Philly, NYC, Richmond, Raleigh, or even Charlotte. Ideally, it would also eventually head northwest to Pittsburgh and Cleveland. It has the capability to serve international travelers in a way that JFK can’t due to its location in SE NYC. While it may be easier to connect Union Station and Reagan, connecting Dulles to the rest of the Eastern Seaboard would likely be easier.

    • Well, unlike Reagan, BWI is already linked into the NEC infrastructure, so I think any improvements to BWI rail will have to do with what improvements come to the NEC. However, while the only rail proposed for Dulles has been Metro, DCA is only hundreds of feet from the ROW of the proposed Washington-Richmond HSR leg. And, well, the capacity of Union Station is somewhat limited, and directing some passenger rail traffic along the Penn Branch seems the most immediately feasible way to relieve that.

      That said, it would be cool if Dulles had an HSR connection. I dunno when that’s going to happen, tho.

  2. Of course, the Frankfurt HSR connection was a fairly urgent response to a distinctly German problem: for historic reasons, Lufthansa’s hub is in a city that nobody actually wants to go to …

    Interesting proposal …

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