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The Wedge Storage Yard at Union Station: Accommodating MARC Electric and Diesel-hauled Trains

When trains aren’t shuttling passengers to and from various destinations, the cars often sit idle on the tracks. Idle train cars, however, produce a Rubik’s Cube situation for station officials when it comes to other trains needing access to platforms.

Union Station in Washington, D.C., experiences this very problem on a daily basis. Maryland Area Regional Commuter Train Service (MARC) is a commuter rail system delivering passengers from Harford County, Baltimore, Brunswick and Frederick areas of Maryland and Martinsburg, W.V., to Washington, D.C. These trains operate only on weekdays for morning and evening commuter times. During the midday, trains not in use lay in wait on tracks at Union Station. The Maryland Board of Public Works is hoping the Wedge Storage Yard at Union Station will change that.

In spring 2012 Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and the Maryland Board of Public Works announced a large project to create space for these commuter trains. The Wedge Storage Yard at Union Station is a $21.3 million project. The yard will provide space for three trains during layover hours, and there will also be inspection pits in the space to work on trains that lay in wait. The project is expected to be complete by the end of 2013 with American Infrastructure as the general contractor.

Between the Tracks

The new storage yard is located along New York Avenue near Amtrak’s Ivy City yard, just east of Union Station. The name of the storage yard comes from the actual shape it will assume since it is wedged between two other train operations. Chris McKew, project manager for American Infrastructure, says the shape of the space has presented its own challenges.

The very long, narrow space has been difficult for large equipment to navigate. Nearly 30,000 yards of earth needed to be excavated for the storage yard. At present plans include three train tracks in the storage yard. The storage yard will also have two inspection pits for trains and various platforms. The project itself is near Amtrak rails, so McKew reports that it takes coordination with the train conductors to determine when work can be done.

American Infrastructure is self-performing about half the work on the project. The company uses a network of specialty subcontractors for the rest of the project, which includes electrical and track work. The company has become a trusted name in the heavy civil contractor sector.

American Infrastructure was founded in 1939 as a local hauling company in Philadelphia. The company has since expanded to locations in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia and specializes in large-scale projects, such as treatment plants, heavy highway work, laying piping and bridgework. American Infrastructure’s network of local operating units and construction materials facilities provide the resources to build civil construction projects of all sizes throughout the Mid-Atlantic, which is why the company is considered the region’s largest heavy civil contractor.

The company’s diverse capabilities allowed the team to be recognized in Engineering News-Record’s 2012 rankings as No. 117 in the Top 400 Contractors, No. 25 in the Top 50 Heavy Domestic Contractors and No. 75 in the Top 200 Environmental Contractors.

Easing Commuter Traffic

The Maryland Transit Authority (MTA) set a system-wide ridership record in February 2012 before announcing the Union Station project. Ridership reached an all-time high of 414,687 a day, with the previous record being 411,785 set in September 2008.

With increasing ridership, MARC passengers often experience long hikes, uncertain arrival times and occasional delay. Layovers of MARC trains are often the cause of these troublesome details for passengers. Passengers had to wait as MARC train platforms were switched to accommodate Amtrak trains. MARC trains waiting either inside or far outside the station had to be moved multiple times to make tracks available for other cars.

MTA officials say the new facility will be fully operational by 2014, and will be dedicated to MARC electric and diesel-hauled trains. While the station is planned for three tracks, there is capacity for three more tracks to be added. The storage yard is intended to shorten walks to and from arriving and departing trains at Union Station. Officials also hope delays will be lessened and operations smoother since tracks will be used for trains in service only and not for storage.

MARC trains are a crucial link between the country’s capitol and Baltimore, Md. On the busiest of days, Union Station sees 15,000 riders. The Wedge Storage Yard at Union Station will raise the efficiency of travel for the nearly 8 million passengers boarding MARC trains each year.