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The Purple Line, previously designated as the Bi-County Transitway (BCT), is a proposed 14-mile (23 km) transit line to link the Red, Green and Orange lines of the Washington Metro train system.


The current Purple Line project is a result of the merging of two government projects known as the Georgetown Branch Light Rail Transit (GBLRT) and the Purple Line. The GBLRT was proposed to be a light rail transit line from Silver Spring westward, following the former Georgetown Branch of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (now a short CSX siding and the Capital Crescent Trail) to Bethesda. The Purple Line was originally conceived as a rail line from New Carrollton to Silver Spring.

Robert Flanagan, the Maryland State Secretary of Transportation under former governor Robert Ehrlich, merged the two projects in order to lower costs and allow trips across both corridors. Both Governor Ehrlich and Secretary Flanagan introduced an alternative mode -- bus rapid transit -- that might be utilized in lieu of light rail transit. To reflect this possibility, the administration changed the official government name for the project to the ("Bi-County Transitway"). This name did not catch on, however, as several media outlets and most citizens continued to refer to the project as the Purple Line. As a result, Governor Martin O'Malley and Secretary of Transportation John Porcari opted to return the name to Purple Line. It should be noted that this name includes the GBLRT portion and does not currently exclude the possibility of bus rapid transit.

Previously (in 1996), the Glendening administration (which included John Porcari as Secretary of Transportation) removed the heavy rail option from discussion because it was felt that the cost was greater than the need. The Ehrlich administration did not put the heavy line option back on the table. Another reason that the Purple Line name was discouraged by the Ehrlich administration was that its associations with the other color-oriented names of the Washington Metro system (which consists of heavy rail) might lead the public to expect a heavy rail option. However, since 1996, both counties along the proposed route of the Purple Line grew substantially in population and number of jobs. As a result, congestion in the region's roadways has become much worse in the intervening ten years. The O'Malley administration has not indicated any intention of reconsidering heavy rail.

Mode of transport Edit

Currently, the state government is performing studies to weigh the pros and cons of bus and rail.

The case for a rapid bus line
  • Because the Federal Transit Administration under President Bush advocates bus rapid transit and discourages the construction of new rail infrastructure, it may be easier to secure federal funds for buses than for trains.
  • Although high labor costs for driving and maintaining fleets of buses means that the expenses of maintaining bus rapid transit and light rail systems are similar, bus routes are cheaper than train lines to install initially.
  • Buses make it possible to operate routes that utilize the transitway for a portion of their route, but deviate into neighborhoods or continue in other directions beyond the transitway's terminus, thus making the transitway a trunk line for several bus routes. Rail service would be totally confined to the transitway.
  • Buses can modify the regular route or take an alternate routes should the need arise, such as changes in demand or an incident along the main transitway.
The case for a train line
  • Regardless of how many features separate rapid from ordinary buses, there is a feeling that current drivers will not stop using their cars to ride a bus, because buses suffer from an "image" problem that trains do not. One source of the image problem may be that drivers consider their own cars faster and more dependable than buses.
  • For communities interested in smart growth, rail has been shown to have a much greater impact on surrounding development than buses. For example, downtown Bethesda and Silver Spring are large, urban activity centers due in no small part to their Metro stations. If the Red Line were a bus route instead of a subway, it is not likely that Bethesda and Silver Spring would be as successful as they are.
  • Rail can accommodate higher capacity ridership than buses, since buses cannot be coupled together to form sets.
  • Rail, while not pollution-free, produces less than buses.
  • Rail offers a smoother, more comfortable ride compared to the often bumpy and jerky motion of buses.

Route and station locationsEdit

The planned rail or rapid bus line will connect the existing Metro stations at:

New stations are planned at:

Community support and oppositionEdit

Support for railEdit

  • The Washington Post advocates construction of the Purple Line light rail option.
  • Subsequent to the 2006 midterm election, the members-elect of the Montgomery County Council and Prince George's County are unanimously in favor of the Purple Line light rail option.
  • Other officials recently elected by the community (in particular, Governor O'Malley) are also strong Purple Line advocates.
  • The Sierra Club advocates a larger-scale rail system to parallel the Capital Beltway and link all existing Metro lines at their peripheries. This environmental group advocates rail transit over car use because carbon emissions are a major risk factor for global warming.

Support for busEdit

  • Several political leaders support this option due to its reduced sunk cost and the ability to easily modify its routing should such a need arise.
  • There are few indications of support for the rapid bus option among residents of Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, as evidenced by the lack of endorsements from organizations or other prominent individuals.


  • The leading opponent of both options is the Columbia Country Club, whose golf course occupies both sides of the planned route (the Georgetown Branch rail right-of-way).[1]
  • Some Bethesda and Chevy Chase residents also object, because they feel the new line would be less beautiful than the current space and could impact the value of properties adjoining the rail right-of-way. The group representing this viewpoint is called the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Coalition; their mission statement is "To foster the creation of green space in the urban environment."
  • Some Silver Spring residents have concerns that one of the proposed routes will take houses along Thayer Avenue, cross in back of East Silver Spring Elementary School, take over an acre of Sligo Creek Park, and bring noise to a residential neighborhood.
  • Others oppose the purple line because it will not be part of the existing Metro system, will warrant an increase in taxes to pay for it, and there are other transportation options that should be a higher priority such as the Corridor Cities Transitway or the Intercounty Connector (ICC).
  • The environmental argument against the Purple Line is that thousands of trees of various sizes would have to be removed to make room for the mass transit line.

Other mass transit linking linesEdit

If the Purple Line is built, the transit system of the capital of the United States will join the list of international transit systems with linking lines.

  • In the Shanghai Metro, Line 4 (colored purple on the official map) is called the Circle Line. The Shanghai "Purple Line" links the red, green and yellow lines of the Shanghai subway system.
  • In the Moscow Metro, the ring line (colored brown on the official map) is Koltsevaya. The Moscow ring line links all eleven of the other metro lines.
  • The London Underground is so extensive that many lines link the lines that go downtown.
  • Madrid Metro has two circle lines: line 6 Circular, connecting most of the other lines around city center, and line 12 MetroSur, linking six neighbourhoods in the southern part of the metropolitan area.


  1. Katherine Shaver. "Fortunes Shift for East-West Rail Plan", The Washington Post, January 16, 2005, p. C01.

External linksEdit

Official state governmentEdit

Rail advocatesEdit

Rail or bus advocatesEdit


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