The 16.2mi Maryland Purple Line will start from Bethesda Station in Montgomery County. Credit: BeyondDC/Flickr.
The platforms for the proposed LRT stations will be approximately 200ft long. Credit: BeyondDC/Flickr.
Construction of the $3.4bn light rail project in Maryland began in August 2017. Credit: BeyondDC/Flickr.

The Maryland Purple Line is a 16.2-mile (25.74km) light rail rapid transit line that will run east to west, connecting Bethesda to New Carrollton, Maryland, US, with 21 stations. The line is being built inside the Capital Beltway (I-495), a circumferential highway that encircles Washington DC.

The $3.4bn light rail transit (LRT) project is owned by the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Transit Administration (MDOT MTA).

MTA is working along with a team, including the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA), and local municipalities, for the development of the project.

The final environmental impact statement (FEIS) for the project was approved by the US Federal Transit Administration (FTA) in March 2014. MTA selected Purple Line Transit Partners (PLTP) for the overall designing, building, operation, and maintenance of Purple Line for 35 years in 2016.

The Purple Line will connect to the Metrorail Green and Orange lines and both branches of the Red Line. It will provide an environment-friendly transportation option and will improve the connectivity to the regional Metrorail system.

Scheduled to enter service in autumn 2026, the line is expected to serve 56,100 average rides on weekdays by 2035. Construction activities started in August 2017 and are expected to continue until 2022. The project will support approximately 6,300 jobs.

Maryland Purple Line project development details

In January 2022, Maryland Transit Solutions (MTS), a consortium of Dragados USA, and OHL USA, was appointed as the new design-build team for designing and constructing the Purple Line light rail project.

MDOT MTA will deliver the project through a public-private partnership (PPP or P3). A modified P3 agreement, worth $9.28bn, was approved by the Maryland Board of Public Works in March 2022. The P3 agreement includes the $3.4bn design-build cost for the full-scale construction of the project.

Maryland Purple line route and infrastructure

The Purple light rail line will be mostly at-grade, with one short tunnel and three aerial sections. The short tunnel will be built from the west of Georgia Avenue to the intersection of University Boulevard and Piney Branch Road along its route.

The line will have 21 stations, including 16 at-grade stations, three elevated stations, and two below-grade stations. The stations will be larger than a bus stop, but smaller than a Metrorail station and will have approximately 200ft-long platforms.

Additionally, the Purple Line will have 52 grade crossings, four major bridges, and one tunnel.

The Purple Line will provide a direct connection to Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) Metrorail Green and Orange Lines, as well as two branches of the Red Line.

The line will pass through important areas, including Silver Spring, Takoma Park, Langley Park, College Park, the University of Maryland, and Riverdale. It will cross several major arterial roadways and existing transit routes between Maryland and Washington, DC, within the Capital Beltway.

It will also provide connections to local bus services and Amtrak and MTA’s Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) train services on Camden and Penn Lines.

The route includes approximately three miles of shared guideway on the Georgetown Branch right-of-way, an abandoned railroad corridor between Bethesda and Silver Spring that is being developed as the last portion of Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) in conjunction with the light rail project.

Rolling stock

A total of 26 light rail vehicles (LRV) rolling stock will run on the Purple Line. The first LRV was tested in Elmira, New York.

Eight of the 28 LRVs are ready for shipment while another eight are finished and undergoing static testing and an additional eight are being assembled.

The full-sized Purple Line LRV will be 140ft-long, making it the country’s longest LRV of its kind. Each vehicle will accommodate more than 400 passengers and will be fitted with 80 passenger seats, bike racks, and a dedicated accessible area for the disabled.

The LRVs use specific tyre profiles, noise-dampening wheel skirts, and other noise-reducing features to ensure that the train does not exceed 75 decibels (dB) on straightaways and 78dB on sharp turns. The LRVs will run on ballasted, direct fixation, and embedded types of tracks.

Two rail car storage and maintenance facilities will also be built at Lyttonsville and Glenridge. LRVs are expected to arrive at the Glenridge operations and maintenance facility, in Prince George’s County, in autumn 2023.

Financing for the Maryland Purple line

More than 60% of the Purple Line’s project cost is being met through federal, state, and local funding while private sector investment in the project is estimated to be between $500m and $900m.

The project received $711m funding for design and construction from Maryland’s state funds in November 2013.

The Purple Line light rail project received $106m from the American Rescue Plan as part of funds provided through the Capital Investment Grants programme in March 2021.

In March 2022, the project secured a $1.7bn federal loan under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) to advance the project construction. The loan is a replacement and restructuring of an earlier loan provided for the construction.

Contractors involved

A joint venture of AECOM and Rummel, and Klepper & Kahl (RK&K) was awarded a $60m programme management contract for MTA’s LRT projects, including the Purple and Red lines, in February 2011.

The joint venture will be responsible for finalising planning and preliminary engineering activities, and overseeing the final design and pre-construction work, as well as providing construction management and inspection services for the project.

SNC Lavalin, a Canadian engineering company, was contracted to provide design, engineering, and architecture services for the project. The company subcontracted Atkins, a design, engineering, and project-management consultancy, to provide the design and engineering services for Purple Line Transit Constructors, a joint venture between Fluor, Lane Construction, and Traylor Brothers.

Mahan Rykiel Associates (MRA), an architecture, urban design, and planning firm, is responsible for evaluating and designing the circulation networks for bicycle, pedestrian, and motor vehicles.