Washington, D.C. Railroad History
Table of Contents
1) February 8, 1808 Washington Bridge Co. authorized
by an Act of Congress to construct the "Long Bridge"
as a toll crossing. 1835 Long Bridge rebuilt across Potomac
2) August 25,1835 Washington Branch of the Baltimore
& Ohio RR (B&O) opens for service. First station located
at 2t?d & Pennsylvania Ave. NW, now an empty site at the
edge of the U.S. Capitol grounds.
3) 1837-1872 (except April 19,1861 - Summer, 1866)
Rail passengers traveling south of Washington take 5 5 mile
steamship connection to the Richmond Fredericksburg, and Potomac
RR (RF&P) at Fredericksburg (I837-1842) and Aquia Creek,
Va. (I842-1861, 1866-1872). Steamship connection continues 1872-1877
until blackmailed by the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) which offered
through rail service from Philadelphia to Aquia starting 1872.
4) May 24, 1844 First successful use of Morse code
sent from Washington to Baltimore. "What hath God wrought"
was the first telegraph message sent by Samuel F.B. Morse from
the Supreme Court chambers in the Capitol along wires placed
on poles beside the B&O's Washington branch.
5) James Polk becomes first President-elect to travel
by train. He rode from Relay, Md. to Washington on February
14, 1845 prior to his inauguration. Andrew Jackson had been
the first President to travel on a train from Ellicott's Mills
to Baltimore in 1833.
6) April 9,1851 2nd B&O RR Station opens at New
Jersey Ave & C St NW, across from the present day Teamsters
7) April 29, 1851 First electric railroad car in history
runs from Washington to Bladensburg round-trip- decades ahead
of its time.
8) 1855 B&O connects their New Jersey Ave station
with the north shore of Long Bridge via Maryland Ave. No tracks
placed on bridge until the Civil War. Tracks owned jointly by
both the Alexandria & Washington RR and the B&O RR
9) 1855-1858 Alexandria & Washington RR (A&W)
connects Orange & Alexandria RR (O&R) with south shore
of Long Bridge & commences service January 1, 1858.
A&W Railroad was important north-south link during the Civil
War. Trackage was definitely linked during US Military RR occupation
& control during Civil War.
10) February 23,1861 President-elect Abraham, Lincoln
arrives under guard from Baltimore via B&O RR for inauguration
11) 1861-1865 Long Bridge fortified & guarded for
duration of American Civil War. Second parallel structure built
by US Army (I861-1863) and operated by the US Military RR for
railroad use during American Civil War. Bridge turned over to
B&O after War.
12) July 29,1862 First Horsecar service via rail commences
from the Capitol to the State Department
13) 1866-1873 B&O constructs its 'Metropolitan
Branch" from Washington to "Point of Rocks";
Branch opens May 25,1873
14) June 21, 1870 Congress approves the Baltimore &
Potomac RR (B&P) entering Washington via a bridge
across the Anacostia River and a tunnel under Virginia Avenue,
SE from I Ith to 8th St. and tracks on Virginia Ave to 6th St.
SW with a location for its station on the Mall at 6th &
B St. NW (today's Constitution Ave). The Baltimore & Potomac
station was built on the present-day site of The National Gallery
of Art. Today's freight only Virginia Avenue trackage was the
original freight & passenger mainline until Union Station's
15) 1872 Maryland Ave street trackage disconnected in
one night connecting the B&O and Long Bridge per Boss Shepherd's
political dealing and cleaning up city streets. City bankrupted
due to corruption & so many public works projects and it
would be over a hundred years before "home rule" returns
to D.C. by U.S. Congress.
16) July 2,1872 B&P RR enters Washington via Magruder
Branch breaking B&O's Baltimore-Washington monopoly. B&P
also gains control of the Long Railroad Bridge (I870) and the
Alexandria & Washington RR (April, 1872) and builds the
connection between Alexandria & the RF&P at Aquia Creek,
Va. (the Alexandria & Fredericksburg RR opens July 18,1872).
17) 1872 B&O RR gets control of the Orange, Alexandria
& Manassas RR to compete with the - B&P and renames
it The Washington City, Virginia Midland & Great Southern
Railway (WC,VM&GS). B&O relinquishes control of WC,
VM & GS to Richmond & Danville Railway in November,
18) August 1, 1873 B&O starts construction at Hyattsville
on 12.4 mile long Alexandria Branch to Shepherd's Landing and
completed January 24, 1874.
19) 1874 Only. Passengers cars floated across the Potomac
River from Shepherds' Landing to Alexandria, VA.
20) 1874-1876 Freight cars continue floating across from Shepherd's
Landing to Aquia and from Shepherd's Landing to Alexandria (I
874-1906) ceasing with the opening of Potomac Yard on October
21) July 2,1881 President James A. Garfield shot by
Charles J. Guiteau, a disappointed office seeker at B&P
station. Garfield dies from blood poisoning September 19,1881.
22) 1883 Southern Maryland Railroad begins construction. Only
2 miles ever in place. Construction starts from future "Chesapeake
Junction" in NE Washington
23) October 17,1888 First experimental electric trolley
in Washington 7th & NY Ave NW to 4th & T NE, only months
after Frank Sprague's successful demonstrations in Richmond,
24) Late May/early June, 1889 Potomac River floods
cause extensive damage to C&O Canal. Would be another 2+
years before the canal reopens, now under the control of the
paralleling B&O RR. Canal reopened September, 1891 &
never 'made money' again.
25) May 12,1890 Cable car operation commences
26) 1892 Georgetown Branch construction commences;
Only 2 miles completed to Chevy Chase, Md in 1892. No further
work until 1909-1910 when the I I mile branch is completed to
Georgetown. A 2.2 mile spur was later completed to assist in
Lincoln Memorial construction 1915-1922.
27) 1894 Congress mandates NO overhead wires or power
poles in Washington city proper; causing a delay in perfecting
different current collection for electric street cars.
28) 1896 B&O enters bankruptcy, forever ending
most expansion plans.
29) July 29,1896 First successful electric conduit operation
for streetcars in Washington. Only Washington & New York
City-Manhattan Island ever adopt this type of operation in the
United States. Overhead wires permitted outside city limits
(remember we had Washington CITY as well as Washington COUNTY
until after the turn of century) necessitating 'plow pits' for
changing from conduit to overhead trolley & vice-versa.
30) September 29,1897 Capital Traction Co. cable car
powerhouse bums on site of present Wilson/District Building
and Ronald Reagan Building.
31) October, 1897 Construction commences
from "Chesapeake Jct." on the Chesapeake Beach Railway
using original Southern Maryland RR right-of-way & trackage.
Reaches Upper Marlboro October 27,1898
and finally Chesapeake Beach October, 1899. Mainline & yard
trackage totals 34.363 miles. Chesapeake
Beach 'resort' was envisioned by builder and Colorado
magnate Otto Mears as an "American Monte
Carlo". Chesapeake Beach resort opens officially
June 9, 1900
32)1898 Last Horsecar operation
33) July 23,1899 Last cable car operation in Washington,
34) 1902-1906 New Long Railroad Bridge
(August 25,1904) & Highway Bridge (February 12,1906) open
across Potomac River. Construction concurrent with station consolidation
in city proper, Potomac Yard & other McMillan Commission
recommendations. Railroad bridge remains
to this day, although largely altered during World War 11. Highway
bridge removed from service 1961 and replaced; finally demolished
May, 1967- March, 1969.
35) February 28, 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt signs
into law a measure "to provide for a Union Station in the
District of Columbia."
36) October, 1903-1908 Union Station constructed &
opened at a cost of $16 million including facilities, Brentwood
car shops, etc. 24 at-grade crossings with B&O removed from
service by relocation & new construction. Washington Terminal
RR created to provide switching services for station owners
(B&O and PRR) and tenants from the south (Chesapeake &
Ohio, RF&P, Southern, Atlantic Coast Line, and Seaboard).
Many at-grade crossings eliminated from the Virginia Ave mainline
with new elevated trackage.
37) October 15,1906 Potomac Yard opens, removing most
unsightly yard switching from along Virginia Ave. & the
Mall, per McMillan Commission & the "City Beautiful"
movement. Shepherd's Landing-Alexandria freight car ferry operation
ends with Potomac Yard opening.
38) December 30,1906 Train wreck at Terra Cotta near
present day Fort Totten. 52 killed on train & platform resulting
in ICC banning future wooden body passenger car construction
39) Sunday, October 27,1907 Last B&O train leaves
from New Jersey Ave. station (2:52 AM the "Duquesne Limited"
for Pittsburgh) & Ist train arrives (6:5 0 AM from Pittsburgh)
into partially completed Union Station. Old B&O station
abandoned & quickly demolished.
40) November 17, 1907 1st PRR train in & out of
Union Station. Other rail lines from the south also commence
usage. B&P station & adjacent Mall trackage abandoned.
Old B&P station demolished after August, 1908.
41) February 7, 1908 Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis
Electric RR opens between Washington & Annapolis. Service
opens to Baltimore March 25,1908 departing Baltimore Park Ave.
terminal at 10: 15 AM
42) June 24, 1908 First streetcar service to Union Station,
over 8 months after opening (compliments of DC City Commissioners).
43) 1908 Union Station formally dedicated. Designed
by architect Daniel Burnham who also was instrumental in the
1893 Columbian World's Fair
44) 1915 In this peak period of Washington trolley history
there were traction lines radiating out to the following destinations:
Great Falls (Maryland shore), Glen Echo Amusement Park, Rockville,
Kensington, Laurel, Annapolis, Baltimore, Seat Pleasant, Congress
Heights, Mt. Vernon, Alexandria, Vienna, Fairfax, Leesburg,
Great Falls (Virginia shore), and Bluemont.
45) Late March (29),1924 C&O Canal
finally ceases operating after another of many floods (the 5th)
causes excessive damage.The Canal had been owned for many years
by the B&O RR, keeping other would-be competitors (the Western
Md. Railway.) from the property. B&O keeps the
canal serviceable though mostly dry until the 1936 floods and
then sells the entire 184.7 mile long canal, Georgetown, DC
to Cumberland, Md to the US Park Service in October, 1938 for
46) January 17,1932 Last Arlington & Fairfax streetcar
departs from 12th & D Streets, NW, abandoning all service
in Washington, D.C.
47) December 1, 193 3 Capital Transit formed by consolidation
of Washington Railway & Electric Co and Capital Traction
Co. thereby placing all street railways under one management
for the first time
48) January 28,1935 Mainline electrified train service
commences on PRR Washington to New York.
49) April 15,1935 Last Chesapeake Beach Railway train
leaves "resort" at II:50 AM. Only 2.9 miles of inner
line kept & reorganized as East Washington Railway for switching
coal to Pepco at Benning power plant via Capital Transit Steeple
cabs and the B&O RR.
50) Summer,1935 Several major streetcar abandonments
in favor of bus substitutions: P Street line, Anacostia-Congress
Heights line, Rockville line, Connecticut Ave line, Kensington-Chevy
Chase Lake line all converted to internal combustion.
51) August 20,1935 Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis
electric inter-urban railroad abandons all operations.
52) 193 7 First streamlined road passenger diesels
in the country begin operation on the B&O RR Washington-New
York & Washington-Chicago.
53) June 3,1942 Shepherd's Landing emergency bridge
construction across the Potomac River commences.
54) November 1, 1942 First train crosses 3,3 60 ft.
long Shepherd's Landing Bridge connecting B&O's Alexandria
branch with Potomac Yard, Alexandria.
55) April II, 1944 Washington, D.C. Chapter, NRHS chartered.
56) November 14,1945 Shepherd's Landing bridge withdrawn
from service. During 3 years of service required I train a day
to maintain safety. Averaged 3 to 7 trains daily with a maximum
of 184 trains reached in the entire month of October, 1944.
Bridge demolished early 1947.
57) October 21,1951 First chartered fantrip by Washington
Chapter, NRHS Washington, D.C. to Strasburg, VA via Harpers
Ferry on the B&O RR.
58) Thursday, January 15,1953 Pennsylvania RR "Federal
Express" train wreck injures 43 at Union
Station; no fatalities. Read more about the Wreck
of the Federal Express .
59) Saturday, June 7, 1953 C&O Hudson #490 comes
out of retirement for Washington Chapter excursion to Charlottesville,
Va. This was the last C&O steam into or out of Washington.
Engine is preserved today at the B&O RR Museum in Baltimore.
60) November 2,1953 Last regularly scheduled steam
run, B&O train #22 "The Washingtonian" Eng #5306
Class P7 Washington to Baltimore-Camden Station departs at 6:30
61) Sunday, January 3,1954 last Union Station steam
passenger train departs Washington to Richmond RF&P eng
#622 "Carter Braxton" departs at approx. 1: 40 PM
62) December 29,1954 East Washington Railway takes
over switching directly from B&O to Pepco Power plant at
Benning, eliminating 3-way transfer and switching costs.
63) Summer,1955 Congress revokes Capital
Transit Co franchise following 45-day strike by carmen and passes
Public Law #389 which specifies that the new operator will provide
an all bus system within 8 years. Takes
over I year to find a buyer for franchise.
64) September 7,1958 Eckington-Mt. Rainier-Branchville
street car line abandoned
65) January 3,1960 Glen Echo, Friendship Heights &
Georgia Avenue street car lines, abandoned. Only conduit operations
66) Sunday, January 28,1962 Navy Yard, 14th & Colorado,
Bureau Engraving, Calvert Street Loop, 17th & Penna. Ave
SE & Union Station street car lines abandoned. Last street
car pulls into Navy Yard carhouse ending 99 1/2 years of street
railway service in the Nation's Capital.
67) April, 1962 First steam since 1954 The "General"
of Civil War fame visits under its own power
68) Saturday & Sunday, August 15-16, 1964 First
mainline steam since 1954. Reading Rambles Washington to Baltimore
& Philadelphia powered by Reading T- 1 #2102
69) Saturday & Sunday, October 2-3, 1966 The first
and only Southern Railway steam specials originate from Washington
Union Station. All future specials originate from Alexandria,
70) 1969-1970 3 Sisters Bridge construction in Georgetown
commences causing release of funds for Washington Metro subway.
Subway construction finally nears completion as of 1999. 3 Sisters
Bridge never built.
71) May 1, 1971 National Passenger Railroad
(Amtrak) a quasi-government corporation formed to takeover,
maintain & operate virtually all inter-city
passenger railroads, commences service.
72) May 1972 Last steam passenger excursion into Washington
Union Station Reading engine 2102 Philadelphia-Washington round
73) 1974 Maryland Dept.of Transportation (MDOT) begins
subsidization of commuter service.
74) Saturday, March 27,1976 First 4.6 miles of Washington Metro
subway opens. Brentwood Shops of Metro largely took over former
Eckington coach yards of B&O at Ivy City
75) 1978 East Washington Railway abandons all operations.
76) 1984 Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) name applied
officially to Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) service.
77) June, 1981 Washington Terminal Company purchased
by Amtrak. Takes until December, 1985 to assimilate all unions
into its Washington Division.
78) September 15,1981 Smithsonian hosts a 150th grand
celebration of the "John Bull" steam locomotive, with
it operating on the B&O's Georgetown Branch
79) January 13,1982 First fatalities on Metrorail occur
almost simultaneously with unrelated Air Florida airline crash
30 minutes earlier. Three killed on Metro- 78 die on airliner.
80) April 30,1983 Charles Fenwick bridge on Metro's
Yellow Line crossing the Potomac River is opened to revenue
service. This is the longest structure of its kind in the world
devoted exclusively to
81) 1986 Georgetown Branch abandoned
82) Thursday, September 29, 1988 rededication of
Union Station after $160 million + spent in revitalization
83) June 22,1992 Virginia Railway Express (VRE) commuter
RR commences service from Northern Virginia
This information compiled by Chapter Member Bob Cohen.
"The Richmond-Washington Line" by
Richard E. Prince, 1973
"Impossible Challenge" and "Impossible
Challenge 11" by Herbert Harwood, 1979, 1994
"100 Years of Capital Traction" by
Leroy 0. King, 1972, 1976, 1989
"Railroad Magazine" & "Railroad
Stories Magazine" various issues 1932-1979
"Rail Excursions From Washington the First
20 Years 1951-1971 " Washington, D.C. Chapter NRHS
"The World Almanac & Book of Facts"
"The Chesapeake Beach Railway" by
Ames Williams, 1975,
"The Baltimore & Potomac Railroad"
by John M.Wearmouth, 1986
"Alexander R. Shepherd and the Board of
Public Works" by William M. Maury,
"The Story of Metro" by Ronald H.
"Southern Railway System" by Richard
E. Prince, 1970, 1983
"Every Hour on the Hour" by John Merriken,
"Trains Magazine" a Kalmbach publication
various issues 1940-1999
"The Met" by Susan Sonderberg, 1998
"Old Dominion Trolley, Too" by John
"Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac
Railroad-The Capital Cities Route" by William E. Griffin,
"One Hundred Fifty Years of History Along
the Richmond, Fredericksburg And Potomac Railroad" by William
E. Griffin, Jr., 1984
"Washington - Past & Present - A History"
Vols I & 2 of a 5 Volume set Copyrighted 1930
"Home On The Canal" by Elizabeth Kytle,
"A Brief History of the Richmond, Fredericksburg
& Potomac Railroad" by John Mordecai, 1940
"A History of Relay, MD & the Thomas
Viaduct" by Daniel Carroll Toomey, 1976, 1984
"Washington & Old Dominion Railroad,
1847-1968" by Ames W. Williams, 1970, 1977, 1984 ++
"Rails to the Blue Ridge 1847-1963"
by Herbert H> Harwood, Jr.,c I 963,
"Washington The National Capital"
prepared by H.P. Caemmerer, 1932
EAST WASHINGTON RAILWAY
The East Washington was the vestigal remnant of the old Chesapeake
Beach Railway which gave up the ghost on April 15, 1935. The
East Washington survived for another 40 years or so on a slim
diet of a liquor company needing deliveries by rail and mostly
delivering coal by rail to the local power company from the
place locally as known Chesapeake Jct, the interchange with
the B&O; near the intersection of Deane Ave. (now Nanny Helen
Burroughs Ave.) and Minnesota Ave., SE. When the nearby power
plant converted to oil, that ended the sole reason for the continued
existence of the E-W and they abandoned all operations in the
There is an excellent hardback book out on the whole subject
of the Chesapeake Beach and the East-Washington Railway by Ames
Williams and is currently available NEW for $20 or so and is
available from the Chesapeake Beach Rwy Museum in Chesapeake
As for the right-of-way ... the Chesapeake Beach line is visible
for much of the 28 miles or so in Maryland and the Chesapeake
Beach Rwy Museum organizes a hike each year for a portion of
the r-o-w, weather permitting around the first weekend in April.
Inside the DC line it is more built up and IF you know where
to look and and do not mind a less than desirable neighborhood
and do NOT get out of your car while exploring, those 3 miles
are at least partially findable. Having the book in hand helps
LIKE TO HAVE THE ANSWER TO
1) Actual dedication date of Union Station September 29, 1908?
2) East Washington Railway last movement & official abandonment
date/s of 1977-1978
3) B&O; Washington Branch station at 2nd Street,NW and Penn
Ave of 1835 to 1851, to include address, name.
PLACES OF NOTE IN
1) Former B&O route into Washington, D.C.
2) Union Station
3) B&O New Jersey Ave station site
4) B&O Penna. Ave, station site
5) Maryland Ave trackage sites
6) B&P Station site & Atlantic Coast Line Ticket office
7) Lincoln Park Streetcar Bam (now condominiums)
8) 14th & Colorado streetcar station
9) Dupont Circle "down-under"
IO) Georgetown conduit trackage
11) Old Car bam in Georgetown
12) Old Shops in Georgetown
13) Arizona Ave bridge
14) Dale Carlia Tunnel
15) Long RR Bridge
16) Naval Research Lab/Shepherd's Landing Bridge site
17) Alexandria Branch of B&O
18) Virginia Ave. trackage/tunnel
19) L'Enfant Station of VRE
20) Eckington Carbarn of DC/Capital Transit
21) Anacostia Tower or Virginia Ave. tower
22) Former Atlantic Coast Line Ticket Office Building at Pennsylvania
Avenue & 6th St. NW which still has "Atlantic Coast
Line" on it.
Question: In July of 1881, President
James Garfield was shot at the Washington Railway Depot.
Can you tell me where this is in present-day Washington?
Answer: Garfield was shot at the BALTIMORE AND POTOMAC
RR Station (predecessor to the PRR), not at the B&O. The
Baltimore and Potomac station was located at the southwest corner
of 6th and B (now Constitution Ave) Streets NW, essentially
where the National Gallery of Art, West Building now stands.
It was a stub end station, with the tracks going south from
it across what is now the Mall, to connect via Maryland Avenue
and the Long Bridge to the South, and out through Virginia Avenue
Tunnel to the North (the current day freight only line via Benning
and Landover). This station was in use until the opening of
Washington Union Station; its removal from the Mall was one
of the major objectives of the Senate Park Commission in 1902.
Question: Can you tell me about the
train Wreck at Union Station in 1953? Yes.
RAILROADS THAT SERVED
The following is a snapshot of the Railroads that served Washington,
D.C. in 1950.
||Seaboard Air Line
Chesapeake & Ohio
Other Railroads Serving
|East Washington Railway
(terminal company for Union Station)
Rail Services With
Facilities in Washington, D.C.
|Railway Express Agency
Grower's Express (in Alexandria)
Potomac Yard (in Alexandria
- owned jointly by the PRR, B&O, C&O,