Timeline of Washington, DC Railroad History

by:Bob Cohen

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 River

2) August 25,1835 Washington Branch of the Baltimore & Ohio RR (B&O) opens for service. First station located at 2nd St. & 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 (1837-1842) 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 Headquarters.

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 opening.

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, 1881.

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 15,1906.

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, Va.

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, D.C.

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 $2,000,000.

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 PM

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 remain.

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, Va.

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 trip.

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


“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” 1999

“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. Deiter,

“Southern Railway System” by Richard E. Prince, 1970, 1983

“Every Hour on the Hour” by John Merriken, 1993

“Trains Magazine” a Kalmbach publication various issues 1940-1999

“The Met” by Susan Sonderberg, 1998

“Old Dominion Trolley, Too” by John Merriken, 1987

“Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad-The Capital Cities Route” by William E. Griffin, Jr., 1994

“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, 1983

“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