Washington and Old Dominion Railroad


Washington and Old Dominion Railroad

The Washington and Old Dominion Railroad (colloquially referred to as the W&OD) was an intrastate short-line railroad located in Northern Virginia. Its oldest line extended from Alexandria on the Potomac River northwest to Bluemont at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Snickers Gap, not far from the boundary line between Virginia and West Virginia. The railroad's route largely paralleled the routes of the Potomac River and the present Virginia Route 7.

The line followed the winding course of Four Mile Run upstream from Alexandria through Arlington to Falls Church. At that point, the railroad was above the fall line and was able to follow a more direct northwesterly course in Virginia through Dunn Loring, Vienna, Sunset Hills (now in Reston), Herndon, Sterling, Ashburn, Leesburg, Paeonian Springs, Hamilton, Purcellville and Round Hill to its terminus at Bluemont, turning sharply to the west only after passing through Clarkes Gap in Catoctin Mountain west of Leesburg. The Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Trail (W&OD Trail) and several other trails have replaced much of the railroad's route.

General history

Originally incorporated as the Alexandria and Harper's Ferry Railroad, construction on the line began in 1855 by the Alexandria, Loudoun and Hampshire Railroad (AL&H). First intended to cross the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah River to reach the coal fields in the western part of Hampshire County, Virginia, that are now within Mineral County, West Virginia, the AL&H reached Leesburg in Loudoun County in 1860. Because of its proximity to Washington, D.C., the line saw much use and disruption during the Civil War. After the war, the name of the line was changed in 1870 to the Washington and Ohio Railroad. The line was extended from Leesburg to Hamilton in 1870 and to Round Hill in 1874.

Upon acquisition by new owners in the 1880s, the line's name was changed twice: first to the Washington and Western Railroad in 1882 and in the next year to the Washington, Ohio and Western (WO&W) Railroad. However, the line's trains did not serve either Washington, Ohio, or the West.

In 1886, the Richmond and Danville Railroad, a trunk line that connected Washington, D.C., with Atlanta, Georgia, leased the WO&W. In 1888, the Richmond and Danville began to operate the WO&W's trains between Washington, D.C., and Round Hill.

In 1894, the newly-formed Southern Railway absorbed the Richmond and Danville Railroad and acquired the WO&W. In 1900, the Southern Railway extended the line westward for four miles from Round Hill to Bluemont (formerly Snickersville). The Southern Railway designated the line as its Bluemont Branch.

By 1908, steam locomotives were hauling Southern Railway passenger trains from the new Union Station in Washington, D.C., to Alexandria Junction (north of old town Alexandria), where they switched to travel westward on the Bluemont Branch. A connecting line shuttled passengers from a station in old town Alexandria on a route that the AL&H had earlier established. On weekends, express trains carried vacationers from Washington to Bluemont and other towns in western Loudoun County in which resorts had developed.

Meanwhile, in 1906, electric trolleys had begun to run on the Great Falls and Old Dominion Railroad (GF&OD) northwest to Great Falls from Georgetown in Washington, D.C. This line crossed the Potomac River on the old Aqueduct Bridge, passed through Rosslyn, and traveled northwest on a double-tracked line through Arlington and Fairfax County to an amusement park (trolley park) that the railway constructed and operated near the Falls.

In 1911, the owners of the GF&OD formed a new corporation, the Washington and Old Dominion Railway. In 1912, the GF&OD became the "Great Falls Division" of the W&OD Railway.

Also in 1912, the W&OD Railway leased all of the Southern Railway's Bluemont Branch, except for a short segment connecting Potomac Yard with old town Alexandria. The W&OD made the Southern's Bluemont Branch a part of the new railway's "Bluemont Division" and electrified all of its operations over the next four years, becoming an interurban electric trolley system that carried passengers, mail, milk and freight. From that time onward, W&OD trains crossed over Potomac Yard on a long viaduct. In contrast to the Southern Railway's earlier Bluemont Branch service, the W&OD Railway's Bluemont Division did not serve Washington's Union Station.

To join its two lines, the W&OD Railway constructed in 1912 a double-tracked Bluemont Division connecting line that traveled between two new junctions in Arlington: Bluemont Junction on the Alexandria-Bluemont line and Thrifton Junction on the Georgetown-Great Falls line. The connecting line passed a short distance west of Ballston, crossing on a plate girder bridge over a competing interurban electric trolley line (the Fairfax line of the Washington-Virginia Railway) that carried passengers between Rosslyn, Clarendon, Ballston, Falls Church, Vienna and Fairfax City.

The railway distributed direct current (DC) to its Bluemont Division cars and trains through overhead catenary wires. Single overhead wires carried the Great Falls Division's electricity over its tracks. Stationary and movable electrical substations containing Westinghouse transformers and AC to DC converters were located at various points along the railway's routes.

The W&OD's main passenger line ran from Georgetown and Rosslyn through Thrifton Junction, Bluemont Junction and westward to Bluemont. However, after crossing the Potomac River from Georgetown, many W&OD passengers transferred in Rosslyn to the trolleys of the competing Washington-Virginia Railway. Most of the W&OD's freight trains ran between Potomac Yard, Bluemont Junction and either Rosslyn or various locations along the Bluemont Division.

In 1923, the W&OD Railway ceased operating from Georgetown when the federal government replaced the aging Aqueduct Bridge with the new Francis Scott Key Bridge. At the same time, the railroad constructed a new passenger station in Rosslyn which became its "Washington" terminal.

The W&OD Railway fell upon hard times in the 1930s during the Great Depression. In 1932, the railway went into bankruptcy and was placed in receivership. In 1934, the railway abandoned operations on the Great Falls Division between Thrifton Junction and Great Falls.

In 1936, a new corporation, the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad, assumed operation of the remnants of the W&OD Railway, which by then consisted only of the Railway's Bluemont Division and the portion of the former Great Falls Division that had remained between Rosslyn and Thrifton (which was no longer a junction). Shortly thereafter, in 1939, the railroad abandoned the western end of its line, which had connected the towns of Purcellville and Bluemont.

In 1943, the W&OD Railroad acquired ownership of the section of line between Potomac Yard and Purcellville that the W&OD Railway had earlier leased from the Southern Railway. The Southern Railway retained ownership of the easternmost section of the railroad's route between Potomac Yard and old town Alexandria. During the 1940s, the W&OD Railroad converted all of its lines' operations from electric to diesel or gasoline power. During that decade, the railroad discontinued its electrified passenger service in 1941, but temporarily resumed passenger service during the Second World War using gas-electric motor cars and cars pulled by diesel-electric locomotives. Passenger and mail service finally ended in 1951; thereafter, the railroad carried only freight. The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O) purchased the W&OD Railroad in 1956, but did not change the railroad's name. In 1963, the C&O abandoned the segment of its line that traveled between Rosslyn, Thrifton and Ballston. The Commonwealth of Virginia then purchased this segment to acquire a right-of-way for the planned route of Interstate 66 (I-66).

Five years later, in 1968, the railroad, which by that time ran only between Alexandria and Purcellville, ceased operations. Shortly thereafter, the C&O sold the remainder of the railroad's route to the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Commonwealth then sold most of the route to the Virginia Electric Power Company (VEPCO) (now Dominion Virginia Power), whose transmission lines had run along the railroad's right-of-way. The Commonwealth retained a portion of the route in Arlington immediately east of Falls Church, on which it built I-66, and the section of the route which crossed the Henry G. Shirley Memorial Highway (presently part of Interstate 395 (I-395)) along the Arlington-Alexandria boundary.

Bluemont Division, Alexandria-Bluemont Line

Most of the Bluemont Division's passenger cars or trains ran on the W&OD Railway's Great Falls Division's line from Georgetown over the Aqueduct Bridge through Rosslyn to Thrifton Junction. From Thrifton Junction, the trains ran on the Bluemont Division's connecting line to Bluemont Junction, where they met other Bluemont Division passenger cars or trains that ran from old-town Alexandria or Potomac Yard, following Four Mile Run in Arlington. Some of the Bluemont Division cars or trains then continued their trips through Falls Church, Vienna, Herndon, Sterling, Ashburn, Leesburg, Clarkes Gap and Purcellville to terminate in Bluemont, Virginia, at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, following a route that was similar to that of Virginia State Route 7.

The Norfolk Southern Railway now operates a spur between the Alexandria waterfront and a Southern Railway main line that earlier had traveled through Potomac Yard. The route of the spur formerly served W&OD trains traveling on the Bluemont Division to the Division's freight and passenger stations in old town Alexandria. As the Southern Railway owned and operated the route of the spur and the stations, this section of track remained in operation after the W&OD closed.

A paved trail in Alexandria's linear Mt. Jefferson Park and Greenway has replaced part of the Bluemont Division's course through that city. The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority's W&OD Trail travels in the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park within the Bluemont Division's former right-of-way from the Alexandria/Arlington boundary through Bluemont Junction to Purcellville. The section of the Bluemont Division between Purcellville and Bluemont has not become a part of any trail, as the W&OD Railroad abandoned this section many years before the remainder of its line closed in 1968.

I-66 and its adjacent Custis Trail now travel on the former right-of-way of the W&OD Railway's Great Falls Division between Rosslyn and Thrifton Junction. The highway and the trail continue to Washington Boulevard in Ballston along the former route of the Bluemont Division's Thrifton - Bluemont Junction connecting line.

Arlington County's Bluemont Junction Trail now travels on the connecting line's former right-of-way from Washington Boulevard to meet the W&OD Trail near Bluemont Junction. The Junction now contains an Arlington County railroad display that features a bay window Southern Railway caboose that was built in 1972, four years after the W&OD closed.

Stations

The stations on the Alexandria-Bluemont line of the Bluemont Division (with locations of sites in 2008) were:

Other remnants

Trails along railroad route


= Rail trails =

* Trail between E. Raymond Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue [http://alexandriava.gov/cgi-bin/bike-maps_v2/bike_domap3a?390,97?239,195 in Mt. Jefferson Park and Greenway, Alexandria] Coordinates: coord|38.830164|-77.055187|type:landmark_scale:2000_source:wikimapia|name=Trail between E. Raymond Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue (former route of Washington & Old Dominion Railroad)
* Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Trail (W&OD Trail)

Other trails

* Unpaved trail connecting Russell Road and Landover Street, Alexandria. Coordinates: coord|38.836967|-77.063266|type:landmark_scale:2000_source:wikimapia|name=Unpaved trail connecting Russell Road and Landover Street (former route of Washington & Old Dominion Railroad)
* Section of Mount Vernon Trail adjacent to Norfolk Southern Railroad spur between Pendleton Street and E. Abingdon Drive, Alexandria. Coordinates: coord|38.815507|-77.038979|type:landmark_scale:2000_source:wikimapia|name=Section of Mount Vernon Trail adjacent to Norfolk Southern Railroad spur between Pendleton Street and E. Abingdon Drive former route of Washington & Old Dominion Railroad)

Linear parks along railroad route

* [http://alexandriava.gov/cgi-bin/bike-maps_v2/bike_domap3a?390,97?239,195 Mt. Jefferson Park and Greenway, Alexandria]

* Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park

Great Falls Division

Bluemont Division, Thrifton-Bluemont Junction Connecting Line

In 1912, the new Washington and Old Dominion Railway constructed the electrified Thrifton-Bluemont Junction connecting line to connect the Railway's Georgetown-Great Falls line with the Alexandria-Bluemont line. The line travelled between Thrifton Junction (near the present crossing of I-66 and Lee Highway (U.S. Route 29) at the Lyon Village Shopping Center) and Bluemont Junction (presently in Arlington County's Bluemont Junction Park), passing the west end of Ballston along the way. Sometimes termed the "Rosslyn Branch" or the "Spout Run Branch", the line climbed a grade while following the route of Spout Run after leaving Thrifton.

The line closed in sections between 1963 and 1968. I-66 and the Custis Trail replaced the line between Thrifton and Washington Boulevard in Ballston. Arlington County's Bluemont Junction Trail replaced the line between Washington Boulevard and Bluemont Junction.

Stations

The stations on the Thrifton-Bluemont Junction connecting line of the Bluemont Division (with locations of sites in 2008) were:

Roads and trails along railroad route

Road

I-66 between Lee Highway (U.S. Route 29) and Washington Boulevard. Coordinates: coord|38.888851|-77.11128|type:landmark_scale:2000_source:wikimapia|name=I-66 between Lee Highway (U.S. Route 29) and Washington Boulevard (former route of Washington & Old Dominion Railroad)

Rail Trail

Bluemont Junction Trail between Washington Boulevard and Mile 3.3 of Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Trail. Coordinates: coord|38.873582|-77.124992|type:landmark_scale:2000_source:wikimapia|name=Bluemont Junction Trail between Washington Boulevard and Mile 3.3 of Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Trail (former route of Washington & Old Dominion Railroad)

Other Trail

Custis Trail between Lee Highway (U.S. Route 29) and Washington Boulevard. Coordinates: coord|38.893204|-77.101101|type:landmark_scale:2000_source:wikimapia|name=Custis Trail between Lee Highway (U.S. Route 29) and Washington Boulevard (former route of Washington & Old Dominion Railroad)

Linear park along railroad route

[http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/ParksRecreation/scripts/parks/parks_details.asp?ParkName=Bluemont%20Junction%20Park Bluemont Junction Park] between Fairfax Drive and W&OD Trail

See also

* Great Falls and Old Dominion Railroad
* Northern Virginia trolleys

Notes

References

* cite book
last = Harwood
first = Herbert Hawley
title = Rails to the Blue Ridge: The Washington and Old Dominion Railroad, 1847–1968
year = 2000
id = ISBN 0-615-11453-9

* cite book
last = Williams
first = Ames W
title = The Washington and Old Dominion Railroad
year = 1989
id = ISBN 0-926984-00-4

* Neville, Ashley M., National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Historic District (Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) No. 053-0276), Gray & Pape, Inc., Richmond, Virginia, July 25, 2000, "in" Appendix J of NORTHERN VIRGINIA REGIONAL PARK AUTHORITY - PRE-FILED DIRECT TESTIMONY OF MR. HAFNER, MR. MCRAY AND MR. SIMMONS, November 30, 2005 (Part 4 of 5, pages 1-46). Retrieved on March 24, 2008, in [http://docket.scc.virginia.gov/vaprod/main.asp Case Docket Search] for documents in Case No. PUE-2005-00018 on [http://www.scc.virginia.gov/ official website of the Commonwealth of Virginia State Corporation Commission] .

External links

* [http://archive.observernews.com/stories/archives/history/wandod.shtml A detailed history]
* [http://www.delraycitizen.org/wod.html The Washington and Old Dominion Railroad in Del Ray]
* [http://www.nvrpa.org/parks/wod.html Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park (official site of Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority]
* [http://www.wodfriends.org/ Friends of the W&OD Trail]
* [http://www.wodfriends.org/map1.html Friends of the W&OD Trail map of the Washington & Old Dominion Trail] showing mileages
* [http://bikewashington.org/trails/wad/wad.htm Washington & Old Dominion Trail] at BikeWashington.org
* [http://www.rundc.com/Trails/VA/WOD.htm Washington & Old Dominion Trail] showing the individual segments and distances
* [http://www.rundc.com/Trails/VA/WODMap.htm Map showing the course of W&OD Trail]
* [http://www.hmdb.org/results.asp?SeriesID=18 "Washington and Old Dominion Railroad Markers" series] in [http://www.hmdb.org HMdb.org: The Historical Marker Database official website] Photographs and descriptions of markers describing the history of the W&OD Railroad.


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