Newington to Fort Belvoir
This 7-mile line, built in 1917, stretched from Accotink Station on the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad (CSX today) in Newington to Fort Belvior, a post about 10 miles south of Alexandria. The line was used to serve coal for heating at both the post itself as well as a nearby government prison, along with other miscellaneous freight.
Railroad operations along the line ceased in 1993. The line from the CSX connection to a local road is still largely intact but overgrown. The trackage along the remainder of the line has been removed.
Thanks to Tim Moriarty for contributing information.
If Light Rail or Metro comes to fruition in extending towards Fort Belvoir, I'm sure they could utilize this ROW. But that is wishful thinking.
I know where this is. If you're on Route 1 heading from the Ffx Co. PW, you'll pass Backlick Road and up a hill about a quarter mile is a trestle, single-track, stone, unused, and slightly overgrown (I had a bunch this went near Accotink). They destroyed it a couple weeks back for more highway space, and tere might be a little bit left of the right abutment, but it's mostly gone now.
The Army/DoD abandoned the line in '93 due to the fact that trucks could move their gear better/faster/cheaper. The bridge over Route 1 was demolished in late '14 as part of the Route 1 widening project to support the BRAC. At almost 100 years old the bridge had become a traffic hazard - as signs of auto impacts on the abutment would attest. Metro down the old RoW? It will probably happen one day; all you need is time and money. I like trains as much as the next guy, but, unless you can move freight and people as efficiently, when your customer wants, to where your customer wants; trucks will win the day.
I have many pics of the railroad as my father worked there as the train engineer
During a past BRAC (2005?), when there were numerous transfers of missions and personnel from one location to another, Fort Belvoir's population was being significantly expanded. There was some talk of extending the DC Metro to the post, and a map in the Washington Post showed two possibilities: the Yellow Line from Hungtinton or the Blue Line from Franconia-Springfield along CSX (ex-RF&P) and then down the former post railway right-of-way. Of course, the discussion didn't get any further than this question: "Where will the money come from?"
In 1993 I visited the post engineer office and one of the employees told me of a proposal to extend VRE service down the spur to the post. The track would end just west of the Route 1 bridge, which even then was doomed to be demolished in a road widening project. The idea was to level the warehouses just west of the bridge and make it a bus terminal with a loop so that buses with commuters could come up Route 1 and load onto DC-bound VRE trains there, then head back south. None of this ever happened.
Track remains in place (with the exception of the Telegraph Road crossing) from the interchange to the John J. Kingman Road crossing. I've never heard of a reason why these rails were left in place. If you wish to visit, do so during months when the poison ivy and ticks won't be so active. It's also very covered with brush and fallen trees.
After the end of service on the line, the John J. Kingman Road crossing was rebuilt with rubber matting for a smoother crossing. Perhaps there were plans for some sort of use for the line, even at that point, but nothing ever materialized. Eventually the rails at the crossing were removed and the crossing was paved over.
Having had some experience with money matters during my own active duty years, the improved crossing work may have been a case of a project in the work for years that finally got funded and done, long after the need for it had passed. It certainly would not have been the only time such a thing had happened.
Here's an article that appeared in the March 5, 1982 edition of the Alexandria Gazette. The author died in 2003.
Fort Belvoir's "Littlest Railroad"
Raymond A. Gallagher
Unbeknownst to many hereabout, there exists not far from Alexandria probably the area's shortest railroad; one that has run continually since its construc¬tion in 1917 1918, although its volume of traffic, especially passenger, isn't presently as great today as it has been in the past. The railroad may be called the Newington Fort Belvoir Railroad, although its official name is probably "The U.S. Army Railroad, Fort Belvoir, Va." Its tracks extend from approximately 23rd Street, Fort Belvoir, to Accotink Station, Newington, or about four to five miles.
When the War Department decided to construct Camp A.A. Humphreys, Virginia, in 1917 (now the southern section of the present Fort Belvoir), the only way to get to the area was by steamboat from Washington to the "Camp Belvoir" summer training area, created much earlier on the southern extremity of the Belvoir peninsula. Of course, this had its limitations, so it was decided that a high priority concrete road and railroad program be launched, with the railroad getting the most immediate attention, since it could be a spur off the main line of the heavily used RF&P Railroad running through Newington, later desig¬nated "Accotink Station" for military purposes.
In order to construct this spur line, it was necessary to first cut a right of way through dense woods, then build wooden trestles over the culverts and valleys. The tallest trestle was about 75 feet high over the largest "valley" between about 8th Street and 10th Street, paralleling the present day Gunston Road.
The trestle was filled in during the early 1930s when it began to decay, thus causing the "valley" also to disappear. This project brought out hordes of laborers and mules, with primitive tools by today's standards, to carry out the job. In due time it was completed, as was the two lane concrete road from Gunston Road northward over Route 1 to Alexandria, but in one of the coldest winters in fifty years. Much of present day Route 1 has as its foundation this 1918 roadway built over a dirt road many years old.
When the railroad into camp was finished, with spurs servicing warehouses, etc., the power to pull (and shove) the numerous boxcars, flatcars, daycoaches and Pullmans was provided by huge standard gauge veteran steam engines said to have been used in the construction of the Panama Canal. Two such engines were provided; one active, the other standby. These venerable coal burners were in constant use from 1918 until 1940, when they were replaced by diesels, which continue to be used even today.
As a child growing up at Camp/Fort Humphreys (later renamed Fort Belvoir in 1936), I remember a number of times I was allowed to ride the engine out to Accotink Station and back by the friendly engineers, Army master sergeants. I was especially scared when the engine crossed over the tallest trestle near 9th Street, for it slightly overhung the trestle, giving the impression that it was floating across. Of course, looking down from that height was also scary.
I was also fascinated by the terrific white plumes of steam ten feet long that shot out to each side of the front of the engine when it started forward (or backward!), plus its loud bell and blasting whistle. However, the train never went over 10 15 miles per hour, so it was a pleasant ride. A favorite pastime of some, especially on Sunday afternoons, was to put a handcar on the track and four or six adults would pump their way out to Newington and back, a good afternoon's work. Simple pleasures were the norm in those days of the 1920s.
Thousands of soldier trainees disembarked and embarked at Accotink Station, as their orders designated that point of arrival and departure for several wars from 1918 onward.
It is presumed that this particular railroad will operate for many years to come, bearing as it does much heavy military equipment to and from the post. Its use as a passenger carrier probably came to an end at the close of the Korean War.
I was born and raised in Newington. My grandfather owned Pearson's Store. These rails were beyond the woods behind my house. Once in a while I would walk to the store beside them. Now Pearson's Store was torn down and my grandfather's house across the tracks is gone. So sad. . .