Alexandria to Bluemont

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(Forwarded from the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad)

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The abandoned ROW of the W&OD in Herndon, VA. The former railroad ROW is now a walking trail and a power line ROW.

The first part of the railroad was constructed in 1853, reaching Leesburg by 1858. At one point it was called the Washington and Ohio Railroad and had intentions to extend to the Ohio River at Parkersburg, WV. It only made it as far as Bluemont, VA in 1900. It came under the control of the Southern Railway in 1894, and then the Washington and Old Dominion bought the Alexandria-to-Purcellville section from Southern in 1945. The Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad bought the W&OD in 1956 and owned it until abandonment.

The W&OD ceased operation on August 27, 1968, its last major business being the hauling of material for the construction of Dulles Airport and the community of Reston. The rails were removed soon after this.

The line went from Alexandria (at the Potomac Rail Yard) to:

  • Arlinco
  • Barcroft
  • Bluemont Junction
  • Falls Church
  • Dunn Loring
  • Wedderburn
  • Vienna
  • Hunter
  • Sunset Hills
  • Herndon
  • Sterling
  • Ashburn
  • Trap Rock
  • Leesburg
  • Paeonian Springs
  • Hamilton
  • Ivandale
  • Purcellville
  • Round Hill
  • Bluemont

At one point there was a branch from Bluemont Junction to Lacey, Douglas, and Rosslyn.

The right-of-way has been converted into a walking/hiking trail from Alexandria to Purcellville.

The stations at Hamilton and Purcellville are still standing. The one at Hamilton is being used as a grain storage shed, but is being cosmetically restored. The station at Purcellville is now a community center at the terminus of the W. & O.D. trail. The freight station at Round Hill still exists, but has been converted to a private residence.

Ken Willis
Ashburn, VA
5/1/2009

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The station at Vienna, Virginia was refurbished several years ago and is the home of the Northern Virginia Model Railroaders. It has a small collection of railroad memorabilia, a donated caboose and an operating model railroad inside.

Robert Ayers
Burke, VA
8/28/2009

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Glad to see someone has already put together an article on this line. I may have some pictures to contribute from the Ashburn area in the next year or so.

Kevin M. Smith
Cicero, NY
2/4/2010

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I remember the W&OD while it was still running. I recall long trains of gravel and sand westbound to Sterling near the construction sight of the current Dulles International Airport complete with several sets of C&O switchers.

Jim Buscher
Falls Church, VA
4/9/2010

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The former W&OD station in Leesburg is now part of Market Station in Leesburg. It was moved in the 80's from the R/O/W to about 1/2 mile north.

John Miehm
Round hill, VA
8/21/2010

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Back in the 1960s our family lived on Tenn. Ave. in Alexandria with the track right behind our back yard. I recall long, slow moving freight trains hauling coal. We played along side the tracks, built forts there and even had a 2-hole golf course at one point with tin cans for cups! This is also where I learned how to flatten pennies by placing them on the tracks for the trains to run over. It was all pretty fun for us kids who made it our personal playground. The railroad never gave us a hard time about any of it.

Dave Gardner
Crofton, MD
9/8/2010

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The old Reston, Va station is still standing where Old Reston Ave crosses the W&OD Trail. It is a short block from the intersection of Old Reston Ave & Sunset Hills Rd. Heading west on Sunset Hills, Old Reston Ave is on your right and Oracle Way[ORCALE Corp HQ] is on your left. If you go to Google map and do a street view of this intersection, you can just make out a small white building down Old Reston Ave. It is used as a rest stop on the Trail. EFB

Ernest Bellinetti
Strasburg, VA
10/9/2011

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The portion of the right-of-way east of I-385 to the eastern end of the line was unfortunately not included in the trail and over time much of it has been completely obliterated by new construction.

Due to trestle problems just east of Round Hill and a lack of business to justify repairs, the portion between Purcellville and Bluemont was abandoned in the late 1930s. Parts of the route are still visible in some places while in others it has been completely plowed under or otherwise erased.

The company also had a trolley line running from Rosslyn (originally Georgetown over the Aqueduct Bridge) to Great Falls Park. Most of this route was abandoned in the mid-1930s to become today's Old Dominion Drive.

Most of the Rosslyn Branch, abandoned a few years before the rest of the line in 1968, has been obliterated by I-66 construction.

Rails for the remainder of the line were lifted in January 1969. For years rails remained in place along the line at grade crossings, but over time all of these were eventually removed during road maintenance operations.

Tim Moriarty
Herndon, VA
11/7/2012

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When I was in first grade, I attended Charles Barrett School near the Shirlington Shopping Center. That was in 1949-1950. The W&OD right-of-way was adjacent to the school. The railroad had a spur leading into a cement loading business nearby. I remember one day, some of my friends put large pieces of junk on the rails near the school. When the engine showed up, it had to stop and the crew got off and removed all that junk from the rails. The engine was there quite a while, and the crew used various pry bars and tools. I had the impression that the front wheels had derailed and that my friends had caused the derailment --- but I did not go too close. The next day, there was talk at school about how some boys had derailed a train.

Civil-War vintage maps label the W&OD railroad as the Alexandria, Loudon, and Hampshire. I think the Union Army tried to use the railroad during the war to transport troops up to Leesburg, but I understand that Mosby's raiders, prevented the Federals from getting much farther than Columbia Pike. .

The railroad had a branch that ran from a junction near Columbia Pike to Roslyn, where there was a small engine shed and a tiny yard on the bluff at the Virginia end of Key Bridge. All traces of those railroad facilities are completely gone.

The Pennsylvania Railroad had a very short line over on the Virginia side of the river. It ran from the Virginia end of the 14th Street Bridge to a terminal in Roslyn. I am not sure if the Pennsylvania Branch connected to the W&OD Roslyn Branch, but the ends of the two branches were very close. The Pennsylvania Branch served the old Pickle Factory that later served as the power house for the Pentagon. Then it ran in front of the Potomac-facing side of the Pentagon and then followed the route of the old Georgetown and Alexandria Canal to Roslyn. At the Pentagon, the rails ran under the concrete east entrance. That is, it did not run under the Pentagon Building itself. The branch line was not electrified, even though the Pennsylvania electric lines ran across the 14th Street Bridge to Potomac Yard.

The Washington and Old Dominion line crossed old US Highway 1 on a bridge and then crossed Potomac Yard on a long trestle. The trestle was removed some time after the rails were finally lifted in the 1970s. For many years, the bridge over US 1 remained in place, but now all that's left is the concrete bridge abutment on the northwest side of the old highway. On the east side of Potomac Yard, the track was still in place in 2008 from the former Potomac Yard to the coal yard at a Chesapeake and Potomac power plant about one mile east on the Potomac River. The tracks used to run along the waterfront through the length of downtown Old Alexandria and then through a tunnel to link the W&OD to the the site of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad roundhouse. The tunnel is still there, but the roundhouse, yards, and connecting rails are gone. I think there are still some rails left in the street in downtown Alexandria, and until apartments grew up on the site in the late 1990s, you could still make out the locations of the Civil War-vintage railroad facilities..

At Bluemont, if you ask around you can find where the rails arrived in the village and came to the end-of-the-line. The railroad would have had to build a tunnel through the Blue Ridge immediately to the west to continue in that direction. I understand that the W&OD did look into routes for a tunnel, but gave up the idea because it would have been too expensive. (The US government operates a tunnel and underground relocation site in the mountain immediately west of Bluemont. I spent several months at that site (Mount Weather) in the 1990s. I wonder if the railroad's survey of potential tunnel routes influenced the government's choice of that site. The government doesn't like to admit that there is any underground facility there, so there won't be any way to look into that for several more decades.)

According to a book I have about the W&OD, the railroad did operate passenger service during World War II to help war workers commute into Alexandria and Washington. Passenger service ended even before the war was over.

John Roberts
Denton, TX
2/4/2013

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John:

Regarding the Rosslyn tracks, the W&OD and the PRR did not connect. The W&OD tracks were originally laid as part of the Great Falls & Old Dominion Railway trolley line and it's doubtful there was any need to connect the two at the time.

The tunnel in Alexandria that you mentioned was actually part of the Southern Railway and, while it connected to the W&OD's line, the Wilkes Street tunnel wasn't part of the W&OD.

While it's true that predecessors of the W&OD intended to cross the mountain and head west of Bluemont, I don't think the W&OD, which leased the line from the Southern Railway in 1912, ever intended to push further westward. It was content to operate service to Bluemont, but the era of grand dreams had passed.

As for W&OD passenger service during World War II, it lasted well beyond the end of the war because it was supported by a mail contract, but the end of that contract in May 1951 simultaneously ended passenger service.

Tim Moriarty
Herndon, VA
2/4/2013

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