Potomac Yard

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For the planned Metro station, see Potomac Yard (WMATA station).
Potomac Yard in the 1980s

Potomac Yard was one of the busiest rail yards on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Today, it refers to the neighborhood encompassing the same, which straddles southeastern Arlington County and northern Alexandria, Virginia, bounded by U.S. Route 1, the George Washington Memorial Parkway, Four Mile Run, and Braddock Road. It may also refer to one of several developments on the site, especially the Potomac Yard Retail Center strip mall.


English settlers built several plantations on the site in the 18th century.[1]:103-4 The land, much owned by the Swann and Daingerfield families, became part of Alexandria County, D.C. with the creation of the District of Columbia in 1791, and retroceded to Virginia in 1846.

Its role as a transportation hub began when Congress chartered the Alexandria Canal Company in 1830. The canal, which opened on December 2, 1843, would connect the port of Alexandria with the end of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (completed 1850) in Georgetown via the Potomac Aqueduct Bridge. It would operate until abandoned in 1886.[1]:105-6

Potomac Yard, circa 1917

Railroad development in the area began in the 1850s, though stymied by political concerns and by the American Civil War. The Alexandria and Washington Railroad began service on a new rail line between Long Bridge and Alexandria in 1857.[1]:106 Order to the region's mishmash of active and abandoned rail lines and stations did not come until the City Beautiful movement of the late 19th century. The 1901 Plan for Washington, D.C. (report of the McMillan Commission) proposed consolidating the region's rail operations, including a new Washington Union Station (approved 1903, completed 1908) and a New Long Railroad Bridge (completed 1904).[2]

In accordance with the plan, the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Southern Railway, Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, and Seaboard Air Line Railway formed the Richmond-Washington Company to manage traffic. This holding company controlled the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad (RF&P), the new Alexandria Union Station, which opened in 1905, and the new switching yard—Potomac Yard—which opened on October 15, 1906.[3]

The booming "Pot Yard" attracted thousands of workers, who largely settled in the areas of Del Ray and St. Elmo. These subdivisions incorporated as the town of Potomac in 1908, but were annexed by the City of Alexandria in 1930.

Potomac Yard in its heyday was one of the busiest railyards in the Eastern United States, processing thousands of cars daily. The PRR extended its railway electrification program to Potomac Yard in 1935, marking its southernmost point.[2] The Penn Central segment of the famous Tropicana Juice Train operated from here. The site reached capacity in 1937.

After the corporate mergers of the former separate railroad companies that used the yard to interchange freight cars, the need for Potomac Yard greatly diminished. It was determined by the RF&P that the land was worth more than the need for yard switching. The PRR's old catenary was dismantled in the 1980s. The facility was identified as a toxic waste site in 1987. The RF&P finally decommissioned it in 1989. Plans for rehabilitation and redevelopment of the land have been a source of intense debate since then.


At decommissioning, decades of industrial use had left the site contaminated with heavy metals and hydrocarbons, including Diesel fuel. It was immediately declared a Superfund site. In 1995 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved RF&P's study and cleanup plan, and cleanup was declared completed by 1998.[4]

Various commercial and community interest groups came into conflict over the future of the brownfield land. The City of Alexandria rejected the original mixed-use plan in 1992. Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Washington Redskins, unsuccessfully pushed for the construction of a new football stadium on the site. Seventy of the 400 acres (1.6 km²) of the site were approved for retail use in 1995; the Potomac Yard Center, a 589,856-square-foot (54,799.4 m2) strip mall anchored by big box stores, was completed in 1997. Other sections of Potomac Yard have since been slated for development as residential units, office space, parkland, and retail use. The Potomac Yard Complex by Crescent Resources is already under construction. One and Two Potomac Center was completed in November 2005 and houses several EPA offices. The southernmost portion of the Alexandria section is under construction as of August 2006. It includes two plans, one for Arlington and one for Alexandria. The Alexandria portion of the site is highlighted by a new Town Center. The plan also includes 1,900,000 square feet (180,000 m2) of office space; a 625-room hotel; 135,000 square feet (12,500 m2) of neighborhood retail space; and approximately 1,900 residential units. The plan for the Arlington site includes 2,800,000 square feet (260,000 m2) of office space; a 625-room hotel; 100,000 square feet (9,300 m2) of neighborhood retail space; and approximately 1000 residential units. The plan also calls for a 25-acre (100,000 m2) park, which will be owned by Arlington County.

Recent efforts to develop a Virginia Railway Express commuter rail station at Potomac Yard have failed due to the high costs of the project and studies showing low demand for the station. As a result, such a project is near the bottom of the priority list of the City of Alexandria and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro).

In late 2008, the city of Alexandria founded the Potomac Yard Planning Advisory Group. The members of this group have been tasked to reopen and address the idea of integrating Metro into the yard. In addition, the city and the mayor put together the Metrorail Feasibility Study Group, in order to verify the cost to the citizens and the optimal location of a Metro station.

In the summer of 2009 the Eclipse condominium and Camden Apartment buildings were completed. The Eclipse building includes retail space that houses FedEx Kinko's, Quiznos, Bank of America, Harris Teeter, McGinty's Public House, and other retailers. National Gateway I and II have finalized exterior construction and is expected to have the interior finalized for tenants by Fall of 2009. These two buildings have confirmed retail of an LA Fitness and Wachovia bank. Currently, The main feature of Center park is finalizing construction, which will include a cafe, amphitheater, and a water feature. The northern end includes a Renaissance Hotel, which is finalizing exterior construction. Other projects include an Archstone-Smith (formerly Charles E. Smith) apartment complex and National Gateway 3-6, all of which have not broken ground.

New Development[edit]

Potomac Yard was turned into a neighborhood. Construction started around 2008 and will finish around late 2017. it is an extremely large neighborhood running from just south of Crystal City (starts in Arlington County) as Market Square, then Potomac yard Center (East side of Route 1) and The Reserve at Potomac yard (West Side of Potomac Yard). Then you will see a lot of Construction. There is a new apartment being built, known as The Alric. It is being built by the Clark Builders Group. It is planned to open by late this spring. Then there are the townhouses and Condos. There are 4 Model Homes and a few other homes under construction.

The Neighborhood is being built by The Pulte Group and the Clark Builders Group. The Pulte Group works on the townhouses and concos areas and The Clark Builders Croup works on the Alric and the future offices. The construction people are always busy during the work hours.

Potomac Yard Park[edit]

The Potomac Yard Park is a new park that opened on December 14, 2013. It is a 24-acre park with a lot of features and a lot of history to look at. It runs along Potomac Avenue between Just south of the parking lot by the Regal Cinemas to Braddock Road. Construction was started in 2009 and ended in 2013. There are 2 basketball courts, 2 volleyball courts, 2 tennis courts, and 2 medium sized playgrounds. There are a lot of places with benches. It is a beautiful park with a view of the train tracks (excluding the Washington Metro, which lies under the park).

New Transportation Changes[edit]

There are new bus lanes being built in the middle of Route 1. They will open by late this spring. It will run from Potomac Avenue until Arlington County. There will also be a new bus stop, which is currently not in service. It will open once the Metro Station opens.

There is a planned Metro Station proposed to open in 2016. Construction starts spring of 2014. It will open available to the Yellow and Blue Lines going Both ways. It will be next to the Park and will be a pretty far walk to get to the current homes[citation needed]. It will be located behind Target.


  1. ^ a b c Bromberg, Francine W. (2010). "The History of Potomac Yard: A Transportation Corridor through Time." Appendix III of North Potomac Yard Small Area Plan. City of Alexandria, VA.
  2. ^ a b Cohen, Robert (2003). "History of the Long Railroad Bridge Crossing Across the Potomac River." National Railway Historical Society, Washington, D.C. Chapter.
  3. ^ National Railway Historical Society, Washington, D.C. Chapter. "Timeline of Washington, D.C. Railroad History." Accessed 2012-11-14.
  4. ^ U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Philadelphia, PA. "Mid-Atlantic Superfund: Potomac Yard." Accessed 2012-11-14.

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