Washington and Old Dominion Railway
|Washington and Old Dominion Railway|
W&OD logo and system map
|Dates of operation||1853–1968|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge)|
|Length||72 miles (116 kilometres)|
The Washington and Old Dominion Railway (reporting mark WOD) was an interurban and freight shortline railroad located in northern Virginia. The route largely paralleled the Potomac River and Virginia State Route 7. The line was abandoned in 1968, and was replaced by the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park.
The city of Alexandria, Virginia, in 1836 saw the Winchester & Potomac Railroad and Baltimore & Ohio Railroad suddenly funnel to Baltimore the trade that had been coming down to Alexandria from the Shenandoah Valley. After an initial flurry of excitement and the chartering of a stillborn railroad, Alexandrians in 1853 chartered the Alexandria, Loudon & Hampshire Railroad (AL&H) to build west across the Blue Ridge Mountains to Winchester, Virginia. By 1858 the roadbed reached Leesburg, and train service that far began in 1860. During the Civil War the railroad was not of any strategic value, but it suffered as much damage as if it had been.
In 1870, the AL&H set its sights on the Ohio River at Parkersburg, West Virginia, renamed itself the Washington & Ohio (W&O), and built several miles further to Round Hill, approximately 50 miles (80 kilometres) from Alexandria. In 1877 the railroad slipped into receivership. It went through several more changes of name and goal before being swept into the Richmond & Danville (R&D) system in 1886. With the rest of the R&D it became part of the Southern Railway family in 1894. In 1900 another four miles of track brought the railroad to Snickersville, which was renamed Bluemont when it achieved the lofty status of a town served by a railroad.
In the early years of the twentieth century John R. McLean (owner of The Washington Post) and Senator Stephen B. Elkins (developer of a coal, lumber and railroad empire in West Virginia) bought a plot of land at the Great Falls of the Potomac River, west of Washington, to develop as a park. They built the Great Falls & Old Dominion Railroad (GF&OD), an interurban trolley line, to connect it with the W&O. Both park and trolley line opened in 1906.
The enterprise prospered, and McLean and Elkins looked to expand. In 1911 McLean with Elkins's heirs (the senator had died earlier that year) organized the Washington and Old Dominion Railway (W&OD) to encompass the GF&OD, the Alexandria-Bluemont branch (leased from the Southern Railway), and a newly-built connecting link. The W&OD strung trolley wires over most of the Alexandria-Bluemont line and began operating in 1912 as partly an electric railroad, as well as partly steam road, partly rural, and partly suburban. It quickly acquired a reputation for random and casual operation.
In the 1920s freight began to replace passengers as the principal revenue item, but the onset of the Great Depression put the railroad into receivership. In the mid-1930s the W&OD cleaned house — scrapping old equipment, abandoning the park at Great Falls and the line to it, and reorganizing as the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad. The Purcellville-Bluemont segment was dismantled in 1938, and the trolley wires came down in 1941 with the end of passenger service.
Replacing the electrics were three 44-ton diesels. Passenger service resumed after World War II, first as a two-car streamlined gas-electric train from the Pennsylvania Railroad (originally one of the Budd Company's early rubber-tire experimentals), then with assorted second-hand gas-electrics. Passenger service ended again in 1950 when the mail contract expired.
W&OD bought its Alexandria-Purcellville line from the Southern Railway in 1945, and in the early 1950s became solvent, almost prosperous. On November 6, 1956, the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway bought the W&OD because of the prospect of a power plant being constructed near its line (it did not happen). Between 1959 and 1961 business flourished, largely in construction materials for the Washington Dulles International Airport, although far more materials came by truck than by train — the same was true for the construction of the community of Reston, built in the early 1960s. W&OD sold the Rosslyn branch in 1962 for highway use. In 1965 the W&OD petitioned to abandon the remainder of the line, largely to sell its right of way for highway and power line use. The W&OD ceased operation on August 27, 1968.
Most of the line has been incorporated as the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park.
Former stations 
See also 
- Great Falls and Old Dominion Railroad
- Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park
- Northern Virginia trolleys
Further reading 
- Harwood, Herbert Hawley, Jr. (2009). Rails to the Blue Ridge: The Washington and Old Dominion Railroad, 1847–1968 (4th ed.). Fairfax Station, Virginia: Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. ISBN 9780615283111. at Google Books
- Williams, Ames W. (1989). The Washington and Old Dominion Railroad. Arlington, Virginia: Arlington Historical Society. ISBN 0926984004. at Google Books
- Guillaudeu, David A.; Forward by McCray, Paul E. (2013). Washington & Old Dominion Railroad. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 9780738597928. at Google Books
- W&OD history
- "Circa 1920 system map of Washington and Old Dominion Railway". Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority historical marker: "Bluemont Junction". HMdb.org: The Historical Marker Database. Photograph by Craig Swain, Leesburg, VA, dated 2009-11-22. Retrieved 2010-08-18.
- Detailed history of W&OD
- Interview with W&OD engineer Douglas Lee and Brakeman Randolph Shutts, Pt. 1
- Interview with W&OD engineer Douglas Lee and Brakeman Randolph Shutts, Pt. 2