Capital Crescent Trail

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Capital Crescent Trail
Capital Crescent Trail - Bethesda.jpg
Capital Crescent Trail in Bethesda, Maryland
Established December 1996
Length 11 miles (18 km)
Location Washington metropolitan area
Trailheads South: Georgetown, North: Bethesda, Temporarily closed: Silver Spring
Use Hiking, Biking
Hiking details
Surface Asphalt

The Capital Crescent Trail (CCT) is an 11-mile (18 km) long, shared-use rail trail that runs from Georgetown in Washington, D.C., to Silver Spring, Maryland. The portion from Bethesda to Silver Spring was called the Georgetown Branch Trail but is currently closed to build the Purple Line light rail project and to extend the Capital Crescent Trail.

The Capital Crescent Trail is the one of the most heavily used rail trails in the United States and is used by more than 1 million walkers, joggers, bikers, skateboarders and rollerbladers each year.[1] In 2005, it was named one of the "21 great places that show how transportation can enliven a community" by The Project for Public Spaces.[2]


The trail runs on the abandoned right-of-way of the Georgetown Branch rail line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The rail line was partially built in 1892 and completed in 1910. It served Potomac Electric Power Company (PEPCO), the Washington Mill and Federal government buildings; but with the changing use of Georgetown's waterfront, became obsolete. Trains stopped running on the line in 1985 after a flood caused a canal washout that removed a section of track and CSX asked for permission to abandon it in 1986.[3]

Advocates for turning the railroad into a trail, including the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Coalition and the newly formed Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail began to lobby local and federal officials to do so, putting together a Concept Plan in 1988.[3] Despite opposition from neighbors and those who wanted the right-of-way for mass transit or other development, they were able to convince the Montgomery County Government, along with a coalition of developers and government agencies, to purchase the right-of-way from the D.C. line to Silver Spring. The purchase was made in 1988 under the National Trails System Act of 1968.[4][5] CSX sold the line for $22 million.[6] The following year, the County voted to build a trolley and bike trail along the Bethesda-Silver Spring section of the right-of-way.[7]

In 1990 the National Park Service, with help from philanthropist Kingdon Gould, Jr., purchased about 4.3 miles (6.9 km) of right-of-way in the District of Columbia from Georgetown to the D.C./Maryland boundary and developed the trail as a component of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.[4]

With the right-of-way secured, work on the trail began shortly thereafter. Volunteers built a wooden deck over the Arizona Avenue Railroad Bridge in 1990. In 1991, advocates John Dugger and Henri Bartholomot helped secure federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act funding to develop the Maryland portion of the trail.[4] Work on the portion in the District began in 1992 and work on the 7-mile (11 km) section from the District to Bethesda began in spring of 1994 and the tracks were removed in 1995.[8][9] The section from Bethesda to Silver Spring, however, was delayed due to continued debate over the proposed trolley.[10]

The trail was built in several segments, by different agencies. The first section of the trail to open, in April 1995, was built by PEPCO in exchange for easement considerations elsewhere and ran from Bethesda Avenue to Little Falls Parkway.[11] Montgomery County, with financial assistance from Maryland and the federal government and planning from the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, built the section from Little Falls Parkway to the District Line. Arlington County, oddly, built a section of the trail near Dalecarlia Reservoir because they were doing unrelated work on pipelines in the area.[11] Finally, the National Park Service built the section from Dalecarlia Reservoir to Georgetown, with all of the work except for the Arizona Avenue Trestle completed in 1994.[11] In 1995, the concrete deck of the trestle was poured, replacing the wooden deck built 5 years earlier.[12] In 1996 a trail bridge was opened over busy River Road and the Dalecarlia Bridge was completed. The Dalecarlia Bridge includes a component of a bridge which formerly took the Georgetown Branch over the Washington and Great Falls Electric Railway and it was designed to go over a road connecting two parts of the Washington Aqueduct reservation. In June of that year the final piece of the trail between Bethesda and Georgetown was completed when the Arizona Avenue Trestle was finally opened. The trail was formally dedicated in December 1996.[13]

An unpaved trail connection to Norton Street, NW and a staircase connection to Potomac Avenue, NW were built around 2003.

Georgetown Branch Interim Trail[edit]

The section of the right-of-way from Bethesda to Silver Spring opened later than the section from Bethesda to Georgetown did, primarily because of a debate over what to do with it. A year after the right-of-way was purchased, Gov. William Donald Schaefer (D) offered $70 million to build a trolley line on it and later a combined transit/trail corridor was added to the county's master plan. This led to several contentious battles between those who supported transit and those who did not, with those who supported a trail left in the middle. There were also lawsuits over the ownership of the line with adjacent homeowners, the Chevy Chase Land Co. and Columbia Country Club all suing the county. The county won all the suits and pursued construction of an interim trail while transit options were considered.[14][15][16][17]

On May 17, 1997, the Georgetown Branch Interim Trail, from the east side of the Air Rights Tunnel in Bethesda to Stewart Avenue in Silver Spring opened.[18] On August 15, 1998, the Air Rights Tunnel in Bethesda (built in 1910) was opened to trail traffic, connecting the interim and permanent sections.[19] In June 2000, Montgomery County committed $1.3 million to repair the Rock Creek Trestle, which had been damaged by arson and fire, most notably in 1967, and open it for trail use.[20] The trestle was dedicated for trail use on May 31, 2003.[21]

Over the years, adding transit to the Georgetown Branch continued to be studied and debated. A trolley between Bethesda and Silver Spring eventually became the Georgetown Branch Light Rail Transit, the Inner Purple Line, the Bi-County Transitway and finally the Purple Line - a light rail train from Bethesda to New Carrolton, MD. Each iteration included plans to pave a parallel extension of the trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring and using the existing Air Rights Tunnel.[22][23] However, in 2011 MTA announced that the cost of building the extended trail would be $103 million, much more than the previously estimated $65 million, with half of that being the cost of squeezing the trail into the Air Rights Tunnel with the train.[24] Instead the county made plans for a 2nd trail tunnel parallel to the transit tunnel built, in part, under a new Air Rights building.[25]

On September 5, 2017, the Georgetown Branch was officially closed so that work could begin on the Purple Line light rail. In conjunction with the Purple Line project, construction crews will extend the Capital Crescent Trail as a paved 12 foot wide off-road shared use path from Bethesda to Silver Spring.[26] That project is to be completed around 2022.


The Arizona Avenue Railway Bridge, located in The Palisades neighborhood of Washington, D.C., crosses the C&O Canal and is now part of the Capital Crescent Trail.

The currently closed section of the trail started at Lyttonsville Junction, about one mile (1.6 km) west of downtown Silver Spring. It went west on an unpaved, crushed stone surface passing over Rock Creek on a trestle to Chevy Chase and then to Bethesda through the 800-foot-long Air Rights Tunnel. It was closed in September 2017 for construction of the Purple Line and the extension of the trail to Silver Spring. It will reopen around 2022 as a paved trail from Bethesda to Silver Spring.

The currently paved portion of the trail begins south of Bethesda, where the trail begins to turn south. It follows the Little Falls Branch to the Potomac River and the District line. It goes over the River Road Bridge and past the site of Fort Sumner, a Civil War-era fort. It then moves through the Dalecarlia area, traveling under the Washington Aqueduct conduit at the Dalecarlia Tunnel, past the Dalecarlia Reservoir and through the grounds of the Dalecarlia Treatment Plant over the Dalecarlia Bridge.

Crossing into Washington, DC, it then turns southeast, dropping down from the Palisades neighborhood over the C&O Canal on the Arizona Avenue Railway Bridge, and down to the banks of the Potomac. It then runs between the Potomac and the C&O Canal, past Fletcher's Boathouse and the Foundry Branch Tunnel, into Georgetown to its terminus at the west end of Water Street NW.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kraut, Aaron (4 September 2015). "New Numbers Show How Many People Are Using the Capital Crescent Trail". Retrieved 6 September 2017. 
  2. ^ Archived May 2, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ a b "Concept Plan for the Capital Crescent Trail" (PDF). Retrieved 6 September 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c Kraut, Aaron (2014-09-15). "Supporters Honor Capital Crescent Trail Visionary". Local News Now LLC. Retrieved 2014-09-15. 
  5. ^ Armao, Jo-Ann (December 9, 1988). "Rail Spur Purchase `Priceless'; Montgomery Weighs Hiking, Trolley Line". The Washington Post. Retrieved 9 September 2015. 
  6. ^ Bell, Thomas (23 November 1989). "Cyclists Racing to Get Railbed for NE Trail". The Washington Post. 
  7. ^ Levy, Claudia (18 November 1989). "Montgomery Trolley Gets Green Light; County Council Set To Approve Rail Line". The Washington Post. Retrieved 9 September 2015. 
  8. ^ Hodge, Paul (14 January 1993). "Paving Way for Hikers and Bikers". The Washington Post. Retrieved 9 September 2015. 
  9. ^ "A `Greenway' From Georgetown to Silver Spring; Who will get `Chessie's orphan'?". The Washington Post. 24 April 1988. Retrieved 9 September 2015. 
  10. ^ Aquilar, Louis (15 December 1994). "Council to Review Plan for Completing Crescent Trail". The Washington Post. Retrieved 9 September 2015. 
  11. ^ a b c Shaffer, Ron (26 January 1995). "On the Trail Of a Solution". The Washington Post. Retrieved 9 September 2015. 
  12. ^ "Progress on Crescent Trail". The Washington Post. 30 September 1995. Retrieved 9 September 2015. 
  13. ^ Aquilar, Loui s (19 May 1994). "Paving a Path of Joy For Bicyclists, Joggers; Part of Capital Crescent Trail Linking Bethesda, District Is Scheduled to Open Within Months". The Washington Post. Retrieved 9 September 2015. 
  14. ^ Gnatt, Brian (10 March 1999). "Residents lose decade-long land battle". Retrieved 7 September 2017. 
  15. ^ "Read v. Montgomery County". Retrieved 7 September 2017. 
  16. ^ "CHEVY CHASE LAND CO. v. U.S." Retrieved 7 September 2017. 
  17. ^ "MONTGOMERY COUNTY v. BHATT". Retrieved 7 September 2017. 
  18. ^ Saffir, Barbara (1997-05-15). "Saturday Debut for Bethesda-Silver Spring Trail Link". The Washington Post. p. M04. Retrieved 2009-06-29. 
  19. ^ Walton, Marcus (1998-08-16). "Bethesda Tunnel Opens for Trail Business". The Washington Post. 
  20. ^ Patner, Myra Mensh (24 May 2000). "Rock Creek trestle could be ready by 2002". Retrieved 7 September 2017. 
  21. ^ Wayne Phyillaier (May 14, 2004). "The Rock Creek Trestle". Archived from the original on 2006-09-09. Retrieved 2006-11-20. 
  22. ^ Shaver, Katherine (16 July 2010). "Purple Line trail project would cost at least $40 million more than planned". Retrieved 7 September 2017. 
  23. ^ Shaver, Katherine (27 November 2008). "Purple Line Follows Path of Discord". Retrieved 7 September 2017. 
  24. ^ Shaver, Katherine (27 October 2011). "Capital Crescent Trail's costs along future Purple Line rise". Retrieved 7 September 2017. 
  25. ^ Cranor, David (13 February 2017). "Apex Building replacement will create (part of) a new tunnel for the Capital Crescent Trail with a bike parking and maintenance space". Retrieved 7 September 2017. 
  26. ^ Olivio, Antonio (5 September 2017). "Closure of popular trail for Purple Line sparks community anger and nostalgia". The Washington Post. Retrieved 5 September 2017. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 39°00′09″N 77°02′47″W / 39.0024°N 77.0463°W / 39.0024; -77.0463