Orange and Alexandria Railroad

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Orange and Alexandria Railroad
Map showing the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.jpg
1852 map showing the O&A
Firefly train.JPG
The engine "Firefly" on a trestle of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.
Dates of operation1848–1867
SuccessorOrange, Alexandria and Manassas Railroad
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Previous gaugeOriginally built as 4 ft 8 in (1,422 mm)

The Orange and Alexandria Railroad (O&A) was a railroad in Virginia, United States. It extended from Alexandria to Gordonsville, with another section from Charlottesville to Lynchburg. The road played a crucial role in the American Civil War, and eventually became an important part of the modern-day Norfolk Southern rail system.

Antebellum period[edit]

The Virginia General Assembly issued a charter to the O&A on May 28, 1848, to run from Alexandria to Gordonsville. Construction began in 1850 and was completed in April 1854, when it connected with the Virginia Central Railroad in Orange County.[1] Its longtime President was John S. Barbour Jr., Virginia lawyer, part-time delegate and son of U.S. Representative John Strode Barbour.

In 1854, the General Assembly granted the O&A the right to build southward from Charlottesville to Lynchburg. O&A paid for trackage rights over Virginia Central tracks from Gordonsville to Charlottesville. In 1860, the southern extension was completed, including lucrative connections to the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad and the South Side Railroad. The O&A also connected with the Manassas Gap Railroad (chartered in 1850), at Tudor Hall (today named Manassas for this junction) which gave it access to the Shenandoah Valley.[2]

The railroad boosted Virginia commerce. Farmers from first Virginia's Piedmont region, and later the Shenandoah Valley could ship their products, produce and goods much more cheaply than before. Not only were the markets of Washington D.C. and Richmond, Virginia, accessible, so was the Potomac River port of Alexandria (accessible to ocean-going vessels). Alexandria, Richmond and Lynchburg also became manufacturing centers. Passengers could travel from Washington to Lynchburg in eight hours instead of enduring a three-day stagecoach journey.

American Civil War[edit]

1861 barricades on Alexandria's Duke Street, erected to protect the Orange and Alexandria Railroad from Confederate cavalry.
Repairing damage after a Confederate cavalry raid

The O&A was strategically important during the Civil War (1861–1865) and was repeatedly fought over and wrecked. In connection with the Virginia Central, it was the only rail link between the capitals at Washington, D.C., and Richmond. An 1861 Union Army attempt to gain control of Manassas Junction led to the First Battle of Bull Run, and the junction traded hands numerous time during the war. Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson attacked it in the Battle of Manassas Station Operations to draw the Union into the 1862 Second Battle of Bull Run. The 1863 Battle of Brandy Station and Second Battle of Rappahannock Station were also fought near the railroad line.

The O&A depot and roundhouse at Alexandria were located in today's Carlyle/Eisenhower East area.


The railroad entered Reconstruction in dire shape, with much of its track ripped up and most of its rolling stock destroyed. However, Barbour proceeded to rebuild the railroad, soon with the help of various politically connected financiers and his brother in law J.S.B. Thompson. In 1867, the O&A merged with the Manassas Gap Railroad (led by Edward Carrington Marshall) to become the Orange, Alexandria and Manassas Railroad.[3]

After the Panic of 1873, the railroad was consolidated into the Virginia Midland Railway, which was controlled by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. It later became part of the Richmond and Danville Railroad, which went bankrupt in the Panic of 1893. The following year it was merged into the Southern Railway.

A cutoff between Orange and Charlottesville was incorporated in 1876 as the Charlottesville and Rapidan Railroad and opened in 1880. The Southern Railway acquired the line in 1914.

Modern times[edit]

In 1982, Southern Railway System joined the Norfolk and Western Railway to form the Norfolk Southern (NS) system. The former O&A tracks are also used by Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express (VRE) operates commuter railroad service along a portion of the historic line.

The line from Orange to Gordonsville has been on long-term lease to the C&O Railway, which transferred to CSX, and now CSX subleases to Buckingham Branch Railroad, which operates it as the Orange Subdivision.[4]

Among the traces of the original infrastructure are Hoofs Run Bridge and the Wilkes Street Tunnel[5] in Alexandria.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Netherton, Nan & Whitney Von Lake Wyckoff (1995). Fairfax Station: All Aboard!. Fairfax, Va.: Friends of Fairfax Station. p. 153.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Picking Up Speed in Orange". Buckingham Branch Railroad. April 17, 2017. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  5. ^ Cressey, Pamela (October 19, 1995). "Wilkes Street tunnel is important piece of past". Alexandria Gazette (via Retrieved 2018-02-08.

External links[edit]