The Washington & Old Dominion Railroad
The railroad that became the Washington & Old Dominion was born in Alexandria in response to the competition in shipping posed by the port in Baltimore, which was served by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. The B&O was diverting farm produce from the Shenandoah Valley away from Alexandria by way of its junction with the Winchester & Potomac Railroad. It also had access to the rich coalfields of the Ohio Valley.
A group of Northern Virginia businessmen formed the Alexandria, Loudoun & Hampshire Railroad, with the first train reaching Leesburg from Alexandria on May 17, 1860. Their goal was to reach the farmlands and coalfields and recapture the trade that was slipping away.
Because of financial problems, this goal was never achieved and the railroad terminated in the town of Bluemont, Virginia. To survive, the rail line picked up business wherever possible. The railroad hauled farm products from the Fairfax and Loudoun country side into Washington, carried mail for the Federal government, provided freight service to and from the many towns and communities springing up along the line and furnished passenger service for the many commuters working in Washington. A specialized service promoted by the railroad was as an excursion line for vacationers wanting to reach cooler temperatures and resorts in the Loudoun Valley.
The railroad was only modestly successful throughout its life, although it experienced a boom during the fuel shortage years of World War II. After that, with improvements to the road systems and motor vehicles, business declined quickly. By 1951, passenger service had ended and, in 1968, the rail line was abandoned.
Time LineMarch 20, 1847
- Incorporated as the Alexandria & Harper's Ferry Railroad.March 15, 1853
- The corporate name changes to the Alexandria, Loudoun & Hampshire Railroad Company.February 25, 1855
- Construction begins near Alexandria.May 17, 1860
- First train from Alexandria to Leesburg.1861 to 1865
- Railroad construction, and some service, is interrupted by the Civil War.June 1, 1867
- Train service is restored from Alexandria to Leesburg.March 29, 1870
- Name is changed to Washington & Ohio Railroad Company. April 1, 1874
- Railroad completed to Purcellville.
The company passes quickly through a number of ownerships starting January 31, 1882, when it becomes the Washington & Western Railroad. Then on May 9, 1883 it becomes the Washington, Ohio & Western Railroad. On October 30, 1886, the line is leased by the Richmond & Danville Railroad. Finally, the railroad becomes the Bluemont Branch when purchased by the Southern Railway Company on June 28, 1894.
- The terminus of the railroad was reached when the line was completed to Snickersville (Bluemont). July 1, 1912
- The railroad becomes the Washington & Old Dominion Railway Company.Late 1912
- The railroad converts from steam to electric power.April 16, 1936
- The name changes for a final time when it becomes the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Company.February 1939
- Railroad service is discontinued west of Purcellville.April 1941
- Passenger service is discontinued but starts up again a year later as result of World War II. All passenger service is ended May 31, 1951.Early 1940s
- Railroad changes from electric to diesel power.August 27, 1968
- W&OD freight service ends and the line is abandoned. Virginia Electric and Power Company (Virginia Power) immediately buys the property to protect its existing easements and for future expansion. 1978
- After six years of negotiations with Virginia Power, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority purchases the right-of-way from Shirlington to Purcellville for use as a multi-use trail which is completed in 1988.
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