Waterfront Railroads in Alexandria, VA

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Waterfront Railroads in Alexandria, VA

Postby Volanova » Fri Oct 16, 2015 6:04 pm

I'm looking to learn a little more about the old industrial branch lines that served the waterfront and power station in the Old Town section of Alexandria, Virginia. It branches off the Norfolk Southern (I think...) main line just north of the Route 1 overpass, loops back past the power station (which ceased operations in 2012), and continues on to the waterfront to a small warehouse district at Pendleton and Union streets. There used to be an active port terminal complex here that has since fallen into disuse because of a lack of modern crane facilities and small wharves that are unable to handle anything other than small break-bulk cargo ships and barges, and were last used to deliver newsprint, possibly as late as 1998.

It appears as though the line fell in to disuse after the closure of the power station, when it was no longer needed to bring coal fuel to the station. The lines near the station are still in decent condition, with marked at-grade road crossings, intact ballast, and minimal overgrowth, though the sleepers do appear to be starting to rot in places.

Anyone have any idea of the history of this little branch, or the industry it served other than the power plant? I'd love to know the history of the seaport, and when the last ships docked at the two remaining terminal wharves in Alexandria.
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Re: Waterfront Railroads in Alexandria, VA

Postby mtuandrew » Tue Oct 27, 2015 12:05 pm

Volanova wrote:I'm looking to learn a little more about the old industrial branch lines that served the waterfront and power station in the Old Town section of Alexandria, Virginia. It branches off the Norfolk Southern (I think...) main line just north of the Route 1 overpass, loops back past the power station (which ceased operations in 2012), and continues on to the waterfront to a small warehouse district at Pendleton and Union streets. There used to be an active port terminal complex here that has since fallen into disuse because of a lack of modern crane facilities and small wharves that are unable to handle anything other than small break-bulk cargo ships and barges, and were last used to deliver newsprint, possibly as late as 1998.

It appears as though the line fell in to disuse after the closure of the power station, when it was no longer needed to bring coal fuel to the station. The lines near the station are still in decent condition, with marked at-grade road crossings, intact ballast, and minimal overgrowth, though the sleepers do appear to be starting to rot in places.

Anyone have any idea of the history of this little branch, or the industry it served other than the power plant? I'd love to know the history of the seaport, and when the last ships docked at the two remaining terminal wharves in Alexandria.

That particular line is part of the original Alexandria, Loudoun, and Hampshire Railroad, built by Alexandria interests to bring goods from Northern VA to the Alexandria wharves. It eventually stretched as far as the Blue Ridge Mountains at Bluemont while under the control of the Southern Railway, but eventually most of the railroad was sold off to the Washington & Old Dominion Railway. The last mile and a half from Potomac Yard to the Alexandria Waterfront remained in Southern hands - that's the spur that's still there. (It was used to serve the Robinson Terminal warehouse in Alexandria, until it was closed and sold to developers.)

Other lines:
  • The Southern Railway (nee Orange & Alexandria, now Norfolk Southern) had a big presence in Alexandria. Its Cameron Yard was located where the US Patent & Trade Office and other sundry offices are now located. (The Blue and Yellow lines had to tunnel underneath that Alexandria line, west of King Street Station, since it was in place through the 1980s.) The Southern connected to the waterfront through the Wilkes Street Tunnel (still extant too, between Royal and Fairfax), then turned north along Union Street to connect with the existing spur at Pendleton Street.
  • The Pennsylvania Railroad had a presence in Alexandria with lines from Potomac Yard south down Fayette Street and Henry Street, to the roundhouse at Jamieson Avenue. These were abandoned sometime between the 1920s and 1950s, but if you look closely you can still see rail or signs of it on Fayette.
  • The current CSX line through Alexandria Union Station was the former Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac. It was jointly owned by the C&O, the Southern, the Pennsylvania, the B&O, the SAL, and the ACL.
  • The Washington, Alexandria, and Mount Vernon Electric ran through Del Ray on Commonwealth Avenue, intersected with King Street and went east to Royal, then went south on Royal towards Mount Vernon. It's now totally abandoned.

See this article by Jaybird's Jottings about "Rails in the Seaport",

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As an aside, I think Alexandria should install a trolley loop, electric (battery, probably) instead of the existing King Street "Trolley." I picture it going east on King Street from the Metro to Union Street, north from there to the Norfolk Southern spur, up to Slaters Lane and looping under US 1, then going back south on Fayette Street (with a short spur to Braddock Road Metro) to King Street.
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