A Ride on the Georgetown Branch

Discussion relating to the B&O up to it's 1972 merger into Chessie System. Visit the B&O Railroad Historical Society for more information. Also discussion of the C&O up to 1972. Visit the C&O Historical Society for more information. Also includes the WM up to 1972. Visit the WM Historical Society for more information.

A Ride on the Georgetown Branch

Postby NellieBly » Wed Aug 12, 2009 2:41 pm

I spent my high school years in a Montgomery County suburb of Washington, DC, and I was always fascinated by the Georgetown Branch, which crossed River Road at grade and ran into Georgetown beside the C&O Canal. In my high school years (1967-71), usual power was an F-M H12-44 with a horn that sounded like a ruptured duck. The train usually had anywhere from a handful of cars to 15 or 20 (in the winter, when the GSA steam plant in Georgetown was taking coal deliveries), and always a B&O bay window metal caboose.

When I started working at AAR in 1977, I decided a good use of my time would be some "familiarization" rides on the head ends of freight and passenger trains. In my position, this was easy to arrange (I worked directly for the AAR's president). I rode an E60 to New York on Amtrak, a GP40 from Pot Yard to Philadelphia on NE84 (B&O manifest), and of course, I rode the Georgetown Branch.

The F-M locomotive was gone by 1977, replaced by a high-hood GP9. I remember the exhortation on the cab wall, "This is your office! Keep it clean!" It seemed offensive to me even at the age of 24. In any case, I boarded with the head-end crew at Eckington Yard north of Union Station (now vanished except for a few random ties and piles of ballast). We put the train together, including about a dozen loaded coal hoppers for the GSA plant, and were on our way. With the train we had, it was a tough climb to Georgetown Junction. Even in notch 8 we couldn't make track speed. At the junction, the operator headed us down the branch (the junction was, I think, run from QN Tower). From that point it was 10 MPH into Georgetown, and even slower across the wood trestle in Rock Creek Park. In the 1970s the line was bucolic, even though it ran through developed suburbs. We crossed the Chevy Chase Country Club golf course, flagged the road crossing at Connecticut Ave., eased through the tunnel under Wisconsin Ave. in Bethesda, and flagged the crossing at River Road (even though it did have flashers). From that point to the river, the line was pretty well back in the woods. It crossed Massachusetts Ave. on a handsome brick bridge, went through a short brick-lined tunnel near Dalecarlia Reservoir, and then curved down the bluffs to the C&O Canal. Our engineer made a big brake set to hold speed to 10 MPH, and flanges squealed as we curved down the bluffs and then rumbled across the double truss bridge over Canal Road and the canal itself. Soon we were right next to the towpath, where we stayed for a couple of miles into Georgetown.

Approaching Key Bridge, the track dropped below the level of the canal, and ended up in the middle of K Street, underneath the elevated Whitehurst Freeway. The track was on the south side of the street, so going into Georgetown we were on the "right" side of the road, but coming back out we would be running against traffic. The head brakeman told a funny story about an old man who, angered by the sight of the train on the wrong side of the road, honked his horn, flashed his lights, and finally simply drove head-on into the engine (because it refused to move to the "right" side of the street).

The branch ended in a small yard adjacent to the GSA steam plant. We shuffled cars around, spotted some of the coal hoppers at GSA, and put together empties and loads to take back to Eckington. I decided to ride in the caboose on the way back, since it was (properly) on the end of the train. Crews had no radios at that time on B&O, so the conductor told the engineer he'd like to "go to beans" on the return trip, at a place just short of River Road.

Back up the bluffs we climbed, I enjoying the view off the back platform of the caboose. We came to River Road, and the engineer slowed to let the head-end brakeman flag the crossing but showed no indication of stopping, so the conductor dumped the air from the caboose. We then dismounted and walked into the Roy Rogers restaurant next to the track to get lunch. It remains the only time I took a train to a fast food restaurant.

After lunch, I got back on the head end. We had a leaking air hose somewhere, and the engineer had to keep the engine in about notch four to keep pressure up in the trainline. This became a problem after we got back on the main at Georgetown Junction, since it was all downhill to Eckington. At one point, the brakes bled on and we came to a stop. But we eventually got the train back in the yard, and so ended my trip on the Georgetown Branch.
Randy Resor, aka "NellieBly" passed away on November 1, 2013. We honor his memory and his devotion to railroading at railroad.net.
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Re: A Ride on the Georgetown Branch

Postby K3CXG » Thu Oct 22, 2009 10:01 am

The Georgetown Branch - gone, but hardly forgotten. Like NellieBly, I also spent my days as a “ute” in Montgomery County. I became a railfan around 1970-71, near the end of my days at the University of Maryland. On several occasions, I followed the branch from Bethesda to Georgetown. I have some old Kodak black&white prints of the old FM switcher in both locations. I’ll have to see if I can find them. I can’t say that I saw many trains running on the branch. I worked in Bethesda from 1974 to 1993, and would frequently take walks at lunch time. Often I would walk down Wisconsin Avenue to the bridge over the branch, hoping to see some rail action, but I didn’t get lucky very often. On one occasion, I remember seeing a Cotton Belt tunnel motor with a B&O caboose, no cars - talk about being over-powered! Eventually, the B&O (or Chessie System, can’t remember exactly) discontinued service on the line and I believe they sold it to Montgomery County. There was talk of contracting it out to a shortline, using it for light rail, or turning it into a trail. Eventually, the trail won out, much to the chagrin of the railfan community. (Don’t get me wrong - I like trails; I just like trains better!) The worst part for me is that back in the day, an acquaintance who worked for the railroad at QN or JD tower always said he could get me a ride on the branch; all I had to do is just tell him when I wanted to do it. I put it off just sufficiently long enough for him to leave the railroad, and the option was gone. Forrest Gump was right - stupid is as stupid does!

Mike from Frederick, MD
"How can ya have any pudding when you won't eat your meat?"
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Re: A Ride on the Georgetown Branch

Postby strench707 » Wed Jan 13, 2010 6:27 pm

Hello I lived in Bethesda, MD for a few years and I walked the now trail RoW many times. I would like to model it in a rail simulator and I think the task can be done within a decent amount of time because it isn't considerably long. I would like to model from Georogetown to the interchange with the B&O Metropolitan Sub (now CSX).

I was windering if anyone had a basic track chart of it or could explain how it was laid out.

Like was there any passing sidings? Any intermediate spurs? What did the whole Georogetown area look like etc?

Also were there any signals on the line, I would assume CPL's or semaphores if there were any. Maybe one governing the entrance to the Metro. Main....

Also what did the whole Bethesda situation look like. Right now the trail crosses through a heavily trafficed area with a ton of intersections and curves off under a building through an overbuild/tunnel thing.

Was the street layout always like this and did it always go under that overbuild?

Thanks guys for any help!

Davis
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Re: A Ride on the Georgetown Branch

Postby hutton_switch » Thu Jan 14, 2010 9:17 am

strench707 wrote:Hello I lived in Bethesda, MD for a few years and I walked the now trail RoW many times. I would like to model it in a rail simulator and I think the task can be done within a decent amount of time because it isn't considerably long. I would like to model from Georogetown to the interchange with the B&O Metropolitan Sub (now CSX).

I was windering if anyone had a basic track chart of it or could explain how it was laid out.

Like was there any passing sidings? Any intermediate spurs? What did the whole Georogetown area look like etc?

Also were there any signals on the line, I would assume CPL's or semaphores if there were any. Maybe one governing the entrance to the Metro. Main....

Also what did the whole Bethesda situation look like. Right now the trail crosses through a heavily trafficed area with a ton of intersections and curves off under a building through an overbuild/tunnel thing.

Was the street layout always like this and did it always go under that overbuild?

Thanks guys for any help!

Davis

Here is a website and a contact who has gone down the same road as you want to go that might be of help to you: http://sluggyjunx.com/rr/gb/.
Wade Rice
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http://www.borhs.org
Daniel Willard (1860-1942) and Jervis Langdon, Jr. (1905-2004) - Two of B&O's best presidents and managers!
President Leonor Loree (1858-1940) brought the B&O into the 20th century!
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Re: A Ride on the Georgetown Branch

Postby Alan Maples » Fri Jan 29, 2010 3:20 pm

strench707 wrote:I was windering if anyone had a basic track chart of it or could explain how it was laid out.

Like was there any passing sidings? Any intermediate spurs? What did the whole Georogetown area look like etc?

Also were there any signals on the line, I would assume CPL's or semaphores if there were any. Maybe one governing the entrance to the Metro. Main....

Also what did the whole Bethesda situation look like. Right now the trail crosses through a heavily trafficed area with a ton of intersections and curves off under a building through an overbuild/tunnel thing.

Was the street layout always like this and did it always go under that overbuild?

Thanks guys for any help!

Davis



I suggest tracking down a copy of the B&O Historical Society's "Sentinel", first quarter, 2003, which has a lenghy feature on the Georgetown Branch, including many photos and some track diagrams.

As for track layout, a lot depends on what era you wish to simulate. In its early days the Georgetown Branch had many, many sidings and customers. By the 1970's not much was left, and even less so after the Chessie System put down welded rail in 1980. Bethesda had a freight house and several team tracks, and one siding that reached back to the concrete plant on Arlington Road, but the whole area is so overrun with urban development that not much can be identified outside of the bike trail.

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Re: A Ride on the Georgetown Branch

Postby erielackawanna » Thu Mar 25, 2010 4:37 pm

I just posted this on its own thread, but realized for posteritity, for folks searching the branch, it would be good to have it all in one thread...

Here's an image of the train in May 1982.

http://www.railpictures.net/viewphoto.php?id=318379
Charles Freericks
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Re: A Ride on the Georgetown Branch

Postby NellieBly » Thu Jun 10, 2010 7:35 am

I first encountered the Georgetown Branch in the summer of 1968, when my family moved to Bethesda, MD from the New York City area. At the time, the Georgetown Branch went under Wisconsin Avenue and the "overbuild" just as the trail does today. However, the streets "down below" Wisconsin Ave. were much less busy then than they are now.

If there was a passing track or run-around on the branch, I don't recall it. Most of the traffic was to and from Georgetown. There was a lumberyard near Connecticut Ave. with a siding, which used to get a car of lumber now and then. The Dalecarlia water treatment plant got carloads of chlorine. But I don't recall any active shippers in either Bethesda or near River Road when I rode the line in 1977.

The single track ran the length of K Street in Georgetown, underneath the Whitehurst Freeway. There were probably once shippers along the street, but by 1977 they were gone. There was a small yard at the end of K Street on the river side, just before Rock Creek, that had maybe five tracks. I recall box cars and lumber racks, as well as the coal for GSA (which had a couple of tracks of its own). It was quite a compact yard. From memory, I'd guess each track held no more than five or six cars.

In the late 1970s, there were still several industrial establishments on K Street. But once the area gentrified (as it has, totally, by now) that was the end of freight traffic on the branch.
Randy Resor, aka "NellieBly" passed away on November 1, 2013. We honor his memory and his devotion to railroading at railroad.net.
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Re: A Ride on the Georgetown Branch

Postby strench707 » Mon Jun 14, 2010 4:48 pm

Was this line ever signaled in any way or did its length and lack of major importance lead it to never having any kind of signalling?

Davis
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Re: A Ride on the Georgetown Branch

Postby hutton_switch » Tue Jun 15, 2010 8:36 am

strench707 wrote:Was this line ever signaled in any way or did its length and lack of major importance lead it to never having any kind of signalling?

Davis

No, it was never signaled. In fact, at major road crossings, the brakeman or conductor acted as flagman to stop traffic when it was time for the train to pass.
Wade Rice
Member, B&O RR Historical Society
http://www.borhs.org
Daniel Willard (1860-1942) and Jervis Langdon, Jr. (1905-2004) - Two of B&O's best presidents and managers!
President Leonor Loree (1858-1940) brought the B&O into the 20th century!
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Re: A Ride on the Georgetown Branch

Postby strench707 » Tue Jun 15, 2010 7:34 pm

Oh so there were few to no flashers and gates at crossings? Well I guess there weren't too many crossings to start with.

Also would anyone happen to know the maximum operating speed on this line? I'm assuming it'd be fairly low and therefore would probably not have hardly an intermittent restrictions.

Davis
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Re: A Ride on the Georgetown Branch

Postby hutton_switch » Wed Jun 16, 2010 8:50 am

strench707 wrote:Oh so there were few to no flashers and gates at crossings? Well I guess there weren't too many crossings to start with.

Also would anyone happen to know the maximum operating speed on this line? I'm assuming it'd be fairly low and therefore would probably not have hardly an intermittent restrictions.

Davis

Traffic was quite sparse on this line, which served several customers in the Bethesda/Silver Spring area (Maloney Concrete being one) and down at Georgetown itself, which had Briggs Hot Dogs and Wilkins Coffee as customers at the end of the line.

I further checked my printed sources, plus I consulted with one of my B&O friends who knows a lot about the Georgetown Branch, and find I have to retract in part my earlier post about there being no crossing signals on this branch. In the late 1950's, flashing crossbucks (but no drop gates) were installed on a few significant highway thoroughfares that the branch crossed, two being Connecticut Avenue and another, River Road. The line also was not block-signaled, as I said earlier.

My knowledgeable source on the Georgetown Branch checked his old employee timetables and told me that maximum speed on the branch was 15 mph, and 10 mph over major bridges that the line crossed.
Wade Rice
Member, B&O RR Historical Society
http://www.borhs.org
Daniel Willard (1860-1942) and Jervis Langdon, Jr. (1905-2004) - Two of B&O's best presidents and managers!
President Leonor Loree (1858-1940) brought the B&O into the 20th century!
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Re: A Ride on the Georgetown Branch

Postby strench707 » Fri Jun 18, 2010 10:22 am

Okay thanks so much for looking into it! I'm guessing the tracks weren't in close to as good of shape as the mainline and traffic wasn't really a fast haul so the 15mph track speed sounds about right. Also, 10mph over bridges makes sense, considering some of those are pretty old.

Nowadays I'm sure some roads in that area would get four-quadrant crossings and everything if there was still service. Like with River Rd. they had to build the bike path as an overpass, too dangerous I presume.

It being dark territory also makes sense because I'd assume there would only be one train on the line at a time.

What I wonder is with those track conditions how long might a train take back in the day to travel from Georgetown Junct. where it hooked up with the main to the general Georgetown area since I guess theres just a bunch of industries no real end of the line. Like building in the 15mph speed limit with bridge restrictions and building in flagging crossings itd be interesting to know the trip time.

Davis
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Re: A Ride on the Georgetown Branch

Postby hutton_switch » Sat Jun 19, 2010 7:21 am

strench707 wrote:Okay thanks so much for looking into it! I'm guessing the tracks weren't in close to as good of shape as the mainline and traffic wasn't really a fast haul so the 15mph track speed sounds about right. Also, 10mph over bridges makes sense, considering some of those are pretty old.

Nowadays I'm sure some roads in that area would get four-quadrant crossings and everything if there was still service. Like with River Rd. they had to build the bike path as an overpass, too dangerous I presume.

It being dark territory also makes sense because I'd assume there would only be one train on the line at a time.

What I wonder is with those track conditions how long might a train take back in the day to travel from Georgetown Junct. where it hooked up with the main to the general Georgetown area since I guess theres just a bunch of industries no real end of the line. Like building in the 15mph speed limit with bridge restrictions and building in flagging crossings itd be interesting to know the trip time.

Davis

Yes, the tracks and the bridges weren't in that good a condition, which kept the speed on the very slow side. Also, with traffic the way it is now in the DC area, both Connecticut Avenue and River Road, being major thoroughfares they are, the Georgetown Branch would have had to have bridges constructed for either the railroad or the roads themselves had the line kept in operation.

Operations on the line varied quite a lot over the years. Of the pictures I've seen of consists on the line, there never were more than half a dozen cars to be delivered to customers, at the most. Sometimes, there was only one. I think that by the end of the line's operation, there were no customers at the end of the line, and most all were closer to Georgetown Junction, so it made no sense to travel down into Georgetown. Also, there usually was never any need to travel the entire line nonstop.

I've read and heard that during WWII, there were some troop trains that loaded/unloaded in Georgetown itself, but the documentation on that is extremely elusive to almost nonexistent.

For more information on the Georgetown Branch, take a look at this web site: http://sluggyjunx.com/rr/gb/
Wade Rice
Member, B&O RR Historical Society
http://www.borhs.org
Daniel Willard (1860-1942) and Jervis Langdon, Jr. (1905-2004) - Two of B&O's best presidents and managers!
President Leonor Loree (1858-1940) brought the B&O into the 20th century!
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