Greater Greater Washington

See all historic DC-area trolley routes on one map

This map claims to show every local electric railway line that operated in the region between 1890 and 1962, regardless of who operated it or when it ran. That makes this much more comprehensive than DC Transit maps that only show one company's lines, and only from a single year.

Image from wikimedia.

Some of the longer lines on this map are "interurbans," which were trolley vehicles that functioned more like commuter rail than central city streetcars, stopping less frequently and running on longer headways. Today we'd probably call them light rail. They're on the map because no matter their route characteristics, they were basically electric trolleys. That includes Virginia's well-known W&OD, which isn't usually called a trolley line today.

The map first appeared on wikipedia and was created by the anonymous user "SDC".

Cross-posted on BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for the Arlington County Department of Transportation. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives a car-free lifestyle in Northwest Washington. His posts are his own opinions and do not represent the views of his employer in any way. He runs the blog BeyondDC and also contributes to the Washington Post Local Opinions blog. 

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Well that's a shame.

by drumz on Jan 9, 2013 12:24 pm • linkreport

Great find.

Did anyone every find the map that would allow you to take trolley from DC to Boston?

by charlie on Jan 9, 2013 12:47 pm • linkreport

It would be great to superimpose this over the road/rail routes to better understand previous development patterns (and identify potential future expansion to proposed routes in DC and VA).

by Andrew on Jan 9, 2013 1:03 pm • linkreport

Cool as always.

One thought it provokes is - like the current Metro system, there's a hole if you will, for coverage southwest from DC, which is of course Virginia.

Any thoughts?

by Jay Roberts on Jan 9, 2013 1:38 pm • linkreport

It only covers lines that actually went into DC.

by selxic on Jan 9, 2013 2:21 pm • linkreport

Tennallytown? Is that an old spelling or just really wrong?

by Alan B. on Jan 9, 2013 3:14 pm • linkreport

Alan B.

Tenleytown comes from Tenallytown who owned a tavern.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tenleytown,_Washington,_D.C.

by drumz on Jan 9, 2013 3:24 pm • linkreport

@selxic: That's not true, since plenty of the lines terminated in Rosslyn.

by Gray's in the Fields on Jan 9, 2013 4:06 pm • linkreport

Great map, but yes, needs to be fitted to actual streets to make it usable. Also needs a key to explain the different colors and line weights. Anyone want to turn this into a shapefile? It would have been helpful if the creator documented his sources.

Would be very interesting to compare this to current plans for streetcar in all the region's jurisdictions, as well as recent efforts to map high-frequency bus routes.

by DE on Jan 9, 2013 4:13 pm • linkreport

I think most of the routes are still good to be re-established. However, some of the routes need to be part of subway (less stops and faster services) AND light rail (more stops -- more of a feeder services) -- similar to Philadelphia Septa subway and trolley lines (I think there are two routes).

And we need to add few cross town lines as well. There's no need to have all routes go to Downtown DC. More suburb to suburb lines are needed.

Another is "fast" light rail from Dulles airport to Orange Line in Vienna then down to I-95.

We have a long way to go -- I think this will happened after I'm retired and moved to warm state.

by Dave on Jan 9, 2013 5:17 pm • linkreport

I think i can look at this map and pick out the major streets: Rhode Island Ave/Rte1 goes out to Laurel e.g. I can see Bladensburg Rd., 16th St, GA Ave, New Hamp. Ave (though its not a streetcar line), CT Ave, Wisc Ave, River Rd, Old Georgetown Rd??

by Tina on Jan 9, 2013 5:17 pm • linkreport

Yes....I did too earlier...but didn't know...wasn't sure if it was Blandensburg Road (started from H/Benning Street???).

Many routes in Maryland and Virginia is beyond my knowing the area.

Does anyone know if the new Columbus Circle at Union Station have room for light rail (or streetcar) when DC Transits was running the trolley. I still hope we can do that -- hate to see DC Goverment and NPS re-do Columbus Circle if a lightrail ever reestablished.

by dave on Jan 9, 2013 5:41 pm • linkreport

@Jay Roberts: The hole in Virginia is probably because in that era there weren't a lot of people west of Arlington County outside of the towns of Falls Church, Vienna, Fairfax, Herndon and Leesburg, plus the Rte. 1 corridor, all of which had rail coverage. If Wikipedia is to be believed, the Virginia trains stopped running in the 30s and 40s. In the 1940 census, Fairfax County had less than 41,000 residents -- that's not enough bodies to fill all the seats in Nationals Park today.

by c5karl on Jan 9, 2013 5:43 pm • linkreport

Did these lines all run on the street/above ground, or were some of them underground?

by AL on Jan 9, 2013 7:09 pm • linkreport

Al, the only one I know is in Dupont Circle. You'll find the entrance to underground trolly on P Street (between CVS and a bank (used to be Riggs Bank -- can't remember which one is now). In 1990 I believe, it was reopened as an underground food court.

I'm sure someone who will be reading this will provide you links to pictures of the Dupont Circle underground station.

Don't know if there was any underground line(s) elsewhere.

Dave

by Dave on Jan 9, 2013 7:50 pm • linkreport

Al, I found an information about Dupont circle underground station:

http://beyonddc.com/log/?p=4230

by Dave on Jan 9, 2013 7:55 pm • linkreport

I had seen this map before, and I noted the line along Bladensburg Road towards College Park. Does anyone know the exact alignment?

by Frank IBC on Jan 9, 2013 8:22 pm • linkreport

@ Al -

There were at least two other very short underground segments in the streetcar system:

-South end of 14th Street line, turnaround at C St. SW.

-C Street between 1st St. NW and 1st St. NE - tunnel under axis of North Capitol Street in Lower Senate Park

Also, in the late 40s or early 50s a more extensive streetcar subway system was proposed with four branches converging on 16th and Pennsylvania ("White House Station"), plus another line along 14th Street:

- Under Connecticut Ave. NW starting at S St. NW to White House.

-From White House under G Street NW east to Massachusetts Ave. to Union Station.

-Under Pennsylvania Ave. NW starting at 18th St. NW east to White House.

-From White House, east along 15th St. NW, then south along 13th St. NW, then east along Pennsylvania Ave. NW, then east along C St. NW to 3rd St., south to Constitution Ave. SW, then east to Pennsylvania Ave. SE.

-Under 14th St. from Thomas Circle to the end of the line at C St. SW.

by Frank IBC on Jan 9, 2013 8:42 pm • linkreport

@ Tina:

I don't think there was a line along New Hampshire Ave. The lines out of Takoma Park went along Laurel Avenue, Carroll Avenue and Ethan Allen Avenue (MD 410).

The line from Georgetown to Rockville went along Wisconsin Avenue, then Old Georgetown Road, and then along what is now the Bethesda Trolley Trail due north from the intersection of Old Georgetown Road and Charles Street (one block north of Cedar Lane) then re-joined Rockville Pike in the vicinity of what is now Marinelli Road near the White Flint Metro station.

by Frank IBC on Jan 9, 2013 8:51 pm • linkreport

I had seen this map before, and I noted the line along Bladensburg Road towards College Park. Does anyone know the exact alignment?

Yes. It ran along Rhode Island Avenue (not Bladensburg Road) from Mount Rainier east to "downtown" Hyattsville, where U.S. 1 becomes Baltimore Avenue. At that point, it continued along Rhode Island Avenue (which is a discontiguous street from Hyattsville, through Riverdale [Park] and College Park, running to the west of the B&O [CSX] Capital Subdivision tracks. In the distant past, the line continued north from present-day Branchville (where Rhode Island Avenue resumes as a contiguous road at present-day Greenbelt Road) north, crossing U.S. 1 in Beltsville and on to Laurel (Rhode Island Avenue dead-ends in Beltsville).

You can see where the line ran north of the dead-end in Beltsville with Google Maps, but only for a fairly short distance, since the lands where the line ran have been developed into light industrial and other commercial uses. I believe the line ran past the rear of the InterCounty Connector's Eastern Operations Center (there appear to be some faint traces where it crossed the right-of-way of the adjacent PEPCo 230 KVA transmission line corridor).

Service to Laurel was abandoned many years before the the end of trolley service to Branchville, which was replaced by buses in 1958 or 1959.

by C. P. Zilliacus on Jan 9, 2013 8:52 pm • linkreport

I've found an older version of this map, in 100 Years of Capital Traction: The Story of Streetcars in the Nations Capital, by LeRoy O. King, Jr. (1972).

Page 94, attributed to Gerald Cunningham.

The WB&A line northeast of Seat Pleasant is labeled "interurban", the rest are labeled "suburban".

by Frank IBC on Jan 9, 2013 8:56 pm • linkreport

Technically, if you're going to include the W&OD you have to include the interurbans that ran into DC from Maryland. 15th-H-Maryland-Benning-Bladensburg was the terminus for many of these roads. Most went bankrupt during the depression, which is why Hechinger was able to acquire that land for their building center.

2. FWIW/1, I picked this book up at a used book store or antique mall

http://www.amazon.com/Electric-Interurban-Railways-America/dp/0804740143

you can borrow it if you want. (If I can find it.) It's considered the definitive volume on interurbans. The writing isn't that great though.

3. FWIW/2, it's cool to find DC Transit maps even if they don't show everything. I've scored a 1960ish and a 1954 at estate sales. Train timetables too. I haven't gotten around to buying a Potomac Valley Service B&O timetable. And I've never looked for W&OD timetables.

http://www.naotc.org/

by Richard Layman on Jan 9, 2013 9:03 pm • linkreport

@ C. P. Zilliacus -

Thanks. But the map shows the Rhode Island Avenue line as well as another line east of there, along Bladensburg Road starting at Florida Avenue and from there to Bladensburg, and from there north to the vicinity of College Park.

I'm familiar with the Rhode Island Avenue, in fact I spent a pleasant afternoon driving along it in Hyattsville and Riverdale, checking out the nice old houses along it.

I was curious about the second line shown on the map along Bladensburg Road.

by Frank IBC on Jan 9, 2013 9:07 pm • linkreport

If you don't borrow Richard Layman's copy of The Electric Interurban Railways in America you can read one of these:

http://lccn.loc.gov/60005383

(Editorially, I'm amazed how people forget the largest library in the world is downtown.)

by Steve S. on Jan 9, 2013 9:15 pm • linkreport

@ Tina -

I don't think that there was any line along River Road, but there were lines along Massachusetts Avenue:

-Between Macomb Street and Western Avenue, connecting to Wisconsin Avenue along Macomb Street.

-On a private right of way along what is now Massachusetts Avenue, starting Little Falls Creek and Wahondling Road, then along Wahondling down to the Cabin John Line. East, the line connected to Wisconsin Avenue in Friendship Heights.

The long line from Bethesda to Great Falls ran mostly along the alignment of what is now Bradley Boulevard.

There was no line along 16th Street, however there were lines along Georgia Avenue all the way to Silver Spring (then to Forest Glen along Seminary Road), and along 14th Street up to Colorado Avenue/Kennedy Street.

by Frank IBC on Jan 9, 2013 9:19 pm • linkreport

Great map, but yes, needs to be fitted to actual streets to make it usable.

Not to reveal too much of my personal crazy, but I made this some time ago.


View Washington D.C. Streetcars in a larger map

by David C on Jan 9, 2013 10:57 pm • linkreport

Dave C,

Thanks -- this helped a lot for me to understand. I still think most are still useful to re-establish. A few makes no sense or slight alignment will make it more effective.

We still need more cross town (or cross-area) routes.

A few of the past trolley lines ended in unusual place or branch off -- I assumed this would be trolley barns/yard.

Anyone have suggestion how I can print out nicely on 11 x 17 paper (if I take it to FedEx Office/Kinko). I think hanging on my wall will be easier for me to study and observe past trolley services.

by Dave on Jan 10, 2013 12:19 am • linkreport

Why, thank you for calling my attention to this. I'd been looking for something similar, but could only turn up the (incomplete) D.C. Transit maps. I'd seen "100 Years of Capital Traction" in a used bookstore, but didn't think to take notes from the map.

I'm curious about the imprint that streetcar-suburb development had on the area's urban fabric -- as Tina points out, the car lines created major arterials, and those should be lined with urban fabric of at least moderate walkability.

by Payton on Jan 10, 2013 1:19 am • linkreport

One of my hobbies is driving (or biking) along the old streetcar routes.

Bethesda Trolley Trail, Cabin John trolley ROW, outer Rhode Island Avenue, Commonwealth Avenue (Alexandria), the routes through Eckington, Brookland and Capitol Hill.

A nice way to see some nice old neighborhoods.

by Frank IBC on Jan 10, 2013 8:05 am • linkreport

DC Public Library has several copies of "100 Years of Capital Traction" at MLK and Georgetown libraries if you're looking to check it out. Doesn't look like they have the book Richard mentioned.

by MLD on Jan 10, 2013 8:44 am • linkreport

@David C

Simply fantastic, thank you for sharing. You can see in the street grids some of the older neighborhoods the developed around these lines. I had no idea there was a Bradley Blvd line to Great Falls. Something similar from Potomac Town Centre to the red line would be great!

I rue the day "they" took up this infrastructure. So short sighted.

by Andrew on Jan 10, 2013 9:00 am • linkreport

This map appears to be missing the line going through Capitol Hill/Old City on C and D Streets, NE. These rails are still visible in a few spots where the pavement is cracking - e.g., around the 13th St. turnaround. The line is shown here: http://www.dctrolley.org/dctrolleymap.htm.

by tdballo on Jan 10, 2013 9:18 am • linkreport

Unless I'm missing something, I don't see the line that ran up 18th St in Adams Morgan, turned west on Calvert St., crossed the Park on what is now Duke Ellington Bridge, and then took an oblique right turn up Cleveland Avenue (that's the reason why all these streets are extra-wide). This is, I believe, the line that ultimately linked w/ Macomb Street and ran up Massachusetts Avenue.

by Publius Washingtoniensis on Jan 10, 2013 10:38 am • linkreport

For poeple who mention omissions in the "map", if you mean my map in the comments, please make that clear and I'll update it.

by David C on Jan 10, 2013 11:32 am • linkreport

Also mentioned this on Dan's site, but some time ago I acquired all the historical data necessary to recreate this map. I've just lacked the time and motivation to do so.

by Froggie on Jan 10, 2013 11:49 am • linkreport

Does anyone have any more information on the Edmonston Road line? I'd be interested to read more about that.

by Frank IBC on Jan 10, 2013 12:32 pm • linkreport

@ Publius Washington -

I haven't heard of a line running up Cleveland Avenue. The Connecticut Avenue line started on 14th St, then went along U St., 18th St., Calvert Street then Connecticut Avenue.

by Frank IBC on Jan 10, 2013 12:35 pm • linkreport

Whereas the lower Connecticut Avenue line went up Columbia Road to Mount Pleasant Street, as the 40 buses still do today.

The main line to Cabin John through the Palisades also started from this line, using P and Q Streets. The Cabin John line was later diverted to Wisconsin Avenue.

Kind of odd that there was no line directly up Connecticut Avenue, and what is now called Adams-Morgan developed as a transit hub.

by Frank IBC on Jan 10, 2013 12:40 pm • linkreport

How many of the routes correspond to current or past Bus routes or rail lines

by kk on Jan 10, 2013 2:34 pm • linkreport

@ kk -

All of the numbered routes in the city (30s - 90s) follow, with some minor deviations, the streetcar lines that existed in in 1958. The same number series were used back then.

The X buses follow the H Street/Benning Road line.

by Frank IBC on Jan 10, 2013 3:44 pm • linkreport

@ Frank IBC

Thanks, and I asked that primarily due to the blue /purple line in Virginia looking very similar to the route of 66 and the orange line and the line going to Congress Heights looks like the routing of the A and 90 Metrobus lines

by kk on Jan 10, 2013 4:17 pm • linkreport

@ kk -

If you look at the Trolley Museum map that tdballo links, you can see the numbering scheme used in 1958.

The only series no longer used are the 10s and 20s.

The 10s ran along Benning Road and H Street east to Rosslyn.

The 20s ran along the private right of way out to Cabin John on the west and out Rhode Island Avenue on the east.

After the Benning line was closed in 1949 the 20s ran east to only Union Station and the Rhode Island Avenue line was renumbered 80s.

by Frank IBC on Jan 10, 2013 4:20 pm • linkreport

Some errors on the SDC/Cunningham map:

-Massachusetts Avenue - should be on Macomb St. NW, not Massachusetts Ave., immediately west of Wisconsin Avenue. This line was closed in the 1930s or earlier.

-Florida Avenue - map shows service all the way east to H St./Benning Rd. This is incorrect. Cars ran on Florida Ave. NE only as far as 8th Street NE, then down 8th St.

-F St. NE between Union Station and 8th St. NE is missing. This line was closed in the 1930s.

by Frank IBC on Jan 10, 2013 4:24 pm • linkreport

@ kk -

The routing of W&OD tracks from Rosslyn to East Falls Church followed what is now Fairfax Drive east of Ballston and what is now I-66 west of Ballston. This of course is closely or exactly paralleled by the Orange Line. In Falls Church the tracks followed what is now the W&OD Trail on the south side of Falls Church.

I'm not familiar with the streetcar tracks that were east of the Anacostia. I'll defer to the expert, David C. :)

by Frank IBC on Jan 10, 2013 4:32 pm • linkreport

Actually, the W&OD was formed (in 1911) by the merger of the Great Falls & Old Dominion with the Bluemont branch of the Southern Railway. The original GF&OD line, shown in a darker green, ran from Rosslyn to Great Falls via Thrifton and McLean, along what is now Old Dominion Drive. The Bluemont branch, shown in lighter green, ran from Alexandria to Leesburg and on to Bluemont; the portion from Shirlington to Purcellville is now the W&OD Trail. The "Bluemont Connector" line, from Thrifton to Bluemeont Junction, connected the two, and passenger service from the west ran primarily to Rosslyn, with the line to Alexandria being used mainly for freight.

A different line, shown in blue, ran from Rosslyn eventually to Fairfax. Through Arlington, the route is now Fairfax Drive; it also paralleled (in part) the W&OD. I have seen it referred to by at least three names: Arlington-Fairfax; Washington-Virginia; and Washington, Arlington & Falls Church.

The Orange line follows the W&OD route for a short distance between Thrifton and Rosslyn, and the combined W&OD/WA&FC route for an even shorter distance near the East Falls Church station.

by Karlvn on Jan 11, 2013 3:14 pm • linkreport

It was most likely that this system could have held on and lived if it would have made it into the 1980's when the area was flooded with rapid growth that made the population go many times over the the population levels in the 1920's. Such as in the old black and white photos what is farmland now has five to six story condos and dense urban houses built all around the former streetcar lines. There is even one part on this former streetcar system where if it had lived we wouldn't be worried about spending three billion dollars for new transit in Fredrick Maryland.

As for the W&OD it might have to become a new streetcar line sometime in the future considering all the traffic their is but it could have old 1920's smaller type streetcars on it compared to the giant light rail or commuter trains on it.

by Ocean Railroader on Jan 12, 2013 12:26 am • linkreport

The W&OD line is a real fumble. They actually built a spur off of it to Dulles to aid in building the airport. When they were done with construction, they tore it out. And here we are, many years later, building a railroad to the airport. Hindsight and all...

by David C on Jan 13, 2013 9:39 pm • linkreport

The map also doesn't show two lines that operated up until the final closing of the system in 1962: Route 60 (11th and Monroe NW to 6th & Penna. Ave NW -- mostly ran along 11th Street NW), and Route 92 (Calvert St. Bridge to Navy Yard -- the section from Florida Avenue NE south on 8th st. NE is missing).

by Harry on Jan 15, 2013 1:42 pm • linkreport

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