The Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad: Linking North & South

The Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad was not a large system, connecting only Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Virginia a distance of roughly 113 miles. However, its strategic location allowed it to connect with virtually every major northeastern and southeastern railroad, which made the RF&P very successful.  The RF&P's earliest history can be traced back to the mid-1830s when it was originally chartered to connect Fredericksburg and Richmond.  In time the system was acquired by a consortium of six different southern and Midwestern Class Is including the Pennsylvania, B&O, C&O, and others to continue shuffling passenger and freight traffic between them.  Eventually, the RF&P was acquired in full by CSX Transportation, which merged the road into its operations.  While it no longer exists today the RF&P's main line remains an important and busy corridor under CSX.  

As mentioned above, in 1991 after nearly 160 years of continuous service the RF&P was purchased by CSX Transportation that year and merged into its system (it should be noted that throughout most of the RF&P’s existence it was owned by six of the large eastern carriers and was never an independent operation, although it did carry its own corporate identity and management team).  The Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad was chartered in February of 1834 (just a few years after the chartering of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, our nation’s first common-carrier system) to connect the City of Richmond with the Potomac River. Within eight years the railroad had completed its main line where it reached Quantico, just north of Fredericksburg.

Interestingly, the rest of the system between Quantico and Washington was made up by no less than three separate systems, the Alexandria and Washington Railway (which connected Washington, D.C. and Alexandria); the Alexandria and Fredericksburg Railway (which connected Alexandria and Fredericksburg); and the little two-mile Potomac Railroad, which connected the A&F with the RF&P at Quantico.  In 1901 the Richmond-Washington Company was created as a holding company for the RF&P and Washington Southern Railway (which was created by the merger of the A&F and A&W), which was directly controlled by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Pennsylvania Railroad, Southern Railway, Atlantic Coast Line, Seaboard Air Line, and Chesapeake & Ohio Railway.

While the RF&P had a few branch lines extending to Fort Belvoir and Sealston, Virginia it was essentially a linear bridge route serving its six owning railroads.   How the RF&P came under the ownership of CSX is simply the result of mergers. CSX Transportation, the operating railroad of CSX Corporation, was created in 1987 through the merger of Chessie System and Seaboard System. Chessie and Seaboard came about partly through the mergers of the B&O, C&O, ACL, and SAL. So, once CSX had two-thirds ownership of the RF&P by the late 1980s Norfolk Southern Railway and Conrail (successor to the Pennsylvania) eventually sold their ownership in the railroad to CSX (NS did not even use the RF&P by this time), which merged it into its system in 1991.  

While the future of CSXT is as much of a guess to anyone as its past has already been, many in the industry and those who study it see two mega-railroads evolve with CSX merging with one of the western railroads (it has been studied that BNSF Railway) and Union Pacific likely joining with Norfolk Southern although only the future will tell how it all plays out.  Whatever happens with CSX Transportation one thing is certain; it is a railroad rich in history, which stretches from the Northeast to the Southeast, and points west to Chicago and New Orleans. Perhaps one day, before the merger movement begins again CSXT will find its true identity and direction with an efficient and effective management team. 

Diesel Locomotive Roster

The American Locomotive Company

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
S21, 51-711942-194822

Electro-Motive Division

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
SW15001-8, 911966-19679

Steam Locomotive Roster

Class Type Wheel Arrangement
1Chesapeake (Ex-C&O)2-8-8-2
25, 30, 36, 101Ten-Wheeler4-6-0
31, 35, 41Switcher0-6-0
71, 91Switcher0-8-0
51, 56, 60, 80, 151, 201, 251, 264, 301, 325, 401Pacific4-6-2

While the RF&P as a corporate entity may be but a memory its main line will likely continue to play an important role far into the future given its strategic value of linking "North And South" as its motto proudly proclaimed.  For more reading about the RF&P you might want to consider the book The Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad's Passenger Service, 1935-1975 from author William Griffin, Jr. His book gives a superb general history of the RF&P's passenger operations, where the railroad was tasked with ferrying numerous through trains from Richmond to Washington, D.C.  A link to the book is provided at the top of this page.

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