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Virginia's Interurban and Streetcar History


Published: May 25, 2023

By: Adam Burns

Virginia was home to a few, true interurban systems and several local streetcar systems.  The state's interurban systems were largely concentrated around Washington, D.C. and Richmond.  Notable systems included the Washington & Old Dominion Railway (W&OD), Richmond & Chesapeake Bay, and Virginia Electric Power Company.

Virginia's interurban network consisted of roughly 167 miles; 66 miles of this constituted solely the W&OD.  As an independent system, the W&OD was sold to the Chesapeake & Ohio in 1956 due to its heavy carload freight business. 

The remainder of the state's network was gone before 1940.  The only exception was the original Norfolk Southern Railway's 48 miles of electrified trackage between Norfolk and Virginia Beach.  Electrification ended in 1935 and all passenger service was abandoned on November 8, 1947.

i127528357235723782398620697.jpgSeen here is the Washington & Old Dominion at the end of the Great Falls Branch at Great Falls, Virginia, circa 1917.

Arlington & Fairfax Electric Railway

The Arlington & Fairfax Electric Railway began operations in 1891 connecting its namesake towns. Streetcar operations survived until 1937 when buses replaced railroad services.

Washington, Alexandria & Mount Vernon Electric Railway

The Washington, Alexandria & Mount Vernon Electric Railway served the Alexandria area beginning operations in 1892. It was renamed the Alexandria, Barcroft & Washington Transit Company in 1921 and discontinued streetcar railroad operations in 1932.

Charlottesville & University Street Railway

The Charlottesville & University Street Railway served the City of Charlottesville and Virginia University.

It began operations in 1887 on a five-mile railroad system and was renamed the Charlottesville & Albemarle Railway in 1903. Streetcar operations survived until 1935.

Danville Street Car Company

The Danville Street Car Company began operations in 1886 serving its namesake city.

It was renamed the Danville Railway & Electric Company in 1900 and again changed hands in 1911 as the Danville Traction & Power Company. Streetcar operations survived until 1938.

Lynchburg Street Railway Company

The Lynchburg Street Railway Company began operations in 1891 serving its namesake city. It was renamed a number of times during its existence including as the Lynchburg Electric Railway & Light Company (1898) and Lynchburg Traction & Light Company (1901). Streetcar services survived until 1941.

Norfolk City Railway

The Norfolk City Railway was the first of many interurban railroads to serve the port city, dating back to 1866 as a horse-powered operation.

It was renamed the Norfolk Street Railroad in 1894, again in 1899 as the Norfolk Railway & Light Company, again in 1902 as the Norfolk & Portsmouth Traction Company, and finally in 1911 as the Virginia Railway & Power Company.

Streetcar service survived until the mid-1940s when buses replaced railroad operations.

Newport News, Hampton & Old Point Railway

The Newport News, Hampton & Old Point Railway served the Newport News area beginning operation in 1891.

It was renamed three more times during operations as the Newport News & Old Point Railway & Electric Company (1898), Newport News & Hampton Railway Gas & Electric Company (1914) and finally as the Citizens Rapid Transit Company in 1925. Streetcar service survived until 1945.

Richmond Railway

The Richmond Railway is one of the oldest interurbans to ever operate in the country dating back to 1860 and operations were actually suspended during the Civil War.

In 1881 it was renamed the Richmond City Railway Company and changed hands several more times during streetcar service:

  • Richmond Passenger & Power Company, 1900
  • Virginia Passenger & Power Company, 1901
  • Virginia Railway & Power Company, 1909
  • Virginia Electric & Power Company, 1925
  •  Virginia Transit Company, 1944

Streetcar service survived until 1949.

Petersburg Electric Railway

The Petersburg Electric Railway began operations in 1896 taking over from several smaller operations serving Petersburg.

This operation did not last long as it was renamed the South Side Railway & Development Company in the same year. In 1901 it was renamed the Virginia Passenger & Power Company, again in 1909 as the Virginia Railway & Power Company and finally in 1925 as the Virginia Electric & Power Company. Streetcar service remained until 1936.

Roanoke Street Railway

The Roanoke Street Railway began operations in 1887 serving its namesake city. It was renamed the Roanoke Railway & Electric Company in 1901 and carried on streetcar operations until 1940 when services were abandoned.

Virginia Electric Power Company

The Virginia Electric Power Company was actually a conglomeration of street railway systems in Richmond and Norfolk was as an interurban line serving Petersburg and Richmond.

It was a well maintained electric operation, partly due to its power plant subsidiary. Operations continued through 1936 until it was finally discontinued.

Bristol Traction Company

The small Bristol Traction was actually a narrow-gauge steam line that operated part of its route as an interurban system between 1912 and 1918 connecting Bristol and Big Creek.

Richmond & Chesapeake Bay Railway

The R&CB began operations in October, 1907 serving Richmond and Ashland on a 15-mile system. It never reached the Chesapeake Bay and the original system only survived into 1918. It was reorganized as the Richmond-Ashland Railway and survived until 1938 when it was finally abandoned.

Other Systems

Washington, Arlington & Falls Church Railway

Bristol Street Car Company

Norfolk & Atlantic Terminal Company

Norfolk & Ocean View Railway

Roanoke Railway & Light Company

Shenandoah Traction Company