Washington, D.C. Interurbans and Streetcars

Published: May 19, 2023

By: Adam Burns

Our nation's capital, Washington, D.C., was once the epicenter of several interurbans which radiated to the north, west, and south of the district.  Notable systems included the Washington & Old Dominion which snaked its way as far west as Bluemont, Virginia.

There was also the Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis Electric Railway, a rather large interurban which linked D.C. with both Baltimore and Annapolis.  The WB&A's branch to Annapolis continued on long after the system was shutdown in 1935.  In addition, all other interurbans serving D.C. were forced to abandon during that decade, a result of the Great Depression.

1938512734712642378592836296827.jpgA Capital Transit PCC was photographed here on the Cabin John line as it crosses Reservoir Road inbound to Union Station in Washington, D.C. on April 14, 1951. Henry Libby photo.

Anacostia & Potomac Railroad

The Anacostia & Potomac Railroad was incorporated in 1870 through an act of Congress and was the fourth such system to operate in the district upon its creation.

The company switched from horse power to electric streetcars in 1900 and at the peak of its operation served Union Town (now Historic Anacostia), Arsenal (now Fort McNair), Congressional Cemetery, Central Market and to the Government Hospital for the Insane.

The A&P's independence on August 31, 1912 when it was taken over by the Washington Railway & Electric Company.

Capital Traction Company

The Capital Traction Company was created in 1895 through the merger of the Rock Creek Railway and Washington & Georgetown Railroad.

The interurban would become the second-largest in the district behind the Washington Railway & Electric Company.

It operated until December 1, 1933 when, to survive the depression years, it merged with all of the remaining interurbans in the district (Washington Railway, Capital Traction and Washington Rapid Transit) to form the Capital Transit Company.

City & Suburban Railway

The City & Suburban Railway began operations in 1899 and its original route mostly followed the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad's Washington Branch. The system would become part of the Washington Railway & Electric Company.

Metropolitan Railroad

The Metropolitan Railroad was the district's second interurban ever built beginning operations in 1864 connecting the Capitol with the War Department.

It switched from horse power to electric streetcars in 1888 and through merger (including the Boundary & Silver Spring Railway Company, Connecticut Avenue & Park Railway and Union Railroad) and expansion served virtually all quadrants of the city. It became part of the Washington Railway & Electric Company on February 4, 1902.

Washington & Georgetown Railway

The Washington & Georgetown Railway was the district's first beginning operations in 1862 connecting Georgetown and the Navy Yard. On September 21, 1895 it was taken over by the Rock Creek Railway creating a new company the Capital Traction Company.

Washington & Glen Echo Railroad

The Washington & Glen Echo Railroad connected Glen Echo, Maryland with the Tennallytown & Rockville Railroad in Friendship Heights.

It began as the Glen Echo Railroad incorporated by brothers Edwin and Edward Baltzley in 1889 and began operations on June 10, 1891.

It was renamed the Washington & Glen Echo Railroad when it expanded to serve Willard Avenue and Chevy Chase Circle, connecting there with the Rock Creek Railway. The railroad was shutdown in 1900.

Washington Railway & Electric Company

The Washington Railway & Electric Company would go on to be the districts largest single interurban company (prior to all of the mergers in the 1930s).

In essence the WR&E's system was created through many mergers and takeovers by smaller companies, partly mandated by Congress to create some kind of unity in a system that was not only incompatible with one other (such as different track gauges) but also unwilling to work together.

The WR&E itself was created on February 4, 1902 when the Washington & Great Falls Electric Railway changed its name to the Washington Railway & Electric Company. It also operated the Washington & Baltimore Suburban Lines, which served Georgetown and eastern regions of Washington, D.C.

The WR&E would serve much of the district as well as Maryland suburban areas. It remained the dominant streetcar line until the "Great Merger" of 1933 creating the Capital Transit Company.

Washington Terminal

The Washington Terminal Company was more of a commuter rail system than a streetcar, interurban service.

It was created in 1901 and jointly owned by the B&O and Philadelphia, Baltimore & Washington Railroad (a PRR subsidiary) to provide auxiliary service for railroad using Washington Union Station. It remained in operation through the private passenger train era and was taken over by Amtrak in 1981.

Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis Electric Railway

The WB&A was the most prominent system serving the district.

Its earliest history dated back to 1899 connecting the two largest populations, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., a distance of 38 miles.

It would late reach other areas such as Annapolis and Fort George G. Meade, operating a system that stretched 83 miles in length (it had an additional connection to Annapolis through ownership of the Annapolis Short Line from Baltimore).

The Great Depression was hard on the company but it was still earning nearly $1 million in annual revenue when it decided to abandon in 1934.

The original Annapolis Short Line route was taken over by the Baltimore & Ohio and renamed the Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad where it continued to offer freight service for many years.

Washington & Virginia Railway

The W&V dated back to the Washington & Mt. Vernon of 1890 originally connecting Mt. Vernon, Alexandria and Washington by 1896.

The Washington & Virginia was created in 1910 to take over smaller systems in the area that also connected to Fairfax, Clarendon, Rosslyn, Fort Myer, and Nauck. Its overall system stretched about 50 miles in length.

Never a highly profitable system it was in bankruptcy by 1924 but reorganized three years later as two separate systems; the Washington, Alexandria & Mt. Vernon and Fairfax Electric Railway.

The WA&MV lasted until only January 17, 1932 when the government requisitioned the company's property in Washington, D.C. to for new federal buildings. The A&F carried on until 1939 when its lines were replaced with buses.

Washington & Old Dominion Railway

The W&OD had a fascinating history. It began life as a common freight railroad, established in 1858 and eventually connected Alexandria and Leesburg, Virginia known as the Alexandria, Loudon & Hampshire.

The original operators envisioned the line reaching Cumberland, Maryland although funds never allowed such grand hopes. It did reach Round Hill, Virginia in 1874 before becoming a subsidiary of the Southern Railway in 1894.

In 1912 the Washington & Old Dominion was incorporated to lease the original AL&H from the Southern and strung catenary to operate the system as an interurban as well.

It would merge with the Great Falls & Old Dominion giving it a system also serving Georgetown, Bluemont, Leesburg, Rosslyn, Thrifton, and Great Falls.

As passenger traffic declined services were cut back through 1941 until the company outright purchased the remaining trackage from the Southern.

It was around this time that a significant freight business was built up sustaining the company and allowing it to earn substantial profits (relative to what it normally saw). In 1956 it came under Chesapeake & Ohio control which continued to operate its remaining lines for many years.

  1. Home
  2.  ›
  3. Interurbans
  4.  ›
  5. Washington, D.C.

Recent Articles

  1. Michigan Central Railroad

    Jun 09, 23 02:38 PM

    The Michigan Central was a 1,700-mile system which served much of Michigan and Buffalo via southern Ontario. It became part of the New York Central.

    Read More

  2. Maine Central Railroad

    Jun 09, 23 02:37 PM

    The Maine Central Railroad has been serving its home state for 150 years. Today, it is still on paper albeit owned by Pan Am Railways.

    Read More

  3. Erie Railroad

    Jun 09, 23 02:35 PM

    The Erie Railroad's earliest history dates back to the 1830s and later in the 19th century as one of the most powerful lines.

    Read More

  4. Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad (The "Ma & Pa")

    Jun 09, 23 02:30 PM

    The Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad, affectionately remembered as the Ma & Pa, served Baltimore and points north. In 1999 it became the York Railway.

    Read More

  5. Tennessee Interurban and Streetcar History

    Jun 09, 23 02:25 PM

    Tennessee contained two interurban systems, as well as a few other local streetcar operations. Learn more about these little electrified lines here.

    Read More


Wes Barris's SteamLocomotive.com is simply the best web resource on the study of steam locomotives. 

It is difficult to truly articulate just how much material can be found at this website. 

It is quite staggering and a must visit!