In this folder, there are two blueprints (oversize iamges) unscanned.
file:///X|/Special%20Collections/purgatory/Phi%20Mu/Browning,%20John/two%20blueprint.txt[4/8/2011 9:14:26 AM]
THE HISTOHT AND CONSTRJCTION OF
THE ALEXANDRIA BRANCH OF
THE BALTIMORE AND OHIO
JOHN R. BROWNING
Paper Presented for Admission
Tau Beta Pi Honorary Fraternity
University of Maryland.
DECEMBER 18, 1936
In the limited time available the author has sought to ob-
tain complete Information on this branch. From the start the author
has been hindered by three past events which resulted in a limiting
of the sources of information. The first of these was that the road
was constructed seventy years ago by a company having an active oper-
ation, but for a short period of two years. Secondly, the Baltimore
and Ohio did not obtain any financial records or the minute book con-
taining construction records when it bought the line. Finally, the
Baltimore Fire of 1904 destroyed most of the old records of the Bal-
timore and Ohio.
The author wishes to take advantage of this apace to thank
Mr. John Andrews of the Maintenance Department of the Baltimore and
Ohio, Mr. Kobert E. Kennedy of the Valuation Department of the Balti-
more and Ohio, Captain Aichard Mansfield of the Metropolitan Police
and Mr. H. C. Spencer of the Valuation Division of the Interstate
Commerce Commission for the great aid and consideration they have ac-
THE HISTORY MP CONSTRUCTION OF THE ALEXANDRIA BRANCH
OF THE SALT I KOBE AND OHIO RAILROAD
In 1870 the Baltimore and Ohio was still without adequate connec-
tions with lines south of the Potomac River. However, in as early as 1854
and 1659 plans had been formed to rim a line thru the District of Columbia
to a point on the Potomac opposite Alexandria, Va, f where passenger and freight
cars could be ferried across. When, in 1870, the Pennsylvania Railroad gained
control of Long Bridge from Congress, the Baltimore and Ohio could exchange
traffic with the southern lines only by paying heavy carrying charges to the
However, in February 1872, there was incorporated in the State of
Maryland a company known as the Washington City and Point Lookout Railroad Com-
pany, and with the purpose of constructing a railroad from Hyattsville to Point
Within one month thia company was empowered by the District of Col-
umbia and the State of Maryland to construct a branch from Hyattsville thru the
District of Columbia to Marburys Point, D. C. , opposite Alexandria.
The Baltimore and Ohio realized the value of gaining control of this
branch, so negotiations were begun to obtain carrying rights over tnis line.
In an agreement for construction made in May, 1873, the Baltimore and Ohio leased
this branch — known as the Baltimore, Washington and Alexandria Branch of the
Washington City and Point Lookout Railroad — for a period of 99 years, renewable
forever. Construction began in May, 1873, and ended in March, 1874.
In November, 1874, the Baltimore and Ohio bought this line for $20,000
cash and $36,000 per year until retirement of the funded debt.
As far as an engineer ing project is concerned, the line is of little
value. However, there are two features which are worth mentioning.
Since the road could not cross government property, it was necessary
to construct a trestle over Anacostla River and around the property line of St.
Elizabeth's Insane Asylum. This trestle was constructed of oak pilings — 27,000
feet long and costing around $40,000. When Soiling Field was reclaimed, the
trestle was filled in so that all that remains of this trestle is a small em-
At Marburys Point there was constructed a wharf and slip for the
transferring of passenger and freignt cars to barges for ferrying to Alexandria.
The wharf extended out from the main-land for a distance of 1400 feet. It was
constructed of oak pilings and cost around :.-'25,000. About 400 feet from the
main-land there was a transfer slip attached to the wharf. This consisted of
a timber section 200 feet long, one end of which was hinged to the pier and the
other end was supported by floats. This slip permitted the transferring of c rs
to the barges regardless of changes in the water level. The barges were of suf-
ficient capacity to carry two loaded freight cars. These barges plied between
Mar bury a Point and Wilkes Street in Alexandria.
Sine 13 the discontinuing of the ferry in 1890 the road has been used
only as a freight spur, and carries at most but four trains per week.
" Corporate History of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company"
Vol. I Co implied by Baltimore and Ohio
Chief Engineer's Files— Ho. 293, Traffic Department, Baltimore
and Ohio Offices
Secretary's Old Files — Kos. 85 and 86 Baltimore and Ohio
"Federal and Local Legislation Relating to Canals and Steam
Railroads in the District of Columbia" 1803-1903
Compiled by Charles Moore (Government Printing Office)
"History of the National Capital" Vol. II 1815-1878
By Iff. 3ogart Bryan
EI STORY OF THE ROAD
By 1835 the first tracks of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad had
reached Washington, and within fifteen years plans had been formed to extend
the line to the 30 nth in order to take advantage of the growing trade with
the area south of tne Potomac liver. However, by 1870 the Baltimore and Ohio
was still without an adequate connection with the South through Washington.
In 1854 the Baltimore and Ohio asked Congress 1 permission to ex-
tend their line through the District of Columbia to a point on the Potomac
Biver opposite Alexandria, Va. After much debate. Congress denied the Bal-
timore and Ohio the right to construct such a line.
In 1859 the Baltimore and Ohio planned to run a line from Bla-
denaburg, Md. , around the District of Columbia, to a point opposite Alexan-
dria, Va. This time, however, the Civil War interfered; and, when the United
States Government assumed control of the railroads, connections with the South
were temporarily forgotten by the Baltimore and Ohio.
In 1366 the Baltimore and Ohio secured an entrance into Washington
for a new branch. In the same year the Pennsylvania Railroad (then known as
the Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington Railroad) began to contest the
Baltimore and Ohio for supremacy in the Washington district and to the South.
Within five years the Pennsylvania had succeeded in wresting the southern con-
nection from its older rival, that bad really never acquired a permanent con-
trol of any of the Virginia lines. The Pennsylvania had acquired from Congress
the control of Long Bridge (built about 1852) across the Potomac River, as
well as a right of way through the city of Washington.
So it was in 1871 that the Baltimore and Ohio had the alternative
of shipping their passenger and freight traffic bound for the South through
Harper's Ferry, W. Va; or of transferring to the trains of the Pennsylvania
at Washington at high carrying charges.
However, on February 24, 1872, under the general incorporation laws
of the state of Maryland* a certificate of organization was granted to John K,
Bowie, Samuel T. Suit, Peter G. Grime, and L. W. B. Hutchins, of Maryland; and
Duncan S. Walker, of the District of Columbia. These five men were empowered
to organize a railway company known as the Washington City and Point Look Out
Company, and having a capital stock of $2,000,000 necessary for construction.
On March 28, 1872, this company was authorized by the Maryland State Legisla-
ture to extend the limits of their line beyond Maryland; and on January 22,
1873, the United States Congress authorized them to extend their railroad"into
and within the District of Columbia.* 1
The Washington City and Point Look Oat Railroad Company was now le-
gally free to construct a branch line from Hyattsville, Md. , to Marbiu-ys Point
(Shepherd), D. C. In fact, this branch line, 12.5 miles long, was the only
portion actually constructed of the proposed 96.7 miles of railroad.
The construction of this branch meant a virtual solution of the
problem of a southern connection for the Baltimore and Ohio, so negotiations
were made to gain carrying rights over thi3 branch. In an agreement dated
May 12, 1873, and ratified by the presidents of both companies, the Washington
City nd Point Lookout agreed to begin construction upon this branch (known as
the Baltimore, Washington, and Alexandria Branch of the W. C. & P. L. R. R. )
immediately after ratification. The Washington City and Point Lookout Railroad
Company further agreed to lease this branch to the Baltimore and Ohio with the
exclusive right to its use. The term of lease was for ninety-nine years, re-
newable for ever. In return the Baltimore and Ohio agreed to pay an annual
rent of $36,000 in gold.
Construction was begun in May, 1873, and was completed March 1,
1874. Upon the completion of the road the lease to the Baltimore and Ohio
became effective, and from that time until the date of sale the road wa3 com-
pletely operated by the Baltimore and Ohio.
On August 24, 1874, the stockholders of the Washington City and
Point Lookout Railroad met in general assembly and resolved to sell the road
to the Baltimore and Ohio. At a meeting of the Board of Directors of the Bal-
timore and Ohio held at Camden Station, September 9, 1874, it was resolved to
purchase the Baltimore, Washington and Alexandria Branch. Accordingly, a deed
was drawn up; and in consideration of $20,000 purchase money, the road was sold
to the Baltimore and Ohio on November 18, 1874, It was further agreed that the
Baltimore and Ohio was to pay annually in gold $36,000, or such portions of
$36,000 due as interest on bonds. The Baltimore and Ohio was also to take over
all bonds of the Washington City and Point Lookout Company, and guarantee pay-
ment at the date of maturity (1913). According to the meager financial reports
obtained from the Washington City and Point Lookout, the funded debt guaranteed
by the Baltimore and Ohio was $540,000 and the total cost of the road to Novem-
ber 18, 1874, was $800,000.
From 1874 to the present the Baltimore and Ohio has continued to
operate this line as sole owner under the name of the Alexandria Branch of the
Baltimore and Ohio Bailroad.
At the peak of its operation the Baltimore and Ohio carried more
than ten trains a day, both passenger and freight, over this line to Shepherd's
Landing (Marburys Point) where they were transferred to barges and then floated
down the river to Alexandria, Va.
However, around 1890 the ferry proved too expensive to operate, so
it was abandoned.
In 1904 the Baltimore and Ohio came to a satisfactory agreement
with the Pennsylvania, by which the cars of the Baltimore and Ohio were pulled
by the engines of the Pennsylvania across the Potomac River to Potomac Yards
for a low carrying charge.
In spite of the new agreement the old Alexandria Branch was not en-
tirely forgotten, and in 1914 it was planned to construct a bridge across the
Potomac River from Marbury Point, D. C. , to Alexandria, Va.
As a finale to the southern controversy, the Baltimore and Ohio
gained for a small rent payment carrying rights over the tracks of the Pennsyl-
vania by an agreement made around 1914. As a result, the Alexandria Branch
definitely ceased to be a southern gateway.
LOCATIOM AND C0N3TRJCTI0M
According to the agreement for construction made May 12, 1673, the
Baltimore, Washington, and Alexandria Branch of the Washington City and Point
Lookout Railroad was constructed by the following route:
"Beginning at a point on the Washington Branch of the Baltimore
and Ohio Railroad at or near Hyattsville Station, thence to the Eastern Branch
of the Potomac River, crossing the same by a trestle bridge, thence passing
through Bladensburg to and across the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad near
where it first enters into the District of Columbia, thence near to and par-
allel with the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad to a point near where the Bal-
timore and Potomac Railroad crosses the Eastern Branch of the Potomac River,
thence by way of Uniontown, following the general direction of said Eastern
Branch to a suitable point near the mouth of said Eastern Branch, thence to
a point on the Potomac River, opposite Alexandria, Virginia, known as Mar bury s
Point." This agreement also provided for a wharf and piers for the landing
of boats and the transferring of railway cars to and from these boats.
The road constructed by this agreement is a single track, standard
gauge railroad 12.5 miles long. Starting at Alexandria Junction, Kyattsville,
lid, , the branch runs one-quarter of a mile to the south-east and north of the
Blaci ens burg Highway; then south for three-quarters of a mile, crossing the
Eastern Branch of the Potomac River and Defense Highway. From there the road
heads south-east again for one and oae- quarter miles; then south for one- quar-
ter, crossing the Pennsylvania Railroad by an overhead bridge. It then runs
parallel to the Pennsylvania for three and one-half miles; along Anacostia
Flats for two miles, passing under Pennsylvania and Nichols Avenues by via-
ducts. After running along the eastern edge of Boiling Field for one mile;
the road then continues across Blue Plains for three and one-half miles to
Uarhurys Point where the District of Columbia Sewerage Plant is now situated.
The total length of the sidings first constructed could not be
found, but there was originally at Mar bury s Point a "I" of some 900 feet in
length and a siding of 1000 feet. There is now approximately 3,5 miles of
sidings on this branch, of which, it is believed, at least fifty percent is
of the original road.
The width of way of this branch is 66 feet at grade. In addition
to the right of way, the company acquired for depots an area of 100,000 square
fe?t at Mar bury s Point, 40,000 square feet at Uniontown (Anacostia) and 40,000
square feet at Bladen 9 burg.
The width of the road bed is 14 feet at sub- grade for fills and
18 feet for cuts. The side slopes on cuts and fills are one and one-half on
According to the agreement mentioned above the maximum grade was
not to exceed 66 feet per mile (l.25^>) and the total length of this maximum
grade was not to exceed one and one-half miles. It is interesting to note
that the actual maximum grade is, however, 1.77ji> and that there are four grades
over 1.25?b , having a total length of 2,500 feet. There are eleven grades over
1.0$ having a total length of 8,200 feet. There are but four level stretches
totaling 4,300 feet in length. The average grade for the entire line is 0.45$.
The maximum degree of curve used was 7 10' with and corresponding
maximum deflection angle at the intersection of the tangents of 60 14. There
are six curves having a curvature of more than five degrees. There are, in
addition, four compound, one large reverse, and several spiral curves on this
line. Ho information could be obtained as to how these curves were laid out.
They were possibly staked out by the deflection angle method which was known
and used at this time.
The branch was laid out with iron rails of the W T U pattern weighing
sixty pounds to the linear yard. The rails were fastened at the joint by the
crumble joint. The rails rested on cross- ties of white or chestnut oak timber
around eight feet long, six inches wide, seven inches thick. These ties were
laid about two feet apart center to center ( i, e. , averaging about 2640 ties
to the mile). The ties were in turn supported by a ballast of gravel to a
depth of six inches below the bottom of the ties.
Masonry and culverts were constructed of rubble stone and hard
burned brick. Where large streams were crossed, pile or trestle bridges were
There is no information tnat points to the use of steel bridges
of any type on this road. However, if such were used on the original line,
they were probably of the "through girder" type which are now used oa the
The trestle bridges were constructed of oak piles and the track
stringers of white pine.
By studying the profile of the line it can be see a that the track
was laid practically upon the top of the ground. The maximum cut was 20 feet
deep at its highest point, 500 feet long, and involved about 9,000 cubic yarda
of excavation. The maximum fill was 25 feet at its lowest point, 1000 feet
long, and involved about 45,000 cubic yards of embankment. However, the aver-
age grading, as obtained from the cross-section sheets of the Baltimore and
Ohio engineer's files, was only 28,000 cubic yards per mile.
When the Baltimore and Ohio bought the branch in 1874, they ob-
tained only meager financial reports. In fact the actual cost of the road is
not known. However, an itemized estimate cost for the road is included on the
following p£^ge. These figures are in no way the actual unit costs, but esti-
mates made by the Baltimore and Ohio for the Interstate Commerce Commission in
1912. It will be noticed that this estimated total cost approximates the funded
debt of the Washington City and Point Lookout as reported in 1874; but is
$300,000 lower than the reported cost to November 1874. This difference pro-
bably consists of labor costs, and the coat of equipment, rolling stock, "iain-
tenance and operation to that date,
COST OF COasTfiUCTIOH
Grading— 28,000 cu. yd. /mi. for 14.2 mi. track and siding
3 25^/cu. yd. $ 99,400
Track— 74,976 ft. $2.60/linear ft. 194,940
Trestles— 800 ft. d $lb/linear ft. 12,000
Culverts — 3 $2,000/mi, for 12.5 mi. 25,000
Grade crossings — 40 B $100 each 4,000
Land— 125 acres a SlO/acre 1,250
Asylum trestle— 2700 ft. S $16/linear ft, 43,200
Wharf and pier— 1400 ft. • $18/linear ft. 25,200
Transfer slip 3,000
General Contingencies 24,000
Construction interest 32,000
IHE EHfllMSEaiNG FEATURES OF
THE ALEXANDRIA BRANCH
From an engineering point of view the Alexandria Branch of the Bal-
timore and Ohio is of little importance. The grading is very shallow as com-
pared with present day roads; and, in fact, with roads of the same period over
the same type of level topography. The max imam grade of 1.7?3b is very high for
this type of road. In the mountain divisions of the Baltimore and Ohio the max-
imum grade is often less than half that of this line. The average grade of
0.45$ for this branch is greater than the maximum grade for this (Washington)
Apart from the grade, the curves might be considered. In present
day construction curves greater than five degrees in curvature are seldom used.
In spite of the fact, the road was originally constructed for a maximum speed
of only forty miles per hour; the high degree of curvature of most of the
curves, combined with their large angles of intersection, limits the rapid
flow of traffic required of present day railroads. If the road ever again be-
comes an active branch of the Baltimore and Ohio, the grades will of necessity
be reduced and the curves straightened or relocated.
Before this engineering criticism is concluded credit must be
given for the route selected:- complying at all times with the route designated
by the agreement for construction and that by Congress, and at the same time
passing successfully over or around such natural obstacles as streams and
No discussion of this line would be complete without first consider-
ing several structures on this branch. These, although of some engineering im-
portance, find their greatest value as historical or personal interest features.
In the terras of authority granted by Congress to the Washington
City and Point Lookout in January, 1873, the route of the road was forbidden
to cross any government property. At this date the property line of St. Eli-
zabeth's Asylum extended for 2700 feet along the shore line of Anacostia River.
In order to comply with this restriction and follow the general route desig-
nated by the Baltimore and Ohio, the Washington City and Point Lookout was
forced to construct a trestle 2700 feet long over the river and along the shore
line. (See point II on plan map). This trestle was constructed of four oak
piles placed three feet apart across road and ten feet apart along the route.
The cost was approximately $43,000. The water was about two feet deep at this
point. The trestle contained two curves — one of five and the other of three
degrees in curvature. The trestle was used for five years by the Baltimore
and Ohio when the right of way was then filled in.
When the area along Anacostia River whs reclaimed to form Boiling
Field, all of the swamp along the trestle was filled in and now the only noti-
ceable remains of the trestle is an embankment three feet high.
THE Y SIDING
The M Y" reversing siding is located about 1000 feet north of the
wharf at Mar bury s Point. It consists of two curves running off the main line
at points about 300 feet apart and ending in a 300 foot tangent stretch, 300
feet from and perpendicular to the main line. (See profile sheet and plan —
point I). The H Y H is used to reverse the direction of trains which reach the
end of the line at this point. The engine is backed into one curved portion
of the n Y" to the tangent stretch and then forward out onto the main by the
other curved portion. "I's" are quite often used in railway construction, but
are most often used to connect intersecting branches rather than to end in a
THE WHARF . PIER AND FERRY
In order to accomodate the exchange of passenger and freight traffic
between Marburys Point, L. C. , and Alexandria, Va. , it was necessary to construct
a wharf and slip to permit the transferring of c ,rs to and from the barges. To
accomplish this a fill 500 feet long and 18 feet wide was made in the shallow
water from the main land. From this fill the pier extended out into the Potomac
River for 1150 feet. (See plan— point I.) The pier was constructed of oak pil-
ing in the same manner as was the Asylum Trestle, and so that the floor of the
pier was eight to ten feet above the high tide. This portion of the wharf was
ased for the transferring of passengers and freight to steamers bound for points
south of Alexandria.
About 400 feet from the approach fill and on the straight line tan-
gent from the main line was the transfer slip. This was used for the transferring
of passenger and freight cars to barges. The transfer slip consisted of a timber
section 300 feet long, one end of which was hinged to the pier and the other was
supported by floats. By having the slip so constructed, the contact end was at
the same level as the barges upon which the cars were transferred. The float,
therefore, permitted the flow of traffic in spite of changes in the water level.
The total cost of the pier and transfer slip was approximately
It is interesting to note that in the winter of 1878 the ice was so
thick on the river that trains crossed from this point to Alexandria under th»ir
The ferry was discontinued In 1890 when it proved too expensive
to operate; the remains of the piling can still be seen from the point. For
several years the pier was used as a coal trestle for the Consolidated Coal
Company. Around five years ago the approach fill was utilized to connect the
x>ier of an automobile ferry with the main land. The flood-damaged remains at
this pier can also be seen from itarburys Point.
FRESENT ACTIVITY ALONG THE BRANCH
Since the discontinuing of the ferry in 1890 the line has been
used as a freight branch only. At present the line is in a state of disre-
pair; the ballast has become filled with dirt and supports a growth of weeds;
the rails are badly worn and need re lining.
At present there are several small Industries served by this line.
At Hyattsville, Md. , there is the Steel Cut Cereal Mills. At Deanewood (Chesa-
peake Junction), D. C. , there is a freight depot and junction with the Chesa-
peake Beach Railway Company. Farther south at Bennings, D, C. , the branch
serves the Joseph Swift Sand Company, Washington Union Stock Yards, and Wash-
ington Cold Storage and Slaughter Company. At Union town (Anacostia), D, C. ,
there is a freight depot. A spur connects the branch with St. Elizabeth's In-
sane Asylum. The branch also serves Boiling Field, the Naval Research Station,
and Bellevoe Magazine. Until recently a 2000 foot spur connected the branch
with the Firth Stirling Steel Company, At Mar bur ys Point the branch finally
connects with the new Washington Sewerage Disposal Plant.
Local inhabitants reported that during the early part of this year,
the traffic to the point was as much as two trains per day, bat now that the
Sewerage Plant is practically completed, the traffic is barely more than that
5. View Sear Where Pennsylvania Tracks
Cross Anacostia Hirer
7, Bridge over Pennsylvania Tracks
near Kenilworth, D. C.
6. Depot at Junction with
Chesapeake Beach Railway
8. Alexandria Junction — 7 Curve Left
1. Old and Hew Piers at Marburys Point
3. Main Line and Siding at Washington
Sewerage Disposal Plant
• - t
3. The Approach Fill to the Wharf
4. Depot at Uniontown