Saturday, December 20, 2014

Hyattsville wye progress report - December 15, 2014

Six weeks after my previous visit (November 2) to CSX's Hyattsville (Md.) wye project on the Alexandria Extension, I returned on Monday, December 15 to find all effort now concentrated on the old bridge.  Workers had removed its track and prepared the surface with heavy-gauge wire to support and strengthen a pour of concrete. When finished, track can be re-laid and run north to the west leg of the wye--which will no longer be a wye. The already-laid track on the newly-constructed bridge (right side above) will then lead directly to the east leg. Train routing will take place south of the bridge at the new crossovers instead of at the point of the wye.


The far (west side) track has been pulled up so the bridge can receive new concrete.

Notice the wire structures on the old bridge beyond the fence and orange cone. The wire is rust-colored and ready for that concrete.

A view from the west side of the old bridge.

Next, we're relocating to the north side of the Northeast Branch (Anacostia River) where we find not much happening at the wye. Photos were taken as I walked south along the track to the river crossing:

Oops. This empty coal train came west without my catching its symbol. Sorry about that.

We conclude with a look at the east leg of the wye as it crosses the sidewalk and Decatur Street. So, that's all to report for now. My next update will probably be filed late January.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The CSX Alexandria Extension's Hyattsville Wye Project: Almost Done, But Not Quite (November 2, 2014)

They really are going to finish this project in our lifetimes ;-) Since my last visit (September 14) a lot has changed. I had a little time on Sunday, November 2, 2014, so I drove up to Hyattsville, Md. for a look. The contractor has completed laying track across the new bridge over the Anacostia,  installed crossovers south of the bridges, set up wayside signals before and after the crossovers, and modified the route north of the bridges so trains run only across the new bridge. The old bridge is currently out of service, and apparently will be replaced "by February" (thanks to a tip from our friend, Bob Edmonson, who had spoken with a contract employee).

Following the track-numbering scheme of the RF&P, to which the Alexandria Extension (this line) has been affixed by CSX, I'm told (again, by Bob) that the easternmost track is now numbered "2." Thus, the one on the west side is "3."

Let's take a look . . .


Standing on Tanglewood Drive and pointing the camera south, we find a new switch-and-signal shack (right). The rest of the scene is unchanged from my September visit.
This close-up shows that new switch heater at the crossover.
Turning around while still standing on Tanglewood Drive and pointing the camera north, we find another new switch-and-signal box for controlling the crossovers between this spot and the bridges. A new switch heater can be seen in the distance.
A different view of the switch heater and crossovers north of Tanglewood Drive.

Track 3 crosses the old bridge (left) while the new bridge (right) carries Track 2. The sign reads "Danger: Fall Protection Required Beyond This Point." Point taken!

Hello, what's this? The old B&O signal that's been on the left for decades has been moved to the right! (although the old headless mast remains). The reason for this move, which is temporary, is to control northbound trains bound for the wye, which now are running only on Track 2 (the new one on the right). Just beyond the curve, which I did not have time to investigate, the old track coming south from the wye has been welded to Track 2. Old Track 3 was cut and awaits replacement when the new bridge is installed. And then, the apex of the wye will be pulled apart so that Track 3 will run to the western leg and Track 2 to the eastern.

Driving north to the top of the east leg of the wye, near Decatur Street, I'm facing south and see little change from previous visits. The clear signal, however, told me to wake up and get away from the track--now!

As mentioned above, the apex of the wye still has its switch and is functioning. The track running from the switch south, away from the camera, has now been welded to the new bridge on Track 2 (not visible in this photo).
The clear signal was welcoming the arrival of Q409, visible in the background, now on the east leg and headed for the new bridge. He will continue south along the Alexandria Extension, pass through Benning Yard and downtown D.C., then cross the Potomac and enter the original RF&P at MP110 (RO tower).

To summarize: Remaining to be done at this project is the installation of a replacement deck-girder bridge for Track 3, then dismantling the switch at the south apex of the wye and connecting each leg to separate tracks across separate bridges over the Anacostia. We'll report back to you when there's news . . .

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Forgotten Extremities of the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad: The East End

Shadows are about all that remain where W&OD trains once rumbled through Alexandria's northern neighborhoods. Unlike the popular, 45 mile-long paved rail-trail from Arlington to Purcellville, the two miles within Alexandria from Potomac Yard west to the city limit with Arlington county is a patchwork of dirt paths interrupted by apartment buildings and offices. 

Why Alexandria's portion was not incorporated into the trail by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) is a mystery to your scribe. I was unable to find an explanation in Herb Harwood's "Rails to the Blue Ridge" (2000) or Ames Williams's "Washington & Old Dominion Railroad" (1989).

Following its abandonment in 1968 and dismantling the following year, most of the W&OD right-of-way was acquired by Virginia Electric Power (VEPCO) for its high-voltage transmission lines. In 1977, however, NVRPA purchased the land underneath the power lines for use as parkland--specifically, as a trail. Construction of the trail began, one section at a time, until the last segment was completed (to Purcellville) in 1988. 

Alexandria's approximately two-mile-long right-of-way, alas, was sold off in bits and pieces to commercial interests. Here is what remains today, the route marked with a dashed red line, and the visible portions highlighted in yellow:

Alright, let's go for a walk to see what we can find. We begin at the corner of US 1 and East Custis Avenue, anchored by the Del Ray Animal Hospital. To the right in the photo below is Potomac Yard. The W&OD once began at a shop building on the east side of the yard, crossed westbound above the yard tracks on a "viaduct" (trestle), then continued through the neighborhoods of northern Alexandria until it reached Arlington county on the opposite side of Four Mile Run.


Looking north along US1 (Jefferson Davis Highway). The sidewalk veering off to the left takes us to a gate in the chain-link fence. Once inside, we find the right of way elevated to meet the viaduct via an earthen fill. A concrete support for the viaduct could be seen here until it was demolished in 1998. We pass through the gate and begin walking west (left).

Now atop the fill, let us turn around facing east and pause for a moment to imagine the scene before the W&OD went bankrupt, before busy Potomac Yard was removed. Sigh.

We've spun around and are now headed west. When I first walked this line (late 1990s) to photograph what remained, several pieces of rail jutted up from the ground here. On this more recent visit (February 25, 2013), the right-of-way had been "cleaned up" and the rails removed.

We've turned around and are facing east again for a quick look from whence we came before entering the spot with two sidings once known as "Alexandria Junction."

Westward view at Alexandria Junction.

Eastward view from the opposite (west) end of Alexandria Junction.

Facing west through Mount Jefferson Park. In the background is Commonwealth Avenue. The W&OD tracks once proceeded across Commonwealth on a high fill, while beneath it, in the middle of the road, ran the streetcars of the Washington-Virginia line (1892-1932).
This sign provides historical pictures from the vicinity of Mt. Jefferson Park. At the top is a passenger shed at Alexandria Junction (ca 1918). Lower left, a passenger train slowly crosses a high fill being punctured to allow Russell Road (1916) to pass through. Center, Alexandria Junction (Hume Ave. to US1) and its sidings. Right, the St. Elmo neighborhood's passenger shed above the Commonwealth Avenue streetcar line (undated).

A closer look (westward) toward Commonwealth Avenue, where the W&OD crossed above the streetcar line.
Standing across Commonwealth Avenue on its west side, we're looking back eastward toward what remains of the W&OD earthen fill. Behind us stands an office park where the railroad once ran.

We've walked around that office park on Commonwealth, crossed Mt. Vernon Avenue and trotted along Sanford Place behind apartment buildings. We have now emerged at the rear of a strip mall on West Glebe Road. The view is eastward along a block of remaining right-of-way. Behind us is Grace Episcopal Church on Russell Road.
The parking lot of Grace Episcopal Church, looking west. Russell Road is in the background. Look closely. You'll spy the only surviving W&OD concrete structure in Alexandria: The support on Russell for the west end of the railroad's deck-girder bridge.

The bridge support up close. Let's scamper up the slope and look around.

Here's the east-facing view from the top of the bridge support. The automobile on the hill in the distant rear of the picture marks where we stood to photograph the right-of-way behind the strip mall (three photos back).

To continue west from the bridge support, it was necessary to drive around the block and pick back up in this apartment parking lot. The bridge support is on the other side of the wooden fence in the background. I could not vault it without leaving part of me behind ;-)

We continue walking westward, paralleling West Glebe Road about one-half block north of us. Noting the slope on the left, it's plain this was once right-of-way.
We've almost reached the end of the W&OD through Alexandria. Four Mile Run and Arlington county are in the far, far background. This spot is elevated above West Glebe, as you'll see in the next photograph. For locating this spot, it's directly across the street (right) from a Seven Eleven and a Pizza Hut.

That same right-of-way location from sidewalk level.

We've now walked to the west end of that high, level portion of the W&OD (right) and are facing east. That's West Glebe Road--during rush hour.

And here we conclude our walk through Alexandria's remnants of the W&OD. We're facing west along Four Mile Run toward I-395 (Shirley Highway) and the Shirlington section of Arlington county--where the paved W&OD trail begins.

In a future blog installment recalling the abandoned extremes of the W&OD, we'll head west and set out beyond Purcellville in search of the seven mile-long Bluemont Branch--abandoned in 1939! --John