The Failed Effort to Return Streetcars to Georgetown…in the 70s

Last decade, Mayor Adrian Fenty announced an ambitious plan to create a 37-mile streetcar network throughout DC. It would, in part, recreate the network that existed in the city prior to its demise in 1962. And the plan called for a line to Georgetown. Unfortunately, after Fenty’s successor, Vincent Gray, bungled the first leg of the system, the whole plan got shelved beyond that stub line.

So Georgetown seems unlikely to see streetcars rumbling through any time soon. But this was but the second time that the city seriously considered restoring streetcar service to Georgetown. In the late 70s, DDOT commissioned a study to bring back a trolley to the neighborhood. Needless to say, it didn’t come to fruition.

The study came about after an effort from Georgetown businesses looking to improve the transit connection to the neighborhood. And prior to that, several citizens groups, including the Citizens Association of Georgetown, had produced their own report promoting the restoration of rail service.

Unlike the pre-1962 system, or the unrealized Fenty plan, the plan contemplated in the 1970s was far more modest. It would operate solely as a way to shuttle people between the neighborhood and the two nearby Metro stations in Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom. Here is the proposed map:

The report even contemplated reusing the existing rails. This would include both the tracks you can still see on O and P streets, but also tracks on Wisconsin and M St. The report notes that CAG and representative of DDOT inspected the tracks on these roads before they were covered with asphalt and found them to be in good condition. Nonetheless, the report concluded that reusing the old tracks would at best be a temporary measure.

Although the focus is on shuttling between Georgetown and the Metro stops, the report also considered restoring the old Cabin John trolley line or the B & O Railroad:

The Cabin John right of way is still owned by the city and may see a future as a bike/pedestrian path. The B & O railroad line became the Capital Crescent Trail after the report was issued.

The report suggests relatively short headways, with trollies arriving every ten minutes, if not every five. It calculates that this would require eight vehicles, and recommends acquiring the historic streetcars that were used prior to 1962.

It may have been a nice system, one that perhaps could have formed the backbone of a true restoration of the old system. But alas, like many transportation studies it was put on the shelf and never came to fruition.

1 Comment

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One response to “The Failed Effort to Return Streetcars to Georgetown…in the 70s

  1. Thomas Neale

    This proposal would be a huge winner all around — it would fill a gap in the Metro system and provide an auto alternative in the the busy corridor linking between Foggy Bottom, Georgetown, and Tenleytown, The best alignment would arguably be a line originating at a GW Hospital terminal, providing a transfer point with Metro’s Foggy Bottom Station. The line would then proceed north to Pennsylvania Avenue and then west on “M” Street. It would turn north on Wisconsin Avenue, ending at a terminal connecting to Metro at the Tenleytown-AU Station. A desirable addition would be a line continuing west on “M” Street, crossing the river on Key Bridge, connecting to Metro at a Rosslyn Station terminal. Building these streetcar lines would solve almost all the problems associated with Metro’s “Georgetown Gap” for the foreseeable future, and at a fraction of the cost associated with drilling a second heavy rail Metro line under the river.

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