Long Bridge Over the Potomac River

Long Bridge is the only railroad bridge that crosses the Potomac River downstream of Harper's Ferry
Long Bridge is the only railroad bridge that crosses the Potomac River downstream of Harper's Ferry
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

The first railroad tracks across the Potomac River at Washington, DC were laid on the Long Bridge in 1861. The Alexandria & Washington Railroad had reached each end of the bridge by 1858, but it had been unloading cargo and passengers. Having them walk or use carts to cross the bridge was inefficient. Because the wooden structure could handle heavy loads, horses rather than locomotives were used to pull the loaded rail cars across the bridge. In 1863, a more-substantial bridge was completed parallel to the existing one, and locomotives could cross the Potomac River on that structure.

freight was pulled across the Long Bridge by horses, not locomotives, in the 1850's
freight was pulled across the Long Bridge by horses, not locomotives, in the 1850's
Source: District of Columbia Department of Transportation, Long Bridge Study (p.2)

a railroad span was built in 1863, parallel to the Long Bridge which could not support heavy locomotives
a railroad span was built in 1863, parallel to the Long Bridge which could not support heavy locomotives
Source: Library of Congress, Long Bridge, Washington, D.C.

After the Civil War, the Federal government leased the strong bridge initially to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, giving it monopoly control over rail access going south of the national capital. The rival Pennsylvania Railroad replaced the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1870, through its control of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad and with the help of influential politicians.

In 1872, the Pennsylvania Railroad build a new Long Bridge across the Potomac River. The railroad also completed the Alexandria & Fredericksburg Railroad, giving it the right to provide service south to Aquia Creek. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad regained access to Virginia in 1874, by floating rail cars across the Potomac River from Shepherd's Landing to Alexandria.

By the start of the Twentieth Century, 250 trains and trolleys were using the Long Bridge each day. The draw span was opening 20 times daily, and the bridge was a rail transportation chokepoint.

The Pennsylvania Railroad replaced Long Bridge in 1904, building a new structure about 150 feet upstream of the 1872 bridge. It had 13 truss spans to support two tracks, with a swing span that allowed ships to move upriver and downriver. The steel and wrought iron trusses were recycled from a previous bridge across the Delaware River at Trenton, NJ. In 1906, a new highway bridge was constructed with space for the trolley tracks, removing the trolley traffic from Long Bridge.

In 1906 six competing railroads cooperated to build Potomac Yard in Alexandria. As part of the negotiations to create a common site for classifying cars and assembling trains, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was allowed to use Long Bridge again and shut down its car float operation.

the swing spans of the Long Bridge in 2019 were the trusses built in 1904
the swing spans of the Long Bridge in 2019 were the trusses built in 1904
Source: District of Columbia Department of Transportation, Long Bridge Study (January 2015)

Two of the Long Bridge spans on the Virginia shoreline were removed when the George Washington Memorial Parkway was built in 1931-1932. In 1935 the Pennsylvania Railroad electrified its track across the Long Bridge to Potomac Yard.

As rail traffic increased during World War II, the US government bult an "Emergency Bridge" to connect Shepherds Landing in the District of Columbia with Alexandria. The second bridge, built between June 3-November 1, 1942, provided additional security in case Long Bridge was disabled by accident or sabotage. Both the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad used the Emergency Bridge, until it was taken out of service on November 14, 1945 and dismantled two years later.

In 1942, Long Bridge was permanently strengthened to allow heavier loads. The 11 truss spans that were not part of the swing span section were replaced with 22 girder spans, and 11 extra piers were added to support them. The swing span was last used on March 3, 1969. That allowed a barge transporting a segment of the 1906 highway bridge to get downstream to Dahlgren, where US Navy pilots practiced dropping bombs on the bridge span before going to Vietnam.

except for the swing spans, girder spans carry the Long Bridge across the Potomac River
except for the swing spans, girder spans carry the Long Bridge across the Potomac River
Source: District of Columbia Department of Transportation, Presentation Boards at Public Meeting 1 on November 13, 2012

The catenary for the electric locomotives was removed in 1981, after Conrail switched to locomotives powered by diesel fuel. The Pennsylvania Railroad had become part of the Penn Central Railroad in 1968, and then Conrail in 1976. In 1999, CSX Transportation, Inc. (CSXT) acquired ownership of the Long Bridge. Passenger service was provided by Amtrak after it was created in 1971, and by the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) starting in 1992.1

adding two more tracks to the capacity-filled Long Bridge will allow Amtrak and the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) to carry more passengers from Virginia to DC and points north
adding two more tracks to the capacity-filled Long Bridge will allow Amtrak and the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) to carry more passengers from Virginia to DC and points north
Source: District of Columbia Department of Transportation, Long Bridge Study (January 2015, Chapter 1, p.2)

In 2011 the the Federal Railroad Administration funded the first of many studies for replacing the two-track bridge. To the north and the south there are three tracks, and bridge's condition requires train speeds to be constrained. A maximum of 96 trains can use it within 24 hours.

A 2015 Long Bridge Study concluded that adding two tracks could increase capacity to 166 trains per day. Various alternatives also examined the potential of adding lanes for trlleys, bikes/pedestrians, and even cars.2

Seven of the nine serious options were screened out before completion of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in September, 2019. That EIS examined two alternatives plus the "no action" option. The alternative of building two new, two-track bridges across the Potomac River was not recommended.

The preferred alternative was to build a new two-track bridge dedicated to passenger service, and retain the existing Long Bridge for just freight trains. The 1904/1942 bridge had been rehabilitated in 2016 and did not need to be replaced.

The 2019 Draft EIS concluded that an additional two-track bridge, plus extra tracks on either end, would allow CSXT, Amtrak, VRE, and Norfolk Southern to operate up to 192 trains per day.3

alternatives considered in 2015 included adding two tracks plus bike/pedestrian lanes, adding an additional two lanes for streetcars and two lanes for cars, and building two tunnels
alternatives considered in 2015 included adding two tracks plus bike/pedestrian lanes, adding an additional two lanes for streetcars and two lanes for cars, and building two tunnels
Source: District of Columbia Department of Transportation, Long Bridge Study (January 2015, p.9)

In addition, the Draft EIS recommended that a separate bike/pedestrian bridge should be constructed. It would be located between the new bridge for passenger trains and the existing Metrorail bridge.

In December, 2019, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced a deal with CSXT to acquire track and right-of-way to upgrade passenger rail capacity across the state. As part of the $3.7 billion package, Virginia agreed to build a new $1.9 billion Long Bridge with two railroad tracks upstream from the CSXT structure plus the bike/pedestrian bridge over the Potomac River. When the new railroad bridge parallel to the existing Long Bridge is completed in 2027, Virginia will own two tracks from L'Enfant Plaza in the District of Columbia south to Alexandria. That will allow passenger trains to be scheduled without interference from freight trains, which rceive priority on the CSXT tracks.

Funding for the new bridge would come from three sources. Virginia would pay 1/3. The Federal government and Amtrak would pay another 1/3, in part via federal grants for the Atlantic Gateway project. The last 1/3 wouod be funded through a regional partnership that would include funding from the District of Columbia and Maryland, with details to be resolved later.4

The Northam Administration planned to divert revenues from tolls on I-66 inside the Beltway, which had been used by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission to ease traffic congestion on roads near that stretch of I-66. The tolls would be used to finance bonds for bridge construction.5

Bridges in Virginia

CSX Railroad

Modern Deals to Rebuild Bridges Crossing the Potomac River

Potomac River and the Virginia-District of Columbia Boundary

a bike/pedestrian bridge was proposed in the preferred alternative
a bike/pedestrian bridge was proposed in the preferred alternative
Source: District of Columbia Department of Transportation, Executive Summary - Long Bridge Draft Environmental Impact Statement (September 2019, p.22)

Links

adding two more tracks to the capacity-filled Long Bridge will allow Amtrak and the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) to carry more passengers from Virginia to DC and points north
adding two more tracks to the capacity-filled Long Bridge will allow Amtrak and the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) to carry more passengers from Virginia to DC and points north
Source: Long Bridge Project, Long Bridge Corridor Map

References

1. "Long Bridge History," District of Columbia Department of Transportation, https://ddot.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ddot/page_content/attachments/Long%20Bridge%20History.pdf; Robert Cohen, "History of the Long Railroad Bridge Crossing Across the Potomac River," Washington DC Chapter, National Railway Historical Society, 2003, http://www.dcnrhs.org/learn/washington-d-c-railroad-history/history-of-the-long-bridge; Long Bridge Study, District of Columbia Department of Transportation, January 2015, pp.1-3, https://ddot.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ddot/publication/attachments/LongBridge_ExectuveSummary_Chapters1thru3_0.pdf; "Timeline of Washington, D.C. Railroad History," Washington DC Chapter National Railway Historical Society, http://www.dcnrhs.org/learn/washington-d-c-railroad-history/timeline-of-washington-d-c-railroad-history; "The history of Baltimore & Ohio's Shepherd Branch," Classic Trains, December 14, 2001, http://ctr.trains.com/railroad-reference/operations/2001/12/the-history-of-baltimore-and-ohios-shepherd-branch (last checked September 17, 2019)
2. "Long Bridge Study," District of Columbia Department of Transportation, 2015, pp.5-9, p.15, https://ddot.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ddot/publication/attachments/LongBridge_ExectuveSummary_Chapters1thru3_0.pdf (last checked September 17, 2019)
3. Wyatt Gordon, "Virginia won't let anything derail its growing Amtrak service," Greater Greater Washington blog, September 10, 2019, https://ggwash.org/view/73746/virginia-wont-let-anything-derail-its-growing-amtrak-service; "Executive Summary," Long Bridge Project Draft Environmental Impact Statement September 2019, p.6, p.10, p.21, http://longbridgeproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Chapter00_ExecutiveSummary_LongBridgeDEIS.pdf; David Cranor, "The Long Bridge project's bike and pedestrian elements lack ambition," Greater Greater Washington blog, January 10, 2018, https://ggwash.org/view/66168/the-long-bridge-project-bike-pedestrian-element-lacks-ambition (last checked September 17, 2019)
4. "Virginia’s $3.7 billion rail plan called a 'game changer.' Here's what we know about it," Washington Post, January 11, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/virginias-37-billion-rail-plan-called-a-game-changer-heres-what-we-know-about-it/2020/01/11/fa465172-3174-11ea-a053-dc6d944ba776_story.html (last checked January 11, 2020)
5. Nick Donohue, "I-66 Memorandum of Agreement with the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission," Office of the Secretary of Transportation, December 9, 2019, http://www.ctb.virginia.gov/resources/2019/dec/pres/5_i_66_moa.pdf (last checked January 11, 2020)

Long Bridge in 1863
Long Bridge in 1863
Source: Library of Congress, Long Bridge and Washington, from Maryland [i.e., Virginia] shore, June 1863


Railroads in Virginia
From Feet to Space: Transportation in Virginia
Virginia Places