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D.C. Streetcar Track and Structures

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D.C. Transit (1949-1962)

D.C. Transit:

D.C. Transit was one of several transit companies that operated street cars and buses in the District of Columbia and the suburbs prior to WMATA. These companies were privately owned and they eventually sold their routes and equipment to WMATA, the federally chartered, publicly owned transit authority that consolidated all forms of urban passenger transit in the "Transit Zone." For a detailed breakdown of all the transit companies in Washington that were consolidated, visit Wikipedia's Capital Transit page. Although there were many companies, D.C. Transit was the major player in terms of building interesting transit structures. For a map of D.C. Transit's route map (and cool pictures of the structures outlined below) in the late '50s, visit the National Capital Trolley Museum's D.C. Transit Route Map. One interesting thing to note about the D.C. streetcar system is that it used both a catenary wire (an overhead wire) in the outer sections of the city and an in-ground, center hot and ground source, called a Conduit (see the picture on NCTM's D.C. Transit Route Map for the Bureau of Engraving Tunnel). For a more detailed history of this technology, visit Joseph Brennan's NYC Subway Resources Page. Both Washington, D.C., and New York City had laws against overhead wires in the city, leading to the use of these conduits. Conduits and streetcar tracks are still visible in the cobblestone streets of Georgetown, specifically the 3400 through 3800 blocks of P and Q Streets, N.W., as well as the old D.C. Transit Car Barn, in about the 3600 block of M Street, N.W.

Conduit on P Street, NW in Georgetown.

Conduit on P Street, NW in Georgetown.

Conduit on P Street, NW in Georgetown.

Conduit on P Street, NW in Georgetown.

Conduit on P Street, NW in Georgetown.

Conduit on P Street, NW in Georgetown.

Conduit on P Street, NW in Georgetown.

View of the M Street side of the Georgetown Car Barn from across the C & O canal towpath.

Close-up view of door seen in previous photo. Tracks can been seen in the concrete under the door.


Dupont Circle Subway Station.

The Dupont Circle Subway is the grand-daddy of D.C. Transit structures in terms of size and interesting features. It is located just below the very popular Dupont Circle and many feet above Metro's Dupont Circle Station. All the transit companies operated streetcar lines throughout the city and suburbs. These streetcar tracks ran right down the middle of busy Washington streets. The Dupont station was built in the 1940's to relieve traffic congestion in Dupont Circle that was caused, in part, by the streetcars' operation through the circle. Interestingly, the congestion caused by the streetcars was due to streetcar operations only on the west side of the circle, with tracks running in both directions, instead of operating in a circular, anti-clockwise fashion like the rest of traffic.

The station was a mirror image of the traffic circle above: each train would complete a half-circle in an anti-clockwise direction in the station before exiting. The platforms were also semicircular. This design ensured that passengers could emerge at the appropriate point in the Circle to catch a connecting bus without having to cross any streets. As there are four streets intersecting at the Circle, there were seven or maybe eight stairwells into and out of the station. The streetcars traveled north-south along Connecticut Avenue and went underground at about O St., N.W. and reemerged at R St., N.W.

The stations on both sides of the circle total 42,600 square feet of space, and the tunnels run about 700 feet north of Dupont Circle and 300 feet south.

The station was closed with the demise of all the streetcars in 1962. After the station was closed, a vehicle tunnel was constructed using the remnants of the old station so that Connecticut Avenue now runs under the circle. In the 1990s, a brief attempt was made to turn the old station into a commercial operation, known as Dupont Down Under. The cheesy development quickly went bust, but not before renovating the entire west side of the subway station. In the process, the entrances on that side of the circle were pimped from the original utilitarian style. For a good picture of the interior of the station when it was in operation, visit the National Capital Trolley Museum's D.C. Transit Route Map.

The best-preserve entrance to the now-abandoned Dupont Circle Station on the east-side.

View down the stairs of the best-preserved entrance to the Dupont Circle Station.

View of Connecticut Ave from the south side of Dupont Circle into the underpass.

View of Connecticut Ave from the south side of Dupont Circle from over the underpass.

Air conditioning system installed for the short-lived "Dupont Down Under" in the abandoned station on the west side of the circle. Converted from an original entrance to the station.

Original entrance to the station tarted-up for "Dupont Down Under."

View down the stairs of the tarted-up entrance.

View of Connecticut Ave from the north side of the circle looking northbound.

View of the access roads to Connecticut Ave on the north side of the circle.


C Street Tunnel

This tunnel exists intact, sans rail bed. The genesis for this tunnel was the mish-mash of streetcar tracks between Union Station, the major rail terminus in Washington, and the United States Capital. The two properties are virtually adjacent, separated only by a (now-park-like) expanse. The tunnel was built to reduce this mess of tracks and create an unobstructed view from the Capital to Union Station. The streetcar line was rerouted to run east-west on C Street, N.E., and ended in a T on the east, where the cars would either turn north or south along 2nd Street, N.E. Northbound trains would then enter Columbus Circle, the traffic circle and streetcar terminus in front of Union Station. The tunnel is relatively short, stretching about one block from Delaware Avenue, N.E. to 2nd Street, N.E. Trains entering from Delaware Avenue would, after exiting the tunnel, ascend a short, vaguely steep incline toward 2nd Street.

Today, the tunnel is a one-way service road adjacent to the Capital. Prior to 9/11, it was open to public vehicle traffic. The U.S. Capital currently uses it for service vehicles, however. For a good picture of the tunnel entrance from the Delaware Avenue side, visit the National Capital Trolley Museum's D.C. Transit Route Map.

View from the west side of the Capitol looking toward the Capitol tunnel entrance.

View of the western portal of the tunnel.

Interior of the tunnel from just inside the western portal. Entrances off of tunnel used by Architect of the Capitol for maintenance work, etc.

Looks like a mounting point for a catenary wire on the roof of the tunnel. D.C. Transit used boths: conduits in the city and catenary wire in the outer city and suburbs.

View from 1st St., N.E., looking toward the eastern portal. There used to be a power conduit in the concrete. See Joe Brennan's essay on the subject.

View from Union Station looking toward the Capitol. The tunnel is underneath the fountain. The tunnel was built to replace the ugly mess of tracks between the two great buildings.


Bureau of Engraving Tunnel.

The Bureau of Engraving and Printing was the terminus for the streetcar line that ran north-south along 14th Street, S.W. The bridge across the river to Virginia is located on 14th Street just south of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and, therefore, the streetcars compounded traffic congestion at this location. Even then, 14th Street was a major artery and, prior to the tunnel, streetcars had to cross from the center of the roadway across northbound traffic to access the turnaround loop on the east side of 14th Street. In order to relieve congestion associated with this, the tunnel was built with the incline to the portal in the center of 14th Street. A very good a good picture of the portal that can be found on the National Capital Trolley Museum's D.C. Transit Route Map.

The physical space of the old streetcar turn-around still existed as of the 1990's. The turnaround was then part of a parking structure and storage area that is located directly underneath 14th Street. Tracks could still be seen in the floors in some locations of the Bureau. A casual recon of the (outside) area reveals that there are two buildings that belong to the BEP or Mint, one on either side of 14th Street. According to one BEP employee I spoke with at the time, the structure connects the two buildings. Another employee stated that, at the time the underground turnaround was built, 14th Street was elevated to accomodate the turnaround. A quick look at the street level in relation to the Mint buildings clearly shows this. Whether the BEP built a connecting tunnel at the same time that the turnaround was build and then annexed the rest of the space after D.C. Transit ceased operation, or whether the entire space was dedicated to D.C. Transit at the time is still unclear to me.


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