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RICHMOND RAIL HISTORY

Richmond has been served by multiple railroads since the 1830's The five lines fanning out from the city in 1861 were a major reason for choosing Richmond as the capital of the Confederacy. With rail consolidation after the war, the names changed but for much of the 20th. century the city still hosted six major lines. The corporate headquarters of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad and the CSX were located in the city.

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Richmond Railroads 1830’s-1860’s


*The Lousia Railroad was chartered in 1836 to run from Frederick Hall to a junction with the RF&P at what is now Doswell. The line was extended westward to Lousia and  Gordensvillle  and extended eastward to Richmond. The name was changed to the Virginia Central in 1847. It entered Richmond along Shockoe Creek and terminated at 16th Street and Broad Street.

*The Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad was chartered in 1834 to build northward from Richmond through Fredericksburg to Acquia Creek, an arm of the Potomac River,  where it could meet coastal shipping to Washington and the upper Chesapeake Bay. The Richmond station was located on the north side of Broad Street between 7th and 8th Streets. The mainline ran along the middle of Broad Street to a point   one block west of Harrison Street where it then turned northward.

*The Richmond and Petersburg Railroad was chartered in 1836 to run north-south between the two cities. Work began in 1838. The line crossed the James River and built its terminal, Byrd Street Station, on the north bank of the River at 8th and Byrd Streets (where the Federal Reserve Bank now stands). This station was replaced with a new one at 7th and Byrd Streets in 1887.

*The Richmond Stations of the RF&P and the R&P were about 6 blocks apart as the crow flies but were at considerably different elevations. Likewise, the RF&P and the Virginia Central (VC) were about 10 blocks apart but they too were at considerably different elevations. Interchange of goods and passengers between these railroads had to be made by unloading one train on to wagons or carriages and pulling them along the city streets to the reload on the other train.

*The Richmond and York River Railroad was chartered in 1853 to connect Richmond with steamboat traffic at West Point. It was completed in1859 and suffered considerable damage during the Civil War. 

*The Richmond and Danville Railroad was chartered in 1848, began construction form Manchester in 1850, and was completed to Danville in 1856. The Confederate Government used this railroad to flee Richmond in 1865. This RR served coal mines in Midlothian hauling coal to Tredegar Iron Works, for heating city homes, and for shipping to cities along the Chesapeake Bay.

Richmond Railroads 1860’s-1920’s


*The transfer of passengers and goods between the RF&P and the R&P by wagons and carriages was awkward and time consuming. As Richmond recovered during the reconstruction period, it was decided to link the two railroads by rail. The RF&P/R&P Connection Railroad was built westward in 1867 from the R&P (later Atlantic Coast Line) station along what is today the path of the “Downtown Expressway”, including a two block long tunnel under 3rd and 4th Streets, to an intersection with the present Belvidere Street where it turned northward. It then ran along Belvidere to Grace Street and then to a juncture with the RF&P near Broad and Pine Streets. A junction station named ELBA was constructed at that point.

*As Richmond grew westward and its population increased, the volume of freight traffic increased and it became impractical to have the RF&P steam trains running along the middle of Broad and Belvidere Streets interfering with City vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The Richmond Connection Railroad had to manage a very steep grade from the R&P (ACL) junction at Byrd Street to the point where it turned north toward the RF&P causing more interference and delays.

The RF&P and the R&P (ACL) decided to build a freight bypass “beltline”, west of the city limits that would avoid the problems of running freight trains through the city. This new line split off of the original R&P main line at Coffer Road, crossed the James River adjacent to the location of the present concrete-arch Belt Line Bridge, and ran at street level to a junction (AY) with the RF&P main line north of Broad Street. This line was completed in 1891 and was a single track. The RF&P Bolton Yard was moved to a point west of the City (Acca Yard). All through passenger trains continued to use the Byrd Street Station via the Connection Railroad.

By 1916, passenger train volume and lengths had increased to the point where running along city streets was no longer practicable and the single track Belt Line could not accommodate the increased freight traffic. The Belt Line was rebuilt to a double track line depressed in a cut below street level on the north side of the River, and put on a straighter, faster alignment south of the River. A new concrete arch bridge was built over the James River. A new Union Terminal passenger station (commonly known as Broad Street Station) was built on west Broad Street on the site of the State Agriculture (fair) Grounds. It was opened in 1919.

ACL and RF&P passenger traffic was handled by the new Belt Line and Broad Street Station (now the Va. Science Museum). This station had a unique high speed (30mph) “oblong loop track” arrangement that permitted all trains to enter from the north, loop around from south to north, and exit the station area once again proceeding north. This arrangement permitted all “head end” traffic to be handled on one side of the station and all passenger traffic to be handled on the other side. The Connection Railroad was thereupon torn up and the Byrd Street and Elba stations discontinued as passenger stations, though Byrd Street Station remained in use as the ACL’s office headquarters until 1958.

*The VC continued to expand both eastward and westward after the Civil War. It subsequently was renamed the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. In order to improve access to the City dock on the James River, they constructed a tunnel under Church Hill from 18th Street to a point in the vicinity of the Richmond Gas Works. This tunnel construction was considered a major civil engineering feat in the Reconstructed South of the 1870’s. The C&O built a large yard at Fulton, east of Richmond

A new station was built on Main Street between 16th and 17th Streets (MAIN STREET STATION) in 1898 - 1901. This station incorporated steel viaducts from the C&O 17 St. Yard through the station and along the James River from 2nd St. yard to Fulton Yard. The Seaboard AirLine Railroad arrived in Richmond at this time and added its viaduct through the Station. These viaducts created the ”Triple Crossing”, the C&O over the Seaboard over the Southern, located just east of 14th and Dock Streets. These track improvements along with the increasing size of railroad engines and rolling stock eliminated the need for the Church Hill Tunnel which was seldom used but left in place.

The C&O decided to reopen and improve the Church Hill tunnel in the early 1925 so as to have a congestion- relieving alternate route to Fulton Yard. A work train was in the tunnel when it collapsed entombing the train, the engineer, and perhaps some of the work crew. The tunnel was closed and sealed. The train was not recovered. The east and west tunnel portals are visible today if you know where to look.

*The Richmond & York R. RR was renamed the Richmond, York River & Chesapeake RR and connected with the Richmond & Danville RR in the early 1870’s, after the R&D’s track had been converted to Standard Gauge. The R,YR&C became part of the R&D in 1881. The expanded Richmond & Danville RR, combined with other lines, formed the Southern Railway System in 1895 – one of the largest rail systems in the south. An earlier Southern station, built in 1900, stood at 14th and Mill Streets in Richmond on the north side of the James River. The Mill Street Station was demolished and a new station was built in South Richmond (previously the city of Manchester) at Hull & 1st Streets in 1915.

*The Richmond and Alleghany Railroad was built along the alignment and the tow path of the James River and Kanawha Canal. The Canal extended 140 miles from Richmond through Lynchburg to Buchanan. The R&A RR was chartered in1878, replacing both the Canal and earlier railroad attempts in this location. It was completed to Clifton Forge in 1881.The C&O purchased the R&A in 1890. This route provided the C&O with a water level “conveyer belt” route for coal and goods between West Virginia and Newport News.

Mid 20th Century Railroads in Richmond


There were six railroads companies serving Richmond in the mid 20th century. The Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac (RF&P), the Atlantic Coast Line (ACL), and the Norfolk and Western (N&W) used Broad Street Station (now the Science Museum); The Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) and the Seaboard AirLine Railroad (SAL) used Main Street Station; the Southern Railway (SR) used Hull Street Station. These companies had numerous yards around the city. The ACL and the SAL merged in 1967 to form the Seaboard Coast Line (SCL).

Today, CSX provides freight services along most of the routes formally operated by the C&O, RF&P, and ACL/SCL in the Richmond area. Norfolk Southern operates the line from Burkeville through Richmond to West Point. All passenger traffic is provided by AMTRAK. There are more than a half-dozen passenger trains per day in each direction providing service along the East Coast as well as AMTRAK bus service to an east-west train stopping in Charlottesville.

AMTRAK has a station on Staples Mill Road and provides service at Main Street Station. Broad Street Station is now the Virginia Science Museum. The former SR Station on Hull Street is now the ODC/NRHS Richmond Railroad Museum.

 

         

Special Thanks to Calvin Bowles for gathering this Richmond Railroad History.