To the editor:
Oronoco Bay Park is one of Alexandria’s more popular waterfront parks and with the start of summer almost upon us it is of interest to say a few words about the historic railroad tracks that are part of the park’s landscape. It is important to note that at one time these tracks played an important role in the City of Alexandria’s developing economy as discussed below.
To the southeast of Oronoco Bay Park, just across Pendleton Street, the tracks served the recently demolished Robinson Terminal North. During the mid- to-late 1900s, the Robinson Terminal building was owned by the Washington Post. The Post used the building to handle newsprint and other items key to its newspaper business. Most likely, many of these items were brought to the Robinson Terminal using the tracks seen in the park.
While the tracks end at the Robinson Terminal, they continue in the other direction across the rim of Oronoco Bay Park on their way to a connection with the main line of the CSX railroad. Before reaching the CSX main line, the tracks cross several familiar streets and thoroughfares.
From the corner of Oronoco Bay Park, the tracks continue north across Madison Street and then Montgomery Street, paralleling the Mount Vernon Trail and passing in front of the attractive townhouses. As the tracks continue northward, they come to the busy Canal Center Plaza. After passing the plaza, the tracks turn to the northwest toward the intersection of Royal Street and Bashford Lane where the decommissioned Potomac River Generating Station is located.
Like the Robinson Terminal, PRGS, a coal-fired power plant, had an interesting background, one that also played prominently in the region’s economic growth. PRGS began operations in 1949. Until PRGS ceased operating in 2012, the tracks that we see idle today were used by the Southern Railway and then by the Norfolk Southern Railroad to bring coal to the facility.
With an output of about 500 megawatts, PRGS supplied electric power to the region including the District of Columbia and counties in Maryland. After successful clean-up and remediation, the site occupied by the power plant should be ready for redevelopment.
Leaving PRGS, the tracks continue west across both the George Washington Parkway and then Slaters Lane. The last roadway the tracks cross is Potomac Greene Drive, a side-street off Slaters Lane. It should be noted that the switch connecting the tracks to the CSX main line can be seen from Potomac Greene Drive. It can also be seen from the northbound lane of the bridge that carries Route 1 over the CSX tracks.
The hope is that with the information presented above people that come to enjoy the beauty of Oronoco Bay Park will take a few minutes to think about the railroad tracks in the park and how this rather short spur once played an important role in Alexandria’s growing economy.
-Dick Chait, Alexandria