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Discover Fauquier April 2018
Doug Horhota
It took barely 20 years after its invention for
the railroad to come to Manassas. Of course,
there was no "Manassas" at the time, only a
railroad line that eventually added a second
line, created a junction, and a town sprung up
as a result. By the early 1850s, the Orange
and Alexandria Line, with its terminus in
Alexandria and Orange, Virginia, ran through
the western portion of Prince William County.
From the ending locations it linked up with
other lines, making it possible to travel from
Washington, DC, to Richmond in 8.5 hours. While we think of the slowness
of pace--it sometimes has felt
like 8.5 hours sitting on I-95--
consider the life-altering
implications this had on travel
at the time: a person walks at
an average of 23 miles per
hour; a horse's natural gait
is 45 mph; and a wagon or
carriage goes at best 810
mph. They also can't haul
what a train can.
The routes of the earliest
railroads were typically affected by freight needs--
short lines to connect mines, farms, and other industry
to nearby waterways to take goods to market. Over
time, the lines became longer and more organized.
Some train lines, the Baltimore and Ohio for example,
were in direct competition with
the best way forward in the
1800s to move freight: trains or
canals. Railroad companies were
privately owned--not only the
trains and engines, but the tracks
and workers of the respective
companies. To create monopolies
and anticipated fi nancial success,
tracks were "variable." It didn't
take much; making a track one
inch smaller or larger than a competitor
meant when a passenger reached
Orange, VA, they had to get off the
train, wait for all the luggage and freight
to be moved onto the next train (owned
and operated by a different line), and
then proceed with their journey on the
next line. To get to Richmond on the early lines, it meant
another transfer at Hanover and changing again. The insanity of independent
lines created major logistical challenges for the Confederacy during the Civil
War. The relative lengths between lines
backed up supplies and troop movements for
most of the confl ict. The Union had already
converted to a standard size track that made
movement much easier. The north was
assisted by a little-known corporate lawyer
who represented railroad companies and
assisted with directing the construction of
the fi rst Transcontinental Railroad when he
became President: Abraham Lincoln. The
rail width adopted by the Union is still in
place today.
A look at the attached map from the late
1800s shows the expansiveness of the
Southern Railroad Company. While rail
hugging Along
travel has lost much of its market share with the advent of automobiles and
interstate highways, it hearkens back to a day when travel could be much
more sophisticated and elegant. Experiencing dining cars, talking with
strangers, having an itinerary built around major cities and towns where the
train stopped, enjoying the view as the miles roll by without the worry of gas,
traffi c, or the all-too-frequent stops to stretch one's legs while driving, are
experiences we should have frequently.
As mentioned in last month's article, it is quite easy for residents of this area
to take a trip by rail. The old O&A line is now managed by Norfolk Southern,
and I frequently hear the freight
lines as they rumble past my offi ce
or my house. The Virginia Rail
Express runs a commuter line that
takes thousands of passengers
into Washington, DC and back
each weekda y. If you ever have a
need or desire to go to our nation's
capital, it is not only convenient,
but also avoids those extra recently
implemented tolls along I66.
There's also a line that connects
Fredericksburg to Washington, DC
if you live in that area. Both lines also feature Amtrak,
which doesn't stop as often but can take you much
farther. Every day a line runs north, leaving Manassas
shortly after 10:00 a.m. and arrives in New York City
fi ve hours later and in Boston 10 hours later. Weekend
trains are available too.
Want to head to New Orleans? Lines directly link
through our area, and it takes 25 hours. It takes 16 hours
to drive straight through, but then add on gas, food,
sleep, (at least one night, or would it be two?), and you
can see the advantages. With modern conveniences
like Uber, moving
around big cities
has another option
that is cost-effective
and simple.
Having been born
and raised outside of
New York, where train
travel was as central
as it is to thousands
in Northern Virginia, there is still a childlike affi nity for train travel. It's about
getting off in a small town you've passed through dozens of times, wanting to
take a look at an interesting place,
enjoying the charm of a small
community and its shops, stores,
and restaurants. In some
established communities, it's
about having a meal or a drink
in a grand hotel. It's also about
the more epic trips: a ride
across the Midwest through the
Rockies, or what might be the
best ride in the world--along
the Rhine River in Germany with
spectacular views and castles
every few miles. As always, get
out and experience!
Southern Railway Depot 1914
Manassas Train Depot 2004
Women's waiting room in the Southern
Railway station, Manassas, ca. 1940
I have found out that there ain't no surer way to fi nd out whether you
like people or hate them than to travel with them.-- Mark Twain
Imagine barreling along at 30 miles per hour cross country and slowing
down to 10 mph going up or down hills and around bends. The speed
is exhilarating!-- Unknown, circa 1850