Trolley Trail History

The Rhode Island Avenue Trolley Trail is one of the last remnants of the streetcar line that ran from the Treasury Building in downtown Washington, D.C. all the way to Laurel. Riders can again experience the trip from Hyattsville to Branchville on the same route that the “Number 82” streetcar took every day bringing commuters and shoppers downtown.

This region has a long history of transportation innovation. U.S. Route 1 was established before 1794 as a “post road” for carrying mail. In 1835, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad built the Washington Branch into D.C. This route is still utilized every day by freight and commuter trains.

The Maryland and Washington Railway began streetcar service from  Florida and New York Avenues, NE to Mt. Rainier in 1897.   Mergers in 1898 created the City & Suburban Railway which extended the service to Riverdale by 1899 and  Berwyn by 1900.  A financially weak Berwyn and Laurel Electric Railroad built the last portion into Laurel and provided shuttle car service to Berwyn.  With more mergers, the first through car service from Washington to Laurel began in 1902 via Mt. Rainier, Brentwood, North Brentwood, Hyattsville, Riverdale Park, College Park, Berwyn, Branchville, and Beltsville.  Operations continued under more names: Washington Railway & Electric Company, Capital Transit Company, and D. C. Transit System.

Streetcars ran on the line from Washington to Branchville until 1958, ending region wide by 1962. The former line continued as a utility right-of-way until the first major steps to change the alignment to a trail began in the late 1990s in College Park. The final portions of the Trolley Trail between Charles Armentrout Drive to Farragut Street in Hyattsville and Branchville Road to Greenbelt Road in College Park are scheduled for completion before 2020.

Historic Photography

Photography credits: National Capital Trolley Museum