In General
In Particular


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In General

Welcome to the Nation's Capitol.  A town of history not only for the nation, but for us railfans as well.  Even though the railroads of yesteryear are gone, there is still plenty of action considering where Washington is situated and the lines that converge here.

For freight action, we have NS and CSX.  CSX goes north (east by the timetable), west, and south out of Washington.   North and west it runs on former B&O trackage, south on the former RF&P.  Norfolk Southern comes in from the west on the former Southern Railway.

For passenger service, we have Amtrak and two regional commuter railroads: the VRE and MARC.  Going north, Amtrak runs on the Northeast Corridor using electric power on former Pennsylvania trackage.  Heading south, Amtrak has two routes out of the city, one travels on the former RF&P/CSX line, splitting in Richmond to continue southward and east to Newport News.  The other route heads south on Norfolk Southern on a former Southern rout to New Orleans via Charlottesville.  Going west Amtrak runs on the old B&O Metropolitan line to Martinsburg WV and beyond.  Also, Amtrak switches power in Washington where the overhead grid ends when continuing west or south.

The two commuter railroads have five lines leading out of town.  The Virginia Rail Express splits after Alexandria and heads to Manassas and Fredericksburg.  The VRE is an inbound in the morning and outbound in the afternoon type of commuter railroad.

MARC, the MAryland Rail Commuter, has two diesel powered lines, and one electric line sharing resources with Amtrak on the NEC - however, you will see a mix of diesel and electric trains on the Corridor.  The MARC Brunswick line heads west on the B&O Metropolitan sub to Martinsburg WV.  Heading north, MARC has two options: the electric Penn line, and the diesel Camden line, ending at Camden station on the south side of downtown.  The Penn line trains go into Penn station, on the north side of the downtown area, with a few select trains continuing on to Martins, and even fewer going all the way up to Perryville on the far side of the Susquehanna River.  In contrast to the VRE, MARC trains travel in both directions throughout the day, although the frequency for reverse traffic isn't as often.

As far as transit goes, Washington DC is not as lucky as Philadelphia or Boston, but we do have the fairly comprehensive DC Metro system, and the "newly" opened DC Streetcar system.  The Purple line light rail system has been started on, and is a cross-county system, as opposed to one that comes into DC from the burbs.

As far as busses go, you have many choices if you are into them.  In addition to the local and commuter busses of the DC Transit, there are busses from NOVA, Montgomery County, and the myriad of tour busses running around DC.  A few years ago, there used to be a separate Greyhound facility on L Street adjacent to the station throat, but they now come in the back entrance of Union Station for arrivals and departures.

In Particular

Decent Railfan Spots

Almost every time I come into Washington DC, I start at Union Station - only because I come in by MARC from Baltimore.  As such, I usually like to go up to the top of the parking garage on the back side of the station.  This gets you up about 50 feet for a commanding view of trains coming into the station down the four track yard throat.

The Long Bridge between DC and NOVA (Northern Virginia) is a great spot, but the south end in Virginia is a little bit easier to access and park near to.

Maps of Washington DC and the surrounding areas:
Map 1 - Washington's Union Station
Map 2 - Ivy City Yard
Map 3 - JD Tower and Alexandria Junction in Hyattsville MD
Map 4 - the Long Bridge - South and over the Potomac
Map 5 - East
Map 6 - Northeast - the NEC south from Bowie to New Carrollton
Map 7 - Northeast / CSX
Map 8 - North Northeast / CSX
Map 9 - North
Map 10 - Northwest - CSX & Metro

Around Washington DC:
WMATA's Metro system Railfan Guide
the dcstreetcar
the National Capitol Trolley Museum

Annapolis Junction MD
Alexandria and NOVA (Northern Virginia)
Gaithersburg MD
Laurel MD
Lorton VA and the Autotrain
Manassas VA
Odenton MD - the NEC from Odenton south to Bowie


I love trains, and I love signals.  I am not an expert.  My webpages reflect what I find on the topic of the page.  This is something I have fun with while trying to help others.  My webpages are an attempt at putting everything I can find of the subject in one convenient place. 

If this is a railfan page, every effort has been made to make sure that the information contained on this map and in this railfan guide is correct.  Once in a while, an error may creep in :-).  Most of my maps are a result of personal observation after visiting these locations.

My philosophy: Pictures and maps are worth a thousand words, especially for railfanning.  Text descriptions only get you so far, especially if you get lost or disoriented.  Take along good maps.... a GPS is OK to get somewhere, but maps are still better if you get lost!  I belong to AAA, which allows you to get local maps for free when you visit the local branches.  ADC puts out a nice series of county maps for the Washington DC area, but their state maps do not have the railroads on them.  If you can find em, I like the National Geographic map book of the U.S..... good, clear, and concise graphics, and they do a really good job of showing you where tourist type attractions are, although they too lack the railroads.  Other notes about specific areas will show up on that page if known.

Pictures and additional information is always needed if anyone feels inclined to take 'em, send 'em, and share 'em, or if you have something to add or correct.... credit is always given! BE NICE!!! Contact info is here

Beware: If used as a source, ANYTHING from Wikipedia must be treated as being possibly being inaccurate, wrong, or not true.


NEW AUG25/2011, NOV10/2013
Last Modified 26-Nov-2019