DC has begun a project to rehab and replace the streetcar tracks on O and P Streets in Georgetown.

DDOT will pull up all the cobblestones (technically Belgian blocks), tracks, and the yokes that support them. They will then reposition the yokes lower to be better aligned with the street grade, which has eroded a lot over the years. Once that’s completed, they’ll reposition the cobblestones and rails and, hopefully, the streets will look beautiful and be a lot more safe to travel on.

But what won’t be riding on the tracks is streetcars themselves. The whole point of this exercise is not to make the tracks usable again but rather to simply preserve in place the last remaining examples of Washington’s rare conduit power system.

That’s a fancy way of saying the streetcars got their power from a buried power line. The streetcars accessed the powered line through a slot running down the center of the tracks. It looked a lot like a cable car slot, and for good reason because a lot of the streetcars in Washington were originally cable cars that were transitioned over to electric power.

Route 20 of DC Transit ran on Georgetown’s O and P Streets until 1960. It wound its way through Georgetown on its way either out to Cabin John (by way of the Glen Echo Amusement Park) or towards downtown, ultimately terminating at Union Station. In Georgetown it came in on M Street, went up Wisconsin to P and headed west to 36th Street, hung a left all the way down to Prospect, where it would turn right and head out on the Cabin John right-of-way (which still exists!).

On the way back in, it would come in on Prospect, head over to 35th and up to O Street where it would turn right and head over to Wisconsin Ave.

Here’s a map of the streetcar tracks that once went through Georgetown:


Green is covered tracks; blue is uncovered tracks; red is removed tracks.
Click for interactive version.


Nowadays you can only see the tracks on O and P Streets east of 35th St. But the rest of the loop around to 36th and down to Prospect is still there under the ashpalt. In fact, according to what I’ve been told, the tracks are still under the M St. and Wisconsin Ave. asphalt as well.

As part of this project, however, DDOT is actually removing the tracks west of the uncovered tracks that have been covered for decades.

And on Wednesday, they are starting that bittersweet removal on 36th St. just south of P. As you can see in the photo above, they’ve already carved out the tracks from the road. You can see the whole system quite clearly. If you’re interested, you ought to stop by tomorrow morning as they remove the tracks. I was informed that the National Park Service will be there today to document the tracks as part of its Historic American Engineer Record.

Cross-posted on the Georgetown Metropolitan.