How would you like to get aboard an electric train in downtown Washington -- not at Union Station but, say, a block up the street from Metro Center -- and ride swiftly to downtown Baltimore or to within a block of the statehouse in Annapolis? Sounds nice, doesn't it?
Until 50 years ago today, you could have done it. It was early in the morning of Aug. 21, 1935, that the Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad Co. gave up after a bit more than a quarter-century of running high-speed trains between two of the three cities that were in the corporate name.
An articulated WB&A unit -- that is, two connected cars hinged in the middle, similar to one of Metro's most modern buses -- is pictured above. It should be familiar to Washingtonians of a certain age.
The first Baltimore-to- Washington electric service began in 1908 but, for technological reasons, passengers originally had to change to local streetcars at 15th and H streets NE. WB&A trains began running all the way to the Treasury, at 15th Street and New York Avenue NW, in 1910.
But congestion became so bad by 1921 that the terminal was moved to an off-street location at 11th and New York Avenue, at what is now the Greyhound bus station. When they built the hotel behind the station, it was named the Annapolis because that's where one caught the train to the Naval Academy town.
In those days, express trains between Washington and Baltimore ran every half-hour and locals every two hours. Every hour one could transfer at Annapolis Junction to get to Annapolis.
Alas, automobiles cut into the business. In 1934, the Maryland General Assembly granted the WB&A relief from state taxes. In 1935, the legislators failed to renew the abatement. The railroad, well-maintained to the end, opted to go out of business. With a foreshortened name -- the Baltimore & Annapolis -- the company maintained service between those two points over a progressively deteriorating roadbed until 1950.