Conquering the W&OD, 10 Miles at a Time

The Washington & Old Dominion Regional Park is one of the premiere bike trail parks in the DC metropolitan area. It’s 100 feet wide (with a 9 foot wide paved trail) and 45 miles long—running from Purcellville, Virginia, all the way into Arlington. You can read some more about the park and trail from or Friends of the W&OD. As part of my quest to ride at least 30 miles each week, I’ve been spending at least a couple hours over the last three weeks riding the W&OD.

I’ve been tackling the trail in 10-mile increments (each outing is a 20-mile ride: 10 miles from my chosen starting point, then 10 miles back). In my three rides so far, I’ve successfully conquered just over 30 miles of the 45 mile long trail—from its Purcellville end-point all the way to a rest area past Hunter Mill Road.  If you look at the map on, I’ve ridden everything from the left starting point to a point about 2/3 of the way between the dots for Reston and Vienna. I’ll probably really push myself and finish the last 15 miles in one big ride (30 miles total!) this or next week before moving on to some other local trails.

If you have any interest in local history, check out Paul McCray’s fascinating photographic history of the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad, which was abandoned in the 1960s and later converted into the W&OD ‘rail trail’. Some of my favorite bits include the W&OD bridge over the [4-lane!] Beltway in 1967, the grade-crossing over the Shirley Highway (now I-395) in Arlington from 1968 (local readers will recognize the building in the distance to the left, which is still there), and—best of all—the Dulles Airport siding from 1959. The airport siding is especially ironic, since the W&OD was both a freight and passenger line, so we had a passenger-capable rail line running most of the way to Dulles Airport while it was being built in 1959 but don’t have any line or service to the airport today.

Apparently though, the W&OD line had a reputation similar to that of today’s MetroRail system. It was known by a few interesting nicknames like ‘Wobbly & Old Dilapidated Railroad’, ‘Worst & Openly Damned Railroad’, ‘Old Devil Railroad’, and others. So it turns out that MetroRail is just part of a long, consistent transit tradition.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.