The Capital Crescent Trail follows the route of an old railroad line called the Georgetown Branch of the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O). It's all that remains of an unrealized attempt by the B&O to construct a major rail link between the Baltimore-Washington area and southern states. Had it been successfully developed, this part of the Washington area might look very different today.
In the late 1880s, the B&O was eager to capture more business in southern states but lacked a good Potomac River crossing and rail connections. The Pennsylvania Railroad, a major competitor also wanting more southern business, had restricted access to its bridge and rail links. B&O devised a plan to build a rail line to connect its Metropolitan Branch line in Silver Spring, Maryland to northern Virginia by bridging the Potomac near Chain Bridge and linking up with the southern lines at Fairfax Station and at Quantico.
In the early 1900s the railroad competitive atmosphere stabilized somewhat, and the B&O was able to use the Pennsylvania Railroad's route through Washington into Virginia, eliminating the need for a separate and costly B&O line. The proposed bridge and Virginia section were never built. After overcoming financial difficulties in the 1890s, the B&O completed the line from Silver Spring to Georgetown in 1910 and named it the Georgetown Branch.
The single-track Georgetown Branch was never intended to carry passengers but did a fair business hauling freight-mainly coal to Georgetown and building supplies to Chevy Chase and Bethesda. Demand declined steadily after World War II and few trains ran on the line after 1980. The B&O was taken over by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway in 1963, which in turn was acquired by the CSX Corporation in the 1980s. The last train on the Georgetown Branch ran in 1985 and CSX sought to abandon the line in 1986. Local interest in preserving the corridor led to its development as the Capital Crescent Trail, a rails-to-trails project.