A visit to the National Capital Trolley Museum

Only just 13 miles north from my house here in DC is the National Capital Trolley Museum. A few Sundays ago I had an occasion to visit it: Two of our friends from Perth, Australia were in town and had expressed a desire to take a look at this museum. It had been some years since my last visit to the NCTM, so I was quite happy to be chauffeur and tour guide to our friends.

The museum is open Saturday and Sundays from 12 noon to 5 pm. Regular admission is $10 per person. As are a lot of these kinds of museums, it is run by volunteers. And again,  like most museums of this kind, they are having a very difficult time recruiting and retaining volunteers. So much was obvious during our visit. Just three gentlemen were running the entire show that day. One was stationed in the gift shop and ticket office, one was keeping an eye on the inside of museum, while the third volunteer drove the trolley for it’s 25 minute run and consequently also did the short tour of the “Street Car Hall”.

The museum had been at another location and was moved to it’s current place due to the construction of the Intercounty Connector Highway. Here is an areal video of the museum’s current location. In 2003 a fire destroyed one of the car barns and more than a third of the museum’s trolleys were lost.


The museum entrance. 

As mentioned previously, the museum does have a stretch of track on which it runs it’s working vehicles. At the time of our visit the running museum piece was a Presidents’ Conference Committee street car from the Toronto Transit Commission. These particular street cars were usually referred to simply as “PCCs”. In short, these PCCs were designed to standardize street cars and streamline their production, thus reducing costs for the individual transit operators. More than 5000 of these units were built. (Please click here for much more detailed information regarding PCCs).


 Our ride: a Toronto Transit Commission’s PCC at the National Capital Trolley Museum. 

The “Street Car Hall” has a few units in various states of repair on view. Among them some trams from Brussels and Berlin, as well as a set from the “Rheinische Verkehrsbetriebe” in Germany. There is also a Capital Traction vehicle.


A “Capital Traction Company” vehicle on the left and a unit from the “Rheinische Verkehrsbetriebe” on the right

Alas my favorite of the bunch was not running during the day of our visit: former Blackpool Transport Services (England) “boat tram” 606. This is an open air tram shaped like a boat, of which Blackpool had and still has a few in service.


A “Boat Tram” in Blackpool. Photo by David Ingham

Apparently the boat tram owned by the National Capital Trolley Museum had developed a leak in the air brake system and was in the shop for repairs. Pity that!


The “boat tram” at the National Capital Trolley Museum (Photo: NCTM)


A “boat tram” ride on a previous visit (Photo: Ralf Meier)

There are a few other, tram related exhibits at the museum. One of those is a preserved cross section of a Washington DC conduit current collection rail system. These were used in cities which, generally for esthetic reasons, did not allow overhead wiring for the tram’s current collection. Among those places were London, New York City, Berlin and Brussels. 

Unfortunately the volunteer was not totally up to par regarding this technology, insisting that DC was the only place it was ever used and that this method of current collection is obsolete. Well, tell that to the good people in, among others, Dubai and Bordeaux. They seem to be quite happy with their new, in ground current collection system.projeton266.jpgBordeaux-tram-aps-near-Roustaing.jpg

A catenary free, conduit tram in Bordeaux (bottom photograph). The top photo shows a Dubai catenary free conduit tram.

The museum’s entrance hall also has a nice O scale trolley lay out. This can be activated by the visitor.


Detail of the lay out.

It seems that this museum is not overly patronized. There were only a handful of visitors during our time there. That’s really a shame. It is after all a piece of the capital’s history and I would hate to see it disappear. So, if on another nice weekend there seems to be nothing to do, grab the kids, husbands, wives, friends or whoever and pay this place a visit. You won’t regret it!


All photographs by Ralf Meier unless otherwise noted. (iPhone X and Sony RX-100M7)



Please feel free to leave a comment or reply. You do not need to enter your email address or web site.