A Town called Railroad!

The borough of Railroad, PA owes its existence, and its name, to what became the Northern Central, which was built connecting Baltimore, MD and Harrisburg, PA.   The  Railroad Borough Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

Railroad has been described by some as a “tiny town of three hundred people near the Maryland border…home to the Jackson House B&B, a popular crab shack, and not much else.” I was there (a few years back), and it’s an accurate description!

The building stock of Railroad Borough reflects the town’s roles as a rail freight depot and manufacturing center, and reflects the continued importance of agriculture in the area as well. Some of the more important buildings directly related to the railroad and industry include a two and one-half story store and commission house, a large, three story, stucco’ed stone hotel, and a sprawling early twentieth century brick industrial complex.

The district presents a variety of very muted decorative features from various stylistic influences. These include block wooden lintels from the Greek Revival period, paired brackets and segmental arches from the Italianate period, and patterns: gable-shingles and irregular roof-lines from the Queen Anne period. The architecture of Railroad Borough is not remarkable, however, for its stylistic flamboyance — it is characterized by its straightforwardness of detailing, practicality of design, and for its solidity. Of the forty-five significant and contributing dwellings included within the district, twenty-one are built of either brick or stone. Most of the others are frame, with a few log structures included as well.

The railroad itself started out life as the Baltimore & Susquehanna Railroad Company, chartered in 1828, and reached Cockeysville in 1831.  After much delay caused by the Pennsylvania state legislature not wanting to let Pennsylvania products head south and leave via the port of Baltimore, they were finally approved for a rail line and reached York in 1838, via a few tricks.  This line included the Howard Tunnel, the earliest railroad tunnel in the U.S. which is still in use today.  The various railroads that made up the Northern Central were merged together in 1854 to form the  Northern Central Railway Company. 

In the meantime, the railroad decided to try another approach to “get out of town”, and started heading towards Westminster MD, creating the Green Spring Branch.  It never reached there, but finally did connect with the Western Maryland Railroad. , after the WM started their move west out of Baltimore via Westminster. 

The Northern Central became part of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1861, when the PRR purchased a controlling interest to compete with the expansion of the B&O.

In 1968, ownership of the “Northern Central” was taken over by the Penn Central with the merging of the PRR, NYC, and NH.  While under Penn Central ownership, hurricane Agnes hit in September of 1972, and wiped out enough of the right-of-way, that the bankrupt PC could not afford to rebuild the line.  Instead, to get trains between Baltimore and Harrisburg, they would now go up/down the Port Road via Perryville MD.  A little longer, but other than the extra fuel, it didn’t cost them anything.

From 1972 till freight operations ended in 2005 (as a result of the double-tracking project), PC, Conrail, and Norfolk Southern operated the line, although it was “taken over” by the MTA in ~1988 to build the MTA’s light rail line.  Once the light rail started operating, freight operations were confined to approx 1:00am to 4:30am.  If a train was still on the line when the LRV’s started coming north, they would be stranded on a small siding till the next night.  This provided for a few rare daytime shots of freights on the Northern Central after light rail operations began!

Starting in 1990 (till 2005), the right-of-way was shared with the MTA’s Light Rail, which went all the way to the Hunt Valley Mall, via some new track from the Gilroy stop north.  For a while, the MTA kept a speeder in a small shed on the south side of Cockeysville Rd.  Now, even that is gone, but they still keep the switch in place to give the MTA a place to park engines or MOW equipment just on the north side of Warren Road.

The first “modern” re-make of the Northern Central came in the early 2000’s with the Northern Central RR, as a dinner train.  I rode the train at least three times…  And that closed down.  Now the NC is being operated as “Steam into History”  with a newly-constructed steam engine using historical design. 

Perhaps I’ll get there to ride “one of these days.”   Hopefully this time, I can do it on a nice hot day, wearing a pretty, lightweight dress…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s