New Life For The B & A On Old Railroad Line Feet Have Locomotion

October 05, 1990|By Robert Lee | Robert Lee,Staff writer

The Annapolis & Baltimore Short Line Railroad was chartered in 1880 to construct a narrow band of civilization across the sprawling farms, woods and wide waters of central Anne Arundel County.

Now, 110 years later, that same narrow band has been reincarnated as the Baltimore & Annapolis Trail Park, providing one of the few natural refuges from central Anne Arundel County's sprawling civilization.

Until passenger service ceased, various steam, electric and diesel railroad companies led the charge to develop the suburbs from Glen Burnie southward to Arnold, thereby creating customers for their trains. Bus service along Ritchie Highway finally replaced the train in 1950.

FOR THE RECORD - On Friday, the Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad's status during the Depression was reported incorrectly. The railroad ran continuously throughout the 1930s.
The Anne Arundel County Sun regrets the errors.

The county's recreation and parks department likes to say that 50 percent of the county's population lives within 3 miles of the trail. This pattern is directly related to the fact that neighborhoods developed around the old Short Line railroad stations of Severnside, Winchester, Arnold, Revell, Jones, Round Bay, Robinson, Earleigh Heights, Pasadena, Elvaton, Marley, Saunders Range and Glen Burnie.

An excerpt from the then-Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad brochure published in the 1920s demonstrated how the company pitched suburban living to Baltimore's middle class: "The success or failure of a day's work in hot weather depends more or less upon the start you make. Certainly it is better to be wakened by chirping birds and splashing water than by an angry alarm clock and the clatter of trucks . . .

"It is not hard to step aboard an electric train, read your paper and smoke your pipe or cigar until you are within a few blocks of the office."

The pamphlet encouraged working people not to "envy the rich and idle, to whom such an escape from the city is an annual matter of discourse," but to join them along the lands between the Severn, South and Magothy rivers.

The railroad may have been more successful at convincing people to come to the suburbs than it was at convincing them to patronize the trains.

Between the time the first steam locomotive left Annapolis for Baltimore in March 1887 and the time the last diesel engine -- part of a abortive attempt to restore passenger service between Baltimore and Harundale -- chugged down its tracks in December 1961, the line failed or was sold six different times. Its name changed four times, and all of that still leads to confusion.

Some freight service on railroad lines now included in the B & A park persisted until 1968, when the Severn River railroad bridge, with its 80-year-old submerged wooden supports, was declared unsafe. Freight service continues on the tracks between Ferndale and Baltimore.

The first time the line, which was sometimes also called the "North Shore" line, failed was in 1894. In the foreclosure process its name was turned around from A & B to the present B & A Short Line Railroad.

In 1921, after converting to electric power and becoming for a short time the "Annapolis Short Line" of "The Maryland Electric Railways," the line merged with the W B & A and assumed the latter's name.

The use of "Short Line" in the name had been a jab at its competition on the Severn's southern shore. That railroad, which also had several different names over the years, took a roundabout detour west to Elk Ridge to move passengers between Annapolis and Baltimore, which took two hours.

The North Shore line, by crossing the Severn River, shortened the Baltimore-Annapolis trip to 22 miles, an hour's ride.

After failing again during the Depression and dropping its Washington connections, both the "W" and "Short Line" were dropped from the name, because the "South Shore Line" had gone out of business for good. The passenger line was reopened in 1935 by old bond holders after a four-year Depression hiatus.

To complicate the name question, the trail was originally dubbed the Baltimore-Annapolis Trail by the Severna Park Jaycees. They posted the railroad ruins in the late 1970s with now-fading metal signs, attempting to lobby for the rail right of way's conversion to a park.

The county restored the ampersand and added "park" to its name after it started purchasing the old railroad right of way in 1978, using $1.3 million in Program Open Space money.

Twelve years and $8.5 million dollars worth of county bonds later the B & A Trail Park is celebrating its official grand opening Sunday.

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