If the company that makes Lionel electric trains wanted the ideal model for a toy train station, Perryville's depot would be it.
The state's new commuter train service, which is called the Penn North line, serves this classic Cecil County depot, as well as Aberdeen and Edgewood (Harford County) and Martin (Baltimore County) plus the usual Baltimore-Washington stops. There are four trains in the morning; three in the evening.
The state is betting that people will get out of their autos and ride the rails, boarding trains at stations that seem to have stepped out of a black-and-white movie.
It was at these little stations that people once bought their tickets, got a cab, waited for Aunt Cecilia to arrive on the local, received express shipments of auto parts and generally passed the time of day.
Take the example at Perryville (50 rail commuting minutes from Baltimore). Why the once-mighty Pennsylvania Railroad put such a fancy brick Georgian Revival depot in this Cecil County village on the Susquehanna River beats me.
Perryville never generated much traffic, except for the World War II years when Bainbridge Naval Center was in full swing. Perryville was, however, an important railroading town. The Pennsy once had a divisional repair shop here. And a freight line branches off here and runs along the Susquehanna River's north shore. Railroaders call it the Port Road, because it goes through Port Deposit.
The station is being refurbished. Last week, a construction crew replaced rotted wood sections and bagged asbestos. The station's east facade bears the inscription "PERRYVILLE" in a bold and important style. The date "1905" is also written on the wall along with "P.B.W.", the initials of the Philadelphia Baltimore and Wilmington Railroad, the Pennsy's corporate subsidiary that connected the three cities and legally owned the station.
Alas, the trains leave Perryville too early in the morning for some people who'd like to use the line to get to their jobs in Baltimore. The last train clears the station at 6:50 a.m. in order to get to Washington at 8:25 a.m. The first train of the day leaves Perryville at mind-boggling hour of 5:30 a.m. Afternoon service gets no complaint.
The Penn North's stop at Aberdeen (41 minutes to Baltimore) is vintage 1940s, a sleek brick station created by the architectural shops of modern designer Raymond Loewy. Loewy, who designed the original Stewart's York Road shopping center just south of Anneslie and Rodgers Forge, also created the plan for the Pennsy's famed GG-1 electric locomotive, the Man O' War of the Washington to New York runs from the 1930s through the '80s.
The Aberdeen station, hemmed in by highway and pedestrian overpasses, had large buildings on both sides of the tracks until recently, when the east side structure was demolished.
World War II Army trappings never vanished at the Aberdeen. There's usually always some pimple-faced 17-year-old recruit who boards or gets off one of the few Amtrak trains that still call here. Even the local cab company, whose black-and-orange sedans once regularly lined up outside the station, is the Aberdeen Victory cab. The station is now closed for remodeling. But only a few months ago, you expected to hear Jack Benny on the ticket seller's radio.
On the platform is a red warning sign: Do Not Cross Tracks. Heed its advice. Amtrak trains storm through Aberdeen like a ghosts chasing cyclones.
Edgewood station (29 minutes to Baltimore), on Md. 755, sits across a line of trees from an Edgewood Arsenal entrance. There's no formal station here -- just a platform and 40-odd parked cars. Yet State Railroad Administration officials note it's the fastest growing stop on the young line, thanks to all the Harford County housing construction. One day last week, there was even a car parked with Washington diplomatic plates.
After the commuters leave, the parking lot fills up with patrons of Loughlin's Chesapeake Pub, the popular town watering hole just off the tracks.
The Martin stop (17 minutes to Baltimore), as it's called, recalls Glenn L. Martin, the aircraft pioneer whose Middle River operation never stopped working during World War II. The place was so busy the old Pennsy RR constructed a stop here to help shuttle the masses of Martin workers.
The new Martin stop, which could conceivably serve patrons of the WorldBridge development, is a trio of aluminum bus shelters and a pressure-treated wood deck, plus parking lot, off Martin Boulevard. Only a week into service, the parking lot seemed to be catching on and is the second-quickest growth stop, after Edgewood.
All this has rail officials looking onward, to destinations such as Wilmington, Del., Crystal City and the Pentagon. Why not? The rails are already there.