End of a Railroad Era

January 27, 1992

CSX Transportation's transfer of its remaining 350 top jobs from Baltimore marks the end of a railroad era. For the first time in 164 years, Baltimore, the birthplace of the nation's commercial railroading, is without a rail headquarters.

When the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, one of the antecedents of today's CSX, was created in February 1827, it was clear that America's future was linked to its westward movement. But how?

Two technologies competed. One of them envisioned a network of canals linking natural waterways, the other wanted to push iron rails through the mountain ranges that separated the Atlantic seaboard from the Midwest. Predictably, this produced quite a game of political football: the legislature in Annapolis allocated funds for two canal projects while the City of Baltimore decided to buy stock in the B&O railroad company.

The iron horses produced a revolution. As rail cars brought in tobacco, cotton and grain for transshipment to Europe, Baltimore's port boomed. In addition to handling cargo, the B&O made arrangements with the North German Lloyd Line for extensive passenger service, which at one point made Baltimore second only to New York's Ellis Island in the number of immigrants handled.

World War I brought suspension of the German shipping service; Baltimore never recovered as a passenger port. Because it offered a fast and cheap access to the Midwest markets, though, the city remained a pivotal railroad center. In 1965, Baltimore's three great railroads -- the B&O, the C&O and the Western Maryland -- became part of a Chessie System, managed out of Cleveland.

When Chessie later merged with Jacksonville-based Seaboard Coast Line Industries, the die was cast. For a number of years, CSX maintained certain executive offices both in Baltimore and Jacksonville, but it was clear its heart was in Florida.

Baltimore will always have its B&O memories. Several histories have been written about that pioneering rail line; other manuscripts are being worked on. A new generation of railroad visionaries also exists in Baltimore, dreaming of a day when high-speed magnetic levitation trains will whisk passengers from downtown Baltimore to downtown Washington in a matter of minutes. The spirit of the B&O lives on.

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