The railroad everyone forgot

Monday Book Reviews

March 16, 1992|By Geoffrey W. Fielding

THE STORY OF THE NORTHERN CENTRAL RAILWAY. By Robert L. Gunnarsson. Greenberg Publishing Co., Sykesville. 189 pages. Illustrated. $39.95. WHEN Baltimore's new light rail line opens for business next month, it will run over a historic railroad right-of-way north of Baltimore, one which was surveyed more than 160 years ago.

The route was used by the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad, chartered in 1828, which, in 1854, became the Northern Central Railway.

As the Baltimore & Susquehanna, it was designed to connect those two points. As it evolved into the Northern Central in 1854, its reach was expanded through the anthracite and bituminous coal fields of Pennsylvania and New York to the Great Lakes.

But it was another 30 years before that goal was reached. By that time the Northern Central was almost fully owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad, though it managed to retain a corporate identity until the massive bankruptcies of American railroads in the mid-1970s.

In the city (and state) where railroading originated in this country, it's surprising that until now there has been no history of the Northern Central. The line, due probably to its involvement with the Pennsylvania, became the little railroad that everyone forgot, unlike the great B&O, the "Ma & Pa" and the Western Maryland.

To some degree that is rectified in this book, written by Robert L. Gunnarrson, a retired Baltimore County policeman. His primary interest is the corporate changes over the years and the fortunes the many little towns between Baltimore and Lake Ontario that rose and fell with the railroad. Mr. Gunnarrson was fortunate to have as his editor Herbert Harwood, noted authority on Maryland's railroads.

True-blue railroad buffs may miss detailed comments on the rolling stock and locomotive power of the line.

But they will find locomotive rosters for the years 1858 and 1873 and a list of the 179 bridges between Baltimore and Shamokin, Pa.

They will enjoy the many photographs from both public and private collections. Mr. Gunnarrson's book fills a void and should be of great interest now that the Northern Central tracks are alive again.

Geoffrey W. Fielding writes from Baltimore.

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