Aged Budd rail cars here roll into history

JACQUES KELLY

January 08, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

The end of the line has finally arrived for MARC's fleet of Budd commuter rail passenger cars, a fixture at morning and evening rush hours at Camden Station for the past 40 years. The aged rail equipment is to be retired and replaced in a matter of days.

The silvery, diesel-motored rail cars were made by the E.G. Budd Co. in Pennsylvania and purchased by many U.S. and Canadian railroads in the 1950s. Strong on reliability, performance and speed, the cars have long outlived their corporate parent.

But in recent years, daily commuters have grown to hate them, just as rail enthusiasts have venerated them.

For their last runs, the surviving nine stainless steel, self-propelled cars were tarnished by time and a layer of heavy diesel soot. No mechanic's muffler could have trapped the exhaust these rolling rail relics expelled.

Even the cars' detractors would admit the trains had a surplus of rail romance-friendly conductors, dinging bells and throaty horns they pitched and swayed through the Patapsco, Patuxent and Potomac river valleys.

On a damp January afternoon, the four-car string looked like a moving furnace as it edged around the tight corners of Locust Point and South Baltimore before tying into the CSX main line near the Ostend Street Bridge due south of Oriole Park.

"They are the last and oldest Budd car fleet in daily use in this country," says John Hankey, curator of the B&O Museum and a former railroad engineer.

He says his museum is now negotiating to get additional Budd cars from CSX to complement the one it now has.

FTC "We'd like to have a whole train to use on our runs," he says, referring to excursions the museum now operates in Southwest Baltimore.

The Budd cars (also known as RDCs -- rail diesel cars) arrived in Baltimore as steam locomotives were making their exit. Some 40 years ago, diesel power was in the ascendancy. Steam locos -- and their coal fires -- were dirty and expensive.

From the minute the Budds went into local service, they were popular with Washington-bound commuters. The silvery cars were hailed as the tops in 1950s rail commuter travel, with picture windows, air conditioning and reliable heaters.

Their power came from a large diesel engine, large enough for a truck, tug boat or bulldozer, mounted beneath the car. Its exhaust was vented through the roof. There was no separate locomotive necessary (each car ran on its own or in sets) and the engineer stood in the front separated by a door just a few feet from the passengers.

In addition to their Baltimore-Washington and Washington-Brunswick commuter runs, the B&O also used them its Daylight Speedliner service from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh via Baltimore and Washington.

The railroad even custom-ordered a pair of Budd cars outfitted with kitchens so passengers could dine on the long-distance runs.

The Budds worked hard. And just as there might have been thoughts of retiring them, Maryland commuter passenger volume began to grow and grow. The railroad needed all the cars it could get.

A Budd car train even hauled a throng of passengers from Washington and its suburbs for the opening day game at Oriole Park.

On a typical daily run, the Budd cars slipped out of Camden Station and past the Patapsco flatlands, then stopped at St. Denis, Elkridge, Savage, Laurel, Berwyn, College Park and Riverdale before pulling into a Union Station platform in the District.

Because the Budds discharged so much exhaust, engineers could bring the train only halfway under the combined parking garage-platform part of the Washington terminal. Otherwise, passengers would complain of all the airborne pollutants.

"There was an interesting little quirk about car No. 9913," says Hankey, a former B&O-CSX engineer. "There was a low-level conspiracy about it on the railroad. Even though the name Baltimore and Ohio had ceased to be, the car's name was never painted over. Officials looked the other way. It was a sentimental thing."

So, while all the other cars carried the MARC logo, car 9133 behaved as if it were in the 1950s.

For nearly as long as the silver trains have been running, model toy manufacturers have been reproducing them, often with the B&O name. Baltimoreans have been major buyers of these toys.

A set of Budd cars operated this holiday season at the Christmas garden display at the Kenilworth Bazaar shopping mall near Towson.

Lionel introduced its first Budd car set in the 1950s. The firm still keeps the basic model in production -- the latest version is Canadian -- and other toy makers have brought out their editions over the years.

"People still want the old stuff. We sold out this Christmas of all the silver [Budd] cars that one manufacturer made," says George Michael, an employee at M.B. Klein, a toy train store at Gay and Saratoga streets. "People still want the old stuff."

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