A city with a proud railroad tradition

Baltimore Glimpses

January 31, 1995|By Gil Sandler

THERE WAS A time in Baltimore when you could hear a train whistle almost anytime -- short and shrill during the day, long and seemingly lonely at night. In recent decades, those sounds have faded as the number of trains declined.

Now AMTRAK has announced plans to cut service drastically nationwide, eliminating some routes and reducing the number of trips made on others. Few routes through Baltimore will be affected. But the cuts remind us of how much the city has lost due to the decline of railroads and the rise of the popularity of automobiles.

Following are some fondly remembered trains of yesteryear:

The B&O Royal Blue, Camden Station to New York: Baltimore's veteran rail buff, the late George Nixon remembered: "What a ride. You'd board a beautiful, absolutely spotless coach in Camden Station and get settled and then head for the diner. The dining car was fitted with a charming colonial decor . . . . The maitre d' would set you at a table covered with a thick, snowy white table cloth, set with heavy silver and beautiful blue and white china. And what food! For breakfast, bacon, eggs, biscuits and steaming coffee. For lunch and dinner, steak and gourmet fish dishes." The B&O train did not actually go to New York. The last stop was in Jersey City, N.J., where passengers could catch buses headed for New York City.

The B&O west to St. Louis: Paul Roller, a porter on the Baltimore to St. Louis run in the 1930s remembered: "You boarded about 5 in the evening. After a sumptuous dinner you retired to your bedroom. In the morning you'd look out the window and there it was -- the beautiful Ohio River." Roller said there was so much focus on the quality of service that it took six waiters, three cooks and a steward just to handle the dining car.

Baltimore to Annapolis: The old Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis railroad had a terminal at Howard and Lombard streets in Baltimore and a New York Avenue station in Washington. Before the age of interstate highways, the WB&A was the key way to travel between the two cities. In 1921, the WB&A purchased the Short Line, which for years was the best way to travel between Baltimore and Annapolis. Its electric cars were cleaner and quieter than coal-burning locomotives.

Following are some former "commuter trains":

* Hillen Station, just north of the east end of the Orleans Street viaduct, was once the gathering point for Baltimore society taking the trains to the Blue Ridge Mountain resorts. Also, folks headed to and from Carroll County used the station.

* Biddle Street Station (near Gay Street) served mostly Wilmington, Del., commuters. It was so little known that when reporters sought details about its closing, the railroad information bureau claimed to have no record of the station.

* Garrison Avenue near Reisterstown Road: This station served the Western Maryland Railway trains and became a coal warehouse.

* Baltimore to Ocean City on the Baltimore, Chesapeake & Atlantic railroad or BC&A (dubbed the "Black Cinders and Ashes" by locals). You took the Love Point ferry out of Baltimore's Inner Harbor to Love Point on the northern tip of Kent Island or to Clairborne, south of Kent Island. There you connected with the BC&A bound for Ocean City. The train trip took five hours. It's probably best remembered for its lovely meandering through the lush farm country of the Eastern Shore.

* Hunt Valley to downtown Baltimore. The route of the "Ruxton Rocket": The train started out as far up as Parkton with stops every few minutes, including Monkton, Sparks, Padonia, Lutherville, Riderwood and down through the Jones Falls Valley to Mount Washington. The last stop was Calvert Street -- about where The Baltimore Sun building is today. (The Light Rail runs along some of the same old tracks.)

Besides the tracks, all that's left of most of the old trains is the memory of their whistles.

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