Choo-choo memories Memorabilia: Few Americans ride trains but railroad museums operate throughout state.

November 27, 1997

IT'S A SIGN of the times that when Baltimore's B&O Railroad Museum recently sponsored a trip to Maryland's railroad landmarks, it had to be conducted by bus.

Railroads still are a major factor in transporting freight. But, as the statistics for this busy holiday season show, airplanes and cars have replaced passenger trains as the travel mode of choice for most Americans.

More than four decades have passed since passenger service ceased from Baltimore to York, Pa., Annapolis and Bel Air. And while state-financed MARC commuter lines still provide service to Washington, they are hardly the kinds of lifelines as the trains of yore, which carried pretty much everything we needed -- from milk to mail -- in addition to passengers.

Trains remain a popular nostalgia attraction, however. Besides Baltimore's B&O Railroad Museum, a dozen railroad-exhibit sites operate around Maryland.

"For the most part, trains connect people with happy times," explains John Ott, of Baltimore's B&O Museum, which has attracted more than 79,000 visitors so far this year.

Memorabilia collections are expanding. Restoration of the 1830 depot at Ellicott City's B&O Railroad Station Museum will soon commence. It is America's oldest depot, the terminus of that pioneering railroad's first line.

Railroads also played a big role in the development of Odenton, a heavily patronized stop on the MARC line between Baltimore and Washington. As long as the Washington Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad existed, it operated a busy car shop in Odenton. Until 1935, the nearby Naval Academy Junction was also the transfer point for travelers heading for Annapolis from Baltimore and Washington.

Efforts are under way to expand Odenton's collection of railroad memorabilia, now housed in half of a restored bank building across from the MARC station. It is an exemplary local history project that deserves support.

The history of American railroading is intimately intertwined with the development of Maryland. Over the years, much memorabilia has been preserved. But as the number of train veterans diminishes, uniforms, photographs and timetables are lost. It is important that such memorabilia wind up in museums that will treasure them.

Pub Date: 11/27/97

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