William A. Grotz, 94, served as president of railroad for 17 years

May 07, 1999|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

William Arthur Grotz, former president of Western Maryland Railway Co., died Wednesday in his sleep at Roland Park Place. He was 94 and had lived in Guilford.

From 1952 to 1969, Mr. Grotz led a busy and profitable railroad that stretched 837 miles from the Baltimore harbor over the Alleghenies to connections with Midwestern industries.

He also served on the boards of the Baltimore Opera Company, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Goucher College and the Greater Baltimore Committee.

"He oversaw the dieselization and modernization of the railroad and made it into an important east-west line," said former CSX Corp. executive Herbert H. Harwood Jr., the author of local rail histories. "It was a spick-and-span, very proud outfit."

Under Mr. Grotz's tenure, the railroad's fleet of immaculately maintained black-and-gold locomotives hauled long strings of mixed-freight cars.

Born in Manhattan, Mr. Grotz began his career as an investment analyst and graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of science degree from New York University in 1929. A year later, he joined the old Chase National Bank, where he specialized in the economics of transportation, a scholarly fascination he maintained throughout his life. His New York office, which adjoined that of David Rockefeller, was decorated with pictures of steam-belching locomotives.

At that time, the Western Maryland's stock -- controlled by Baltimore and Ohio Railroad -- was held in trusteeship through Mr. Grotz's bank in New York, and he served on the rail line's board of directors.

In 1952, Western Maryland's board named him president, and he moved to Baltimore.

"He was a keen student of transportation trends," said Clifford Bruck, a retired Western Maryland Railway executive. "He thoroughly modernized the railroad, brought in computers and bar coding of cars and publicized the line through advertising and public relations."

Mr. Grotz asked his late brother, Wilbur Grotz, a graphic artist, to design the line's distinctive WM logo that appeared on locomotives and freight cars.

Railroads, in heavy competition with government-funded interstate highways, suffered financially in the 1950s and 1960s. Mr. Grotz insisted that railroads were not a dying industry, but a sleeping giant that had grown weak from undernourishment.

In 1962, he testified on behalf of federal aid for urban mass transit systems before a House of Representatives committee.

"He truly loved trains. On long trips, I can recall a train stopping, and he'd leave and turn up in the engineer's cab," said his daughter, Patricia Ann Baker of Ruxton.

In 1961, he was named chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority. Mr. Grotz, a believer in private ownership, cast the lone dissenting vote in the group's debate over the purchase of the old Baltimore Transit Co.

"When he arrived in Baltimore, he immediately bonded with the port. He was a true leader," said former U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, who is a transportation consultant.

Mr. Grotz was an active participant in Baltimore's civic affairs. He led a $10 million fund-raising drive for Goucher College in the 1960s, and was on the Greater Baltimore Committee's planning council from 1956 to 1969.

He also was a former director of the American Association of Railroads, First National Bank of Maryland and Trailer Train Co.

After his retirement from the railroad, Mr. Grotz became a financial and transportation consultant and worked for the city in the 1970s to speed the construction of interstate highways through Baltimore. He also was an adviser to Boston & Maine Railroad.

An avid golfer, he played regularly at the Elkridge Club and Baltimore Country Club.

In 1934, he married Helen VanDusen, who survives him.

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Second Presbyterian Church, St. Paul Street and Stratford Road, where Mr. Grotz was a member.

He also is survived by his son, William Arthur Grotz Jr. of Ellicott City; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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