Apparent trolley tracks found under Broadway

Workers uncover rails where streetcars ran

August 25, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Construction crews digging up a median strip between Fells Point and Washington Hill have uncovered what appear to be trolley tracks from a line that probably was abandoned a half-century ago.

Crews working for P. Flanigan & Sons Inc. came across the metal rails last week while working on a $3.4 million beautification project for the city, said Kathy Chopper, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation.

Surrounded by gray cobblestones, the tracks were found on Broadway, between Baltimore and Lombard streets.

Transportation officials' "educated guess" is that the metal rails, which run north and south on Broadway, are old trolley tracks, as opposed to railroad tracks, she said.

That sounds right to Herbert H. Harwood Jr., a retired CSX executive who is a nationally known railroad historian and author.

Several railroad tracks crossed Broadway going east and west, carrying passengers until 1873, when most of that traffic shifted to what became Penn Station, and transporting freight until the late 1970s, Harwood said.

But what ran along Broadway were electric trolleys and probably the horse-drawn variety before that, he said.

"If it was north and south on Broadway, it would be a streetcar line," he said.

The "horsecar" lines could date to the mid-1800s, but it's unlikely that the recently uncovered tracks are that old, since heavier rails were installed when electric trolleys came into use by the late 1890s, he said.

Streetcar companies frequently renewed their lines, so the rails could have been installed in the 1920s or later, he added.

It's not uncommon for work crews to come across tracks when digging up city streets, Chopper said. The city knew the tracks were there before work began on the Broadway project, which calls for replacing a concrete median with a landscaped one, installing brick sidewalks for several blocks and resurfacing the road.

But that is not always the case.

"Sometimes you can tell they're there," Chopper said. "You can see them coming through the roadway. Other times they just start digging and, `Whoops, we've got some tracks to deal with.'"

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