New train cars are ready to ride

B&O Railroad Museum adds 4 to its lineup

April 01, 2006|By JOE PALAZZOLO | JOE PALAZZOLO,SUN REPORTER

Four stainless steel passenger coaches that lumbered along the Pennsylvania Railroad for more than two decades will spend their retirement confined to a mile-and-a-half span of track as the newest additions to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum.

The vintage 1950s cars, donated by the Maryland Transit Administration, will add to the museum's fleet of tour coaches that carry visitors along the oldest length of commercial railroad track in the Western hemisphere, said Courtney Wilson, the museum's executive director.

"Railroad is not a thing of the past," Wilson said. "We want to tell the story of yesterday, today and the railroad of the future."

Museum-goers climbed aboard the cars for the first time yesterday, the opening day of the museum's spring season. The slow tour near the Pigtown neighborhood next to Carroll Park doesn't offer much of a view, with heaps of trash, retired train cars and walls covered with graffiti serving as the backdrop. But passengers come for the mile-and-a-half journey along a railroad path carved about 180 years ago.

Charles Carroll dropped the first stone of the railroad in place in 1829, proclaiming the moment second in importance only to his signing of the Declaration of Independence, Wilson said. The "Ohio" part of the railroad's name was added in 1853, when the line extended to the Ohio River.

The history was lost on 5-year-old Carrie Schenker, who was visiting the museum with her mother, Carol Schenker, but the novelty of locomotion was enough.

"I liked going backwards," Carrie said.

Yesterday's trip brought back memories for Schenker, who grew up within sight of the track. "I saw this track from all points growing up, but I've never ridden on it," she said. "It's great to bring my daughter out to where I grew up and share this experience."

The four coaches satisfy a demand that has grown in recent years. More than 200,000 people visited the museum last year, and most of them crammed into the two available coaches for the tour, Wilson said.

Museum officials asked the MTA for two retired cars, said Rich Timberman, the superintendent of railroad operations at the museum. MTA officials offered up four.

Built in 1949, the four coaches were originally sleeper cars on the Pennsylvania Railroad, boarding passengers during long trips. By the 1960s, as commercial flight siphoned business from transcontinental railroad travel, the four cars were retrofitted as passenger cars for shorter commutes, Wilson said. The MTA acquired them in the 1970s, after they were passed over by Amtrak as candidates for the emerging national rail system.

The museum is open year-round, but the train rides are only offered between April and December.

joe.palazzolo@baltsun.com

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