Back in November in this space, I related the experience of taking our 3-year-old grandson to the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, the birthplace of commercial railroading in America. That visit reaffirmed for me that the love of trains isn’t restricted to childhood model trains or even the phenomenon of Thomas the Train. There is something about railroading that transcends age, and perhaps nowhere is there more appreciation for our railroad heritage than here in the Mid-Atlantic.
Many of the great names in railroad history are rooted here: the Baltimore and Ohio, the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Norfolk and Western, and many others. The rails conquered mountain geography, carried us westward, and served the special needs of industries like timber, coal, and iron.
Today, the Northeast Corridor is perhaps the most heavily traveled rail route in the country.
It’s only natural that we have embraced that rail heritage in many ways. There are numerous scenic rail excursions throughout the Mid-Atlantic, with Pennsylvania having more than any state in the country except California. We have museums dedicated to railroad history that include historic engines like the Tom Thumb and locomotives that are the last remaining of their type.
But that’s far from the complete picture. In our region, you can ride on smaller-scale trains, see some of the largest model train layouts in the world, eat in railroad-themed restaurants, and even sleep in a real caboose. Dedicated preservationists have also saved a different type of rail transportation, the street cars or trolleys that were so common until the middle of the 20th century.
In the pages of this issue of Recreation News, we provide a roundup of this wide variety of railroad-themed attractions, concentrating on those most accessible from the Washington-Baltimore area. You’ll find an even more complete roundup on our website.
So, come along for the ride as we take you from the birthplace of railroading to the most recent preservation of a sole-surviving specimen, the Norfolk & Western’s J611, which will make its first excursion runs this spring and appear at the Manassas Railroad Heritage Festival in June.