The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Linking Thirteen Great States With The Nation
The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, “Linking 13 Great States With The
Nation.” This was the B&O's slogan for much of its existence and
something which it held to for its entire life. The B&O, as it is commonly referred, holds the distinction of being
this country’s very first common-carrier railroad (meaning a railroad
chartered specifically for public use) being officially incorporated and
organized on April 24th, 1827. – Just as a side-note the B&O was
not the first railroad actually chartered in this country, that
distinction goes to the Mohawk & Hudson which was created a
year earlier in 1826.
Two B&O E8As, with #1449 shown, sit at the Ivy City engine terminal in Washington, D.C. on April 19, 1970.
By being this country’s first common carrier the railroad was
instrumental in helping to build and grow not only our economy but also
the country itself when the “west” meant the Ohio River. While never a
wealthy railroad throughout its existence (when compared to the likes of
its much larger and powerful northern competitors, the Pennsylvania
[PRR] and New York Central [NYC] Railroads) its legacy will forever be
remembered as a survivor and that it put customer service
above all else. When the company’s name and existence finally came to
an end on April 30th, 1987 it had just celebrated its 160th birthday
and witnessed the industry grow from nothing more than few scattered
systems to a rail network consisting of tens of thousands of miles
linking the country from coast to coast (it also outlived its wealthier
northern competitors by over a decade).
The B&O was mostly created out of a great need by
the city of Baltimore to compete with the creation of the Erie Canal
which connected New York City with the Port of Albany at Buffalo and
Philadelphia’s plan to build a similar transportation system to the City
of Pittsburgh on the western side of the state of Pennsylvania. Out of
this need the B&O came into existence, being originally chartered
on February 28th, 1827 and officially incorporated and organized on
April 24th, 1827.
By the Fourth of July that same year construction of the
railroad began with the plan to link the B&O to the Ohio River (thus
this is where the company
inherited its official name). Reaching the Ohio River would be a very
difficult task being that the Alleghenies lay in the way and political
barriers restricted the company from taking an easier route through
Pennsylvania (a route that the PRR would later take advantage of when
that railroad was chartered by its namesake state, thus a main reason
why it would forever have a superior advantage to the B&O).
However, by 1842 the railroad had reached Cumberland, Maryland
(throughout the railroad’s existence the city would be a major division
point on the railroad) and ten years later in 1852 it had reached the
City of Wheeling, Virginia (later West Virginia) along the Ohio River.
At Grafton the Baltimore and Ohio began building west again and through a series of mergers and acquisitions
the railroad had reached St. Louis by 1857 via Cincinnati, Ohio and
Parkersburg, Virginia, thus linking eastern markets with the Mississippi
River, and by 1874 the company had reached Chicago. At the B&O’s
peak the railroad served the markets of New York City, Philadelphia
(although always at a disadvantage to the PRR and NYC which it later
conceded these two markets in the 1950s), Baltimore, Pittsburgh,
Chicago, Buffalo, Detroit, and St. Louis.
A Baltimore & Ohio work train led by Class B-8 4-6-0 Ten-Wheeler #1355 makes its way through Belpre, Ohio circa 1950.
The B&O was always the underdog in an eastern market dominated by the PRR and NYC. The company
also had an on-and-off struggle of remaining independent as it once
went into receivership in 1896 and later ownership by the PRR. However,
throughout all of this it steadfastly remained independent. Despite its marginal financial
situation the B&O holds many “firsts.” It was quick to
adopt the more efficient mode of diesel power in 1930s, and was the
first to include air-conditioning in its passenger fleet. Other
accomplishments include one of the fist railroads to use electric
locomotives (through its Howard Street tunnel in Baltimore, the
locomotives were developed by General Electric), streamlining its
passenger trains to make them more appealing and including dome
passenger cars in the eastern U.S.
The B&O’s financial situation would, however, catch up with it finally in the late 1950s during a recession that saw the company in a serious situation facing bankruptcy by the early 1960s. Perhaps as a blessing to the company
(to find a means of survival through merger) the modern merger movement
of today began all the way back in the 1950s when the Norfolk &
Western Railway purchased the Virginian Railway, a coal hauler, which
stretched from southern Virginia ports to the coalfields of southern
West Virginia. During this time the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway
(C&O) took an interest in the company and would later win a battle with the NYC for controlling interest in the B&O.
B&O GP40 #3770 and Chessie System/B&O GP40-2 #4205 muscle an eastbound pig train over the summit at Sand Patch, Pennsylvania on September 21, 1980. The concrete marker in the foreground denotes the mountain's height, 2,258 feet.
The B&O, however, was to suffer a better fate than the
NYC and PRR, who would merge in the late 1960s to form the ill-fated
Penn Central Corporation. The C&O, for several reasons, chose to
leave the B&O almost entirely independent, only gradually merging
the operational aspects of both companies. This finally changed in 1972
when the companies, which by
then included B&O-subsidiary Western Maryland Railway, formed a new
holding company called the Chessie System (which will forever be
remembered for its brilliant yellow, blue, and vermilion paint scheme
that featured the Chess-“C” silhouetting the C&O's famous Chessie
the kitten napping on her pillow).
The Chessie System, by far one of
the best-loved railroads by railfans because of its dazzling livery,
lasted only a short eight years before merging with Seaboard Coast Line
Industries (which was a holding company for a number of southeastern
railroads including the Seaboard Coast Line and Louisville &
Nashville) in 1980 to form CSX Corporation (CSX Transportation as we
know it today came into existence in 1987 when all railroads were
finally merged into it). The creation of CSX, however, entered the B&O into its last of many long storied chapters. By now the company was merely a “paper” railroad (remaining in existence partly because of a tax exemption
it retained in its home state of Maryland) and would be gone in only
seven more years, being merged into CSX on April 30th, 1987 (the WM was
merged just prior to this and the C&O followed that May).
The 1980s were not a good time for the B&O. Not only was the
railroad merged out existence during the decade but also CSX, in a
short lapse of vision, abandoned the company’s St. Louis main line,
which extended from that point, east, to Baltimore. When the intermodal
revolution began to gain momentum just after the 1985 abandonment, CSX
was left without a market to move containers competitively until its
acquisition of Conrail in 1999.
Diesel Locomotive Roster
The American Locomotive Company
468-474, 534-545, 9078-9114
801-837 (Odds), 801A-837A (Odds)
801x-817x (Odds), 817ax, 819x-837x (Odds), 837ax
809-817 (Odds), 809A-817A (Odds)
9185-9186 (Former C&O)
The Baldwin Locomotive Works/Lima Locomotive Works
The Baltimore Belt Railroad and Howard Street Tunnel project undertaken
by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad essentially kicked off electrified
rail operations in the United States for main line systems in 1895. Of
note, however, the actual first electrified railroad operations in the
United States occurred in 1888 when General Electric
successfully demonstrated the motive power on the Richmond Union
Passenger Railway. In any event,
the B&O’s project was known as the
Baltimore Belt Railroad, which was constructed to fill a gap to connect
the railroad’s New York-Washington (north-south) and Washington –
Cumberland (east-west) main lines. Prior to this the railroad had to
use a circuitous car ferry operation across Baltimore Harbor to reach
the two lines, which made competing effectively with rival Pennsylvania
Railroad nearly impossible.
After the first successful demonstration in Richmond, which involved a
lightly powered electric locomotive, the motive power began springing up
on light rail, interurban, and
trolley systems all across the country
because of its clean, efficient, and reliable means of transportation.
However, main line electric locomotives did not appear until 1895 when
the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad opened a three mile stretch of
electrified territory in Baltimore
(to connect both its aforementioned main lines) that operated on a 600
volt direct current system with four gearless, 360 horsepower,
locomotives (or “motors” as electrics are often called) for power, all
of which was provided by General Electric.
The primary reason for the B&O’s electrification of the Baltimore Belt
Railroad was to solve a safety issue with its 1.25-mile long tunnel
situated under residential neighborhoods in Baltimore where smoke would
become a health issue. However, by this time steam locomotive smoke in
large urban areas, in general, was becoming a serious health and safety
issue and by the early 20th century, particularly after a New York
Central passenger train collided with a New Haven suburban train in
January of 1902 in New York City (because of a smoke-obscured signal),
many cities began passing ordinances banning steam from their city
A company photo of B&O Class LE-1 motor #1, taken shortly after she was built in 1895.
In all the B&O’s electrified system stretched three miles with
initial power provided by General Electric that employed “steeple cab”
First operated on May 1, 1895 the new line used steam locomotives
fired by coke, which burned much cleaner than coal. Finally, the
electrified system was completed about a month later and the first
powered train completed a test run on June 27th of that year. A few
days later on July 1st the B&O introduced the revolutionary new mode
of transportation to the public. Initially the B&O employed an
overhead third-rail system,
whereby “shoes” picked up power, similar to later overhead systems that
used strung wires, or catenary. However, this system proved to be
vulnerable to coal smoke and by 1900 a conventional third-rail system
running near the ground was used.
In all, the B&O employed six different classes of electric locomotives, which are listed below:
· Class LE-1: B&O’s first class of motors were delivered in 1895 and 1896 and were of a boxcab design totaling two units.
· Class LE-2: B&O’s second-class of motors were delivered between 1903 and 1906 by GE and were a boxcab design totaling four units.
· Class OE-1: B&O’s third-class of motors were delivered in 1910 by GE and were a steeple-cab design totaling two units.
· Class OE-2: B&O’s fourth-class of motors were delivered in 1912 by GE and were a steeple-cab design totaling two units.
· Class OE-3: B&O’s fifth-class of motors were delivered in 1923 by GE and were a steeple-cab design totaling two units.
· Class OE-4: B&O’s sixth, and final class of motors were delivered in 1923 by GE and were a steeple-cab design totaling two units.
One other addition that came from the B&O’s Baltimore Belt
Railroad was the railroad’s beautiful Mount Royal Station, which was
constructed at the north end of the 1.25-mile Howard Street Tunnel.
Today, the station remains in place and has been beautifully restored. While the building of the Baltimore Belt Railroad and its
electrified lines helped significantly improve operations in and around
the Baltimore region for the B&O, the project was extremely
expensive and forced costly debt on the railroad that would drive into bankruptcy
in 1896 (despite this setback the B&O eventually climbed out of
receivership in the early 20th century, including a brief ownership by
the Pennsylvania Railroad).
B&O GP38s #3837 and #4811 head up a southbound freight out of Buffalo, New York on July 27, 1985. Note Buffalo Central Terminal off in the distance to the right of the photo.
Even though the B&O updated its
electric fleet between 1909-1912 and again between 1923-1927, with
diesel-electric locomotives efficient and affordable by the mid-20th
century the railroad shutdown its electric operations in the early
1950s. However, while electric operations have long since ceased over
the line and the B&O itself is gone, today the original Baltimore
Belt Railroad remains an important artery under the CSX Transportation
Mike Schafer said it best, although the B&O was never a
healthy and extremely profitable railroad it will forever be remembered
for “its pioneer spirit, determination in the face of adversity,
innovative technology, superior service, courteous employees, and
aesthetic equipment,” which made it beloved by so many throughout the
years. For more information about the Baltimore & Ohio please click here to visit the B&O Railroad Historical Society's website.