The Cumberland And Pennsylvania Railroad

(The follow account of the C&P was written by author Alan Kandel.)

One Hundred and Three Years Plus, But Then Who’s Keeping ‘Track,’ …Really?! Although it’s hard to put one’s finger on, good, bad or indifferent, the world would not be in the place it is today – or at any other place it happened to be, for that matter, were it not for a certain intangible; an intangible going by the name “progress.” So, was it progress for progress’ sake that landed us where we are today? Or, was there something else going on? Regardless, history played out the way it did and that can’t change. What we see is what we got.

Dispensing with the philosophical but at the same time having an understanding of it, people should have a certain appreciation for intangibles like survival, security, progress and others, and tangibles like food, clothing, shelter, and … railroads?! Yes, even railroads! Remember the operative term here: “A certain appreciation for.”

In changing gears slightly, now ponder for a moment transporting oneself to the nondescript mountain hamlet of Mt. Savage, located in Alleghany County, Maryland, not in this day and age, but during the mid-1850s for no other reason than to observe the goings-on of the day-to-day workings of one certain iron company, whose charge it is to roll out iron railroad rails on which its own and others’ trains will roll. Getting the picture? Good! It is right here with this reference point in mind that the Cumberland & Pennsylvania Railroad story begins.

“On January 2, 1854 the Mt. Savage Iron Company conveyed to the Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad Company the main track from Cumberland to Borden Yard via the Mt. Savage wye, a length of 14 miles, and the Potomac Wharf branch to the canal (the Chesapeake & Ohio canal), 0.9 miles long, wrote Deane Mellander in “Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad: Western Maryland’s Historic Coal Carrier.” And it was at this juncture that “the C&P was finally in business for real” (Mellander, Deane, 1981, p. 7). Mt. Savage Iron though, shortly thereafter became the target of a take-over and in March 1860 fell into the hands of Consolidation Coal Company and by virtue of this, CCC, all of a sudden, found itself in the railroad business.

At its height in 1906, the railroad itself that year hauled no less than 4.3 million tons of western Maryland-mined semi-bituminous coal to its customers, that and/or was transferred to a connecting railroad for delivery elsewhere. And there was plenty of that to be had.

A precipitous decline in the amount of coal being mined in the area starting circa the 1920s – the “bread & butter” of C&P’s operation and primary reason for being – spelled the beginning of the end for this 97.4-mile pike. By 1922, a strike year, production was down considerably, C&P shipping just 530,000 tons. A brief recovery occurred in 1923 when 1.2 million tons were moved which was then bested by 400,000 tons more hauled in 1926. The recovery was indeed short-lived as indicated by the million tons delivered in 1930. That the depression was just around the corner didn’t help.

Beset with its own financial problems, Consolidation Coal during the early ‘40s was searching for a buyer. For $1.1 million, through Interstate Commerce Commission approval, ownership of the railroad was transferred to the Western Maryland Railway on May 3, 1944, one of three railroads the C&P interchanged freight with. This was the first time in its more than 100-year history C&P was owned by a bona fide railroad company. It’s extremely ironic that just nine-and-a-half years’ hence, the C&P name would be permanently retired (Mellander, Deane, 1981, pp. 16-17).

Incidentally, like that of its contemporaries, the railroad also had a hand in the passenger train transportation realm. However, by the 1920s, passenger revenues were beginning to dry up. By mid-year 1942, the railroad decided the passenger service should be discontinued. Even though the “‘road had its share of derailments, wrecks, and boiler explosions,” as Mellander pointed out, it “apparently never had a passenger fatality in 99 years, an enviable record for any railroad (Mellander, Deane, 1981, p. 11).

“Railroads like the C&P, in spawning the American Industrial giant of the 20th Century, sowed the seeds of their own demise,” the author reasoned. As fate or luck would have it, the “C&P was born in the iron age, grew up and prospered in the coal age, and almost died in the atomic age,” which is what probably would have happened if the right buyer offering the right price didn’t come along when it did. Ah, it was all in a century’s work.

A century’s work and then some. But, who’s keeping track … really?! For a historic map of the Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad please click here.

© Copyright Alan Kandel.

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