Last revised: December 29, 2021
By: Adam Burns
Maryland enjoys a rich railroad heritage. It is home to America's first common-carrier, the Baltimore & Ohio, and was also served by the Pennsylvania Railroad's "Northeast Corridor," Western Maryland Railway, Norfolk & Western, Reading, and perhaps the most famous of all short lines, the Maryland & Pennsylvania.
In addition, Washington, D.C. was located right next door where lines of several southern carriers met those of the Northeast/Midwest.
Today, several tourist rides are available in the Old Line State, along with many museums.
These include, among others, the B&O's former Mount Clare Shops (now home to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum) and the popular Western Maryland Scenic Railroad.
Please note! The guide information here pertains only to Maryland scenic train rides related to vacation and tourism destinations. If you are interested in intercity/long distance rail travel please visit Amtrak's website.
Many reading this are likely at least vaguely familiar with Maryland's first railroad, the fabled Baltimore & Ohio.
The B&O was created predominantly to provide Baltimore with an efficient transportation system which could compete against the mighty Erie Canal, the famous (and expensive) all-water artery linking New York City with the Port of Albany (Buffalo).
In addition, Philadelphia was planning a similar transportation system to connect with Pittsburgh. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad was chartered on February 28, 1827 and officially incorporated and organized on April 24, 1827.
By July 4th construction began when a cornerstone was laid in the city.
According to the book, "Baltimore & Ohio Railroad," by Kirk Reynolds and David Oroszi it was tradition to launch new canal construction on July 4th and since the B&O was a similar endeavor, Independence Day was chosen.
In January of 1830 the B&O launched service over its first 1.5 miles from a small station in Baltimore at Pratt Street. Only months later, 13 miles was opened to Ellicotts Mills (today Ellicott City).
In 1852 the company completed its charter by reaching the Ohio River at Wheeling, Virginia (West Virginia after June 20, 1863).
At its peak the B&O, consisting over 10,000 miles, and served every major city between Chicago and New York (the latter was via ferry service only).
According to John Stover's book "The Routledge Historical Atlas Of The American Railroads," mileage in Maryland peaked at nearly 1,500 during the 1920's.
Today, the Association of American Railroads lists 937 miles in operation, served by ten different railroads. As mentioned above, if there is one tourist train you are planning to ride in the state, a visit to the Western Maryland Scenic is highly recommended.
Their 12 miles cuts through the beautiful Appalachian Mountains and passes along famed Helmstetter's Curve, across the "Bridge Through The Narrows," and through Brush Tunnel.
Aside from the WMSR there is the Walkersville Southern Railroad located in Walkersville, as well as two streetcar/trolley museums; the National Capital Museum (located in Washington, D.C.) and Baltimore Streetcar Museum.
Both the WMSR and Walkersville Southern host special events throughout the year so be on the lookout for those!
Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum
The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum is one of the most widely recognized, respected and highly regarded such institutions throughout the world.
It was launched by the Baltimore & Ohio itself and, not surprisingly, many of the pieces are of B&O heritage.
The are numerous examples within their collection that predate the Civil War, all thanks to the railroad's efforts to recognize its history at an early date.
The museum also contains pieces from other railroads but predominantly focuses on the B&O, Western Maryland, and Chesapeake & Ohio.
Much of this equipment is housed within the B&O’s famous Mount Clare Shops (over the years this location out-shopped or overhauled thousands of steam and diesel locomotives as well as many cars, such as the famed "Wagontops").
Among their other attractions the museum features two scales of large model railroads in G and HO as well as layouts brought in annually by various modeling groups. Along with its extensive collection the organization offers short scenic train rides (about a mile or so) on its property.
Baltimore Streetcar Museum
The Baltimore Streetcar Museum's mission is to preserve the city's interurban heritage. In doing so it also offers short trolley rides aboard some of its restored equipment.
It was originally founded in 1966 by members of the Baltimore Chapter/National Railroad Historical Society and is open throughout much of the year.
The city of Baltimore was served by one notable interurban, the Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis Electric Railway. As Dr. George Hilton and John Due's authoritative piece, "The Electric Interurban Railways In America," notes this company's heritage began in 1898 when a project was launched to link Baltimore and Washington, D.C. with an electrified railroad.
It was opened on April 3, 1908 with a branch to Annapolis. It grew over the years by adding two nearby systems; the Annapolis Short Line in 1921 (Baltimore-Annapolis) and the Annapolis, Baltimore & Washington (Annapolis Junction - Annapolis).
The WB&A was one of the more successful interurbans, typically grossing more than $2.5 million annually with excellent equipment and a superb right-of-way.
However, following losses brought about the Great Depression and other transportation modes, officials elected to shutdown the transit system unexpectedly on August 20, 1935.
Bowie Railroad Museum
This museum is housed inside the small, restored Pennsylvania Railroad depot originally built by the Baltimore & Potomac (This PRR subsidiary was organized on December 19, 1858 and was completed between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. on July 2, 1872.) in 1910.
The building houses a small collection of displays and is open throughout much of the year.
There is also a restored wooden interlocking tower (completed in 1913) on the grounds, home to the National Railroad Historical Society’s "Martin O’Rourke Railroad Research Library," as well as a freight depot completed in 1933.
Also be sure to visit their restored cabooses on the grounds!
All of the buildings, which for many years served as part of the PRR's vital, high-speed, and electrified Northeast Corridor (Baltimore/Washington - New York) were restored in 1992 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.
Brunswick Heritage Museum
This small museum, located in Brunswick along the Potomac River, houses historic artifacts and offers visitors a chance to view an operating model layout inside.
The three-story building primarily focuses on the history of the Baltimore & Ohio (the town was once an important point along the railroad) but generally looks to preserve the area's local history as well as that of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal.
The museum's three levels include the following; the first floor is designed for young kids where they can play and dress up, the second focuses on the general history of the region/canal, and the third houses the HO-scale model layout.
It is an impressive work of art, depicting the B&O and life in Western Maryland as it was during the 1960's.
The key features include the railroad's impressive roundhouse which once stood in Brunswick as well as the beautiful Points of Rocks depot, located right at the point where B&O's Old Main Line and newer alignment split. This building still stands today.
Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum
This museum, located inside the Chesapeake Beach Railway's beautifully restored wooden depot (opened in 1899), keeps alive the history of this interesting operation as well the local Chesapeake Beach area.
It is open throughout much of the year albeit carries different hours depending upon the season. The railroad was constructed during a time when the iron horse was the principal means of travel over distances of any length.
It was a project of Otto Mears who envisioned a railroad to connect Washington, D.C. with the resort of Chesapeake Beach after a former initiative by other investors had failed. The railroad was fully opened for service on June 9, 1900.
It remained a relatively busy operation until the early automobile and Great Depression left the enterprise with a bleak future. The final trains made their last runs on April 15, 1935.
Ellicott City Station
This small museum, part of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum, is housed inside the Baltimore & Ohio's restored depot here, originally known as Ellicott Mills.
It is the oldest such structure still standing in the country built in 1830-1831. There are a few displays on-hand as well as an operating model layout.
In 1830, following the opening of its first 1.5 miles, the B&O had completed 13 miles to Ellicotts Mills (today known as Ellicott City) in May of that year.
Here, the railroad constructed a small terminus consisting of a a sturdy, two-story stone depot along with a small turntable.
The location did not offer significant passenger traffic but did serve a local granite quarry, known as Ellicott's Quarries, along with nearby agriculture and less-than-carload freight.
These early trains all operated with horses as power, trotting along with what was little more than retrofitted carriages.
Gaithersburg Community Museum
This museum is housed at the B&O's restored, 1884 freight depot (the passenger station, originally completed in 1884, later renovated in 1990, operates as MARC commuter stop).
The facility has a number of exhibits and historic displays describing railroad history as well as that of the local community.
Their mission statement is "...to collect, research, preserve, and present the history and culture of Gaithersburg in a dynamic, participatory, accessible, and responsible manner for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations."
While there be sure and visit a preserved steam locomotive; Buffalo Creek & Gauley 2-8-0 #14, manufactured by American Locomotive in 1918.
This Consolidation spent many years in service on this fabled short line which was situated in rural Clay County, West Virginia. To learn more about the BC&G please click here.
Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum
This museum is located in Hagerstown (along the wye of the current-CSX Transportation's yard), a city of once great importance to the Western Maryland.
The WM was a relatively small system but did play an important role in handling coal from mines in West Virginia to tidewater at Baltimore/Port Covington.
It also moved considerable merchandise and time freights through the Connellsville (Pennsylvania) Gateway as part of the so-called "Alphabet Route" (to read more about the Alphabet Route please click here).
It was eventually acquired by rival Baltimore & Ohio in 1964. The name of the organization is interesting considering the WM's actual roundhouse here was razed long ago.
The facility is home to a large collection of displays related to the WM, a few pieces of rolling stock, and an operating model layout. T
he latter includes a replica of the railroad's original, 21-stall roundhouse. They are open year-round during the weekends.
National Capital Trolley Museum
Like the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, the National Capital Trolley Museum aims to preserve the region's history of trolleys and interurbans, particularly around the Washington, D.C. area. Based in Colesville (somewhat north of downtown Washington) the museum operates about a 1-mile stretch of track.
In addition to running standard excursions for the general public the group also hosts charters and features other special events throughout the year.
The museum is open year-round on weekends. It was formed on January 4, 1961, as the National Capital Historical Museum of Transportation, Inc. and began construction on its current museum facility a few years later in 1965.
In 1969 they operated their first streetcars and have continued to do every year since that time. In 2009 a major update to the museum was completed when a visitors' center, a display building, and a storage-and-maintenance facility were all dedicated.
Walkersville Southern Railroad
The Walkersville Southern Railroad, based in Walkersville, operates nearly 7-miles of a former Pennsyvlania Railroad branch from Woodsboro to a point near Frederick, Maryland.
Along the way the rail line travels through the state's beautiful and historic Monocacy Valley region.
Trains board from the restored Walkersville depot (completed by the York, Hanover & Frederick, a PRR subsidiary, in 1899) and the railroad is hoping to restore more miles in the future to further extend trips.
Their locomotive fleet includes numerous switchers, several of which are operational:
Western Maryland Railway Historical Society
As its name implies this group looks to keep alive the history of the Western Maryland. They are located in Cumberland and feature many pieces of historic artifacts related to the WM. The museum is open on select days, year-round or by appointment. To visit their website please click here.
Western Maryland Scenic Railroad
The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad is a tourist attraction based in Cumberland that operates part of the Western Maryland Railway’s former main line to Frostburg, Maryland, a distance of 15.3 miles.
The railroad has a small fleet of diesels and for many years 2-8-0 #734 handled excursion duties. However, this locomotive has been sidelined and in need of overhaul.
The star of the show is now Chesapeake & Ohio 2-6-6-2 #1309 (painted as WM #1309), the largest Mallet currently in operation in North America.
It carries passengers through some of the Western Maryland’s most famous locations like Helmstetter’s Curve and, "The Narrows."
Today, the Consolidation is out-of-service and awaiting overhaul while a GP30, adorned in WM's "Circus" livery, powers most trips.
Overall, the tourist line has become a very popular attraction in western Maryland and offers you several different trains to ride, aside from its standard excursion to Frostburg.
The WMSR will soon be featuring a new star attraction, restored Chesapeake & Ohio 2-6-6-2 #1309 to complement #734. This gigantic compound steam locomotive will be the largest operating along the East Coast.