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B&O Photo Tour

B&O Curtis Bay Branch
Modern day photo tour

Accompanying each photo below are:

Click a photo to see a larger view. Please send your comments and corrections to Steve.


Map

Map
Mile: Date: (Apr 1964)
Ease: View:
Area: IC2:
Map: Ba 43 Topographic Maps

The Curtis Bay Branch mileposts decline as the route proceeds generally east, the direction of this tour. The zero milepost is at the right edge of this map.


Empties

Empties
Mile: 1.2 Date: Feb 2015
Ease: A- View: E
Area: D IC2:
Map: Ba 43 A 9 Topographic Maps

Just around the bend from the end of Curtis Bay tour page 1, the last of a mile-long train of coal empties rumbles westward past the camera. On a typical day a railfan at this spot can count over 1000 coal cars rolling by. Much of the swampy land here has been set aside as parks; in the distance, nearer than the signals, note the handrail of a bridge where the Patapsco River disgorges into the Chesapeake Bay.


Patapsco River

Patapsco River
Mile: 0.8 Date: Mar 2015
Ease: A View: N
Area: B- IC2:
Map: Ba 43 B 9 Topographic Maps

The biggest obstacle to accessing Curtis Bay was the B&O's old nemesis, the Patapsco River; this section was known as Ferry Branch when the railroad arrived in 1882. This is the B&O's easternmost crossing of the river, and it was the longest, too, before I-895 landfilled the east bank. More distant than the railroad bridge is the river crossing of Potee Street, which will soon intersect the railroad.


Potee Street

Potee Street
Mile: 0.6 Date: Mar 2015
Ease: A View: S
Area: B- IC2:
Map: Ba 43 C 9 Topographic Maps

This is not the first B&O bridge at this location: originally a shorter one had spanned a creek, but during the 1920s that creekbed was transformed into Potee Street. Those light rectangular patches hide B&O heralds.


Hanover Street

Hanover Street
Mile: 0.5 Date: Jul 2011
Ease: A View: S
Area: B- IC2:
Map: Ba 43 C 9 Topographic Maps

Hanover Street pre-dates the railroad, and look, we've caught the end of yet another train of coal empties.

The Baltimore and Curtis Bay Railway began streetcar service here on May 28, 1892. The streetcars ran across Long Bridge to Light Street at what is now Ferry Bar Park in Baltimore. The southeast terminal was located at Patapsco and Pennington Avenues.


BX Tower

BX Tower
Mile: 0.2 Date: Jun 2001
Ease: B View: W
Area: B- IC2:
Map: Ba 43 D 9 Topographic Maps

BX (Brooklyn) Tower oversaw the entrance and exit of Curtis Bay Yard. It closed July 16, 1985 and the building deteroriated for the next 25+ years. Some references call this BA Tower.


BX Razed

BX Razed
Mile: 0.1 Date: Feb 2015
Ease: A View: SW
Area: B- IC2:
Map: Ba 43 D 9 Topographic Maps

A bleak, frigid winter day looks all the more bleak without BX Tower: CSX razed it during 2014. That raze and raise sound alike but mean the opposite is one of the wonders of the English language.


End OS

End OS
Mile: 0.1 Date: Feb 2015
Ease: B View: W
Area: B- IC2:
Map: Ba 43 D 9 Topographic Maps

No, this is not the work of the Microsoft Windows Support Team, nor Emerald City haters.

Begin OS and End OS signs mark a stretch of track in which a train operator can punch in a code to electrically operate the switch between the signs. As you may guess, in the past switches were operated manually and mechanically, sometimes remotely from a tower where to alter a particular switch an employee would yank on one lever from a long row. References disagree on whether OS means either "On Sheet" or "On Switch"; perhaps different railroads use different terms.


LED Signal

LED Signal
Mile: 0.1 Date: Feb 2015
Ease: B- View: SW
Area: B- IC2:
Map: Ba 43 D 9 Topographic Maps

This LED signal, emitting piercing green (and amber and red) photons, exhibits a design not found elsewhere in the region suggesting its installation may be for trial purposes.


Curtis Bay Yard

Curtis Bay Yard
Mile: 0.0 Date: Feb 2015
Ease: B View: E
Area: B- IC2:
Map: Ba 43 D 9 Topographic Maps

Opposite the LED signal the tracks do math: they divide and multiply their way to Curtis Bay Yard. The distant bridge carries I-895, the Harbor Tunnel Thruway, over the western neck of the yard. Because the bridge towers over most everything in the vicinity it makes a good reference point for photos below.

We have reached what the railroad considers the start of the Curtis Bay Branch (we've been touring the opposite direction, eastward from the main at Zepp's Bridge). From here east CSX calls it Curtis Bay Yard plus the Marley Neck Industrial Track. If this is confusing, don't worry since the branch start and end points are not terribly important for tour purposes.


I-895

I-895
Mile: -0.2 Date: Jun 2011
Ease: A View: W
Area: B IC2:
Map: Ba 43 E 9 Topographic Maps

Efforts to see railroad action from the I-895 bridge are futile westbound, and marginal eastbound, instead one needs to navigate and explore via the local roads. It's cheaper, too, since there's no way to cross this span without paying the Harbor Tunnel toll, $4 each way as of 2015, ten times what it was when the Harbor Tunnel Thruway opened just in time for Thanksgiving 1957.

The $4 toll is roughly in line with inflation since 1957, however the bonds that paid for tunnel construction should have been fully repaid years ago. Now where is that money going?


Glimpse

Glimpse
Mile: -0.2 Date: Apr 2015
Ease: A View: SE
Area: B IC2:
Map: Ba 43 E 9 Topographic Maps

Eastbound you can glimpse the Curtis Bay yard between onrushing girders, but the view is poor. Look, this time we caught not just one but two coal train ends! The structure 4 miles in the distance is the Baltimore Beltway's Key Bridge.

Before the railroad expanded and I-895 barged through, this was the site of the town of Masonville.

Links: Masonville history, Masonville Cove Renewal Project


Map East

Map East
Mile: Date: (Apr 1964)
Ease: View:
Area: IC2:
Map: Ba 43 Topographic Maps

This map covers the yards served by the Curtis Bay Branch. Note the aerial photo is from the 1960s and therefore does not reflect changes since that time.


Car Shop

Car Shop
Mile: -0.4 Date: Jan 2015
Ease: A- View: N
Area: B- IC2:
Map: Ba 43 E 9 Topographic Maps

For those who want to purchase authentic CSX-brand designer goods, CSX has a shop. Well, not exactly. A tiny sliver of the I-895 bridge appears at photo left edge.

Before the B&O expanded the yards during the early 1950s, Chesapeake Avenue had connected through under the tracks here. The shop dates to the mid-1960s.

Link: 1947 "tunnel" pic


Waiting

Waiting
Mile: -0.4 Date: Jan 2015
Ease: A- View: E
Area: C+ IC2:
Map: Ba 42 H 5 Topographic Maps

Waiting to see the car shop doctor...


Blue Safety

Blue Safety
Mile: -0.4 Date: Jan 2015
Ease: A View: N
Area: B- IC2:
Map: Ba 43 E 9 Topographic Maps

"Female airport announcer: The white zone is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers only. There is no stopping in the red zone.
"Male airport announcer: The red zone is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers only. There is no stopping in the white zone."

The various signs near the car shop display:

  • Entering Hard Hat Area Do Not Go Outside of Green Area Without Hard Hat
  • CSX Transportation Property - No Parking - Violators Towed At Owners Expense
  • Brake Stick Use is Mandatory
    and the most puzzling since these things are so different
  • High 5 - Briefing Fouling Shoving Switching Securing - Baltimore Division
Eveything is color coordinated to CSX blue and gold, the blue inherited from the B&O.


Grade Crossing

Grade Crossing
Mile: -0.4 Date: Jun 2001
Ease: B- View: NW
Area: B- IC2:
Map: Ba 43 F 9 Topographic Maps

Now we're on the other (east) side of the yard. By now you recognize the I-895 bridge, but less obvious at the left edge is the slanting roof of CSX's Car Shop seen earlier.

The tracks crossing Shell Road at grade lead to Seawall Yard and port docks off to the right. This is the busiest grade crossing in the Curtis Bay area.

Tour: Seawall Branch


Hogs

Hogs
Mile: -0.4 Date: Apr 2015
Ease: B- View: S
Area: B- IC2:
Map: Ba 43 F 9 Topographic Maps

Like hogs bound for the slaughterhouse, at the southern end of the yard coal cars are herded toward the pier. The coal is either transfered directly to ships or distributed via the distant towers for temporary open-air storage in huge mounds.

Curtis Bay is CSX's largest yard in the area. It's difficult to get a feel for the size because there are so few high spots from which to view it. This photo, like the previous, is from a ramp from Shell Road to I-895, an awkward spot to reach on foot and not a recommended railfanning location.


Shell Road

Shell Road
Mile: -0.7 Date: Jan 2015
Ease: A View: NW
Area: B- IC2:
Map: Ba 43 F 10 Topographic Maps

Back at track level, Shell Road parallels the yard's east side. The tracks closest to the camera are the main ones to the coal pier which in this view is behind us. This is the last we'll see of our reference I-895 bridge, now more distant.

Shell Road is likely named for the oil company. Many petroleum companies have distribution facilities at neighboring Fairfield and Wagners Point, among them Sunoco, Kinder Morgan, and Colonial.


Patapsco Avenue

Patapsco Avenue
Mile: -1.0 Date: Jan 2015
Ease: A View: E
Area: B- IC2:
Map: Ba 43 F 10 Topographic Maps

For the bottleneck of three Patapsco Avenue bridges the yard's 50+ tracks trim down to seven. In this view the yard is on the left, the piers on the right.


North Entrance

North Entrance
Mile: -1.2 Date: Jan 2015
Ease: A View: S
Area: B- IC2:
Map: Ba 43 G 11 Topographic Maps

CSX 4601 CSX 4601 is the poster boy for safety at Curtis Bay Piers, which is ironic since this ex-Conrail unit was battered in an accident, or perhaps as iconoclastically as the Great Sphinx.

Different methods are used to transfer of coal from rails to ships depending on whether ships are being loaded directly or the coal is being held at the pier awaiting the next ship. Most ships that depart here are bound for Europe, but some make a trip through the Suez Canal to Pacific Ocean border countries.


Welcome

Welcome
Mile: -1.2 Date: Jan 2015
Ease: A- View: S
Area: B IC2:
Map: Ba 43 G 11 Topographic Maps

CSX birdhouse This sign welcomes visitors to the "safest and most evironmentally friendly terminal". It's not clear how those superlatives are measured, but 470 work safe days (in a row?) sounds good. That's much better than at the computer office with the posted sign, "No one has died on the job here during the past -- 4 -- days".

Opposite the sign is this CSX purple martin birdhouse. Perhaps houses for bluebirds and goldfinches would better fit the corporate colors, but it's a start. The marshes of Stonehouse Cove teem behind the birdhouse.


Dumper

Dumper
Mile: -1.3 Date: Jan 2015
Ease: B View: S
Area: B IC2:
Map: Ba 43 G 11 Topographic Maps

This dumper turns full coal cars and spills their contents onto a conveyor that whisks the coal directly to a waiting ship. During cold weather residual water can freeze the coal into the car, necessitating thawing by steam or radiant heat.

Link: view into dumper


Resting

Resting
Mile: -1.3 Date: Apr 2015
Ease: B View: W
Area: B- IC2:
Map: Ba 43 H 11 Topographic Maps

It's not spring that has made the dumper more colorful, instead it's merely the lack of glare when viewed from the east side of Stonehouse Cove.


Cranes

Cranes
Mile: -1.3 Date: Jan 2015
Ease: B View: S
Area: B IC2:
Map: Ba 43 G 11 Topographic Maps

When active, these cranes can scoop up coal left by previous trains and give it a ride onto a ship.


Loading

Loading
Mile: -1.3 Date: Apr 2015
Ease: B View: S
Area: B- IC2:
Map: Ba 43 H 11 Topographic Maps
coal pouring

Depending on the cargo ship, different sets of cranes and conveyors are employed to transport the export coal the final leg of its journey for its first bon voyage.

The closeup at right shows coal pouring from the conveyor into the ship's hold.


South Entrance

South Entrance
Mile: -1.8 Date: Jan 2015
Ease: A View: NE
Area: C+ IC2:
Map: Ba 43 G 12 Topographic Maps

Curtis Bay Piers sign The Piers are a large operation, so large that looking back from their South Entrance we find nothing that had been visible from the North. The facility, where the tracks form a large loop that trains travel clockwise, is the better part of a mile in length.

The Curtis Bay Piers logo includes mountain shapes, which is quite appropriate...


Coal Mountain

Coal Mountain
Mile: -1.8 Date: Jan 2015
Ease: A View: N
Area: C+ IC2:
Map: Ba 43 G 12 Topographic Maps

... since CSX can make mountains out of coal hills. *rimshot*

When after World War II people opted to travel by auto rather than train, coal became a more important rail customer. The C&O was better positioned than the B&O in coal country, and consequently was in better financial shape when the two (plus the WM) were combined into the Chessie System during 1973.


Coal Tower

Coal Tower
Mile: -1.8 Date: Jan 2015
Ease: A View: N
Area: C+ IC2:
Map: Ba 43 G 12 Topographic Maps

coal closeup The coal cars in the foreground had been recently emptied. Unseen on the right others were being emptied, one by one, then added onto the string of empties such that the ones here would make room by rolling to the left pausing, then rolling again, about two car-lengths per minute.

Freshly dumped coal is conveyed to the top of these towers where it is poured so as to flow by gravity out the windows scattered in the concrete columns. There are 8 such towers at this facility.


Emptied

Emptied
Mile: -1.9 Date: Jan 2015
Ease: A View: N
Area: C+ IC2:
Map: Ba 43 G 12 Topographic Maps

North and west of the coal mountain emptied cars huddle in return areas before they can bum a lift back into the Appalachians. coal closeup

The buildings over 3 miles distant at upper left are the same silos-to-condos seen in the Locust Point Tour. For railroad purposes Locust Point is not as active as it used to be, and even CSX gets confused, for years depicting it in their Annual Report (right) as south of Curtis Bay whereas actually the reverse is true. Someone noticed this mention because in their 2016-published report CSX corrected that map.

The track in the foreground skirts the pier entirely because it is headed south (behind us) for Marley Neck and Hawkins Point, a tour of which is linked below.


Hope you enjoyed touring the Curtis Bay Branch. Next, try the Marley Neck Branch tour.

For more, see Todd's Railfan Guide of South Baltimore.

Return to main page for other tours

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