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B&O Washington Branch Photo Tour


B&O Washington 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.


<< Previous (east) | THIS PAGE: Savage to Laurel | Next (west) >>

Juice Train

Juice Train
Mile: 19.4 Date: Sep 2001
Ease: B View: S
Area: A- IC2:
Map: Ho 20 D 10 Topographic Maps

Resuming where we left off on the Washington Branch, the Tropicana Juice Train is a blur as it rushes its cargo north past the Patuxent Branch at Savage. When you see an ex-Conrail unit with a yellow number on its side like this one has, you know it was hastily renumbered by CSX before being repainted into CSX livery.


Orange Cars

Orange Cars
Mile: 19.4 Date: Sep 2001
Ease: B View: NE
Area: A- IC2:
Map: Ho 20 D 10 Topographic Maps

In a non-stop run, the vibrant orange cars of the "Juice Train" transport chilled fruit juices from Florida to distribution facilities in New Jersey. A few years later Tropicana's juice cars were repainted in white.

This might have been the last juice train before an unscheduled pause: this photo was snapped about one train length from where several 9/11 hijackers were staying at a Laurel motel, and just 3 days before their infamous deed.


CSX 5468

CSX 5468
Mile: 19.5 Date: Dec 2018
Ease: A- View: NE
Area: A- IC2:
Map: Ho 20 C 10 Topographic Maps

Deep zoom finds CSX 5468 jockeying a string of autoracks that reaches all the way back to Jessup Yard.


Signal Tower

Signal Tower
Mile: 19.5 Date: Oct 2003
Ease: A- View: NE
Area: A- IC2:
Map: Ho 20 C 10 Topographic Maps

A tall color-position light (CPL) signal tower protects the crossovers near the Patuxent Branch.


Last Days

Last Days
Mile: 19.6 Date: Aug 2013
Ease: A- View: NE
Area: A- IC2:
Map: Ho 20 C 10 Topographic Maps

CSX removed these CPLs November 16, 2013.


Disused Bridge

Disused Bridge
Mile: 19.5 Date: Dec 2018
Ease: A- View: SE
Area: A- IC2:
Map: Ho 20 C 10 Topographic Maps

Non-leaf season reveals stonework of a bridge that had once spanned the tracks here, as confirmed by old topographic maps. Those maps place B&O's Savage Station in this vicinity.


Semaphore
Photo courtesy HH Harwood collection
Updated mid-Feb 2021

Semaphore
Mile: 20.0 Date: 1931
Ease: C View: NE
Area: B+ IC2: 58
Map: Ho 20 B 11 Topographic Maps
marker

The Washington Branch's first electrically-powered signals were of the semaphore variety, such as this one labelled E194. I presume E is for eastbound, and 194 represents mile 19, adjacent to utility post 40. With 40 posts to the mile, this puts the location near mile 20, and indeed milestone 20 appears to stand in the foreground.

Across from the semaphore is its control box, several of which remain extant along this stretch. A fence of some sort between the control box and milestone appears to mark the boundary of neatly maintained ballast.

The hillside cut depicted here is the most significant of the Branch, and is now overgrown with trees.


More Juice

More Juice
Mile: 20.0 Date: Oct 2003
Ease: B- View: S
Area: B+ IC2: 58?
Map: Ho 20 B 11 Topographic Maps

Another juice train powers through the relatively undeveloped area at mile 20 (20 miles from Baltimore).


Aerial 1938
Photo courtesy Johns Hopkins University
NEW! mid-Feb 2021

Aerial 1938
Mile: 20, 21 Date: 1938
Ease: View: N (up)
Area: IC2:
Map: Ho 20, AA 4 Topographic Maps

Next, we reach Laurel Park racetrack, as depicted by this low-resolution aerial dating to 1938. Ignore the thick black lines as they represent gaps between images, and county borders where, unfortunately for our purposes, the railroad runs.

B&O had three short sidings in this vicinity. The longest one (the one that wandered to the south) may have served a quarry. Though it appears on topographic maps from 1905 to 1945, there is no evidence of it in this aerial. Site visits similarly turned up no surviving artifacts.

The shorter siding to the north is, however, visible on this 1938 aerial. It had crossed Whiskey Bottom Road to reach industry on the north side of that road. Evidence of the siding remains today in the form of grading.

The westernmost of the sidings ran parallel to the main line, and likely carried supplies to the track, perhaps horses as well. It survives as a flat graded area near milestone 21.

Sources put Laurel Speedway, a wooden race track for automobiles and bicycles, in the vicinity of the intersection of MD 198 and MD 197, a location at the lower left corner of this aerial. A Sun newspaper account reports B&O built a spur to serve it, but I can't pick it out on this aerial or any topo map. In any case, the Speedway was short lived.

Links about Laurel Speedway: info, 1925 pic, 1925, biker 1925, bike race 1925, Sun report


Whiskey Bottom Road

Whiskey Bottom Road
Mile: 20.4 Date: Jun 2001
Ease: B View: NE
Area: B+ IC2:
Map: AA 4 K 12, Ho 20 B 12 Topographic Maps

This curve between Savage and Laurel is one of the most severe on the relatively straight Washington Branch. Per the aerial photo above, in this vicinity various B&O spurs/sidings climbed upward out of the cut out on both left and right.

Whiskey Bottom Road's bridge dates from 1990, and the concrete slabs in the foreground are evidence of a prior bridge.

Reader Bill Hebb wrote to say:

    "In regards to the type of bridge at Whiskey Bottom Road over the Washington main, it was never a grade crossing. Prior to the current bridge, there was in the fifties and sixties a wood bottom bridge, improved around the early seventies with a macadam base and the wood made a tremendous racket when the horse vans crossed it.

    "I trained horses at Laurel Race track from the mid sixties to the early eighties and crossed that bridge every day. The picture you show seems like a tremendous improvement, it used to be a rough decline from the road down to the bridge, than across the bridge and then a 30% decline of about ten feet to get to the level the back stable gate / entrance of LRC."


Laurel Park

Laurel Park
Mile: 20.9 Date: Jun 2001
Ease: A View: N
Area: B+ IC2:
Map: AA 4 J 13, Ho 20 A 13 Topographic Maps

A statue of famous Maryland thoroughbred Billy Barton welcomes visitors to Laurel Park Racetrack. The disused stairs behind the horse's nose are relics of the racetrack's former life as the Maryland State Fairgrounds (which are now located in Timonium). They lead up to what had been long train platforms.

Vehicle access to the dual underpasses is regulated to discourage through traffic (the white poles are removable). This is one of only a few spots at which you can drive under the Washington Branch.


1953 Revision

1953 Revision
Mile: 20.9 Date: Oct 2018
Ease: A View: W
Area: B+ IC2:
Map: Ho 20 A 13, AA 4 J 13 Topographic Maps

One concrete pedestrian underpass and stairway is stamped 1911, while this one reflects a revision during 1953. Aerial photos suggest that from about 1910 into the 1970s a total of four tracks existed here, the inner two (left in this view) for through trains, plus one outer track on each side for trains stopping at Laurel Park to discharge or pick up passengers. Though the outer track's location on the right was overgrown at photo time, it might be revived for MARC commuter trains as part of the redevelopment that began here during 2019.


Groundhog

Groundhog
Mile: 20.9 Date: Jun 2001
Ease: A View: W
Area: B+ IC2:
Map: Ho 20 A 13, AA 4 J 13 Topographic Maps

Above the underpasses, MARC (commuter) trains stop at the racetrack's tiny station. The 1911 date on this staircase puts its origin at the time of the state fairgrounds. Not seen behind me is the disused staircase that dates to 1953.

Within the brightened box at bottom right you might be able to discern the face of a groundhog who calls this spot home. He dutifully watched me the entire time I was snapping photos.


Platform Lamp

Platform Lamp
Mile: 20.9 Date: Jun 2001
Ease: A View: E
Area: B+ IC2:
Map: AA 4 J 13, Ho 20 A 13 Topographic Maps

Above the disused platform hangs a bishop's crook style lamp. I suspect this is still the original that was installed around 1910. It hangs over the dismantled outer track on the southeast side of the main tracks.


Laurel Racetrack

Laurel Racetrack
Mile: 20.9 Date: Oct 2003
Ease: B+ View: NE
Area: B+ IC2:
Map: AA 4 J 13, Ho 20 A 13 Topographic Maps

Despite being less than a half mile from the station in downtown Laurel, the tiny Laurel Racetrack Station still sees MARC train service largely thanks to the proximity of the racetrack. Yes, that wooden platform is the "station". Development on the west side of the tracks (left) may produce a new station here, perhaps one that takes over as Laurel's primary RR station. Presently, few commuters use this station since it is a MARC flag stop.

That 65 sign means 65 mph, one of the higher posted speed limits along CSX trackage in the region.


Overflow Parking
NEW! mid-Feb 2021

Overflow Parking
Mile: 20.9 Date: Oct 2018
Ease: B+ View: N
Area: B+ IC2:
Map: Ho 20 A 13, AA 4 J 13 Topographic Maps

The area northwest of the station had never been built upon, instead it was held for fair purposes and overflow parking.


Paddock Pointe
NEW! mid-Feb 2021

Paddock Pointe
Mile: 21.0 Date: Jan 2021
Ease: A View: SE
Area: B+ IC2:
Map: Ho 20 A 13 Topographic Maps

That undeveloped expanse changed during the early 2020s, as Paddock Pointe began filling the area.

The development's initial name of Laurel Park Station was de-emphasized after the county feared the intent was to move MARC rail service away from Laurel's historic B&O station. The artist's concept shown in this photo includes what appear to new covered platforms at the existing Laurel Racetrack station, as well as a pedestrian walkway over the tracks. A reasonable compromise might be to build a trackside walkway from here to Laurel Station; the locations are only 2500 feet apart.

Link: development


CSX 339
NEW! mid-Feb 2021

CSX 339
Mile: 21.1 Date: Jan 2021
Ease: A View: N
Area: B+ IC2:
Map: AA 4 J 13, Ho 20 A 13 Topographic Maps

With Paddock Pointe under construction in the background, CSX 339 rolls west past B&O milestone 21 (lower left). The milestone is about 500 feet southwest of where it should be, perhaps displaced when an outer track for Laurel fairgrounds was added around 1910. (A distracting sign in the foreground has been edited out of this image.)


PW 21 D

PW 21 D
Mile: 21.0 Date: Oct 2003
Ease: B View: SW
Area: B IC2:
Map: Ho 20 A 13, AA 4 H 13 Topographic Maps

PW advises a passenger station is ahead, and to sound the horn (whistle).

The 21 is a mile marker.

Reader Charlie Wingate said, of the D sign:

    "It is fallout from the MARC accident in Silver Spring, and tells push-pull trains to approach the next signal (assumed to be absolute) at medium speed."

Just past the bend is the downtown Laurel station.


Patuxent River

Patuxent River
Mile: 21.3 Date: Jul 1999
Ease: B View: SE
Area: B IC2:
Map: Ho 19 K 13, PG 4 J 3 Topographic Maps

Another bridge can be found spanning the Patuxent River (not to be confused with the Little Patuxent River) at Laurel. This bridge is a short distance south of the racetrack station and north of the downtown Laurel station.

Originally there was a single arch stone bridge here, but it was removed courtesy a flood in 1863. Probably one arch was not enough to handle the river, which is reasonably substantial at this point. The arch was replaced with a Bollman Bridge during 1864, followed later by the plain one you see here.

Not seen is the bicycle rider who came around a blind corner at high speed and nearly ran me down. The prior photo from this batch managed to include him in the image, and shows the surprised look on his face when he was just a few feet from barrelling into me. I knew railfanning could be dangerous, but not due to bicyclists!

Trivia: this spot is the southernmost point of Howard County.


Patuxent River

Patuxent River
Mile: 21.3 Date: Jul 2003
Ease: B View: NW
Area: B IC2:
Map: PG 4 J 3, Ho 19 K 13 Topographic Maps

This is the opposite view as a CSX freight speeds past on top, and a car bumps through the potholes on the old dirt road below. Many of these structures have been allowed to rust because to a certain extent rust prevents more rust. Since photo time the road has been paved.


Main Street Bridge

Main Street Bridge
Mile: 21.3 Date: Jul 2003
Ease: A View: SE
Area: B+ IC2:
Map: PG 4 J 3, Ho 19 K 13 Topographic Maps

A volunteer sunflower would rather watch the evening's rail traffic than look at the sun here at the Main Street bridge. This is the only single lane underpass along the Washington Branch.

Does anyone know when it was built? It looks old enough that the steel structure now present on top is not the original design.


Laurel

Laurel
Mile: 21.3 Date: Apr 1999
Ease: A View: SE
Area: B+ IC2:
Map: PG 4 J 3, Ho 19 K 13 Topographic Maps

Laurel's Main Street is seen here passing underneath the Washington Branch. The traffic light controls access to the single-lane underpass.

On the right, is Laurel Station, still an active commuter stop. The text on the marker reads:

    LAUREL RAILROAD DEPOT - Built by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1884, this "American Queen Anne" structure continues in daily use. The architect Francis H. Baldwin also designed the rear wing of the State House in Annapolis. This building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
The architect name should read E. Francis Baldwin.


Laurel 1978
Photos courtesy Library of Congress
NEW! mid-Feb 2021

Laurel 1978
Mile: 21.3 Date: ~1978
Ease: B+ View: W
Area: B+ IC2:
Map: PG 4 J 3, Ho 19 K 13 Topographic Maps

Passenger trains have been stopping at Laurel since 1835. Though competition from automobiles meant that by the 1970s B&O could no longer offer that service profitably, the state of Maryland stepped in, first with financial subsidies, and later by gradually taking on the job via what was named MARC (MAryland Rail Commuter, later Maryland Area Regional Commuuter) train service.

At photo time, B&O was part of the Chessie System, itself one step from CSX, and Maryland was supplying B&O with rolling stock. Though MARC-labelled equipment would arrive in 1981, CSX would continue to be involved SRS 143 in operations until 2013. As the region's population has grown, and new stations have been opened, MARC ridership has increased.

The photo captures Sperry Rail Services unit 143 at Laurel. Such cars are used to inspect the rails. An older car sits at right on what had been a local freight siding. That siding was removed during the 1990s.

Link: LoC source photo


Laurel Station

Laurel Station
Mile: 21.3 Date: Apr 1999
Ease: A View: S
Area: B+ IC2: 155
Map: PG 4 J 3, Ho 19 K 13 Topographic Maps

A color view of Baldwin's gem. An 1878 Hopkins map of Laurel places the prior B&O station on the other (southeast) side of the tracks.


Laurel Interior
NEW! mid-Feb 2021

Laurel Interior
Mile: 21.3 Date: Jan 2021
Ease: B+ View: W
Area: B+ IC2:
Map: PG 4 J 3, Ho 19 K 13 Topographic Maps

window The station's interior retains much of its original charm.

In this region, there is no older railroad station building that still fulfills its original purpose of serving train passengers. Camden Station in Baltimore is older, but the station building is no longer used by/for passengers.

Carefully placed windows at Laurel's platform let waiting passengers spy approaching trains so on cold days they can remain huddled inside until boarding time.


MARC

MARC
Mile: 21.3 Date: Jul 2003
Ease: A View: NE
Area: B+ IC2: 312
Map: PG 4 J 3, Ho 19 K 13 Topographic Maps

Maryland Area Regional Commuters exit the last northbound train of a midsummer's evening.


MARC 63

MARC 63
Mile: 21.3 Date: Jul 2003
Ease: A- View: NE
Area: B+ IC2: 321
Map: PG 4 J 3, Ho 19 K 13 Topographic Maps

CSX and MARC share the line: a view of the lead unit, MARC 63, as it pulls out of the station.


Covid Empty
NEW! mid-Feb 2021

Covid Empty
Mile: 21.3 Date: Jan 2021
Ease: A- View: W
Area: B+ IC2:
Map: PG 4 J 3, Ho 19 K 13 Topographic Maps

Covid not only temporarily chased commuters from the trains, but also from the roads. The latter meant less traffic, and thus even less reason to ride MARC. This weekday mid-afternoon photo finds Laurel's normally jammed commuter parking to be less than 5% full.


Laurel at Night

Laurel at Night
Mile: 21.3 Date: Mar 2006
Ease: A- View: N
Area: B+ IC2:
Map: PG 4 J 3, Ho 19 K 13 Topographic Maps

Laurel during a mild spring night


Carrier: B&O

Carrier: B&O
Mile: 21.3 Date: Jul 2003
Ease: View:
Area: IC2:
Map: Topographic Maps

Does Amtrak serve Laurel? No, old habits die hard.

This discarded Amtrak ticket stub was blowing around the Laurel station platform. It looks to be from an Amtrak passenger who connected via MARC from Washington, DC to Laurel (and paid $40 for the privilege, much higher than normal MARC rates).

But note who Amtrak lists as the carrier: BO. The last time B&O carried passengers along this route on its own was 1973! Since that time, the State of Maryland gradually assumed responsibilities, and later contracted them out. Uniformed B&O employees were replaced by those of MARC in 1984.


CSX 5233
NEW! mid-Feb 2021

CSX 5233
Mile: 21.3 Date: Sep 2005
Ease: A- View: SW
Area: B+ IC2:
Map: PG 4 J 3, Ho 19 K 13 Topographic Maps

CSX 5234 Laurel's platform was getting a makeover when CSX 5233 rolled past on its maiden voyage after delivery. CSX rushed this GEVO (GE Evolution) locomotive model ES44DC into service before painting over the primer gray. The photo of sibling 5234 (right) snapped seconds earlier has a clearer view since it looks away from the bright sky. These are the first known photos of the pair.


Bowie Road

Bowie Road
Mile: 21.9 Date: Sep 2000
Ease: A View: NW
Area: B IC2:
Map: PG 4 H 4 Topographic Maps

GCFX 3055 and 3062 do their job over Bowie Road. This is about as narrow as a 2-lane road underpass can get. The stone construction style of this structure would indicate it has been here for some time. This was a major road into Laurel before Rt. 198 was built.

Around 2013 this was converted into a single-lane underpass, with access regulated by traffic signal.

Links: 1922 wreck, 1922 wreck


Crow Branch

Crow Branch
Mile: 21.9 Date: Jan 2003
Ease: A View: SE
Area: B IC2:
Map: PG 4 H 4 Topographic Maps

In a practice that makes me think of southern California, Prince George's County is fond of controlling its streams via concrete channels like this one.

This photo looks downstream as the Crow and Bear Branches combine ahead, only to be oddly split into two, with the left side apparently flowing under the road, under the Bowie Road RR bridge. It is not obvious where these channels emerge on the other side.

I originally listed the stream in the foreground as the Bear Branch, but reader Karl Ginter kindly provided clarifications:

    "The channel emerges on the left hand side of the road beyond the bridge, runs thru the apartment complexes (splitting the two complexes) and continues on across the rerouted (new in 1958) Md 197 to the swamp and the Pax river channel.

    "A lot changed in this area between 1950 to 1980. They rebuilt this area and put in the flood control in the 1970's or early 1980's. This was just after Hurricane Agnes where the city was severely flooded, so there was a lot of flood control projects in the city then. Before then, it was bare stream beds, full of trash. The culvert is actually an improvement! This work was done in the late 1970's as my best guess. County records call this bridge structure 200000P-016102, and indicate it was built in 1972.

    "I don't believe that you're looking at the Bear Branch, but the Crows Branch which runs up Marshall Ave, and then over behind Laurel High School.

    "If I recall correctly, the Bear Branch runs underground from US 1 @ Cherry Lane to this point. It's been a long time... and it was above ground at some point back then, although I can't remember precisely when everything got covered over. To the right of the picture is the bowling alley, and what used to be the Roadway depot and the old Laurel Drive In Theater. The Bear Branch ran long the edge of what used to be the Avondale School property, along the freight depot, behind the old 7-11, and merged in at the bridge where the funky split in the culvert is."



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