New Freedom, PA to Ashland, MD

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Conrail "cabeese" 20043 and 23298 at New Freedom, PA. CR #23298 is being refurbished as a local Boy Scout project. These are on an isolated section of track, a few blocks south of the New Freedom depot. NCR trail prallels the track at this point. Photo by Mike Palmer, September 2003.

This line was one of the original railroad routes in the United States. According to printed narratives (available at the New Freedom, PA museum/station), the line was chartered in 1828 as the Baltimore & Susquehanna. Construction started in 1829, and it reached York, PA in 1838. In 1855 the Northern Central was created, when the Baltimore & Susquehanna and other local lines were merged. By the 1860s the line was controlled by the Pennsylvania RR, and it merged into the PRR in 1914. Regardless, the Northern Central name continued to be used.

The line was traveled by President Lincoln in 1863 on his way to delivering the Gettysburg Address. This route also carried the funeral trains for four presidents: Harrison (1841), Taylor (1850), Lincoln (1865) and Harding (1923).

The line was eventually upgraded and double tracked, however it was saddled with a winding route with grades. Freight trains eventually bypassed it for the parallel PRR route along the Susquehanna River further east. Over the years traffic declined, the line reverted to single track, and passenger service ended on April 30, 1971 upon the advent of Amtrak. The line was damaged by Hurricane Agnes in 1972 and was closed to freight traffic (by then Penn Central) shortly after that.

The states of Pennsylvania and Maryland eventually created a rail trail along the route, including the "still active" York to New Freedom, PA segment. South of New Freedom to the Pennsylvania state line, a single track is still in place but it is severed from the rail network and at most grade crossings. The trail along the route is well marked, and local highways have "NCR Trail" signs posted to direct travelers to the route. The New Freedom, PA and Monkton, MD stations have been rebuilt and are in great shape. A few steel and cement bridges remain, along with an occasional relay box, but most other railroad hardware has been removed. The south end of the trail is at Ashland, MD. Further south of that location, the line into Baltimore has been rebuilt as part of the light rail transit system, and Norfolk Southern uses it during off hours.

Heading south from New Freedom, PA, the line passed through the following settlements and towns in MD: Freeland, Bentley Springs, Walker, Parkton, Graystones, White Hall, Blue Mont, Monkton, Corbett, Glencoe, Sparks, Phoenix, Ashland, and Cockeysville.

According to an article in the May 1986 issue of Railpace, the line north from New Freedom to York, PA, was also taken out of service by hurricane/tropical storm Agnes in June 1972. It was closed to rail traffic for over ten years and was not reopened for freight trains until November, 1984

Mike Palmer
L A County, CA
10/25/2010

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The line south of York to New Freedom was reopened and is still in place (though not maintained) mainly because of the connection to the Stewartstown RR (that has an ineresting history of it's own). Dinner trains ran from New Freedom north reguarly through the 1990s. While the Stewartstown RR ran as a tourist line for many years, it has since fallen in to a state of limbo. The right of way needed major repair and the rail road could not afford to do it. It cut it's operating distance and tried to remain in operation but failed. As of 2011, renewed efforts are being made to restore operations. As a side note, the junction line to Stewartstown had some aging freight cars stored on it and the NCRR station (as of 2007) is a functioning restraunt/rest stop on the bike trail.

Paul McNally
Baltimore, MD
7/13/2011

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Good friends of ours, the Yeagers, owned Mayfair Farms,in Timonimum. Their drive way ran along the north side of the fairgrounds (still there), crossed the railroad, and continued up to their imposing home - which I believe is there. They raised throughbreeds and had barns down by the former NC/PRR. I was in 8th grade in 1971. Chip Yeager agreed to take me down to the crossing to watch the train. This was the Washington section of Amtrak's Broadway Limited. In the fading light, I saw one E-8 pulling one Penn Central coach. My Polaroid didn't work. That summer Agnes wipped out the line; and the train was diverted to the Columbia branch. But, for a year or so, Amtrak DID run up the Northern Central to Harrisburg.

John Manley
High Springs, FL
9/29/2012

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I live not far from NCR trail and ride I83 daily.

What a daily mess easily solved by mass transit light rail

There must be a way for rail to move York to Baltimore again. Running along side of 83 or right down the middle.

Scott
Parkton, MD
5/29/2013

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Scott,

The light rail does use the former right of way from Texas to Baltimore. One of the problems with this route is that it was one of the first lines built in the US. It follows the Gunpowder river and has always been prone to flood damage. The PRR built the Port Deposit and Columbia in order to expidite freight movements from the south to Enoloa due to the excess curvature of the NCRR. It became too expensive to operate and after Agnes, it was deemed useless between York and Timonium. Parkton was the base of commuter trains until 83 was built and there is a clause that allows trails to be converted back to rail if necessary. You never know, it may one day become a commuter line.

Paul McNally
Baltimore, MD
8/22/2013

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I remember quite clearly as a little boy driving next to the NC around Riderwood and seeing two tracks; then I remember at a later time where the road does a 90 degree turn up hill towards Charles Street seeing the second track being removed. I also remember the spur that connected with the Western Maryland; and seeing a freight station near where an interchange is for the Jones Falls.

John Manley
High Sprin, FL
8/22/2013

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Thanks John

Check out my son's website Evanstrainstop.com

We both love trains and have plans of it helping to play his college one day!

Scott
Parkton, MD
9/9/2013

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Paul

Thanks for comment back......sorry it took me nearly a year to respond. I see a plaque in woods off NCR Trail between Dairy Road and Bunker Hill Road. Appearance of small rail yard abandoned after WW2. Local library seems to have little on railroad. Where might I find more information?

Scott Macdonald
Harford County orginally, MD
6/24/2014

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Scott,

A book about the history of the railroad was published about 15 to 20 years ago. Check under Herb Harwood, he may have been the author. If not, there will be items writen by him on all of the railroads in and around Baltimore. The yard was the home of the commuter trains going into Baltimore and survived until the late 50s or early 60s. Not much feight was generated on line, the route was used mainly for passenger movements to connect DC with Harrisburg and commuters. The quarry in Texas MD was the main freight generator and was served for some time by Conrail after the light rail trains shut down for the night.

Paul McNally
Carroll County, MD
7/3/2014

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My father Zane L Baublitz was the assistant maintainer and finally the mantainer of the section from Mt Wolf Pa to Cockeysville Md. He kept all signals and switches and crossing gates in working order.This was 1952 to 1968 when the Pennsy became Conrail which he worked 6 months and then transferred to Amtrak as a foreman. He later went on to open Amtrak's training school for signalmen and maintainers in the Lancaster Pa shop til his death in 1989.

Karen (Baublitz) Mull
Glenville , PA
11/24/2014

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Thanks Karen

I can see rail bed from my house and in the snow maybe 1/2-3/4 a mile of railbed

Do you have relative named Russ who worked for B&D?

Scott Macdonald
Harford County orginally, MD
11/24/2014

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