Christopher Burkins: Along the Rail Trail

This photograph was taken in August 2020 at the Northern Central Railway in New Freedom, Pennsylvania. Passenger excursions trains are offered on weekends and are sometimes hauled by a steam locomotive. A recreational trail runs along side the line. It was different than usual, with people wearing masks due to COVID-19, but I still enjoyed it and it is one of my favorite places to visit. My father introduced me to this railway line and in many ways it is a relic of his childhood. His Aunt lived in a house in White Hall, Maryland, near the Northern Central line and the Mason-Dixon line, which separates Maryland and Pennsylvania. Whenever he visited his Aunt, he would see the trains run by the house.

The Northern Central Railway has a long history, with the original right of way connecting the cities of Baltimore, Maryland (my home town) with Sunbury, Pennsylvania. Construction of the line began in 1829 as the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad. In 1832, it was given permission to connect with the York and Maryland Line Railroad. In 1854, the line became the Northern Central Railway and in 1861, it was acquired by the Pennsylvania Railroad. The railway played a role in the American Civil War as a transportation route for troops headed south, as well as for supplies and food. It was also used for presidential trains, most famously President Abraham Lincoln on his way to deliver the Gettysburg Address in 1863. In 1865, the Northern Central Railway was on of many railroads used for President Lincoln’s funeral train following his assassination.

The line was very busy with both freight and passenger traffic into the 1950s, when passenger rail service began to decline. The Pennsylvania Railroad ran long-distance trains as far north as Canada over the line. Commuter rail service known as “Parkton locals” ran between the rural community of Parkton, Maryland and Baltimore. These ended in 1959 as a result of the completion of the Baltimore-Harrisburg Expressway (Interstate 83). Long distance passenger trains continued operation over the line until the late 1960s. In 1972, Hurricane Agnus caused major flooding along the line. The damage was so severe that the Penn Central (merger of the Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central Railroad) refused to repair the line. After 134 years, the Northern Central Railway was closed down.

In 1984, the right-of-way north of Cockeysville, Maryland was converted into a recreational trail, and has remained as such to this day. In Maryland, it is called the Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail in Maryland and the York County Heritage Rail Trail in Pennsylvania, but in both places it is common to here it called the “Northern Central Trail,” in honor of its predecessor.

The trackage in Pennsylvania is preserved and runs along side the trail. Excursion trains began running along the right-of-way from New Freedom to Hanover in the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. It was reopened for excursion trains in 2013. I find this place very interesting because it is one of the few recreational trails that I have seen where a train runs parallel to the trail. I really enjoy it because it is a place where both a relic of the industrial past and the natural surroundings are both undisturbed.

I took this photograph with a Nikon D3400 DSLR camera and made edits using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. I also added a texture layer to give it a vintage feel, since railways are among the many things that can be considered vintage.

 

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