Hike on the Northern Central Railway

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MARC Rider

Conductor
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
1,792
DISCLAIMER: no safety rules were broken, and I am not so foolish as to actually hike along active railroad tracks.

Last weekend, cabin fever was setting in, so it was time to comply with my state's "stay-at-home order" by leaving the house to engage in some outdoor exercise. In this case it was a short hike on the Northern Central Rail/York County Heritage Rail Trail that runs on the semi-abandoned right of way of the former Northern Central Railway between Ashland, Md. and York, Pa. The Northern Central was one of the first railroads built in the US (various parts of the route were built between 1829 and 1858) and connected Baltimore with Harrisburg. The Pennsylvania Railroad obtained a controlling share of the company in 1861 and operated it as part of the larger PRR system until the merger that created the Penn Central. It was of great strategic value during the Civil War, and President Lincoln rode part of the line in 1863 on his way to Gettysburg for the dedication of the military cemetery. The Washington section of the Broadway Limited ran on this route until April 30, 1971. When Amtrak took over the next day, the Broadway was rerouted to Harrisburg via Perryville. The track itself was severely damaged in 1972 during Tropical Storm Agnes, and the line was abandoned south of the Mason Dixon Line. There's currently one track operating adjacent to the rail trail in York county, and a tourist railroad (Steam Into History) runs excursions, or at least, they will when the coronavirus shutdown ends.

My hike was a 2.5 mile stretch (up and back, 5 miles total) that started at the site of the former station in Freeland, Md. and ended in New Freedom, Pa. Being that it was lunchtime, I stopped at a Wawa in Cockeysville, Md. and picked up a genuine Philly-style Italian hoagie. At Freeland, I ate my lunch at a picnic table at the Freeland trail head, noting the other folks using the trail. Despite the popularity of outdoor exercise, the crowd was small enough that I never had any worries about not complying with the 6-foot social distancing guidelines. Just in case I had a problem, though, I tied a bandanna around my neck, which I could pull up into an improvised mask.

By the time I started walking, the sunny day had turned a bit cloudy, and it was a bit blustery and chilly for April in our part of the country. Nonetheless, spring was on the way, the trees were starting to turn green, and skunk cabbage was sprouting up all along the streams. All of this trail is very scenic. I sort of regret that I didn't get a chance to ride along it when they operated trains. Such a joyride (PHL - BAL - HAR - PHL) was just a little beyond my ability (or my parents' tolerance) as a teenager. At least I can ride along the part of it where the light rail runs.

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Here we are approaching the Mason-Dixon Line, which is located about where the signboards are located. Fortunately, o Pennsylvania border guards are on duty to protect the Keystone State from the infected masses to the south. (Actually, given that York County, PA. is really part of the Baltimore metro area, and a goodly number of "essential" workers in Baltimore live in York County and probably drive back and forth across the state line every day, the lack of border controls is not unexpected.)

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Yeah, I know, the scenery doesn't quite compare with Raton Pass, or Cajon Pass, or whatever, but this is Summit Grove, the high point (altitude 827 ft. above sea level) of the Northern Central line between Baltimore and York. According to the interpretive signboard, they actually needed to run helper engines to get trains over this. (The grade was 1 1/2% between here and Glen Rock) Also you can see the tracks are still here, though nothing runs on them. But not in too bad shape, considering they're at least 50 years old. I'll bet you could plop an Acela down on them and run some HSR commuter service between Baltimore and York! :)

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Or maybe that's not in the cards anytime soon.

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Now, as we're getting near New Freedom, we start seeing the equipment for the Steam Into History operation.

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In addition to their replica circa 1860 steam engine (which was locked up indoors), they have a couple of GP9 diesels from the 1950s.


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The passenger coaches are modern construction, designed to look like 1860's equipment, but with modern trucks, couplers, air brakes, and such.

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Here's the New Freedom Depot. As the signboard says, the last passenger train (aside from the later tourist trains) passed through on April 30, 1971. Normally, there's a little visitor center and cafe here, but these were closed due to the virus restrictions. I walked up to see the cabooses, turned around, and then returned to my car.
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I guess you can rent out this party caboose. Hmm, maybe a mid-atlantic mini-Gathering when things open up again?

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And after the party caboose, we can engage in handcar races....

All in all, it was a nice hike, nice to get out of the house, and nice to see some railroad stuff now that I can't ride regularly.
 
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MARC Rider

Conductor
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
1,792
I thought I was posting this on the Travelogues and trip report forum, not in the Museum of Amtrak timetable forum. How can I get it transferred to the correct place?
 

railiner

Conductor
Joined
Mar 20, 2009
Messages
7,687
I rode that line in 1968 or 69, on the Baltimore to Buffalo PC train...:cool:
 

Palmland

OBS Chief
Joined
May 25, 2006
Messages
789
When I was working my first ‘real’ job in downtown Baltimore ‘69-78’ we had an employee who did commute on the train from York. The train wasn’t much - several p-70 coaches and a tired PC E-8. Fortunately I was on assignment out of town when Agnes and it’s floods hit. My wife with an infant reminded me of that frequently in those days.

Glad to hear part of it is being revived- thanks for the news. Wish they had done this with the Ma and Pa RR, a very scenic bucolic route.:rolleyes:
 
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Joined
Mar 10, 2016
Messages
863
872 ft is actually higher than the highest natural point in Chicago, which is 672 on the SW side. Highest point in our metro area is just shy of 1200'.
 
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