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The Baltimore & Ohio is America's first railroad - originally intended to link Baltimore with the headwaters of the Ohio river (thus matching a competing canal route that later became the Chesapeake & Ohio RR).
The B & O system can be divided roughly into three segments: the New York to Washington speedway, the hill country from Washington to the Ohio line, and the western runs to Chicago and St. Louis.
Leaving Washington, the B & O heads west thru Harpers Ferry to Cumberland, Md., where the line splits. The line known as the "Capitol Route" route bears north to Pittsburgh, then northwest through Youngstown and Ackron, then due west to Chicago.
The other heads west to Parkersburg, WVa., on the Ohio river. Here, the "National Route" leaves the rugged Appalachian hill country and enters the Ohio Valley speedway bound for Cincinnati and on to St. Louis.
The B & O has always been a passenger oriented road: as the Passenger Train Era nears its close in the 50s and 60s, passenger agents of the Santa Fe always try to route through passengers on B & O because they still hold to high standards of service.
In service, the B&O is second to none. Even in their dominant Baltimore / Washington to Chicago / St Louis markets, they do not allow complacency or indifference to detract from the comfort of their patrons. With their focus on Washington, they carry many businessmen and government officials, as well as military personnel. For this reason, they combine excellent facilities and attentive staffs with a large proportion of section accommodations.
B&O motive power history extends back to one of the original 4 wheeled, vertical boiler "crab" engines which pulled a couple of converted Concord Stage coaches (see illustration link below).
Within their limited resources, the B&O is pushing ahead as rapidly as possible on upgrading their passenger roster. Mt Claire has paid close attention to motive power developments, having exparamented with various fire tube boiler and turbine drive steam locomotives, a small but significant electrification project in Baltimore, and some of the earliest diesel electrics.
In diesel power, the road received the 3rd and 4th passenger box cabs built by Electro Motive for the "Royal Blue" service. They also received the first lot of standardized EMD road power: the EA and EB series cab and booster sets.
As a road lacking in financial resources, the B & O has a fleet more notable for creativity than uniformity.
At the dawn of the Heavyweight period, the B&O was passed over in the first round of Gothic car construction (since B&O trains terminate at Jersey City). However, as the original Gothic cars were replaced on the larger roads, they quickly went to the secondary easterners including B&O. The road did receive one custom built batch of Parlor-observation cars, Plan 2819-A 24p-1d-obs, received in 1914.
But the big news in rolling stock is B & Os decision to upgrade many of its existing heavyweights to "betterment" cars. The road's Mt. Claire shops has rebuilt head end, coaches, diners and lounge-ob cars with full turtle roofs, skirts, air conditioning and modernized interiors. The road also had its heavyweight sleepers rebuilt by Pullman to the same design.
In the postwar years, a few lightweight cars have been purchased second hand (mostly from the New York Central) and several Budd stainless steel 14-4 "Bird" series and 24-8 "Slumbercoach" sleepers have arrived as part of post-war run-thru agreements with Missouri Pacific, Frisco and the Katy. With their close affiliation - and later merger - with the Chesapeake & Ohio RR, they have also received an assortment of the distinctive, semi-fluted "Chessie" type cars built by Pullman.
Notwithstanding, the B&O has a well found preference for heavyweight equipment, due to its solidity and smooth ride. The new experimental lightweight trains are viewed as an attempt to improve public service: but many at Baltimore look on this lightweight concept with some reservation.
Both premiere trains on the Chicago and St. Louis runs have been upgraded with a mix of second hand lightweights and rebuilt "betterment" heavyweights, and a new betterment train, the ill-fated Cincinnatian has also been created. However, the great majority of their secondary and local service is still dependent on standard heavyweight equipment.
- - Appalachia -
Capitol Route regional operations - - National Route regional operations
New York City ferry service - - B&O electrification - - Betterment heavyweights
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North East Rails © Clint Chamberlin.