THE B&O's Historic Mainline Routes

On February 28, 1827, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad became the first U.S. railway chartered for commercial transport of passengers and freight and began public passenger service in 1830. America's first mile of commercial track began at Baltimore's Mt. Clare Station (current home of the B&O Railroad Museum) and headed toward Ellicott Mills (now Ellicott City), Maryland. Over the following two centuries, the B&O continued to operate famed, historic routes in 13 states. While routes did vary over time, below is an interactive map of a selection of famous routes and the historic stations they stopped at, as well as general information about each route.

Mobile users: click here to view the map in more detail.

The lines on the map have been abstracted to clearly indicate the specific stops and stations served by each route and does not accurately convey the actual path of the railroad tracks. Many of these stations were demolished or converted since B&O passenger service was discontinued. If you spot inaccuracies or have more information about the exact location of any station, please contact us at research@borail.org. Some routes added and dropped stops at various times and all images are from the B&O Railroad Museum's Hays T. Watkins Archives.

HISTORIC ROUTES INFORMATION

AMBASSADOR 1930 – 1964

Baltimore, MD – Washington, DC – Pittsburgh, PA –Akron, OH – Toledo, OH – Detroit, MI

Launched just after the onset of the Great Depression, the Ambassador route ran from Baltimore to Detroit. As one of the B&O’s premier lines, it was among one of the first routes to feature an air-conditioned car. By WWII, the entire train was air-conditioned – a true luxury for the time. The trains also featured novel innovations including reclining seats, a lounge, sleeper cars, and an observation car. Riders could purchase Pullman sleeper service and receive the legendary service of its porters. Nurse-stewardesses, nail stylists, and secretaries for business travelers were also on call. As Detroit boomed with the automobile industry, and despite the fact that cars would soon essentially eliminated the demand for rail travel, this line was aimed to serve automobile executives from Detroit who needed to visit DC for government affairs.

CINCINNATIAN 1947 – 1971

Baltimore, MD (Mt. Royal) – Baltimore, MD (Camden) – Washington, DC – Silver Spring, MD – Martinsburg, WV –Keyser, WV – Grafton, WV – Clarksburg, WV – Parkersburg, WV – Athens, OH – Chillicothe, OH –  Oakley, OH – Winton Place, OH – Cincinnati, OH

Created in 1947, this line was a truncated version of the National Limited and ran from Baltimore, MD to Cincinnati, Ohio – stopping more frequently at local stops along the way. The line was largely unsuccessful due to the sparser populations along its route. In the 1950s, the line was adjusted to serve a Detroit to Cincinnati route until it was dissolved by the takeover of B&O services by Amtrak. The line is notable for its original equipment built at the Mt. Clare Shop in Baltimore, now the site of the B&O Railroad Museum, as well as its innovative interior design and amenities created by the B&O’s pioneering female civil engineer, Olive Dennis. The B&O soon abandoned their baggage cars on the line and instead relied heavily on mail service. These adjustments enabled the line to profit enough to remain in service until 1971.

DIPLOMAT 1930 – 1961

New York, NY – Jersey City, NJ – Elizabeth, NJ –Philadelphia, PA – Wilmington, DE – Baltimore, MD (Mt. Royal) – Baltimore, MD (Camden) – Washington, DC – Cincinnati, OH – Louisville, KY – St. Louis, MI

The Diplomat, another iconic B&O line, began one of the longest routes offered by the company in 1930. It connected travelers from New York City to St. Louis, Missouri, via Washington, DC. It shared a similar route with the National Limited and the Metropolitan Express lines. With St. Louis being the B&O’s westernmost terminus, the route was specifically timed for enabling connecting service with other companies including the Frisco, the Santa Fe, Cotton Belt, and Missouri Pacific. The discon-tinuation of service to New York City in 1958, the line was shortened to begin in Washington, DC and it suffered from steep competition by the faster service provided by the Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central. Ultimately, the B&O focused on passenger comforts rather than speed and was able to garner a loyal following from business travelers and the public. In 1961, the service was discontinued, leaving the National Limited to solely serve the route.

NATIONAL LIMITED 1925 – 1971

New York, NY – Jersey City, NJ – Elizabeth, NJ –Philadelphia, PA – Wilmington, DE – Baltimore, MD (Mt. Royal) – Baltimore, MD (Camden) – Washington, DC – Cincinnati, OH – Louisville, KY – St. Louis, MI

Spanning a number of decades, the premier passenger line of the B&O, the National Limited, ran from 1925-1971 between New York City and St. Louis, Missouri, with major stops in Washington, DC and Cincinnati, Ohio. The famed route was one of the first to offer entirely air-conditioned travel and was, for much of its existence, exclusively Pullman service. The route took trains across some of the harshest terrain in the country as it crossed the Appalachian Mountains in Western Maryland and West Virginia. In addition to traditional seating and sleeper cars, it featured a club car, observation lounge car, and a full-service dining car – as well deluxe amenities for its premium customers, including secretaries, barbers, valets, maids, manicurists, and showers. As populations between Washington, DC and Cincinnati were quite low, the US Postal Service’s cancellation of the B&O’s lucrative mail contracts in 1967 began the steady decline of profits for the route. With Amtrak taking over service in 1971, the line was discontinued. Amtrak later revived the name for its New York to St. Louis service, however, this new route did not follow the original B&O path.

OLD MAIN LINE 1830 – Today

Baltimore, MD (Mt. Clare Terminal) – Relay, MD, Ellicott Mills, MD (now Ellicott City) – Frederick, MD  – Harper's Ferry, VA (now West Virginia) – Martinsburg, VA (now West Virginia) – Grafton, Virginia (now West Virginia) – Wheeling, VA (now West Virginia)

The B&O’s Old Main Line is the nation’s oldest public passenger and freight railroad line, depicted above as it was in 1853. In 1828, construction began to connect Baltimore to Ellicott Mills (now Ellicott City, MD). Baltimore’s Mt. Clare Station - today the site of the B&O Railroad Museum – was home to the first American railroad station. That first station structure no longer exists since it was replaced by a newer station in 1851 to accommodate increased demand. The Ellicott City station, today the B&O Ellicott City Station Museum, is the oldest standing passenger station in the United States. 25 years after construction began, in 1853, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad finally lived up to its namesake when it reached Wheeling, VA (now West Virginia), thereby connecting Baltimore and the Ohio River. The line has gone through a number of changes since the mid-1800s, surviving changing demographics, the Civil War, and natural disasters. Currently, the MARC commuter rail system still carries passengers along the original B&O right-of-way between Baltimore and Frederick, MD.

SHENANDOAH 1930s – 1971

New York, NY – Jersey City, NJ – Wayne Junction, PA –Philadelphia, PA – Chester, PA – Wilmington, DE –Baltimore, MD (Mt. Royal) – Baltimore, MD (Camden) – Washington, DC – Martinsburg, WV – Cumberland, MD – Connellsville, PA – McKeesport, PA – Pittsburg, PA – Garrett, IN – La Paz, IN – Gary, IN – South Chicago, IL –Chicago, IL (63rd Street) – Chicago, IL (Grand Central)

The Shenandoah was one of four B&O lines that connected New York City with Chicago, via Washington, DC and Pittsburgh. From the 1940s – 1960s, the line offered daily service of five Pullman sleeping cars, a lounge car equipped with a radio, and a full-service dining coach. Offering overnight service to Chicago, it left Washington, DC at 11:30pm, providing convenient connection times to other destinations in Chicago, making it a preferable service for east coast passengers. Following the B&O’s discontinuation of service north of Baltimore, MD in 1958, the eastern terminus was truncated to Baltimore and the route relied heavily on lucrative mail services. As American railroads began to see a decline in travelers, the trains were converted over to the Diplomat route in 1964, with service altogether dropped in 1967. A small section continued to operate between Akron, Ohio and Washington, DC until Amtrak took over passenger service in 1971. Amtrak revived the name in the 1970s for a short-lived run between Washington and Cincinnati, but this line followed an entirely different route.

WASHINGTONIAN 1941 – 1953

Baltimore, MD (Mt. Royal) – Baltimore, MD (Camden) – Washington, DC – Martinsburg, WV – Cumberland, MD – Connellsville, PA – McKeesport, PA – Pittsburg, PA – Youngstown, OH  –  Cleveland, OH (Union Terminal)

 

The Washingtonian was the last long-haul B&O line to operate out of Baltimore using steam locomotion. Launched on April 27, 1941, the daytime route left Baltimore at 9:00am, arriving in Cleveland, Ohio at 9:00pm. Once arriving in Pittsburgh, the B&O's cars would be coupled on to the Pittsburgh and Lake Eire Railroad's Steel King, which would take passengers to Youngstown, Ohio. From there, the Erie Railroad handled service to its final destination in Cleveland. Partnerships with smaller regional railroads were common and helped the B&O ensure connectivity to more of the country. The train ordinarily consisted of a pair of baggage cars, a Railway Post Office car, three air conditioned coaches, and a combination parlor-diner-lounge car.  In the late 1940s, as many as six additional coaches were added on weekends to accommodate the high demand of East Coast-bound passengers boarding the train at the numerous Appalachian Mountain communities along the B&O's right-of-way. By 1953, the B&O had made the complete switch to diesel locomotives and the line was phased out as more economical routes and equipment became available.

CAPITOL LIMITED 1923 – 1971

New York, NY – Jersey City, NJ – Wayne Junction, PA –Philadelphia, PA – Chester, PA – Wilmington, DE –Baltimore, MD (Mt. Royal) – Baltimore, MD (Camden) – Washington, DC – Martinsburg, WV – Cumberland, MD – Connellsville, PA – McKeesport, PA – Pittsburg, PA – Garrett, IN – La Paz, IN – Gary, IN – South Chicago, IL –Chicago, IL (63rd Street) – Chicago, IL (Grand Central)

The famed Capitol Limited service began in 1923, running between New York City and Chicago Grand Central, via Washington, DC. Created as an all-steam and all-Pullman luxury route, the B&O converted to Diesel-Electric locomotives in 1938. The B&O’s #51 Diesel-Electric locomotive was the first of its kind used for passenger travel and is currently being restored by the B&O Railroad Museum, scheduled to be on display by 2021. By the 1950s, with ridership declining due to automobile and air travel, the Capitol Limited, the Columbian, and the Ambassador lines were combined into one train to serve the route between New York and Washington, where it diverged back into the three lines. By the time the B&O discontinued service in 1971, the route had been shortened to Washington, DC to Chicago. At that time, Amtrak took over the 764-mile route and continues to serve over 200,000 passengers a year on the line.

COLUMBIAN 1923 – 1971

New York, NY – Jersey City, NJ – Wayne Junction, PA –Philadelphia, PA – Chester, PA – Wilmington, DE –Baltimore, MD (Mt. Royal) – Baltimore, MD (Camden) – Washington, DC – Martinsburg, WV – Cumberland, MD – Connellsville, PA – McKeesport, PA – Pittsburg, PA – Garrett, IN – La Paz, IN – Gary, IN – South Chicago, IL –Chicago, IL (63rd Street) – Chicago, IL (Grand Central)

The Columbian began its run from Jersey City, NJ (with connecting service to New York City) to Washington, DC. With its creation in 1931, it became the first completely air-conditioned passenger train in North America. In the 1940s, components of the Royal Blue line began to be transferred over to the Columbian and the route was extended to Chicago. Eventually, it appeared alongside the all-Pullman Capitol Limited, running 30 minutes behind it. In 1949, the B&O equipped the route with brand new rolling stock, including the iconic “Strata-dome” dome cars. By the time Amtrak discontinued the line's service in 1971, the B&O had consolidated the route with the Capitol Limited.

METROPOLITAN BRANCH 1873 – Today

Washington, DC (New Jersey Ave. Station) – Washington, DC (Eckington Station) – Washington, DC (University Station) – Tacoma Park, MD – Silver Spring, MD –Kensington, MD – Garrett Park, MD – Rockville, MD – Derwood, MD – Washington Grove, MD – Gaithersburg, MD – Germantown, MD – Boyds, MD – Barnesville, MD – Dickerson, MD – Point of Rocks, MD

Completed in 1873, the Metropolitan Branch connected our nation’s capital with the American West (i.e. Ohio) by creating a line that went northwest out of Washington, connecting with the Old Main Line at Point of Rocks, MD. Washington and Montgomery County, MD businessmen pushed for a new line to connecting the growing towns and suburbs of Washington. After its completion, the B&O diverted most trains away from the Main Line between Point of Rock and Baltimore, and instead routed them through Washington before heading to Western destinations. From that point on, the original stretch of the Main Line saw a dramatic decline in service. Today, the route continues to be used by Amtrak’s Capitol Limited line, MARC’s Brunswick Line, and the Washington DC Metro’s Red Line from Union Station to Shady Grove, MD.

NEW YORK CITY 1926 – 1958

Jersey City, NJ (Communipaw Terminal) – New York City: Columbus Circle Terminal, Rockefeller Terminal, Grand Central Terminal, 23rd Street, and Brooklyn Terminal

During World War I, the B&O Railroad had been permitted to use the Hudson River Tunnel to enter Manhattan. Following the end of the war, the Pennsylvania Railroad terminated the contract to do so on September 1, 1926. Following that date, the B&O terminated on the banks of the Hudson River, just across from Manhattan at the Communipaw Terminal in Jersey City, NJ. Buses would await passengers alongside the platform. These buses would be ferried across the Hudson River to docks by Liberty Street terminal and would continue on to various stops across Manhattan and Brooklyn. These routes and stops varied over time, but prominent bus terminals included Columbus Circle, Rockefeller Center, the Vanderbilt Hotel, and Brooklyn.

ROYAL BLUE 1898 – 1958

New York, NY – Jersey City, NJ – Elizabeth, NJ –Plainfield, NJ – Wayne Junction, PA – Philadelphia, PA – Wilmington, DE – Baltimore, MD (Mt. Royal) – Baltimore, MD (Camden) – Washington, DC

or The B&O’s flagship service between New York City and Washington, DC – the Royal Blue – began in late-Victorian times in 1890! Going by various names throughout its life, the line was a mainstay of B&O service in major east coast cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Wilmington. Railroad historian Herbert Harwood states that “the B&O's six daily Royal Blue trains providing service between New York and Washington were noted for their luxury, elegant appearance, and speed... The car interiors were paneled in mahogany, had fully enclosed vestibules (instead of open platforms, still widely in use at the time on US railroads), then-modern heating and lighting, and leaded glass windows.” To combat the noxious fumes of steam locomotives accumulating in the lengthy Howard Street Tunnel under Baltimore, the B&O became the first American railroad to use electric locomotives. Beginning in 1895, the B&O electrified the track through the tunnel and used all-electric locomotives to pull trains through it. Facing intense competition by other railroads, as well as other modes of transportation, the B&O converted the line to streamlined diesel locomotives in the mid-1930s. In 1958, the B&O discontinued all service north of Baltimore, thereby ending the long reign of the Royal Blue line.

WASHINGTON BRANCH 1835 – Today

Baltimore, MD (Mt. Clare) – Relay, MD – Elk Ridge, MD – Hanover, MD – Dorsey, MD – Jessup, MD – Savage, MD –Laurel, MD – Muirkirk, MD  –  Beltsville, MD – Branchville, MD – College, MD – Hyattsville, MD – Washington, DC (New Jersey Ave. Station)

 

The Washington Branch, opened in 1835, was our nation's capital's first rail connection. The line began in Mt Clare Station (today the site of the B&O Railroad Museum) and terminated in Washington, DC's New Jersey Avenue Station (demolished). In order to open the line, the B&O had to span the Patapsco River, just outside of Baltimore near the old Relay Station, which was a major engineering challenge at the time. The Thomas Viaduct, a multiple arched, curving stone bridge, was completed in 1835 and was the largest bridge in America at the time. Today, the bridge is the world’s oldest multiple arched stone railroad bridge and is still used by CSX Transportation freight trains to this day! The Washington Branch provided local passenger service to towns across its route in Maryland and is still in use to this day by the MARC commuter service’s Camden Line.

The first telegram message traveled along this route, as well! 1844, Samuel Morse sent the first American telecommunications message from the Supreme Court Chamber in the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC, along 44 miles of wires set up along the B&O's right-of-way, to Mt. Clare Station in Baltimore. The first message, spelled out in Morse Code was "WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT".

 

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