The Baltimore and Annapolis Trail is named after the railroad that previously operated the corridor. The right-of-way carries an interesting history that traces back to the 1880s as a standard, steam-powered line running between both cities. During the early 20th century, the property was acquired by a growing interurban system and operated electrically. Following the Great Depression, the Baltimore–Annapolis segment was spun-off for continued freight service. Through-service on the route was discontinued the late 1960s, and the entire line was slowly abandoned thereafter, leaving Annapolis as one of the few state capitals without rail service.
The history of the Baltimore and Annapolis Trail begins with the Annapolis & Baltimore Short Line’s (A&BSL) chartering on January 6, 1880, opening for service between its namesake cities on March 9, 1887. The entire corridor was 25 miles long, running northward along the Severn River. Near Annapolis it crossed the river into the city over a wooden trestle, while at Baltimore it used the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) to reach that railroad’s Camden Station in the downtown area. The A&BSL offered the first rail service connecting both cities and became quite busy. Alas, as an independent operation it was short-lived. According to George Hilton and John Due’s book “The Electric Interurban Railways In America,” in 1907 it was acquired by the Maryland Electric Railways (the first to electrify the line in 1908) and then sold to the Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis Electric Railway (WB&A) in 1921.
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The WB&A was originally formed in 1902 through various predecessor systems and would eventually boast a rather large network for an interurban. Its main line stretched 38 miles from Washington to Baltimore (opened on April 3, 1908), while a branch reached Annapolis Junction and a connection there with the B&O. It ran southeasterly to Naval Academy Junction along the Baltimore–D.C. main line, serving Odenton and Fort George G. Meade along the way. From this point it continued southeast 14 miles to Annapolis. The line was originally built as a standard railroad known as the Annapolis & Elk Ridge, first opened many years earlier in 1840. It was later reorganized as the Annapolis, Washington & Baltimore Railroad in 1886 before becoming part of the WB&A. The final segment was, of course, the previously mentioned A&BSL property, which was referred to as the “North Shore Division” (the Baltimore–D.C. corridor was referred to as the “South Shore Division”). The line was originally electrified at 6,600-volt, alternating-current (AC), single-phase power. Unfortunately, AC technology was still in its infancy for railroad applications, and the company switched to a more reliable 1,200-volt, direct-current (DC) system in 1910.
Despite having parallel Baltimore–D.C. main lines from the nearby—and much larger—B&O and Pennsylvania railroads, the WB&A did relatively well considering most interurbans habitually struggled with financial problems and disappeared during the World War I era., Situated within a highly populated region that included the nation’s capital, Maryland’s largest city, the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, and other military facilities, the WB&A witnessed annual gross revenues greater than $2.5 million, a substantial amount for an interurban. Its relatively strong income and high ridership (hourly trains, rush-hour service, and special events) enabled the WB&A to use good equipment along a well-maintained right-of-way—another uncommon trait for an interurban—that resembled a standard railroad. The company was hit hard by the Great Depression of 1929 and its lingering effects. It entered bankruptcy in 1931 and following 4 years of losses chose to shut down on August 20, 1935.
The segment between Baltimore and Annapolis was reorganized as the Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad, becoming a subsidiary of the Baltimore & Ohio. In addition, a 6-mile segment of the Annapolis–Annapolis Junction line to Crownsville was used until 1936 to ship coal. The B&A continued operating electrically until 1950 when passenger service ended, replaced by buses because of declining service under a deteriorating physical plant. In 1968, the Severn River Trestle was deemed unsafe and embargoed, thus starving Annapolis of direct rail service.
The 1970s dealt a death blow to the B&A; its property was ravaged by the heavy rains and flooding of Hurricane Agnes in 1972, a storm system that also heavily damaged railroad property throughout the Northeast. Through-service more or less ended on the railroad. According to Joseph Schwieterman’s book “When The Railroad Leaves Town: Eastern United States,” the B&A’s bus service was taken over by the state of Maryland in 1974. At around the same time local businesses fought to have freight service restored to Glen Burnie, but the Interstate Commerce Commission ultimately allowed the carrier to abandon operations altogether. In 1992, the remaining 6 miles still in place between Baltimore and Glen Burnie were restored for light-rail transit service and is still used for this purpose today.
Railroad attractions in Maryland include the world-famous Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum (901 West Pratt Street); Baltimore Streetcar Museum (1901 Falls Road); Bowie Railroad Station Museum in Chestnut; Brunswick Museum in Brunswick; Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum in Chesapeake Beach; Ellicott City Station in Ellicott City (the oldest surviving railroad depot in the country); Gaithersburg Community Museum in Gaithersburg; Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum in Hagerstown; National Capital Trolley Museum in Colesville; Walkersville Southern Railroad in Walkersville; Western Maryland Railway Historical Society in Union Bridge; and the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad in Cumberland.