A CONDENSED HISTORY OF THE POPES CREEK LINE as interpreted by Dave Goldsmith....
The Baltimore and Potomac RR was chartered
in 1853, with permission secured
from the Maryland General Assembly to build a rail line from Baltimore, Md.
south to Marlborough (now Marlboro), and from there south to a point on the
Potomac River in Southern Maryland. As the charter was written, perhaps the
most important parts of the charter, and perhaps the entire reason for the
Popes Creek's existence, was a claus that allowed the B&P to build a branch
extending from any point along the main line not exceeding 20 miles in
length, and the right to connect to any existing railroad or railroad built
thereafter. With the charter secured work was to begin, but due to a lack of
funding and the inopportune time of the Civil War, the work would be
postponed, perhaps indefinitely.
THE PENNSYLVANIA RR
The Pennsylvania Railroad was a prosperous
and rapidly expanding railroad
chartered in 1846. Having finally reached Baltimore by purchasing a
controlling interest in an ailing rail line, the Northern Central, the Pennsy
was anxious to gain access to the very busy Baltimore-Washington traffic.
But fearing increased competition, the B&O RR, with friends in high places in
the Md. Gen. Assembly, successfully denied the PRR any access whatsoever to
It was about this time that the B&P
went to the B&O RR and asked for help,
but for the same reason of feared competition, the B&O refused, a mistake the
B&O would never forget. The Pennsy noticed the almost stillborn B&P, and
more specifically a claus in the charter of the B&P allowing the construction
of branchlines extending from the mainline not exceeding 20 miles in length.
By locating the mainline through Huntington, Md. (now Bowie) a branch could
be built legally into Washington D.C., getting around the B&O opposition and
gaining access to Washington-Baltimore traffic. In 1867 the PRR granted the
B&P $400,000 in loan money to get started.
By 1872 the PRR had built a tunnel under
Baltimore, the B&P tunnel,
connecting the B&P with the Northern Central, allowing the PRR access to B&P
tracks. The B&P had built the main to Bowie, and a branch to Washington, as
well as a branch to 14th street to connect to the RF&P railroad (the current
Landover line), gaining access to the vast expanding southward rail network.
By 1873 the mainline to Popes Creek was complete, allowing freight service to
Southern Maryland and a connection via barge to the RF&P at Aquia Creek. In
1902 the B&P was purchased by the PRR in full and merged with the Northern
Central, and the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore to become the
Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington RR, the name it would keep, on paper,
until the 1990's under Conrail ownership.
PROSPERITY, DOWNFALL, AND RESURRECTION
Now complete, the railroad provided much
needed service to the farmers of
Southern Maryland. Allowing 5 hour passenger service from Popes Creek to
Baltimore via Washington for $2.05 fare, Bowie to Popes Creek $1.90, and
Bowie to Beantown (now Waldorf) for $1.20. Farm produce and tobacco could be
hauled for $.15 per 100 lbs, as well as any other freight imaginable. Some
of the first tractors in Southern Maryland came in via the railroad. The B&P
enjoyed success and profit for many years, boosting the economy of the
southern part of the state. It is because of the railroad that the county
seat town of La Plata was even formed, having started first as only a train
station and having been called La Plata Station. La Plata soon outgrew the
surrounding towns because of its railroad access. Many name changes also
took place over the years, Lothair becoming Faulkner, Cox's Station became
Bel Alton, Port Tobacco Station became Spring Hill, Beantown became Waldorf,
Huntington became Bowie.
By the 1940's traffic was down, and in
1949 the last passenger train was run
from Popes Creek to Bowie. Freight service also shrank, and by 1963 the
portion of the line from Lothair (Faulkner) to Popes Creek was placed out of
service. By 1965 traffic south of Bowie was essentially discontinued. The
portion from Baltimore to Washington still enjoyed success and remained in
service. The line sat dormant for several years until the late 60's when
PEPCO, the Potomac Electric Power Co. built a new power generating plant at
Morgantown, Md. A new line was built, owned by PEPCO, from Lothair to
Morgantown, and the portion from Lothair to Popes Creek was abandoned. The
Penn Central hauled some coal to the Power Plant on an as needed basis, but
it wasn't until 1973 with the "Big Oil Crisis of 1973" that traffic really
picked up. PEPCO was forced by high oil prices to switch completely to coal
for fuel, and with that the traffic on the Popes Creek branch really picked
up, necessitating a rehabilitation of the track and structure. That plant
burns more than 9,000 tons of coal per day, averaging 1 to 2 trains a day.
An estimated value is $10,000 per carload or $80,000 per 80-car train of coal
to be delivered. By 1980 the track had been rehabilitated, with sidings at
Lothair, Cox, Port Tobacco, Beantown and Cheltenham removed. In 1981 the
portion from Baltimore to Washington (the NEC) was sold to Amtrak, but
ownership of the Popes Creek was retained. With a few customers coming
online in Waldorf, the Popes Creek remains in this form Today.
Reproduction is prohibited without permission (Dave Goldsmith)!