Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad Historical Society

Railroad History

System mapThe Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad developed from several different ideas of transporting Pennsylvania's coal to either Philadelphia or Baltimore.

The Peach Bottom Railway, organized in the 1870's, intended to connect coal fields at Broad Top (and possibly Pittsburgh) with Philadelphia, competing with the dominant Pennsylvania Railroad.

The Maryland Central Railroad, founded in the late 1860's, had similar intentions, but instead wanted to connect Baltimore with anthracite mines via interchanges with railroads such as the Reading or Lehigh Valley. The results of both of these ventures, their subsequent failures, and various reorganizations play a part in the the history of the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad.

The Peach Bottom Railway

The Peach Bottom Railway planned to build their railroad in three divisions. An eastern division extending from Philadelphia to Peach Bottom in Lancaster County, actually went so far as to lay track from Oxford to Peach Bottom eventually becoming the Lancaster, Oxford and Southern, before ceasing operations in 1918.

A western division was to reach from Hanover Junction - a connection with the Northern Central Railway in York County - to the East Broad Top Railroad. The western division died, however, due to the expensive prospect of building the line over many mountain crests at a time of bank failures in Philadelphia after difficulties financing the Northern Pacific.

But the middle division came to long term fruition. It was originally planned to connect Peach Bottom in York County (there were two towns by the same name, across from each other on the Susquehanna River) with the Northern Central Railway at Hanover Junction. But businessmen in York managed to convince the railway to connect with the Northern Central in York, which would provide that city with rail service to the cigar and furniture factories in Red Lion. Narrow gauge track was laid to Dallastown by 1874, with completion to Delta (about 6 miles from Peach Bottom) in 1876. The Railway experienced financial difficulties and was sold and became the York and Peach Bottom Railway in 1882, with the line finally reaching Peach Bottom in 1883. The middle and eastern divisions never connected and the two towns of Peach Bottom were flooded with the construction of hydro-electric dams on the Susquehanna.

The Maryland Central Railroad

The Maryland Central Railroad hadn't made it off paper when the Baltimore and Delta Railway Company was formed from the merger of two other local railroads. Its first rails were laid in Baltimore in 1881 and opened to Towsontown in 1882. In that year, the Baltimore and Delta merged into the Maryland Central Railroad, which then built on to Delta and connected with the York and Peach Bottom in 1884. Actual train connections with York and Peach Bottom didn't go as scheduled, leaving residents of Delta unhappy with the MCR, which also added to their displeasure by operating on the Sabbath. The MCR also suffered financial difficulties and emerged as the Maryland Central Railway Company in 1888.

Both the Peach Bottom and Maryland Central chose narrow gauge track at the time because it allowed for sharper curves and a lesser investment to lay track. It wasn't until the 1880's when the disadvantages of narrow gauge track became evident to America's railroads.

The Baltimore and Lehigh Railroad Company

The Maryland Central, still interested in connecting with anthracite coal carriers, acquired control of the York and Peach Bottom in 1889. The two railroads were consolidated into the Baltimore and Lehigh Railroad Company in 1891. By 1893, however, financial problems forced the B&L to split into separate entities: The York Southern Railroad and a new Baltimore & Lehigh Railway Company. In the years that followed, both railroads standard gauged.

The Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad

The Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad was organized in 1901, formed through the consolidation of The Baltimore and Lehigh Railway Company and the York Southern Railroad Company. The Baltimore and Lehigh owned and operated the standard gauge railroad extending from Baltimore, Maryland to Delta, Pennsylvania, a distance of 44 miles. The York Southern owned and operated the railroad extending from Delta to York, Pennsylvania, a distance of 34 miles.

Despite the intentions of its forebears, the Ma & Pa never extended into either the bituminous or anthracite coal mines of Pennsylvania. However, since anthracite coal had become a primary residential heating fuel, inbound hoppers were a good source of revenue for the new railroad. The railroad was also a main transporter of milk from the farms along its route to the towns and cities that it served. Red Lion and Dallastown provided outbound freight loads of furniture, cigars, and cigar boxes. The Ma & Pa serviced as many as 50 businesses in York, many with their own sidings. Connection with the Pennsylvania Railroad occured in Baltimore and York; with the B & O in Baltimore; and with Western Maryland in York, using PRR tracks.

The Ma & Pa began purchasing its own steam engines. By 1925 it had purchased three passenger engines, eight freight engines and two switchers. In the late 1920's, it purchased two gas-electric passenger cars which frequently coupled with one or two freight cars. In 1946, it began purchasing diesel engines and by the late 1950's, two diesel engines sufficed and its steam power was scrapped.

The Ma & Pa continued to operate between Baltimore and York until the fall of 1958, when the Railroad abandoned the original Maryland division. Completion of state roads and competing bus service transferred much freight and passenger traffic from the the railroad. The Maryland portion of the line mainly serviced milk delivery and passengers. As these needs disappeared, so did the need for the railroad. Most of the industry providing carload traffic was in Pennsylvania. Cancelation of the Post Office contract in 1954 effectively ended passenger service in both states.

In 1971, the railroad was purchased by Amfre-Grant, which changed its name to Emons Industries. Emons bought bad-order boxcars and hoppers, made repairs and restored them to service as per diem cars under several names, including Maryland and Pennsylvania. Emons purchased the former PRR line from York to Hanover and the former Northern Central to Hyde, where the line crosses over Indian Rock Dam Road. Additional diesel engines were purchased.

In 1985, the railroad was granted permission to abandon the Pennsylvania division from just south of York to Whiteford, Maryland. The slate quarry in Delta had ceased operation and industries along the line were closing, reducing operations, or shipping by truck. Also, in 1984 Emons ended its per diem car operation. It had gone into bankruptcy due to an industry overabundance of boxcars, and most of its cars went to its creditors. However, Emons emerged from bankruptcy and in the early 1990's, it purchased the former Western Maryland line from York to Porters Sideling, where it connects with the remainder of the old "Dutch Line". Emons created Yorkrail as a sister railroad of the Ma & Pa, and provided a connection with CSX.

After a time as Emons Holdings, Emons Transportation Group, Inc. emerged. In the late 1990s, it combined the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad and Yorkrail into the York Railway Company which operated in York over the remaining Ma & Pa and Yorkrail trackage. Emons also operated the St. Lawrence and Atlantic in New England and Canada and the East Penn Rail Lines in eastern Pennsylvania. Motive power in the York area continued to show its Ma & Pa and Yorkrail flags.

In 2002, Genessee and Wyoming, Inc. (GWI) purchased Emons, and Yorkrail's engine number 1600 was painted into G & W orange and black colors and with the York Railway Company's "YRC" on the cab sides. The next chapter in the history of the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad continues to be written.

Much of the information above has been obtained from the excellent documentation found in George Hilton's book, The Ma & Pa - A History of the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad. This book, now printed in soft cover, is available from the Society.


Back to Top