Welcome to mtnsub.org's Railfan Guide to the Cumberland Subdivision. This guide will accompany you on a fascinating tour along the railroad from Point of Rocks, MD to Cumberland, MD, a distance by rail of 131 miles. Technically, the stretch between Point of Rocks and Weverton is the Metropolitan Subdivision, with the Cumberland Sub proper starting at Weverton, west of Brunswick. However, it is included in this guide because we feel most people would want to include this scenic stretch; especially if they're coming west out of the DC area. Along the way, the railroad follows the Potomac River to Harper's Ferry, runs through the rich fruit orchards on the highlands between there and Cherry Run, regains the wild, remote Potomac River valley, traverses the majestic Magnolia Cutoff, crosses the fertile river bottoms around Green Spring, and finally reaches Cumberland, MD at the foot of the Allegheny Mountains.
You will not be able to complete this tour in only one day if you want to pause along the line for photos or a little exploration of the surroundings. Two full days will give you more opportunities for that.
Follow this guide at your own risk. All locations mentioned in this guide were legally accessible at the times of our visits. This may have changed in the meantime. Mention of a specific location or area does not mean it is safe, legal, or even advisable to go there. Use your good judgement and common sense at all times.
Be a responsible railfan. Always obey all posted regulations. Do not trespass on company or private property. Do not step onto or near the tracks. Do not climb onto signals, cars, engines, or other railroad equipment.
No photo is more important than your own and other peoples' safety!
Approaching Point of Rocks from the east on MD-28, you will cross the Old Mainline Sub at grade. It is double tracked at this point, with the west track frequently being used to hold westbound freight trains during the evening commuter rush. They are stopped north of the grade crossing with the engines conveniently in sight.
MD-28 parallels the Old Mainline Sub down to the distinctive, famous station and becomes Clay Street. Just before the station, a building known as the "Superintendent's Office" still stands, used by the MoW department. A lot of track materials are strewn out around it. There's a large commuter parking lot behind the station, but depending on the time and weekday it's probably filled to the brim. The platforms are a good place to take in the evening commuter rush, with the sunlit station as a backdrop. CSX will run very few freights eastbound in the morning and westbound in the afternoon on weekdays, making these times virtually passenger (MARC and Amtrak) only, especially east of Brunswick.
Go past the parking lot on Clay St. for about 1/2 mile, then turn left onto Ballenger Creek Pike. This is the last street before the junction with US-15, behind the last house on the left. It leads down to the tracks and turns back towards the station for a short stretch. Cross over the tracks at the grade crossing towards the C&O Canal National Historic Park. You will have a good view of the long tangent track running east from here. Approach-lit signals provide advance indication of trains. As a side note, until sometime between 1904 and 1914 the Point of Rocks station proper was located here, 0.3 miles west of the present station, which was called Washington Jct. Passenger trains called at both stations. The station was not manned in 1914 and has long since vanished.
Follow the road to the US-15 bridge. You are now at the east portal of Point of Rocks Tunnel, where the C&O Canal, it's towpath, the old (eastbound) mainline around the mountain, and the new (westbound) main through the tunnel are built virtually on top of one another. Over all that soars the US-15 bridge. This is a good place to park your car and ride your bike or walk the C&O Canal towpath westward, which is really the only way to see the mainline between here and Brunswick. It's about 5 miles to the signals at High Rocks, and another 3 miles from there to East Brunswick.
|Point of Rocks Tunnel, south portal. Original mainline alignment at left, C&O Canal at extreme left. Photo by William E. Barren, 1971. Digital reproduction courtesy of the Historic American Engineering Record, Library of Congress.|
When you are finished hiking, go back across the tracks to Clay Street, turn left, and then right to join US-15 northbound. Turn left onto MD-464 after about a mile and go another 5 miles until you reach a traffic light in front of the Brunswick High School. 464 makes a 90 degree right turn here, but you should continue straight across the intersection onto 94th Avenue. Turn left at the stop sign onto East B Street, which becomes 10th Avenue, and eventually East Potomac Street (MD-478) as it twists downhill. The tracks will appear to your left, with commuter equipment layover tracks opposite to the Brunswick City Park. Around 3rd Street, a parking lot on the left affords a good view; a little further ahead near 1st Avenue is a metered parking area with a commanding view of the engine service facility complete with turntable and WB Tower.
Continue on Potomac Street to the next traffic light, and turn left onto Maple Avenue which leads down to the tracks. In between the east and westbound main and assorted running tracks lies a huge commuter parking lot. Driving around in it a little will bring you to the tower, the nicely restored station, and the sidings west of the lot, where eastbound freights will wait out the commuter rushes. There is generally a nice mix of road power on hand in the engine facility, both MARC commuter engines as well as CSX locomotives protecting various assignments. The Shenandoah Sub locals are based out of Brunswick, turning off the Cumberland Sub and onto the old W&P in the tunnel just east of Harper's Ferry. Also, the T860 and T870 series coal trains to Mirant Energies' (formerly PEPCo) Dickerson Coal Plant D power station 6 miles east of Point of Rocks lay over and are recrewed here.
Commuter trains terminating in Brunswick will unload at the station, pull ahead a couple of train lengths, back up and cross over to the track nearest the tower, and then push back into the layover tracks. MARC engines always lead trains outbound from D.C., with cab-control cars on the east end.
Continue on Maple Avenue through the commuter lot, cross over the eastbound main track on the far side, and follow the road to the C&O Canal Park. The MD-17 bridge can usually be worked into photos of eastbound freights quite nicely, especially in the morning. Underneath the bridge, a dirt road leads off to the left for about a mile parallel to the yard. Access for photos is fairly difficult here, as the overgrown canal bed is between the road and railroad. I suggest you do not try to cross the canal bed as it may be filled with treacherous quicksand.
Retrace your route back to Potomac Street and turn left at the traffic light. One block ahead on the left side is the Brunswick Railroad Museum, one of the many history- and railroad-related sites in this archetypal railroad town. Various side streets lead down to the tracks on the left, offering limited views. Continue west on MD-478, leaving Brunswick within a mile. To your left you will notice a large, overgrown area between the tracks. This is what's left of the expansive division-point yard of Brunswick, stretching several miles west. Only a few sidings next to the two main tracks are left. The westbound mainline is closest to the hill, while the eastbound track runs on the river side of the yard.
Knoxville marks the west end of Brunswick yard. Take a left turn at the stop sign, following directions for US-340 West. The roads closely paralles the mainline, which at this point has four tracks. Look into your rear-view mirror and you can see the two pairs of tracks split around the yard area.
Take US-340 west to the Boonesboro exit (MD-67). Turn left at the stop sign, and re-enter US-340 eastbound. Turn right after 0.3 mile onto Tyrst Road, which takes you down to the tracks. There's a stub of the old US-340 alignment left which is used as a mini parking lot by visitors to the C&O Canal State Park, which is across the tracks.
The tracks to the left lead to Brunswick, and an approach-lit signal is nicely visible, giving advance warning of impending action. To the right, the tracks start up a grade which leads to Harpers Ferry and the west. Light and visibility are best for westbounds.
After you are finished at Weverton, and have perhaps visited the C&O Canal Park as well, continue on Keep Tryst Road. The main line enters into an S-curve here, while the road curves up the hill. After a 3/4 mile, turn off left onto Sandy Hook Road which leads down to, of all places, Sandy Hook, where the road regains the tracks and follows them closely for about a mile. Road, railroad, houses, canal, US-340 bridge, and river occupy seemingly every square inch of real estate. This is a nice evening photo location; however, a lot of weird people hang out around here and setting up a $300 tripod and $700 camera may not be the smartest of moves.
A 3/4 mile further west, the road curves up and over the tracks, which in turn enter the east portal of Sandy Hook Tunnel, bored through Maryland Heights. Inside the tunnel, the Winchester & Potomac (nowadays the Shenandoah Sub or more coloquially the "Valley Sub") splits from the Cumberland Sub main line. Both subdivisions cross the river on separate bridges - the former on the 1895 span and the latter on the 1931 dual plate girder bridges. Sandy Hook Road curves around the hook, goes under the tracks as they reemerge from the tunnel and continues along the Potomac's north shore, passing one of the nicest C&O Canal sites. Parking space is at a premium here, with only a very small lot 1/2 mile after the underpass. However, this is a nice morning photo location for eastbounds, and the towpath offers a lot of flexibility to move around on foot.
One word of advice: Be very careful when turning around out of the parking lot to go back along Sandy Hook Road. It's probably safer to continue west a little ways and use one of the wider spots up the road to turn back in.