This is chapter 2 of mtnsub.org's Railfan Guide to the Cumberland Subdivision.
Trace Sandy Hook Road back to where it left Keep Tryst Road, turn left following the sign for US-340, and turn left onto US-340 West. This is a difficult intersection which likely requires a stop in the middle after crossing the eastbound lanes. If you find this too dangerous, go back east on US-340 to the Boonesboro exit and turn around there.
|The three bridges at Harpers Ferry.|
Digital drawing courtesy of the Historic American Engineering Record, Library of Congress.
Having made it safely onto US-340, stay on it for about 3 miles, then exit at Bolivar (Harpers Ferry Park). Depending on the season, you can either go directly into the village (exit right), or turn left into the tourist parking lot and ride a shuttle bus down into the park. This will cost money, but save your nerves especially in season.
If you decide to drive into the park, turn right and follow the street to its end, facing the Shenandoah River. Make two left turns and go to the old station. You can probably find a spot in the commuter lot in front of it, especially late in the afternoon. The Harpers Ferry station is famous for its splendid view of westbounds crossing the Potomac River into the sunset. Unless you like commuter trains, it is suggested you visit on the weekend where chances of catching a freight train are greater than on weekday evenings. Amtrak's Capital Limited stops here once daily in each direction (P029 westbound and P030 eastbound).
The W&P (Shenandoah Sub) is best viewed from the Fort at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. From here, the abutments of B&O's first Potomac crossing, a Bollman truss bridge built in 1852 can be seen. You can walk down from the station past the MoW equipment usually parked on what used to be the main line up until the 1931 line relocation. The W&P crosses the park on a distinctive wooden trestle also nicely in view. The accompanying drawing shows the locations of all three bridges in relation to the C&O canal at right and Harper's Ferry at left. The W&P uses the middle bridge, the CSX main the top (westmost) one.
Depending on the number of other visitors in the park, you can continue the tour directly along the mill channel. If, however, you parked in the tourist lot, take the bus back and get onto US-340 West. Take Bakerton Road (CR-27), the very next right turn. After 1 mile, a toy train museum with operating live steam garden railway will appear on your left. After another half mile, squeeze through an underpass under the main line. Take it easy here, this is a tight place! Turn right to follow the main line down to Harpers Ferry and read the following paragraph in reverse order.
From the Harpers Ferry station, turn right out of the parking lot and cross the tracks. Drive by the old pulpmill. On your right you will see the mill channel, used to take water from the Potomac upstream. The gravel road you are on will follow this channel between it and the tracks. Take it very easy on this road! Several deep drainage ditches cross it, which could wreak havoc on your car if taken at too high a speed. The road becomes very narrow in several places. Drive slowly or you could end up in the mill channel! If you want to cross over to the other side of the tracks on foot, you can do so through a large drainage pipe within a mile or so. Keep in mind that walking across the tracks is illegal and irresponsible.
Lots of photo opportunities present themselves along this stretch. The daylighted Potomac Tunnel, the first tunnel on the East End, was located here. It was daylighted in 1902 and the place today is known as Little Tunnel Cut (owing to the tunnel only being 90 feet long in its days). Several approach-lit color position light signals guard this segment of the Cumberland Sub main line. After about 2.5 miles the water intake for the mill channel appears, affording a nice view of the river. 500 yards on, the underpass mentioned in the preceding paragraph pierces the embankment, allowing you a quick escape back to US-340 should you so desire. Otherwise, continue straight for only a hundred yards. A small gravel lot to your left provides a nice view of the tracks curving over the embankment. There are CPL signals located here as well as a flange greaser just to the west.
When you are done taking pictures here, continue on for 1/2 mile, then turn right onto Engle Switch Road (CR-29) and follow it for a 3/4 mile through a rather beautiful new suburban community until you arrive back at the tracks. This is "Engels" to the railroad, and is the east end of the former 3rd main track. The wide roadbed is still plainly visible. The track continued to Kearneysville, we will see it end there a little later on. To your right you can see an unidentified old mill.
Cross the tracks on CR-29 here and follow it for 3/4 mile, then turn right at the Stop sign onto WV-220; within half a mile you will arrive at another grade crossing, known as Reedsen on the railroad. Take the next left, Melvin Road (CR-17-2). The tracks will be visible in the fields to your left after travelling about 800 yards. The road closes in on the tracks further ahead, affording a good view of the large curve at this location. If you'd like to check your position on the DeLorme map: this is Skeetersville. Color Position Light signals still govern movements on the line here in both directions. Hang a left at the next Stop sign (about 400 yards) and cross over the tracks yet again. To your right is the Duffields commuter station and parking lot. The platform affords a good view up and down the grade which is quite noticeable at this point.
Leaving the parking lot with a right turn will put you onto the red-and-white road on the map. Continue for about a mile and take another right onto Shenandoah Junction Road (CR-20, left of the "521" on the map). You can probably guess the next stop already, if not: it starts with an 'S'. :-) Pass the school, then turn right onto 4th Street, left again in front of the two churches, and go down to the grade crossing. Shenandoah Jct. can be pretty confusing to the uninitiated - this track is the Norfolk Southern-CSX interchange in the south-east quadrant of the junction. We will come back to this grade crossing in a minute. For now, cross the track, go through the underpass under the NS main, then turn right across the grade crossing over the Cumberland Sub main. You are now on Ridge Road, and you can continue uphill on this road for about 3/4 of a mile, then turn right at the intersection (right of the "575" on the map) to get to another grade crossing across the NS main. This is a very good spot for shooting northbounds.
Returning to the NS-CSX interchange track (across the CSX main, left, through the underpass, again left), there is a gravel road behind it to your right. This road takes you parallel to the interchange track and siding to the junction with the Norfolk Southern main. Stay on the road until you reach the grade crossing, and you will have a good view both north and south along the NS main. You will also note (if you haven't already) that the NS main is single track, while the Cumberland Sub is, of course, double track.
When you are done watching here, turn right, cross over the tracks, and leave town. Turn right onto Warm Springs Road (CR-48-2). You will arrive at yet another grade crossing over the CSX line after about 200 yards. The third track roadbed is very evident here, and if you look down the track to the right, you will see the NS bridge across the old B&O as the former heads north out of town.
Turn left at the next possibility and head for Bardane. Cross the tracks again and turn right onto WV-9 northbound. WV-9 is marked solid red on the above map. Stay on this road until you reach the first houses of Kearneysville. Here you need to pay close attention. A small road diverges to the right immediately before the mobile home dealership on the left side - it's easy to miss. Turn onto this road and follow it to the tracks, cross, and then follow them on the east side. This is the west end of the 3 track main. There are numerous old concrete foundations hidden in the grass and woods, attesting to the onetime importance of this place. They belong to the old station and freight shed buildings, the latter of which was used to ship cattle, fruit and produce from this rich farming land. Nowadays, all that remains is a rather run down neighborhood. Even though the sight lines are good here, I would advise against setting up shop with your tripod for any length of time.
Go the remaining few hundred yards of this road, then turn left onto WV-480, go under the bridge, and turn right to rejoin WV-9 north. Take a right onto Arcata Blvd. (CR-9-57), right again at the Stop sign, and finally left onto Baker Road (CR-9-19). You will arrive at another grade crossing; go 3/4 of a mile to a Stop sign, and turn left onto CR-36 to Winebrenners Crossroads. Take a left onto Van Clevesville Road (CR-9-18), cross the main once more, and take Connector Road (CR-36-2) which parallels the railroad. At the Stop sign turn right across the tracks. This is the Shepherdstown Road crossing, and there is a gravel road to your left which is useful for parking your car. The rest of the road is posted off limits, but this is a good spot for shooting eastbounds in the morning, and nobody will take offense if you park here. Note that all this going back and forth across the tracks is of course utterly worthless if you are chasing a train, but will help you scout for a good spot when you have the time.
Recross the tracks and continue on CR-36 until you reach the Stop sign. Keep right on Flaggs Crossing Road (CR-36). You will shortly reach a bridge - Blairton Road (CR-38) to your right will reach the tracks withing 1/8 of a mile, but there's nothing much to see. Continue across the bridge and go another 1/2 mile to reach the railroad location of Flaggs. This is an outside curve with good sight lines and good light especially in the morning. Note that "Train Crossing Drive" leads to some houses only; best scoot around for photo locations on the gravel road right by the tracks. Looking to the east, there used to be a tower and attendant signal which went by the name of Opequon, call letters QN.
Go across the tracks and continue to follow CR-36, with the RR on your left. The road becomes Burke Street as it enters Martinsburg.
Now, Martinsburg... This was once one of the hot spots on the East End, with a large shop, engine facility, yard, station, and industrial complex. A mighty railroad town, with a constant cloud of smoke lingering. The smoke has cleared, the shops are closed, and the whole facility has been reduced to nothing more than a set of signals and crossovers, and a couple of rail-served industries north of town. Gone as well is the wealth of its inhabitants, and today Martinsburg serves as
a prime example of a town that has not managed to change for the better with time. Especially the area east of the tracks is pretty bad and I'd strongly advise against walking around scouting for pictures there. In fact, with the amount of substance abuse in evidence, take extra care when driving through or you might hit someone. Go underneath the tracks, then turn right towards the nicely restored station which is still an Amtrak stop. There are many possibilities for photos here, and this area is safe. You can see the old shops across the tracks, NA "tower" (actually more of a yard office) to the southeast, and the Frog Hollow Industrial Track curving downhill in front of NA. This track serves a quarry about two miles away, and sports a loop at its end, used to turn and load a train.
Continue past the station to WV-9, turn right onto Queen Street, and go north until you arrive at the underpass. Turn left just before the tracks, up the embankment, and past a picturesque coal dealership that still receives single hopper loads of coal and dumps them over a wooden trestle. Continue past the dealer until you reach the old B&O freight station, which unfortunately sits in a state of disrepair. Behind the freight house is a fairly open area with a good view down towards the shop area and, in the other direction, of the large S-curve to the north. The West Quarry Branch left the main here (some tracks can still be seen under the shrubs). West of here, the B&O - CV connection and wye were located. This is a reasonably safe area and good photos can be had here of both east- and westbounds. Martinsburg has a lot to offer for industrial archaeologists; unfortunately, the cost of preserving all this would probably exceed the city's tax income for the next 25 years.
Head down to WV-9 again, turn left underneath the underpass and keep going to the traffic light guarding the intersection with Moler Ave. Turn left and follow the street to several grade crossings over industrial leads before finally crossing over to the west side of the main line. Hang a right turn at the Stop sign onto Rock Cliff Dr.; you will see the tracks to your right behind a residential area. Rock Cliff Dr. crosses over I-81 right next to the railroad bridge and ends at WV-9, onto which you need to make a left turn.
Our next stop will be the yard serving the General Motors Service Parts Operation plant north of Martinsburg. Having turned onto WV-9 as above, go to the next traffic light and turn right onto General Motors Road (CR-9-30), across the tracks on a bridge, and keep going all the way around the plant. If you are visiting on a weekday, pay attention to the trucks scooting back and forth! On the rear of the plant, turn left onto the gravel road paralleling the tracks. You will have a good view of the yard. CSX usually keeps a caboose on hand here for guarding backup moves, and there is a small MoW base at the end of the road. Make sure you park out of the way of CSX trucks.
Another rail customer in the industrial park north of Martinsburg is Quad Graphics Industries. Other than the lead into the plant, there's not much to see, so this stop is strictly optional. From WV-9, take the next right after General Motors Road, Harlan Springs Road (CR-1), go over the main line once again, turn right at Caperton Blvd. (CR-1-8), and stop outside the plant. Retrace your route to CR-1 when you are done here, and turn right.
Follow CR-1 for about two miles and you will arrive at a huge bridge crossing the Cumberland Sub main, the Quad Graphics lead track, and the abandoned connection between the B&O and the old Cumberland Valley line. We are now on our way to West Cumbo, so named for the CUMberland Valley and the B&O. This used to be a strategic junction with the Pennsylvania RR who owned the CV. As you can see, the connection has been removed, but the roadbed is still very visible. CSX has posted a lot of "No Trespassing" signs here, so stay on the road for now. Keep going for about 300 yards, take a left onto Cumbo Road (CR-1-6), and within another 300 yards you will arrive at an underpass. The road up to your right before it would lead to the tracks but is posted; we'll come back to this later. Immediately behind the underpass, turn left up the embankment on a gravel road to track level. There is a house on your right, but you shouldn't be bothered if you stay close to the tracks. A new signal bridge has been erected over the tracks. Sight lines are sort of okay here, especially in the afternoon - decide for yourself.
Go back down the embankment, being extremely careful when turning onto Cumbo Road as visibility is very limited! Keep going about 200 yards until you are back on WV-9, then turn right again immediately onto Ridge Road North (CR-4) and follow it for 0.8 miles. Go through the underpass, and on the rear side turn right onto the gravel road leading up the embankment. You will stand in the middle of a wye. To your left, the "new" (completed in 1903) CR&PV lowgrade line heads towards North Mountain, to your right the original (highgrade) alignment heads for a slightly more direct route towards the Potomac River. In the distance, you can see the CV/B&O connection, and the industrial lead. Until late 2000, a tower would have stood there. This is West Cumbo, one of the premier railfan locations on the East End. It has, at various times, been called Hedgesville, Wilsons, and West Cumbo, and carried call letter W. The great expanse of graded real estate gives an indication of the sheer size of B&O's facilities here. This is also where the cross-country running ends and the B&O regains the Potomac River for the remainder of the trip to Cumberland.
Continue across the low line over the grade crossing, making extra sure not to get hung up if you are driving a sedan - this thing is very rough. Once on the other side, continue to the right on the cinder path along the tracks. You can navigate back and forth easily to find a good spot, depending on which line and direction a train is running. This is the "morning side" lightwise. If you continue along the cinder path (part of the old CV roadbed) you will eventually come to the signal bridge mentioned two paragraphs back, albeit on the other side of the tracks, which would be the "afternoon side". The gravel path coming up from the houses to your left is the one so emphatically marked "Off Limits" from CR-1-6 down below. You can continue along the old CV roadbed here if you want, knowing full well that you are merely behind CSX's signs even though technically you haven't done anything wrong. Good luck explaining that to the railroad police. (By the way: Ever thought about going into the "No Trespassing" sign business...?) Note the wildly curving Quad Graphics lead at this location.
West Cumbo is a very interesting spot and you can easily spend a couple of hours here if traffic is good. This is the second most likely spot to find fellow railfans on the East End (Harpers Ferry is first). A word of advice: when you are driving on the cinder dirt, close the ventilation and windows of your car or everything will turn black and gray in a matter of minutes.