This is chapter 4 of mtnsub.org's Railfan Guide to the Cumberland Subdivision.
Do NOT proceed without a good topographical map, like a DeLorme Atlas!
Cross over to the north side of the yard, make a 180 degree turn under the bridge, and head west parallel to the yard tracks. Reset your trip odometer to 0 at this point, I will be referring to relative mileages as we go along. Also, do yourself a favor and shut off the ventilation and roll up the windows or the cinder dust will turn the inside of your car into a mess.
0.9 miles: What remains of the old Roundtop Cement plant sits on the other side of the tracks. The facility used to straddle the main line with several large buildings located on the river side. The third track nearest to you is the extended Hancock switching lead which will end soon. To your right river lots start to appear, used as weekend hideaways and crash pads for late-night fishing.
1.8 miles: This is Grasshopper, the start of the west Hancock switching lead. Color position light signals guard the junction here. Note the small switchman's booth on the far side which can be used to manually operate the signals and switches.
3.6 miles: CPL signal bridge carrying signals 1266/7/8/9. This is RR milepost 127.
5.5 miles: a new SBD-style signal tower carrying signals 1286/7/8/9 has replaced the old CPLs. Note the diesel generator providing backup power to the signals and CTC equipment here. This is Sir John's Run, in former times coal and water were available here. Practically nothing remains of this once strategic facility.
6.9 miles: Tanglefoot Curve, flange greaser on the #1 (westbound) track. You are now directly below (and out of sight of) the panoramic overlook at Prospect Peak, also known as Panorama.
7.7 miles: signal bridge with W130-48, W130-48F (westbound) and E130-48, E130-48F.
8.8 miles: Cacapon River Bridge. A bit of hiking will enable you to shoot trains crossing the bridge (remove all valuables from your car if you chose to do so).
9.7 miles: another signal bridge, W132-48, W132-48F, E132-48, E132-48F
10.3 miles: Woodmont. You can cross the tracks here and escape back via the easy way (see above).
11.5 miles: signal bridge carrying signals 134 W/E.
12.7 miles: another flange greaser on the westbound track
12.9 miles: Turkeyfoot curve. This curve is severe enough for B&O to have installed flange greasers east and west of here specifically for this curve.
13.3 miles: eastbound flange greaser.
13.8 miles: CPL signals 137-03 E/W.
14.9 miles: flange greaser for both tracks
15.7 miles: Orleans Crossroads reached after rounding a very long left-hand curve. This is the largest settlement on the line between Hancock and Paw Paw (all of 10 houses) and boasts a set of crossovers governed by a signal bridge and masts with CPLs.
Orleans Crossroads is the end of the gravel "River Road" that has brought us here. Used by CSX MoW crews, the road is not posted off limits because the locals access their fishing hideaways on the Potomac via this trail. Even this "luxury" ends here, so now would be a good time for a break and a shower to wash off the dust. From now on we'll be using a short piece of maintainers' road (not posted), forest trails, and the old mainline roadbed. Sound like fun? :-)
If you want to escape to Cumberland, Hancock, or other populated spots, cross over the tracks and turn right. You will come to an intersection where you need to go left onto Kline Road (CR-18-1) uphill for 3 miles until you arrive at another intersection. Follow the straight path and continue for another mile until arriving at Detour Road, CR-18. Make a left and follow Detour Road to WV-9, which you will reach in another mile. You can easily find your way from here.
When you are ready to continue the tour, come back to Orleans Crossroads and find the intersection where you turned left onto CR-18-1. Take the right route here and recross the tracks to the river side right past the signal bridge. Directly after the grade crossing, a gravel road follows the tracks while Doe Gully Road leads down to the right. The latter will take you nowhere, so follow the tracks. Reset your trip counter at this spot to 0.0 miles.
1.0 miles: flange greaser eastbound
1.3 miles: defect detector, both tracks
1.4 miles: flange greaser westbound
2.0 miles: signals 24/22
2.2 miles: the old low line splits from the new Magnolia cutoff alignment and begins to separate vertically. You arrive at the east portal Randolph tunnel. This is a good photo location. Continue on the old mainline alignment to your right.
2.8 miles: follow the small gravel spur to your left and you will get to the west portal of Randolph tunnel.
From this point on, the grades of both alignments are at different elevations. The cutoff line is only accessible after hiking up the embankment to your left.
3.7 miles: a maintainers road separates from the old mainline roadbed and climbs back up to the new main. This used to be the emergency connection between the old and new main lines built along with the Magnolia cutoff. Follow this road.
4.3 miles: signals 46 and 48 at RR MP130
4.6 miles: this is Hansrote.
|The railroad between Hansrote (top right) and Paw Paw (bottom left). The line slicing through the center is the Western Maryland's Connellsville extension.|
Up ahead around the curve you can see the east portal of Stuart tunnel. Several small roads criss-cross the forest at this location. One leads up to the portal and crosses over the tunnel to the mountain side of the tracks; you can use this to get back to WV-9 if you want - see the description of the easy way for directions.
Follow the maintainers road until it begins to climb up to the tunnel portal; at this point you should see a small gravel path turn off to the right, downhill into the woods. Follow this road which will take you back to the old mainline roadbed, then turn left and continue along the roadbed.
6.0 miles: the first of two old Western Maryland bridges appears in the dense forest. This is the WM's fourth crossing of the Potomac River at Green Ridge. You can climb up to it but be careful where you tread - the old timbers don't get better with age.
9.3 miles: you reach the second WM bridge and cross underneath. This is leading up to the WM's fifth crossing of the Potomac, parallel to and downstream (west) of the B&O's Magnolia Bridge. Between 6.0 and here you passed the location of the WM's Jerome siding, out of sight up the embankment to your left. This is the most remote piece of our trip.
9.8 miles: Magnolia (Station Hollow)! This is a pretty important location which afterall gave the cutoff it's name, and there are several things to see and do here.
Towering high above you is Magnolia Bridge, carrying the B&O into Maryland to Graham Tunnel. The Magnolia cutoff crossed the old lowgrade line here at a right angle. In the days of the old main, a small community existed at this location which boasted a station, post office, general store, and several houses. The general store stood on the far side of the bridge to your left side. Magnolia, like so many other villages on the river, was a victim of the devastating flood of 1936; other than a few building foundations hidden in the woods, virtually no trace remains.
To your left runs Countyroad 12 which you can take back to Detour Road (CR-18) and WV-9 should you so desire. Directly in front of the bridge to your left you will see a small, steep gravel road leading up to trackside. A two wheel-drive pickup truck will make it up there just so, a sedan won't. Either drive or walk up to reach the west portal of Stuart Tunnel, the Magnolia signals, and Magnolia Bridge. You will be rewarded with a splendid view of the river and surrounding mountains, and a peek through Graham Tunnel toward Kessler on the far side. The mountain through which the tunnel was bored is named, appropriately enough, Tunnel Hill (sometimes also Graham Hill); we'll come back to it later on. For now notice the pole line walking up and over the hill in a straight line. The parallel Western Maryland bridge is visible about a 3/4 mile downstream, to your right as you face the bridge. Good photos can be had from this bridge, but again be very cautious of rotten timbers!
To continue the tour, follow the old mainline which curves away from CR-12 to the right. You will again pass a lot of river hideaways, be on the watchout for kids on ATVs and dirt bikes, especially on weekends. Reset your trip odometer one last time to 0.0 miles to accomodate the folks who join us here.
2.5 miles: Kessler bridge crosses overhead. Note the dramatic difference in elevation between it and Magnolia bridge. CSX has posted the gravel access road to your left before the bridge, but that's okay because a better location is coming up.
2.6 miles: take the gravel road up the embankment to your left. This is Kessler Curve, a beautiful spot with ample room to move around and make use of the varying lighting conditions during the day. Turn left, make sure no train is coming, and speedily drive through the narrow space between the hill and track to reach a generous clearing next to Kessler Bridge. This is a good place to camp and have a B-B-Q, and it is also a favorite spot for late afternoon photos of westbounds as they roar through Graham Tunnel and cross the bridge. Many people compare it to Harpers Ferry; if you are familiar with the latter you know what to expect here. Go back the way you came when you are finished.
3.4 miles: To your left towers the Concrete Wall. The old and new mainline alignments are at their closest here, so B&O had to construct a massive 1800 foot-long curved retaining wall. A staircase near its west end provides track access and can be worked into photos nicely. Be careful when climbing up there as you will be very near the tracks!
4.2 miles: take the gravel road to your left to reach the east portal of Carothers Tunnel, the fourth and last on the Magnolia Cutoff. The cut leading up to the tunnel provides a good spot for setting up your tripod, and signals 81 and 83 as well as a flange greaser on #1 track add interest to the scene.
4.9 miles: The old mainline curves around the outside of this ridge through a cut; another small road enables you to reach the west portal within 0.7 miles to your left. Looking west you can see the WV-9 road bridge across the tracks.
5.6 miles: you reach the small community of Paw Paw. To your right stands the old brick depot, in use by MoW forces. The roadbed continues on the other side of WV-9 but vehicle access is blocked.
The hard tour ends here. You've made it. Now go and clean the car. :-)
|The view from Tunnel Hill, MD looking southeast. Q130 eastbound is crossing over Kessler Bridge.|
Note! The information in the next paragraph has been kindly provided by Jon Wright as an update to the original text, which was out of date. Thanks!
From Paw Paw, cross the Potomac onto MD-51 and keep going for about 1 mile, then turn right onto Malcolm Road, a very wide gravel road. Follow it for 1.2 miles until you see a house on your left. A much smaller dirt road branches off to the right, which you must take. This is Tunnel Hill Road. Drive past the State Park trailhead. The road is rough as rain runoff has exposed the rock and has made really deep ruts. Park at the closed gate (without blocking it), heeding the "no motor vehicles beyond this point" sign. You then need to walk first up- and then downhill, through a switchback, and then make a hard left after that. About 50 yards down on the right you will come to two gates. On the left is a yellow one, on the right you will see a brownish/yellowish gate. The path continues beyond this gate on the right. The path beyond the yellow gate leads downhill to the old Western Maryland bridge (the one you saw from Magnolia) and Kessler Tunnel through Tunnel Hill. It is a fairly steep trail.
The path beyond the brown gate climbs uphill for about 1/2 mile, leading past several overlooks offering grand vistas upstream towards Paw Paw. Kessler Bridge is below you. At this point you are several hundred feet above the river, walking time from the gate is about 20 minutes. There is good light on the bridge until well past 7pm during May-July, shorter in other months.
If you want, you can continue another 20 minutes on this path to the very top of Tunnel Hill, arriving at the pole line visible both from Magnolia and Kessler. This location is another several hundred feet higher and offers spectacular views both east and west along the river.
If you have seen the Pentrex video "Into the Alleghenies - Vol. I", you will recognize the scenes shot from the top of Tunnel Hill. Thanks a lot to fellow railfan Mike, Amtrak catenary maintainer, who showed me these locations.
Return down to MD-51 the way you came and go back into Paw Paw to continue the tour. Please remember: take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints!
From now on, we will use mostly county roads to follow the railroad. Be aware that between here and Cumberland through West Virginia, no roads parallel the railroad for any extended distance. It's generally out-and-back type driving, which adds a lot of miles and time. If you intend to chase a train into Cumberland, you will need to cross over the Potomac into Maryland at Paw Paw and follow MD-51 to Cumberland, roughly a 35 minute drive. The main line is visible from MD-51 in quite a few places, especially between late fall and early spring when there are few leaves on the trees. However, there are no good photo possibilities along the way.
Having said that, turn left onto WV-9 southbound until you reach CR-2-6 to your right. Follow it for 4 miles to the Stop sign, and turn right onto (unmarked) CR-2 which turns into gravel after a 3/4 mile. Go straight through Little Cacapon, and the railroad will appear to your right. The scene is very much like that between Sleepy Creek and Hancock, with the railroad running generally straight and level, and an unsightly pole line between you and the tracks. After 5 more miles of gravel, the road becomes paved again, and another mile will bring you to a Stop sign in the tiny hamlet of Levels. Continue straight through it another 4 miles and turn right onto Cutoff 3-5 Road (CR-3-8) which takes you to CR-3. Hang a right and go into Springfield.
Springfield is built around a large road crossing, the right leg of which is formed by CR-1 running out to Green Spring. Within a couple of miles it will cross and then parallel the South Branch Valley RR, an old B&O branch now owned by the state of West Virginia and operated by SBVR who also run excursion trains along the southern segment around Romney. SBVR interchanges with CSX at Green Spring, and CR-1 leads directly to the wye and interchange tracks. Green Spring is a fairly desolate place and has clearly seen better times. In the middle of the wye stood a brick freight station which was razed on May 7th, 2001, leaving Green Spring without railroad structures (not counting signal and equipment boxes).
Just before reaching the wye, you can turn left and then right again onto the gravel path leading around a few bushes and then paralleling the tracks. It leads to a couple of farms and, more importantly, to the weigh-in-motion scale. Simply follow the road to its end. The scale sits on a third main track which begins at Patterson Creek and extends to the east beyond Green Spring. Coal trains off the Mountain and Keystone Subdivisions will take this track and creep across the scale at approximately 2.5 miles per hour while the fully automated scale weighs each car. The scale computer constantly announces the train's speed on 160.230 MHz. The scale track is also frequently used as an extra siding to let faster trains like Q134 or Amtrak P029 pass slower freights.
On the north side of the tracks, the still fairly expansive tie plant operated by Koppers Industries ships and receives by rail. CSX usually has a switcher on the premises to switch the plant. You can cross the tracks on the grade crossing to go around the plant, but the whole property is fenced off and doesn't lend itself well to photography.
The final noteworthy location in Green Spring is reached by following the sign for MD-51 just after entering the village. You will shortly reach an underpass under the CSX main. Turn right and head up the embankment after going through it for a nice long view down both directions of the main line.
Follow CR-1 back to Springfield and turn right towards Fort Ashby. Continue to follow the road through there until you see CR-28-3 branch off to the right in an S-curve. This is Patterson Creek Rd. which reaches its namesake location within a few miles. Before reaching the village proper, the road crosses underneath the massive earthen fill that once carried the Patterson Creek Cutoff between here and McKenzie on the Mountain Sub. Finished in 1904 this line served as an express route for coal trains around congested Cumberland, MD. It was shut down when traffic levels dwindled and more efficient methods for moving coal where instituted in the 1950s. The roadbed, tunnel, and some bridge abutments remain to this day.
Turn right after the underpass and continue to the end of the road. It will take you trackside within view of extant FN Tower to your right. This is a fairly difficult location to photograph since trees and bushes have encroached on the tracks. The Green Spring scale track diverges from the main line here in front of the tower and several signals guard it and the crossover between the main tracks.
Backtrack a few hundred yards to the diminuitive sign pointing towards Dans Run Road (CR-15) to your left. This road winds through the forest for about 2 miles until regaining the tracks at Dans Run. Good sight lines and light all day make this a good location especially for telephoto head-on shots. There is an S-curve at this location, and the scale track, called East Siding, makes this essentially a triple track main here.
West of Patterson Creek lies Death Valley, completely inaccessible except on foot. No public road allows access to the mainline between here and Cumberland. You can either go back to Fort Ashby by following CR-15 all the way to CR-3 or return to Patterson Creek, turn left onto CR-28-3, and go back to the underpass under the cutoff roadbed. Instead of going through the underpass, however, go straight and stay on CR-28-2 (Old Furnace Road) until it meets WV-28. Turn right (north) for a quick trip back into Cumberland. You need to make a right turn onto River Ave. immediately after crossing the Potomac, then left again onto Virginia Ave which takes you past the shops to Industrial Blvd.
We will finish our tour of the Cumberland Sub first before referring you to the Cumberland Terminal pages and a quick tour of what the city has to offer railroad wise.
Turn right after crossing under the tracks on Virginia Ave, and follow Industrial Blvd. east out of town. To your right you'll see the immense classification yard and hump. You are on MD-51. Keep going for about 3 miles until you see a sign for the "C&O Canal Park, Lockhouse 75 Area", and turn right onto PPG Road which will take you over the tracks. Turn left onto River Road, then left again onto Lockhouse Rd. parallel to the tracks. This is not the greatest spot but will enable you to get close to the tracks. The Western Maryland also crossed the B&O here, the bridge is extant. A better location is available in the park, where the railroad crosses over the C&O Canal very near the lock on a bridge. Nice side shots can be had here if your timing is right. This is North Branch.
Continue straight on PPG Road through the industrial complex until you come to a T-intersection with Mexico Farms Road. To your left, abutments of another old WM bridge are apparent. Turn right towards Mexico Farms, then left onto Canal Road, right onto Bierman Dr., and right again onto Brehm Rd. which ends right at the yard throat near Mexico Tower. CSX has again liberally strewn "No trespassing" signs around, but if you park your car and walk around on public lands a little, good photos can be had.
Finally, backtrack all the way to Mexico Farms Road and turn left to reach the last stop on our tour of the Cumberland Sub. On your left side after crossing the tracks on a bridge, a gravel lot provides a nice spot to park and watch the action at Mexico. You will see trains entering and leaving the yard here, as well as engine sets arriving from the service facility on Virginia Ave to pick up their trains in the eastbound departure tracks stretching between here and Evitts Creek two miles to the west.
Mexico Farms Road leads back to Industrial Blvd. within 200 yards; a left turn gets you back to Cumberland, a right turn puts you onto the road in the direction of Paw Paw, WV.
Thus ends our tour of the Cumberland Subdivision, also known as the East End in B&O times. Check out the Cumberland Terminal pages to find out what's up in Cumberland.