James Walker, a retired engineer who served the old Pennsylvania Railroad, Penn Central, Conrail and Amtrak lines and was a railroad union official, died of pneumonia Saturday at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. The former Cockeysville resident was 81.
Born in the Texas community of Baltimore County, he was the son of Clement Walker, an English-born railroad engineer, and Isabelle Harding. He attended St. Joseph School in Texas and Towson High School, where he was a member of the class of 1954.
Family members said that Mr. Walker grew up around trains and watched his father operate steam locomotives through Baltimore County on the old Pennsylvania Railroad.
He joined the Pennsylvania in 1957 as a fireman. He later became an engineer and operated freight locomotives with Penn Central and Conrail. He became a passenger engineer with Amtrak on its Northeast Corridor route from Washington to New York City. He retired as a MARC passenger engineer.
Mr. Walker also ran the passenger and freight service between Baltimore and Harrisburg before the right of way was destroyed by Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972. He also operated coal trains to Popes Creek in Southern Maryland.
He was a member of the Acela Express Committee and helped plan the layout of the engineer’s cab of the locomotives that pull the high-speed trains between Washington and Boston.
In 1964 he married Marian Spicer, who lived in the Sherwood Hill section of Cockeysville.
He was local chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers for many years.
“My father gave decades of his time and energy to making rail travel safer for passengers and crews,” said his daughter, Leesa Walker of Joppatowne, with whom he had lived for the past year.
Robert Stephen Strachan, retired vice president and chief transportation officer for Amtrak, said Mr. Walker was “a man of integrity. He was a tough bargainer who was well organized. He was smart and fair and was a very good engineer.
“I thought he was a good judge of character. He also was talented railroad man,” Mr. Strachan said. “I trusted him.”
Colleagues said that as a union leader, he effectively advocated for his members’ interests.
“I met him in November 1971 as a new hire. He was a big, burly guy with a deep voice and a handlebar mustache, “ said W.V. Dotterer of Towson, a fellow engineer who is now retired. “Anyone who showed interest in the job, he would go out of his way. He was more than willing to help. He was was highly respected by management and his fellow workers.”
Mr. Walker had also been a member of the Cockeysville Volunteer Fire Company for 59 years
He retired in 1998 and resided in the Montego Bay section of Ocean City. He was president of its civic association. He also belonged to the Ocean City Elks Lodge. He was a port warden for the Town of Ocean City, and was active in Meals on Wheels in Ocean City.
Mr. Walker enjoyed professional wrestling, classic cars and trains.
Plans for a memorial service are incomplete.
In addition to his daughter, survivors include another daughter, Kimberly Fox of Sparks; and a grandson. His wife of 36 years died in 2000. His companion of 14 years, Joyce Murray, died in 2014.
-- Jacques Kelly