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A moving bit of railroad history [Editorial]

A moving bit of railroad history [Editorial]
The historic Aberdeen train station, which dates to 1885, was moved 50 feet away from the CSX rail line earlier this month. (DAVID ANDERSON | AEGIS STAFF / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

It was certainly fitting that in a season when displays of toy trains from a bygone era are near the top of the list of things for kids to do that the historic B&O train station in Aberdeen was moved to a more secure location.

Unused for its intended purpose – it was where passengers bought tickets and waited for trains to take them to their destinations – for decades, the historic building had been underused as a storage facility for many years.

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Once a primary mode of transportation that helped to link a growing nation, passenger rail service has become a niche travel option. Subways and metro services are successful in medium sized and large cities, but long distance travel has become the realm of personal cars, commercial buses and airlines. The exception is that Amtrak, while a money-loser overall, actually has been an important travel link in the Northeast Corridor between Washington, D.C., and Boston.

All that aside, there was a time when travel by rail was what air travel is today: A way of getting there either cheaply or in style. The company that owned the old Aberdeen station, the B&O Railroad, was at the forefront of this advance in technology. Formally known as the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, it was an early passage to the territories of the developing states to the west of the Appalachian range. Baltimore was – and remains – the western-most port on the Atlantic coast, and the idea was this geographic advantage combined with rail would combine to turn the port and railroad into more of a commercial hub.

It worked, though not as well as certain other efforts. The network of canals across New York State, and later the St. Lawrence Seaway, provided shipping access to the Great Lakes, helping to turn Chicago, a city far to the west of Ohio, into a de facto Atlantic port.

Still, for many years, the B&O was successful both in terms of passenger and freight transport, and its successor companies continue to be successful in the realm of moving freight. Baltimore is no New York City, and the cities of Ohio don't rival Chicago, but all remain commercially viable, thanks in part to the now well established rail line.

So iconic is the B&O name that it is one of four railroads that have become part of the popular board game Monopoly.

In modern times, the need for a second passenger rail station in Aberdeen just isn't there. The city is served by a more utilitarian operation a few blocks east of the B&O site that serves both commuter rail and Amtrak travelers.

What is needed, however, is a place that tells the story of the role of the railroad in the development of Aberdeen, the region and the country, and the old B&O station, with a good deal of renovation, is a good setting for such a facility.

Its move of about 50 feet from what is today a freight station marks a clear end to the station's use as a terminal for travelers, but it will make the building safe for future visitors hoping to get a look at the past.

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