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William P. Coliton, 79, railroad president


William Peter Coliton, who began his railroading career as a boy and retired as president of Western Maryland Railway, died Thursday of a heart attack at Good Samaritan Hospital. He was 79.

A longtime Homeland resident, Mr. Coliton was named vice president for sales with Western Maryland in 1966 by then-President W. Arthur Grotz. In 1969, he succeeded Mr. Grotz as president of the 837-mile line founded in 1852 as the Baltimore, Carroll & Frederick Rail Road.

Before he retired in 1982, Mr. Coliton oversaw the merger of his railroad into the Chessie System -- now CSX. "He was really the last pure Western Maryland Railway president, even though by the time he took over it was essentially a Chessie System operation," said Herbert H. Harwood, a retired CSX executive and one of the nation's premier railroad historians.

Mr. Coliton was born into a railroading family in Grand Forks, N.D., where his father was a trainmaster and several aunts worked for Great Northern Railway.

As a schoolboy, he would call railroad crews to work in the morning before going to school and worked as a laborer on track gangs during summers in high school.

After earning a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Finance and Commerce in 1942, he enlisted in the Army Transportation Corps and served in North Africa, Corsica and Italy during World War II.

While on Corsica, Mr. Coliton rebuilt and returned to service a dilapidated 90-mile narrow-gauge line with local labor and Italian prisoners of war -- an effort that brought him the Legion of Merit decoration. He was discharged in 1945 with the rank of major.

He returned to Great Northern, where he served as superintendent of the railroad's Cascade Division.

In 1955, he was named vice president of operations for Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway.

He was president of Chicago, South Shore and South Bend Railroad, an interurban-freight railroad, from 1960 until he joined the Western Maryland operation in 1966.

Mr. Coliton was a member of numerous professional organizations and had been a local director of Associated Catholic Charities, United Fund and a former board member of St. Mary's Seminary and University School of Theology.

He was a communicant of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. Charles St., where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. today.

He is survived by his wife of 47 years, the former Marjorie Dundas; two sons, James D. Coliton of College Park and John C. Coliton of Baltimore; two daughters, Susan Coliton of San Francisco and Margaret L. Coliton of Roanoke, Va.; and a sister, Mary Claire Reinke of Minneapolis.

Pub Date: 2/01/99

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