- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 14, 2005

For more than 150 years, the intersection of Pratt and Poppleton streets in Baltimore has been the crossroads of the American railroad.

It was from there that the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad began, opening up Baltimore as a center of trade to the West. When car and plane travel began to replace trains as America’s major forms of transportation, the impact of the railroad was honored when the B&O; Transportation Museum opened in 1953. The B&O; Railroad Museum, as it was later named, became a full affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution in 1999.

It was also there that the museum suffered a disaster in February 2003. More than 2 feet of snow fell in one storm, collapsing the spectacular 135-foot roundhouse roof, causing $30 million in damage and forcing the museum to close for 22 months.

The B&O; Railroad Museum is back, though. After undergoing an extensive renovation, repair and expansion, the museum will celebrate its official grand reopening with special events Memorial Day weekend.

The wood-and-glass roundhouse is back to its old form, and the museum will unveil a new living history center and family activity area, says Courtney Wilson, the museum’s executive director. The museum, boosted by government, corporate and private donations, also has built its own restoration center, where visitors can view workers repairing the train cars and locomotives damaged in the 2003 collapse.

“We went through a few weeks where we were wondering if we could save the museum,” says Mr. Wilson. “The entire building was shut down until November of 2004. It will take about five years to repair the damage to the trains.”

It was important to reopen, though, Mr. Wilson says. The B&O; Railroad Museum is a comprehensive place to see the role of the railroad in American history.

“In my opinion, rail really transformed the commerce and economy of the world,” he says. “It drove the Industrial Revolution. Before trains, if someone left to go somewhere more than 50 miles, there was a good chance he was not coming back. Trains provided a safe, efficient way of travel. It impacted communication by carrying mail greater distances. East Coast ports could ship goods to the Midwest.”

Some of the museum’s highlights:

• When you go:

Location: The B&O; Railroad Museum is located at 901 W. Pratt St. in Baltimore.

Directions: Take Interstate 95 north to Interstate 395 north into downtown Baltimore. Bear right on Martin Luther King Boulevard. Take a left on Lombard Street, then left on Poppleton Street. The museum is at the intersection of Pratt and Poppleton streets.

Hours: The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. It is closed on major holidays.

Admission: $14 for adults, $10 for seniors 60 and older and $8 for children ages 2 to 12. Children younger than 2 are admitted free. Memberships are available.

Parking: Free parking available in museum lot.

More information: Call 410/ 752-2490 or visit www.borail.org.

Notes:

• The B&O; Railroad Museum, located on the site where the first American train trip took place, is celebrating its grand reopening. After a snowstorm caused a roof collapse in early 2003, the museum was closed for nearly two years. New exhibits include a restored roundhouse, a living history center, a restoration facility and a family activity area. A building devoted to the life of the rail worker will open in September.

• Train cars are handicapped-accessible with ramps.

• Other galleries include model trains, dining car china, and other displays that show the role of the railroad in transforming American life.

• The reopening celebration will feature special displays, train rides and costumed interpreters.

• Food is available at an on-site cafe. Bringing in outside food is not permitted.

• A gift shop features many train-related items, including books, “Thomas the Tank Engine” toys and conductor apparel.

A collection of rail models that chronicles locomotive and car development through the years. Another gallery displays the fine china that could be found in dining cars during the glamour days of train travel. A third gallery shows train travel’s impact on timekeeping — every B&O; worker had to carry a synchronized pocket watch, Mr. Wilson explains. Some of those watches are on display, as is a wall detailing how train schedules led to the invention of time zones.

• The new living history center, which is set up to look like a city passenger station in 1851. Costumed interpreters will add an authentic element.

• The roundhouse and its 30 vehicles — from a horse-drawn railroad car to a grand Victorian coach from the 1890s to various other locomotives and cars. Visitors can enter many of the trains. Additional trains are in the outside train yard, including the type of whistle-stop car used in campaign stops. Actors will portray Franklin D. Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln during the Memorial Day weekend activities. Another new exhibit is the World War II-era troop sleeper, which shows how GIs traveled when going off to serve in the armed forces.

• The new activity yard features a wooden train play sculpture for young children to climb on, as well as a “G” scale model train to watch.

• Outdoors is where visitors can hop aboard for a train ride, which is included in the price of admission. The three-mile round-trip ride takes passengers down the first mile of train track ever established in the Western Hemisphere, Mr. Wilson says. The train stops at the new restoration facility, where passengers can see workers repairing the damaged cars and locomotives.

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