Adults as well as children love trains and there are numerous places in Maryland where kids and families have the opportunity to experience trains up close and personal. Among them are the B & O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, the Ellicott City Station, the Chesapeake Beach Railroad Museum and the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. Special train events for children are also in store.
For many of us, falling asleep to distant train whistles is a treasured childhood memory not easily recreated. But there are plenty of other ways to share the thrill and lore of “steamies” and diesels with our little ones. And along the way we can rekindle within ourselves the ageless excitement of railroading.
The king of railway museums in the mid-Atlantic is the B & O (Baltimore and Ohio) Railroad Museum. Considered the Birthplace of American Railroading, the B & O is a treat for aficionados and novices alike. The centerpiece of the museum is a Roundhouse, where ecstatic children are surrounded by generations of iron horses. Parents, too, are easily impressed — by the shine from the turntable, the splendor of the trains (a few that remind us of the engines in The Polar Express) and the grandeur of the Roundhouse itself.
Despite the obvious age and significance of the museum’s collection, there are ample opportunities to climb aboard. Within the Roundhouse, children can make their way through engine cabs and passenger cars for hands-on exploration of the golden age of railroading. Outside the Roundhouse, there are opportunities to help move a pump car along a stretch of track, play in a wooden train set, and watch with envy the large outdoor model railroad display. You may even have a chance to take a short ride along the first stretch of commercial rails in the country.
Nearby is the B & O Railroad Museum’s Ellicott City Station. Located in historic downtown Ellicott City, it’s the oldest railway station in the country. Much smaller than its sister property — it doesn’t have a parking lot full of “Big Boys” —the Ellicott City Station is a charming site that includes a caboose.
A smaller but convenient museum is the Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum. Once the final stop for hordes of Washingtonians who visited a resort town meant to rival Coney Island, the small museum houses a nice collection of memorabilia and is conveniently located near the beach. The perfect addition to a day trip at the beach.
If your little engineer is desperate for a real train ride but you can’t find the time to take your brood on a cross-country rail adventure, there are several options close to home. Try leaving the car behind and take the Washington metro or the Maryland light rail on your next visit into the city. Although not as exciting as a bullet train, these options are fun for the kids. Or, if visiting friends and family along the East coast, use your gas money to purchase a few Amtrak tickets and savor the stress-free ride while avoiding Interstate 95.
If nothing short of seeing a “Really Useful Engine” will do, make the trip later this year to the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad or the Strasburg Railroad for “A Day Out with Thomas.” The festival — which includes games, entertainment and a visit by Sir Topham Hatt — is dominated by hourly train rides with a full-size (though small) Thomas the Tank Engine pulling passenger cars full of boisterous toddlers and amused parents. Afterward, be prepared to buy several new additions to your child’s toy train collection.
Chesapeake Family serves parents and families in Annapolis, Anne Arundel, Calvert and Prince George’s Counties and Baltimore, Bowie and the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
Richard Marshall lives in Annapolis.
Train Station Information
B & O Railroad Museum, Baltimore
Chesapeake Beach Railway Museum, Chesapeake Beach
Ellicott City Station, Ellicott City
A Day out With Thomas
Strasburg, PA (Sept. 15-23, Nov. 30, Dec. 1-2)
Western Maryland (Sept. 21-23, 28-30)
Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, Cumberland
Strasburg Railroad, Strasburg, Pennsylvania
Union Station, Washington, DC
National Capital Trolley Museum, Silver Spring
Baltimore Streetcar Museum
By Richard Marshall