|The Columbia and Port Deposit Railroad was started in 1865, and remained unfinished until 1877. This Branch, electrified in the 1938 expansion of the catenary, and de-electrified in the early 1980s, is still in active service today. The branch, which stretches from Port Deposit, northwest to Columbia, covers appoximately 40 miles of scenic Susquehanna river country. Much of the track is difficult to access, but I will try to point out some of the accessible locations in the following sections. Our tour will start in Perryville, proceed north under the B&O, through Port Deposit, past the Octoraro Branch, the Conowingo Dam, Pilot, Peach Bottom, Holtwood, Pequa, the Conestoga Creek bridges at Safe Harbor, and into Columbia. As of this writing, the catenary poles, and PRR position lights are still in place, however these may not last long!
Several excellent sources of information on this branch are:
Be sure to follow along on Earl's route map too!
The B&O crossing - Minnick, MP 2The branch proceeds North, and after passing under the MD-40 bridge, passes under the B&O. The double track B&O crosses both the Port Road and the Susquehanna on an interesting steel bridge. Just under and to the east of the bridge is a derelect marine service facility, and looking through the building, a partially sunken steam tug can be seen in the river. Approximately 1/2 mile north, and just as the road curves away from the double track main, a siding, protected by a derail, diverges from the river side. This track becomes at least double tracked, and at one point was the access to the small classification yard back in Perryville, however those tracks have been removed. Signals gaurding this point are marked MINNICK.
Port Deposit, MP 4.7Port Deposit, a small picturesque village, is tucked between steep cliffs and bluffs and the Susquehanna River. The river bank, formerly lined with heavy industries is now being re-developed into marina and potentially, waterfront luxury housing. This area still ahs direct water access to the Chesapeake Bay. In the 1980's a natural gas explosion leveled nearly a full block of Port Deposit, but the town has rebuilt.
The Octararo BranchTraveling upstream out of Port Deposit, the road crosses under the tracks and then travels between the tracks and the river. Shortly thereafter, a road to the right allows access to the tracks at Rock (MP 6.4) Careful observation to the North will allow a glimpse of a stone bridge as you cross the Octararo Creek. Turn right onto the local road, just after the creek and you'll find yourself under a large multispan stone bridge. A single track steel girder bridge also crosses the creek at this point, passing under a span of the stone bridge - a model railroading solution if I ever saw one! This single track was the Octararo Branch of the PRR, which joined the Port Road a little way back towards Port Deposit.
The Conowingo Dam, MP 10Farther upstream, you will intersect route 1 at Conowingo. This is the location of the Conowingo Dam, which allows viewing of Bald Eagles, which nest on the North shore, form recreation areas on the South shore.
Pilot, MP 11.6North of Conowingo, access to the railroad is scarce, but the tracks can be found at Pilot. Here, Pilot siding begins, just as the track passes onto a low, multiple span stone bridge over an inlet from the Susquehanna River. Some hiking will get you out to the tracks, but the view doesn't improve much!
Peach Bottom, MP 17.4Continuing North, the town of Peach Bottom is reached. Here, the single track main crosses another inlet from the Susquehanna on a short stone arch bridge. Just to the East of the bridge is a short siding, which at last viewing held a Conrail MOW crane and a few MOW cars.
Holtwood, MP 25Holtwood is the sight of a coal fired electric generating station. Coal is delivered by rail to several sidings. Access is not great here, and I would expect the power company security people to be rather unwelcoming should they come across trespassers.
Pequa, MP 29.7A marina provides access to the Susquehanna River for power boaters at Pequa. The inlet on which the marina is located is crossed by a steel truss bridge for the road and a stone arch bridge for the railroad.
Safe Harbor, MP 31.9Safe Harbor Dam, which provided the electricity for this part of the PRR electrified territory, is located just upstream of the junction of Conestoga Creek and the Susquehanna River. Here, the Port Road crossses the creek on a relatively low bridge, while the Atglen and Susquenna (or Low Grade Route) crosses on a higher steel trestle. This curving set of double bridges is one of the most stunning landmarks in all of the electrified PRR. The base of the bridges can be reached by following a park road down the East bank of the Conestoga Creek. This road ends in a power comapany gate just before the bridges, and access beyond this point is controlled. A view from above can be found by following signs on the West bank of Conestoga Creek to a scenic overlook of the Safe Harbor Dam. The A&S has been abandonned for many years, and it is not clear when the trestle will be removed, so see it while you can!
Columbia, MP 38.4At Columbia, we come to the end of our tour. Here, the Port Road ends, the Columbia branch heads east towards Lancaster and west towards Marietta, and the A&S east towards Thorndale and west towards Enola. Up until 1963, a steel truss bridge also connected across the river towards York. COLA tower is still standing but has been out of service for almost 10 years. A small yard still exists at Columbia, and many of the vestiges of the old PRR are still visible, including the old Columbia passenger depot (interesting architecture...). Columbia provides many hours of railroad related "archeology" to anyone who is intersted and spends the time looking. Columbia is easily accessible as it lies on rt. 30, and PRR fans should remember that the PRR Museum at Strasburg is just a few miles East!