Essence of an Era

Written by: Gary Dolzall

The Baltimore & Ohio Kingwood Branch route rekindles the hard-edged, tradition-rich Appalachian mountain railroading of the 1960s

For American railroading, the 1960s were the closing act of an era, a time when the long-held rich traditions of railroading still held firm, when the first-generation diesels that had replaced steam still dominated the high iron, when railroad companies still catered to passengers, and when coal was king. The remarkable B&O Kingwood Branch route takes us back to that time.

Just as they did in creating the acclaimed Virtual New Haven Springfield Line, which so perfectly captured late 1950s-era railroading in New England, so has the talented VNHRR team magnificently re-created the compelling essence of 1960s Appalachian railroading.

In my youth, I had the opportunity to roam the remote “hills and hollows” of West Virginia and witness first-hand the branch-line, old-school, hard-edged coal railroading of the Appalachians as practices by the likes of the Baltimore & Ohio, Chesapeake & Ohio, and Norfolk & Western. The B&O Kingwood Branch route rekindles that experience and that railroading magic.

Branch line railroading in the Appalachians was tough and unforgiving. It meant reaching into remote valleys and climbing rugged slopes to serve coal mines; it meant totting heavy tonnage of bituminous coal; it meant grinding up steep grades in notch 8 and ever-so-carefully descending twisting steel paths with air brakes applied and dynamics screaming. It was, in short, challenging work. And that is the remarkable experience that awaits you on the now available Train Simulator B&O Kingwood Branch route.

The B&O Kingwood Branch route is based upon the West Virginia Northern Railroad, a short line coal hauler built in the 1880s that existed into the late 1990s. The route is semi-fictional in that it re-creates the WVNRR property as an early 1960s-era Baltimore & Ohio branch line. The route includes a 10-mile roller-coaster main trunk between an interchange with the Baltimore & Ohio main line at Tunnelton and the Kingwood Branch’s namesake northern terminus; a backwoods 7-mile branch to a large coal seam at Birds Creek, two additional short branch lines, and numerous spurs serving a total of 14 diverse coal mines and coal-loading facilities.

Coal-haul railroading is the heart and soul of the Kingwood Branch, but it is far from its only intriguing aspect. The B&O Kingwood Branch route features a variety of non-mining lineside freight customers, freight houses, and team tracks, and the branch is also host to classic flag-stop passenger operations – complete with operating flag-stop signals at its small-town depots!

Among the hundreds of diesel locomotive types that have served American railroads, few have been more successful nor more efficient than the Electro-Motive GP9, of which more than 4,000 were constructed between 1954 and 1959. And with the B&O owning a large roster of 193 GP9s, the classic “Geep” is perfect as the featured motive power for the Baltimore & Ohio Kingwood Branch. The GP9 is provided in both its original Baltimore & Ohio livery and in B&O’s early 1960s-era “Capitol” scheme. And the Geep will have its work cut out, given the simply extraordinary variety of included rolling stock. A traditional heavyweight 65-foot coach in B&O blue and gray livery is provided for passenger service, and the route’s freight equipment includes B&O class I-5, I-5D, and I-12 cabooses; 36-, 40-, and 50-foot boxcars in multiple liveries (including B&O, Chesapeake & Ohio, and Western Maryland); a B&O flatcar; B&O 52- and 65-foot gondolas; 55-ton and 70-ton coal hoppers in multiple variations and railroad liveries; a 1950s/60s-era tank car, B&O Airslide covered hopper; and wood- and steel refrigerator cars.

The Baltimore & Ohio Kingwood Branch puts you right to work with 13 authentic and challenging career scenarios that include freight, switching, and passenger duties as well as training runs on this rugged railroad line. The unique and timeless appeal of tradition-rich and hard-working railroading, 1960s Appalachian style, will be yours with the new B&O Kingwood Branch route, available now at the Dovetail Games and Steam Stores! – Gary Dolzall

Appalachian railroading of the early 1960s has come to Train Simulator with the extraordinary Baltimore & Ohio Kingwood Branch route! Ready to go to work on the branch, a trio of Baltimore & Ohio Electro-Motive GP9s stand along the main line at Tunnelton under the gaze of classic B&O Color Position Light signals (above). Dropping down the 3 percent grade from the main line onto the Kingwood Branch with a local freight, B&O Geep 6497 passes a sister sitting alongside the aged Tunnelton turntable (below). Screenshots by Gary Dolzall.

The flag-stop signal is calling for a halt to pick up a lone passenger as a branch passenger local pulls into Towson (above). Further up the line, the passenger train arrives at Howesville, where, like across much of the line, steam-era facilities such as the water tank remain in place (below).

A duo of B&O EMD GP9s has just crested the 2,277-foot summit of the Kingwood Branch at Mattingly, West Virginia as they lug a train of hopper empties north in the never-ending cycle of serving the route’s 14 busy bituminous coal mines.

Working south with a mixed freight, B&O Geeps pass Church Creek Mine (above). A trio of B&O 70-ton offset hoppers have been loaded with bituminous coal at Church Creek Mine and it looks like some mine equipment has recently arrived in a Western Maryland boxcar (below).

The B&O Kingwood Branch route includes a superb selection of period-authentic rolling stock, including coal hoppers, boxcars, flats, tank cars, covered hoppers, gondolas, refrigerator cars, passenger coach, and three types of B&O cabooses. Iconic indeed are Baltimore & Ohio’s unique “wagon top” Class I-12 steel bay-window cabooses.

Some especially tough and challenging work is immediately ahead for the crew of B&O GP9 6562 as the train approaches the Irona switchback and its gradients of more than 4 percent. The engineer will be busy working both throttle and brakes in the coming minutes.

On a snowy Appalachian day, a short B&O work train with a single Geep as power pulls into the Mary Ruth Mine spur at Snider. The diminutive flag-stop station at Snider is typical of many such captivating backwoods passenger facilities along the B&O Kingwood Branch route.

At Mary Ruth Mine, a string of B&O and Chesapeake & Ohio 55-ton and 70-ton hoppers are loaded with “black diamond” and awaiting pick up (above), while on another wintry Appalachian day, a trio of B&O Geeps work the mine (below).

In a snow scene that evokes the essence of 1960s Appalachian railroading, Baltimore & Ohio Geeps are rolling south from Kingwood (above). Northern terminus of this new Train Simulator route created by the talented VNHRR development team is Kingwood, West Virginia, where another trio of B&O GP9s are switching the yard on a summer day (below).

At Birds Creek, a two-car B&O passenger local is preparing to depart for a run over the Birds Creek Branch while GP9 6428 handles coal switching duty at the busy Birds Creek Mine #4 (above). A short time later, B&O 6437 and the passenger local is on its way eastward, passing the Birds Creek yard limit sign (below).

A trio of hard-working Baltimore & Ohio EMD GP9s are fighting coal tonnage and 3 percent gradients as they claw east on the Birds Creek Branch. 1960s Appalachian railroading was tough, challenging, and tradition-rich – and it is all rekindled to vivid life on the new B&O Kingwood Branch route available now at the Steam Store!

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Profile photo of Gary Dolzall

Gary Dolzall

3 Comments

  • Profile photo of Roland Barry Penhall

    Bought it as soon as it became available, as their previous route was great and came with heaps of variety in Rolling Stock.
    Sofar I have only run on a portion of the route and was straight away impressed with how the scenery looked at the beginning of the first Training scenario.
    Gosh those grades keep you on your toes, particularly coming down.
    My two negative comments are:
    1. The horn is awful.
    2. The track up to the mines looks like it has been laid recently, instead of it having been there for many years. I fell it should be blackened with coal dust and the occasional spill of coal and maybe a derelict wagon that had been pushed to one side, to give it a little more of a genuinely “worked on” look to such a line.

  • Profile photo of TheRealSFC

    Can’t wait to get my hands on this one!

  • Profile photo of GWR5029

    A little out of my genre, but nonetheless this looks great. Classic American twilight railroading

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