Larry Walsh on biking: Rail-trail deals that are hard to beat

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The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad offers bicyclists an opportunity to ride the rails and a trail.

The railroad, based in Cumberland, Md., departs from the former Western Maryland Railway station for a16-mile, hour-long ride to Frostburg. The tracks parallel the Great Allegheny Passage, the 150-mile multipurpose trail that begins in Cumberland and ends at the fountain in Point State Park.

There’s room for only 10 bikes in the baggage car, so reservations are a must. The fee is $5 per bike.

The train gives bicyclists several options:

• They can ride the train to Frostburg and cycle back to Cumberland.

• They can park in Frostburg, pedal down to Cumberland and ride the train back up.

• They also can bike down 24 miles from Deal, the highest point on the passage at 2,390 feet, or 32 miles from Meyersdale, and take the train back up to Frostburg.

Taking the train saves a climb up the passage’s steepest segment. Although the grade is less than 2 percent, it requires near-constant pedaling. Coming down, of course, is a breeze. Locals call it the “Cumberland Coast.”

Bicyclists who start in Deal or Meyersdale should arrive in Cumberland by 11 a.m. That provides enough time to buy train tickets and load the bikes. The conductor secures each bike in the baggage car and covers it with a moving pad.

The classic steam locomotive, known as “Mountain Thunder,” puffs its way up the 1,227-foot vertical climb to Frostburg. Along the way it passes the Bone Cave that was discovered in 1912 and excavated by the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Museum.

It then cuts through the Narrows, a mile-long, 900-foot high gorge between Haystack and Wills Mountains.

It sweeps around Helmstetters Curve, a one-half mile curve which provides excellent views of the train as well as the Cumberland Valley before it heads into the 914-foot long Brush Tunnel under Piney Mountain.

During its 90-minute layover in Frostburg, a vintage turntable is used to turn the locomotive around for the return trip to Cumberland. Passengers have an opportunity to buy lunch or shop.

Those who want to visit Main Street in Frostburg have to hike up a steep street or climb 88 wooden steps.

Fares are $35 for adults, $33 for seniors 60 and older and $18 for children 12 and younger. Children 2 and younger need a ticket but ride free when not occupying a seat. Santa Claus will be on board from Nov. 28 to Dec. 21.

There are special discounts for active and retired military and AAA members.

Reservations are recommended, and they are required in October for fall-foliage trips. Murder mystery and other special excursions are designed for adult audiences.

Fares include entertainment, dinner and a gratuity.

The train operates Friday through Sunday in September, Tuesday through Sunday in October, weekends in November and Friday through Sunday for the first three weekends in December.

If you’d like to join the engineer and fireman in the cab of the locomotive, there’s room for two for an additional cost.

There are a variety of B&Bs, guest houses and hotels in and around Cumberland (www.visitcumberland.org) and Meyersdale (www.visitmeyersdale.com).

Shuttle services are available at the Cumberland Trail Connection (www.CTCBikes.com) and Get Out and Play Outfitters (www.getoutandplayoutfitters.com), both in Cumberland.

Because the railroad and the station are tenants of Canal Place, they have no control over the parking prices that are posted on the property.

There are, however, a number of free parking spaces within a short walking distance from the station.

For those arriving by car, that is one more reason to arrive early.

Information: www.wmsr.com; 1-800-872-4650.

Larry Walsh writes about recreational bicycling for the Post-Gazette.


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