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The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (reporting mark BO) was the first common carrier railroad and the oldest railroad in the United States with its first section opening in 1830. Merchants from Baltimore, which had benefited to some extent from the construction of the National Road early in the century, wanted to do business with settlers crossing the Appalachian Mountains. The railroad faced competition from several existing and proposed enterprises, including the Albany-Schenectady Turnpike, built in 1797, the Erie Canal, which opened in 1825, and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.
|Headquarters||B&O Railroad Headquarters Building, 2 North Charles Street, Baltimore, Maryland 1906–1987|
|Dates of operation||1830–1987|
|Successor||Chessie System/Chesapeake & Ohio Railway/CSX Transportation|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
The B&O initially was located entirely in Maryland with its original line extending from the port of Baltimore west to Sandy Hook, Maryland, opened in 1834. There it connected with Harper's Ferry, first by boat, then by the Wager Bridge, across the Potomac River into Virginia, and also with the navigable Shenandoah River.
Because of competition with the C&O Canal for trade with coal fields in Western Maryland, the railroad could not use the C&O right-of-way west of Harpers Ferry. To continue westward through the Appalachian Mountains, the B&O built the B & O Railroad Potomac River Crossing (1837) at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (since 1863, West Virginia). The line continued through Virginia to a point just west of the junction of Patterson Creek and the North Branch Potomac River, where it crossed back into Maryland to reach Cumberland (1842), connecting with the National Road, the main route westward. It reached the Ohio River at Moundsville, Virginia (1852), Wheeling (1853), where it built a terminus, and in 1857 to Parkersburg, Virginia, below rapids which made navigation difficult during parts of the year. It proved crucial to Union success during the American Civil War, which caused considerable damage to the system.
After the Civil War, the B&O consolidated several feeder lines in Virginia and West Virginia, and expanded westward into Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. B&O advertising later carried the motto: "Linking 13 Great States with the Nation."
The B&O included the Leiper Railroad, the first permanent horse-drawn railroad in the U.S. At the end of 1970, the B&O operated 5,552 miles of road and 10,449 miles of track, not including the Staten Island Rapid Transit (SIRT) or the Reading and its subsidiaries. It included the oldest operational railroad bridge in the United States, the Carrollton Viaduct. After a series of mergers in the 20th century, the B&O became part of the CSX Transportation (CSX) network in 1987.
When CSX established the B&O Railroad Museum as a separate entity from the corporation, it donated some of the former B&O Mount Clare Shops in Baltimore, including the Mt. Clare roundhouse, to the museum, while selling the rest of the property. The Baltimore & Ohio Warehouse at Camden Yards rail junction in Baltimore now dominates the view over the right-field wall at the Baltimore Orioles' current home, Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
The B&O, while famous for its pioneering innovations in railroading (being the first US railroad to operate a steam locomotive, building historic infrastructure and operating prestigious passenger trains), also owes its fame, in part, to its inclusion as one of the four railroads in the original version of the popular board game Monopoly; it is the only railroad that did not directly serve Atlantic City, New Jersey, the city whose street names were used in the game's original edition.