VRE Considers Double-Deck Coach Purchase
Virginia Railway Express officials are considering the purchase of 20 double-deck commuter coaches, similar to ones being ordered by MARC, provided VRE can arrange funding to undercut the tunnel between Washington's Union Station and Virginia Avenue to provide the clearance needed for the cars. According to press reports, increased clearance for the cars would also allow Amtrak to run Superliner equipment through the tunnel. VRE hopes to arrange funding in combination with Amtrak and MARC.
VRE to Add Four Trains
Virginia Railway Express will soon introduce four more trains to the system, two each on both the Fredericksburg and Manassas lines. Additional stops on the Fredericksburg line are planned for Franconia-Springfield and Lorton, and a request for a stop at Widewater is being considered.
Amtrak Begins Reorganization Plan with Business Units
Amtrak has begun a reorganization plan with the formation of business units, the first of which will involve the Northeast Corridor.
Supreme Court Rules for Conrail in Emotional-Distress Suits
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Conrail which had appealed lower-court rulings that the company claimed made it too easy for employees to win emotional-distress suits filed under the Federal Employers' Liability Act.
Platforms at Duffields, W.Va., Being Built for MARC
Platforms are being constructed for MARC trains at Duffields, West Virginia. Passengers had been boarding trains at the road crossing.
Conrail Leases 300 Bi-Level Cars
Conrail has leased 300 bi-level cars for transporting motor vehicles, bringing its fleet of enclosed multi-levels to 5500 cars.
Conrail Expanding Gibson Yard in Indiana
Conrail is expanding its Gibson Yard in Hammond, Indiana. The $2.5-million project will enable shipments of new automobiles from eastern United States assembly plants to reach western dealers faster and with less damage. The Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad will operate the expanded service.
Gary Snoots Retires
[Reported by Allen Brougham] . . .
Veteran B&O block tower operator Gary Lee Snoots retired on June 10 by accepting an early separation offered by CSXT.
Gary, 58, began his railroading career out of high school in 1954 as an electrician's helper at Brunswick, Maryland. His grandfather had been a B&O railroader in the signal department, retiring in the late 1930s, and an uncle was a B&O clerk. But neither influenced Gary's decision to join the railroad; it was "just a job that was available at the time." It was short-lived, however, as Gary got furloughed just a year later. He then became a yard clerk at the eastbound hump in Brunswick, a job he held until being drafted into the Army in 1958. He served in the Army for 38 months working as a radio operator both in Germany and at Fort Meade, Maryland.
Upon conclusion of his Army service he was offered back his job as clerk, but he was immediately furloughed. He then left the railroad and went with the M.J. Grove Lime Company in Frederick, Maryland, where he became an order traffic supervisor. One of his duties there was to order railroad cars from the B&O for stone shipments. His company was taken over in 1967, and he got laid off.
Gary returned to the B&O in January 1968 as an operator at WB Tower in Brunswick. It was a wonderful job with wonderful people, he recalls, and the location was very convenient to his home.
But just one month into his new tenure, there was an incident that might have charted yet another course for Gary. He was operator at WB with an eastbound coal train approaching the signal at Weverton - a remotely controlled point at the west end of Brunswick yard - with the train properly routed into the yard onto number 4 track. But the trainmaster changed his mind and called Gary asking him not to let the train into the yard. Instead of explaining to the trainmaster that it was too late to stop the train (there were no radios), Gary took the signal away. The train stopped in emergency causing it to derail. This might have been it for Gary - then in his probationary period - but division superintendent Jack Minser was very sympathetic and told Gary not to worry about it. "Nothing more was said, but it taught me a lesson about being an operator," said Gary.
The balance of his career was spent at WB Tower, Harpers Ferry (then still an interlocking office), and QN Tower in Washington, D.C. Mostly it was WB that Gary called home, and at the time of his retirement he held its relief job which included one day of first-shift and two days each of second and third-shifts in his five-day work week.
Asked to say what he will miss the most by leaving the railroad, Gary said it will be the people. He recalled those he worked with back when WB was still staffed by two operators at the same time: Doug Morseberger, Charlie Selby, Bob Tuck, Bob Fellows (just to name a few). "All great guys to work with." Also the present-day incumbents at WB with whom he changed shifts - Johnny Goff, Bill Utterback, Frankie Williams - and the legion of others who work there as extras and those with whom he worked at neighboring towers. The fondest advantage of the relief job was in serving with so many different people, he said.
Belinda Wenner, an extra operator who came on the railroad in 1975, recalled Gary as a good teacher. "He was always patient with people first learning a job," she said, adding that he was a "good story teller." Jim Vargo, the daylight operator at Miller Tower, had trained with Gary in the early 1980s at Harpers Ferry. "He has a great sense of humor and a sharp wit," said Jim. "He will be missed."
Given the opportunity, Gary would do it all over again. He lives in Jefferson, Maryland, has a wife, three sons, two daughters, and two grandchildren.
Huntington Railroad Museum Opens in Bowie, Md.
[Reported by Vince Cipriani and Allen Brougham] . . .
The city of Bowie, Maryland, and the Huntington Heritage Society opened a railroad museum in a park adjacent to Amtrak's Northeast corridor on May 22. Included in the complex are three structures formerly serving the town: a tower, freight building, and waiting shelter.
The name Huntington stems from the original name of the town - Huntington City - which was later renamed Bowie in honor of Maryland governor and Pennsylvania Railroad president Oden Bowie. (The nearby town of Odenton was named for the same individual.) As the city of Bowie expanded, the original section became known as the Huntington Section, and it is here that the museum and park dedicated to the city's roots as a railroad center is located.
The structures located within the park were acquired by the city from Amtrak and moved a short distance from their former location in July of 1992. They were of no further use to the railroad. The tower closed in 1988, and MARC passenger trains now stop at at another location north of the section near Bowie State University.
The purpose of the Huntington Heritage Society is to identify, document, collect, and preserve the physical and oral history of the Huntington section of Bowie. Meetings are held the third Wednesday of each month in the Bowie United Methodist Church, Maple Avenue at Seventh Street in the Huntington section. Membership is open to anyone, and further information is available by writing the society at P.O. Box 183, Bowie, Maryland 20719-0183.
Northern Central Railroad Trail History Walks
[Reported by Allen Brougham] . . .
Duvall Sollers was for 31 years a teacher in the Baltimore County school system. He retired three years ago as a science teacher, having spent most of his career teaching students of the junior high or middle school level. Now he works summers in what he calls a "minimum pay" job with the state of Maryland as a park naturalist. For Duvall, 57, this translates into doing what he enjoys the most - teaching. And there on the Northern Central Railroad Trail of the Gunpowder Falls State Park he feels right at home with its abundance of plants, owls, beavers, snakes, and sundry other critters.
But being a naturalist carries with it the added task of teaching history, and it is he who was bestowed the duty of guiding this summer's program of trail history walks.
Such as it was on Sunday, June 19, as I joined Duvall and six others as we trekked the one-mile distance from Sparks to Glencoe and back again. This was the third of eight Sunday walks scheduled to cover most of the 20-mile trail between Ashland and the Pennsylvania state line. Earlier walks had covered portions from Ashland and Phoenix, and upcoming walks will successively cover other portions further north each time.
The humid 95-degree weather that day no doubt kept attendance on the Sparks-Glencoe walk to a minimum, but most of those joining were "regulars" from earlier walks who plan on attending all of those being offered this summer. Participants included Sam and Marsha Houston, Jeff Ellis, Ray Hamelin, Rose Anderson, and Roy Teather. Duvall, who is also the trail's president of volunteers, began the walk showing off the interior of the 1916 Sparks bank building, now owned by the state, which is slated to become a mini-nature center. This in itself was a welcome respite - the building's extra-thick walls provided cooling insulation from the outside heat. Once back outside, the tall trees lining close to the trail freshened the air with abundant shade, and a relaxing walk ensued to destination. Along the way Duvall took license as a naturalist to show the milky fluid from a jewel weed and to explain its traditional use to remedy the effects of poison ivy.
Both Sparks and Glencoe share their own particular blend of history to which the railroad played a major role. Sparks, named by the railroad for a family owning land along the tracks, was provided with a combination passenger and freight station in 1889. Later the area surrounding the station replaced Philopolis, a community one mile to the west along the York Road, as the dominant town center, and the whole area soon became known by the name of Sparks. Glencoe was the name of an estate which eventually became a summer resort complete with hotel and boating lake. The resort catered to families from Baltimore to escape the summer heat while retaining the convenience of a short commute to the city by train if needed. A boat house from the lake was converted into a tiny post office in 1927 and served the community for 40 years. It was noted as the smallest self-contained post office in the country. Glencoe was the north end of double-track at the time of the last trip of the Parkton Local in 1959. Both communities are located within a flood plain and have each experienced the effects of inundation on many occasions. In fact, it was the great storm of 1972 (Agnes) that destroyed portions of the Northern Central line ending it as a through route from Baltimore to York and Harrisburg.
JD Tower Burns
[Reported by Allen Brougham] . . .
The 76-year-old tower that for many years served the B&O interlocking known as Alexandria Junction in Hyattsville, Maryland, burned in a noontime fire on May 30. The suspected cause was arson. The building, which was vacant at the time, had ceased as an active interlocking office on March 4, 1992.
The history of JD Tower dates to March of 1894 when a building housing an eight-lever machine was opened. A second 16-lever machine was installed in 1906. The building was replaced nearly two decades later by a larger structure built to house a 40-lever machine. That structure served a short life, however, as it was destroyed in a derailment in August of 1917.
A third tower, built to the same plan as the second one, was put in service on October 3, 1917. This is the tower that remained active until 1992. It was my privilege to serve as the regular second-shift operator at JD during the final six and one-half years of its life, and it was I who had the honor of being its very last operator and the one to lock the place up with a closing ceremony on its final day.
JD Tower was the focus of a dedicated issue of the Bull Sheet in April 1992.
The railroad (then CSXT) had no further use for the building, but it remained standing pending its possible acquisition and removal for historical restoration locally. At least three nearby municipalities had expressed an interest in the building, but no firm commitment had been made before the fire. Meanwhile, the vacant structure had become the target of vandals with its door and windows broken.
The companies responding to the fire were able to contain the blaze before the structure burned to the ground, but its interior was substantially gutted and the tower was declared a total loss. It was demolished late last month.
CSXT Restores Through Northeast-Florida Intermodal Train
It was November 1982 that the former Chessie and Seaboard systems jointly introduced the highly-touted Orange Blossom Special intermodal service for the movement of fruit and produce between Florida and Delaware. It began with a 25-hour schedule, and initial-period trains typically operated with fewer than a dozen trailers. The name Orange Blossom Special was fashioned from a former passenger train that had inspired a country music song by the same name.
The trains were symboled NBTT and SBTT, later to become OBSN and OBSS. During the summer months the schedules were replaced by trains symboled CSTT and SBTT. The service by then was no longer exclusively for fruit and produce. By the following November, the Orange Blossom specials were operating with an average 64 loaded cars northbound and 71 loaded cars southbound. Service was extended several years later to Philadelphia, and (in conjunction with Conrail) to Kearny, New Jersey. The trains were resymboled in January 1987 with OBSN becoming 172 and OBSS becoming 171. (Letter prefix would come later.) The Orange Blossom name was no longer used for operating identification, but it was still used for marketing purposes. In the summer of 1990 there were some changes in the operation of the Orange Blossom specials and they were no longer considered as through trains. R172 became R176 from Florida, where it was consolidated at Potomac Yard with freight from R192 from Atlanta into new train R170 to Kearny. R171 became R191 to Richmond where its freight was split by destination to R175 to Florida and R191 to Atlanta. In January 1992, upon the closing of the intermodal facility at Potomac Yard, the northern terminals for R176 and R175 became the Seagirt terminal in Baltimore. Connections in both directions between R191/R192 to and from Florida and R175/R176 to and from Atlanta were then made in Richmond. Accordingly, the freight represented by the Orange Blossom specials - between Florida and the Northeast - was conveyed using two trains in each direction, connecting in Richmond.
The use of the name Orange Blossom Special disappeared. A recent call to CSX Intermodal revealed that the name has not been used for marketing purposes in more than a couple of years. Still, the name lived on in tradition, and coining the OBS name to R191/R192 north of Richmond and R175/176 south of Richmond served the purpose of those wanting that tradition preserved. But effective June 7, trains R175/R176 were extended to Kearny, New Jersey, and R191/R192 were cut back to Philadelphia. This means that the freight traditionally represented by the Orange Blossom Special is once again conveyed each way in a single train.
"Operation Roundup" Heads off Trespassers
[From CSXT Employee News Service] . . .
CSXT police and law enforcement agencies cooperated in the third annual Operation Roundup in Kentucky on May 26. Three CSXT agents and seven Covington officers cited 18 juveniles on railroad property. Operation Roundup underscores to students the dangers of walking on railroad tracks. Just one year ago a Covington student lost a leg jumping from a train on the way home from school. "The whole issue of trespassing on railroad property is of great concern," said Mike Ruehling, resident vice-president for Kentucky. "While our grade crossing accidents are showing a decline, trespassing accidents system wide are showing an increase."