Virginia Endorses High-Speed Richmond-Washington Service
Virginia's Transportation Board has gone on record favoring high-speed train service between Richmond and Washington. The plan, estimated to cost $370-million to implement, must now go through public review to find financing. Envisioned is hourly service at up to 110 MPH comprehending a 90-minute trip, according to a news report.
Amtrak to Spend $25-Million to Begin Midwest Rail Initiative
Amtrak will spend $25-million to begin work on a high-speed rail network linking nine Midwestern states. Plans call for the Midwest Rail Initiative to move passengers between the nine states on 3000 miles of track at up to 110 MPH. States to be linked by the service are Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin. The Midwest Corridor is one of 10 high-speed corridors planned for development nationwide.
Amtrak Expands its San Joaquin Route
Direct passenger rail service between Sacramento and Stockton, California, began February 21 as part of Amtrak's San Joaquin route. The service marks the first time since 1971 that Sacramento and the San Joaquin Valley have been connected directly by passenger rail.
Amtrak to Add Heritage Sleepers to Three Rivers
Amtrak reportedly intends to add Heritage sleeping cars to its train the Three Rivers on a date to be announced. Heritage sleepers, configured with ten roomettes and six double bedrooms, have been used as crew cars in recent years, replaced (until now) in revenue service by the newer Viewliners.
Amtrak Opens New Station in San Antonio
Amtrak has opened its new passenger station at San Antonio, Texas. Funding for the $1-million project came from Amtrak and Via Metropolitan Transit. The new station is located adjacent to Amtrak's former station and is served by the Texas Eagle and the Sunset Limited.
Hotel Proposed for Baltimore's Penn Station
Amtrak is working with a developer to study converting upper floors of Baltimore's Penn Station into a hotel. Approximately 75 to 80 rooms could be included, according to a news report, and an architect has been hired to determine how to fit the proposal into the station without disturbing the building's historic features.
UP and BNSF to Coordinate Dispatching Operations
Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe have agreed to coordinate dispatching operations covering Southern California, the Kansas City area, and the Powder River Basin of Wyoming. According to a news report, it is the largest coordinated railroad dispatching agreement in history. The agreement will establish coordinated dispatching centers in San Bernardino and Kansas City, and UP dispatchers supervising their line from North Platte into the Powder River Basin will join BNSF dispatchers in Fort Worth.
CSXT Now Allows Up to 15 Locomotives in Lite Engine Consists
CSXT now permits a maximum of 15 locomotives when operated in a lite locomotive consist. (The maximum number of locomotives permitted when hauling a train remains at 12.) The maximum number of locomotives will be reduced when restricted for specific locations.
William Coliton Dies
William P. Coliton, the last president of the Western Maryland Railway, has died. He was 79.
Street-Running in Chambersburg Nears its End
By Mike Welsh . . .
In 1999 the citizens of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, may finally be granted their wish - removal of the CSX (former Western Maryland Railway) mainline through town.
On November 16, 1998, CSX petitioned the Federal Surface Transportation Board for permission to abandon its mainline from Fourth Street (where Chambersburg, Greencastle & Waynesboro Street Railway trolleys once passed underneath) eastward (actually north) to Commerce Street, a total of 1.9 miles. This includes the portion of main track that runs down the middle of Water Street for several city blocks. This street-running was dearly loved by photographers, but thoroughly despised by the townspeople because practically every east-west street west of Main Street would be blocked as trains crept through town at their posted 10 MPH speed limit. For about the last 20 years every mayoral candidate vowed that if elected they would stop the cursed street-running. Did CSX finally cave in to the weighty political pressure of Chambersburg's mayor? More importantly, how will this affect the operation of trains?
Rumors began to circulate at least 15 years ago that trains would be rerouted to avoid Chambersburg's street-running. This would be accomplished by building a connection in Hagerstown at NC Tower (known as Town Tower on PRR/PC/CR) where CSX's (ex-WM) Lurgan Subdivision joined its (ex-WM) east/west mainline and also crossed at grade Conrail's north/south Hagerstown Secondary. The connection would be built in the northwest quadrant of the crossing. There is also a proposal which involves rearranging the tracks through NC that would remove the crossing diamond and allow the two railroads to cross each other by using switches and a shared track segment. The Hagerstown Secondary and the Lurgan Subdivision both join Conrail's ex-Reading Lurgan Branch from Harrisburg at Shippensburg. By diverting traffic at Hagerstown or Shippensburg, the entire ex-WM Lurgan Subdivision can be bypassed.
Most of the local traffic on the ex-WM Lurgan Subdivision is concentrated in the South Chambersburg area known as Brandon. In late 1993 an industrial track was constructed at West Brandon (facing point eastbound on CSX and facing point southbound on CR) that allows access to shippers from both railroads. Currently, Conrail delivers cars to the industrial track but CSX crews switch all customers located on the industrial track. There is one active customer located east (north) of Commerce Street in Chambersburg, and the Letterkenny Army Depot at Culbertson has leased space to civilian shippers. Between West Brandon and Hagerstown only one active customer remains, located at Paramount, which is three miles east of NC Tower.
Through freight traffic between Hagerstown and Harrisburg in the past has been heavy enough on both CSX and CR that removing most of the CSX line and shifting the trains to the CR line was not feasible. However, in 1998 all through miscellaneous freight handled by CSX began to be interchanged with Conrail at the former WM Hagerstown Yard instead of CSX operating this freight as a train and delivering it to Conrail at Enola Yard in Harrisburg. Now with the Conrail split on the horizon, there is the possibility that most, if not all, coal trains may be rerouted also. Speculation is that the coal trains would be routed over ex-B&O lines through Baltimore to the Philadelphia area and then on to their destinations. There is still talk of a connection track being built at NC Tower, so at least some traffic must be expected to operate through Hagerstown.
With all of these changes taking place, what will remain of the ex-WM Lurgan Subdivision? It is speculated that a single track may remain from NC Tower to Paramount to serve the feed mill there, and the tracks at Brandon will remain to access the shippers in that area. Both main tracks are expected to be removed between Paramount (MP 3) and West Brandon (near MP 19). East of Commerce Street (MP 22.4) in Chambersburg to Lurgan (MP 32) will remain for now as more shippers are being sought to use the Letterkenny Army Depot. It is expected that a CSX (the Lurgan Switcher) crew will continue to operate out of Hagerstown and switch the customers located on the remaining portions of the ex-WM Lurgan Subdivision accessing them via trackage rights over the Conrail (soon to be NS) Hagerstown Secondary.
The Lurgan Subdivision was at one time one of the busiest and certainly one of the most important of the WM system. Coal trains, Alpha Jets, and freight operated as part of the B&O/Reading Central States Dispatch ran here. Its high speed, left-handed running between Conboy and Brandon, and street-running in Chambersburg plus some fine scenery along the way all helped to make it an interesting railroad. It will be a shame to lose another part of the Western Maryland.
Amtrak "Celebrates" Charlottesville
By Allen Brougham . . .
Tuesday, February 9, was a festive day at the Charlottesville, Virginia, train station. For on that day Amtrak and local officials joined to dedicate the city's "new" depot following a $700,000 renovation effort. The building is not exactly new; it's the former Railway Express Agency building built in the 1890's. As part of the renovation, Amtrak moved out of the adjacent 1885 station several months ago. Its new quarters sport a more modern waiting area, spacious ticket counter, and modern restroom facilities. Moreover, the facility has better access to the parking lot than what had been available previously.
About 150 people crowded into the waiting room for the 11 o'clock ceremony. Deborah Wetter, Amtrak's general manager of the Gulf Coast Business Group, operator of the Crescent, was master of ceremonies. Speakers included Leo Bevon, director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation; David Kalerges, director of Virginia Gateway at the University of Virginia; Allan Edelston, vice president-customer service for Amtrak Intercity; Virginia Daugherty, mayor of Charlottesville; and David Toscano, member of the Charlottesville city council and a former mayor. Also on hand were representatives from various organizations with transportation exhibits, including the Rivanna Chapter of the NRHS with whom I was later a guest for lunch. A harpist serenaded the festivities both before and after the proceedings.
The Charlottesville station is actually a "union" station, served on both sides by trains using different railroads. The Crescent calls on the station once daily in each direction on the Norfolk Southern side, and the Cardinal stops three times a week in each direction on the CSX side. These lines respectively represent the heritage of the Southern and the Chesapeake & Ohio, their lines crossing at a diamond just south of the station complex. Interestingly, at one time C&O trains actually made two stops in Charlottesville - one at the Union Station, the other at its own station (still standing and restored) several blocks to the east.
Plans for the old Union Station are still uncertain. One plan would have it become a restaurant. I peered through the window and discovered that partitions, which in recent years had formed the waiting area into a U-shape, have now been removed exposing its classic mid-room wooden staircase.
Amtrak responded to the occasion by presenting a special train of Superliner equipment. Actually it was the trainset represented by the Cardinal (which does not run on Tuesdays) plus one additional dining car, and a locomotive on both ends to facilitate movement of the train back to Washington afterward. Interestingly, the train was spotted along the Norfolk Southern side of the station, a rarity for Superliners at Charlottesville. Following the ceremony, all in attendance were invited to tour the train; dignitaries were treated to a special dedication luncheon in one of the dining cars. The same luncheon was then offered to other invited guests (in this case, I included) in a second seating. A special menu had been printed. The luncheon began with a "great first coarse" [sic] of Cream of Corn and Shrimp Chowder; then a choice of Prime Rib of Beef, Maryland Old Bay Crab Cakes, or Roast Young Turkey. (I chose the Crab Cakes.) Wine from the Williamsburg Winery was also offered. My table partners, all from the Rivanna Chapter NRHS, were Stan Brother (chapter president), Ann Harrod, and Vic Stone (national director). Dessert included Chocolate Moose Cake. (Shouldn't that be Mousse?) Whatever.... the luncheon was a genuine treat, and though the train remained stationary, the whole experience whetted my appetite for my next true Amtrak adventure. (You know, the one I take once a year, and then write and write and write about afterward for the receptive eyes of all you wonderful folks who delight in reading it!)
Oh yes, before I left, I got a chance to bend the ear of one of the Amtrak officials about my time-honored idea for a transitional dome car for Superliners. Now you surely didn't think I would pass up on THAT opportunity, did you?
Charlottesville Station Dedicated to William Hollifield . . .
Amtrak has dedicated the Charlottesville station to the memory of William Hart Hollifield, Amtrak agent at Charlottesville, who died on the job of a heart attack September 18, 1997, at the age of 44. A graduate of Old Dominion University, he began his Amtrak career as an extra-board agent working at Charleston, Greensboro, Lynchburg, Roanoke, White Sulphur Springs and Charlottesville. A dedicated and friendly individual, and a voracious reader, he had received many letters of commendation during his career, including several from the late Graham Claytor during his tenure as president of Amtrak. Two plaques were presented during the dedication - one to be displayed at the station, and the other to his family. On the printed program it was written: "Today, the new Amtrak Charlottesville Train Station is dedicated to the memory of William Hollifield. A friend to all, a devoted son, husband, and father, and a diligent employee who demonstrated the best of Amtrak. He will be forever cherished."
Riding in STYLE on the Northern Central
By Allen Brougham . . .
The owners of the Liberty Limited Dinner Train operating on the Northern Central Railway between New Freedom and York, Pennsylvania, promise to replicate the splendor of riding the rails of one of the former Pennsylvania Railroad's premier trains. Indeed, it was THE premier train of the Pennsy's heralded Washington to Chicago route which had plied these very rails until the late 1950's. I remember that. Having grown up in Monkton, Maryland, just a short distance from that same route, I had many times seen the Liberty Limited's varnish as it made its way through the area's pristine terrain.
So once again I jumped at the chance to participate in a party held aboard the Liberty Limited. But this time it was with a twist.... It would be aboard a private car! The occasion was an annual party offered by Amtrak train director Rich Hafer for a carload of his friends. The date was Saturday, January 23, and we found our accommodation conveniently placed on the extreme rear of the train. This was exciting in itself, as the rear car is in reality the front of the train on the going portion of the trip, with the engine shoving in a backup move to our northern destination, Twin Arch Farms. This was as good as a cab ride!
The car selected for our group was the Blue Ridge (NCRY 101), a sleek open-platform car replete with all the amenities of top of the line railroad business car travel. It was neat! A buffet meal was included in the car's dining salon, and there was a slide show in the adjacent dining car on the return trip. That's right, an authentic railfan slide show aboard a moving train; what could be finer than that! The Blue Ridge was built for the Norfolk & Western in 1914 as a diner, number 1010. Its open platform was added in 1934 when it became business car 101. It was extensively rebuilt in 1957. In 1977 the car was retired, but two years later it was returned to service as a test car. It was redesignated a research car in 1985, and sold two years later to Classic Rail Cars. According to Northern Central president Ken Bitten, famous travelers known to have ridden the Blue Ridge include Yogi Berra, the Rolling Stones, and Oliver North.
Chalk up another one for the Liberty Limited Dinner Train. It was a memorable experience. Oh yes, the Blue Ridge is available for charter. If interested, call 1-800-94-TRAIN.
The Liberty Limited . . .
The Liberty Limited was one of the crack express trains of the legendary Pennsylvania Railroad. From 1925 to 1958 this luxury train, with Pullman sleepers, lounge, diner and observation car, was the finest, fastest, and most prestigious train on the original Northern Central Division. The train connected Washington, Baltimore, York, Harrisburg and points west with Chicago running on a speedy overnight schedule. The present-day Northern Central company is committed to maintaining the heritage of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Liberty Limited. Featured is fine dining in a three-and-one-half-hour trip. Fare for Saturday night trains is $54.99, fare for Sunday scenic dinner trains is $39.99, and fare for Friday night value special is $49.99. Fares include ride, dinner, dancing and entertainment. Fare for children 8-15 is 25% off, children under 8 is 50% off, and seniors 60 and over is $3.00 off. For information and reservations call 1-800-94-TRAIN. You may also visit their website: www.classicrail.com/ncry