This trip was to attend the 2006 NRHS Fall Board Meeting in Huntsville, AL. As usual, we traveled out and back on Amtrak, so far as is possible, taking five days in Chicago to go to the Opera and Symphony, and two plus days each way to drive across Kentucky and Tennessee between Huntington, WV and Huntsville, AL.
We're heading north, today, which means we can start out by taking the Amtrak California bus down to Bakersfield, rather than having to drive to Los Angeles. Thus, we start out at 8:30 or so by driving over to the Burger King, dropping the bags and Chris off at the new bus stop there, and parking the car in the K-Mart parking lot. There are people at the bus shelter waiting for the regional bus to take them to Lancaster, but no-one else waiting for the Amtrak bus, which comes first, and for some reason arrives across the street. The bus driver and one of the passenger help in moving the bags to the bus, and we head off towards Bakersfield. There are no more than five or six people on this bus, so this isn't one of Steve Miller's more profitable buses this morning. We arrive in Bakersfield in plenty of time, and check two of the bags to Chicago and two more to Emeryville before getting on the train.
Coach 8030 Noyo River
Coach 8025 Mokelumne River
Cafe 8813 San Fernando Valley
Cab Car 6902 Point Buritin
Train 713, 10-30-2006
|Fresno||12:20 pm||12:26/32 pm|
San Joaquin Route Description
The train also is not very full today, at any stage of the trip. It gets ten minutes late by Modesto, due to waiting eight minutes at Allensworth for train 702 and two minutes at Shirley for train 712, and almost half an hour late at Stockton, due to a 13 minute stop at East Mariposa for maintenance work to clear, which it remains the rest of the way to Emeryville. West of Stockton, the train crawls for five minutes until train 716 has cleared the single track, and stops for two minutes east of Martinez for another train to clear.
Since I can't help move the bags any distance (this is our first trip since my bypass surgery in early August), we take a taxi the short distance across the tracks to the Four Points Sheraton hotel for the night. Later, we have dinner at the adjacent Lyons, which isn't very good.
We take a taxi back to the station at about 8:30 am, and I collect the consist of the train as it pulls by prior to boarding, before 9 am. The sleeping car is a long way down the platform at this strangely-arranged station (the depot is at one end of the long side platform, rather than near the middle), but there's plenty of time to walk down there in the time remaining before departure, and we're settled in before the train starts to move.
Box Car 74032
Box Car 74002
Train 6, 10-31-2006
|Winnemucca||7:05 pm||9:13-24 pm|
|Salt Lake City||3:15-45 am||6:22-50 am|
|Grand Junction||10:43||1:26-37 pm|
|Glenwood Springs||12:30 pm||3:38-43|
|Fraser||4:10 pm||7:42 pm|
|Chicago||3:05 pm||9:33 pm|
California Zephyr Route Description
The run along the bay and across the delta to Sacramento occurs without major incident, although we stop for signals at the end of the Emeryville platform (2 minutes), west of Martinez (1 minute), and at CP RV087 (3 minutes) but after I start taking route notes in Sacramento, the train loses half an hour to Colfax (mostly in a 25 minute stop east of Auburn, waiting for the Dispatcher to provide a Track Warrant—see below), stops for nine minutes at West Reno for a westbound UP grain train to clear, and eight minutes at Upsai for an unexplained red signal, and loses another two hours to what appear to be long-term 40 mph and lower slow orders in the desert before we go to bed at Winnemucca. Conversations with the crew make it clear that these slow orders aren't new, and are the major cause of this train's abysmal timekeeping along the UP-owned portion of the route (which I knew about, and have taken account of in my trip planning).
One thing that surprises me as we ride over Donner Pass is that the remaining double-track segments of the line are now under Track Warrant Control, rather than simply requiring signal indication under Rule 251 for movement authority on current-of-traffic double-track with Automatic Block Signals.
When I awake this morning, during the pre-dawn twilight, the train is just arriving in Salt Lake City, over three hours late. This enables me to start taking route notes as we leave Salt Lake City, and gives us a daylight run over Soldier Summit, in clear sunshine. Of course, it also means that we won't see anything of the Moffat Route in the daylight, but we'll be able to do that going the other way, two plus weeks from now! Leaving Salt Lake City, there is a four minute stop at the end of the passenger track, and another three minute stop further down the line towards Provo. Detectors on the climb to Soldier Summit and beyond give the ambient temperature: 13 degrees (F) at 8:44 am (MP 680.3), 27 degrees at 9:26 am (MP 647.4) and 40 degrees at 10:20 am (MP 624.3).
The conductor tries to make the daylight run across the Utah Desert interesting, including a lengthy dissertation approaching Green River on the cold-water geyser that is apparently visible from the left side of the train (we're on the right side). We pass an eastbound coal train in the siding at Pailisade. Between 2:35 and 3:04 pm, we have to travel at 35 mph (or less) because a dispatcher transmission covered the detector's output at MP 406.5 and the train is thus limited until it gets a clear message from the next detector. We meet train 5 at Dotsero, which means that it is three hours late at this point, suggesting than the BNSF portion of its trip was not as timely as we've been led to expect it normally is. We'll see tomorrow is this augurs poorly for our own progress across Nebraska and Iowa.
Any hope of reaching even Bond/Orestod in the daylight is dashed when we stop in the Dell siding for almost half an hour (after a four minute stop at a previous siding), waiting for a Maintenance-of-Way crew to clear up. We also stop in two more sidings, while we're having dinner, before we even reach the Granby station stop, having lost more than another hour since Glenwood Springs.
We're stopped in Lincoln, Nebraska, when I awake this morning, which means we're back to being only three hours late. However, BNSF manages to put us behind three coal trains on the short leg between Lincoln and the turnoff the main line to head for Omaha, and a CTC failure along that segment of line costs us over 45 minutes in various stops and additional time lost due to slow running, which in turn leads to a misunderstanding of where we'll meet our new crew, leading to a further delay leaving Omaha (four-and-three-quarter hours late). In the western part of Iowa, where sections of non-CTC double track alternate with single-track CTC sections, I'm again surprised that the double track sections require Track Warrants for movement authority, even though they all have Automatic Block Signals and once ran under rule 251. At one point, we have to stop for 13 minutes waiting for the dispatcher to give us a track warrant. This line is rife with heavy Powder River Basin unit coal trains, loaded eastbound and empties westbound, so it might seem that some investment in CTC (and elimination of the remaining single-track segments west of Creston) could be justified.
BNSF track work across Iowa leads to further delays, some of them requiring the use of hand-throw switches at rarely-used crossovers (ten minute stop at Fairfield and another stop at Mt. Pleasant), and makes us six hours late at Burlington, IA, and BNSF operating decisions concerning a meet with the Southwest Chief outside Galesburg (a 40 minute wait), with additional stops for trains to clear approaching Chicago makes us six-and-a half hours late into Chicago (after 9:30 pm. with the crew making no attempt to serve anything resembling dinner, or even making any comments on that fact).
Taxis no longer come down the taxi ramps at Chicago Union Station (since 9/11/2001), and there are no signs indicating where to get one. Eventually, we find out that if we walk up the ramp to the street, we can flag one down there, and we're soon over at the W Chicago City Center (the former Midland Hotel, now greatly advanced in price) on West Adams Street. We get dinner at the Elephant & Castle, across the street and one block further east. Temperatures in Chicago are in the low 40s and headed down!
We start out this morning, after 10 am, by riding the new Pink Line CTA ("Elevated") route to cover the one segment of the CTA that we hadn't previously been able to ride (the section between the Green line and the junction just north of the Polk station on the west side), getting on at the Quincy station just south of the hotel, and then ride the same section back again, getting off at Clinton Avenue and walking south to the Ogilvie Transportation Center (the former C&NW Station), which, due to the temperature in the mid 30s and the blowing wind, we enter at a cross-arcade halfway down the platforms and walk through the station to get to the concourse and the food court. After eating lunch, we ride the Metra "UP-North" line out to Kenosha, WI, and back.
UP North Line Route Descriptions
Train 321 has four gallery coaches and a gallery cab car, with an F40 on the outer end, departs Chicago on time at 12:35 pm and arrives Kenosha as 2:11 pm, four minutes early. There's nothing of interest in Kenosha except a section of streetcar operations (using a PCC), that we don't have time to ride, and that I don't even see until we're leaving on the train on the way back. In the vicinity of the station, the town seems quite run down. On the way back, I notice a bridge just east of the track with the embossed-concrete words "North Shore Line" in quite florid script, and then notice that I can follow the former route of the Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee, now a bike path, along the east side of the line for many miles, except where it has disappeared into station parking lots. Train 340 departs Kenosha on-time at 2:49 pm and arrives in Chicago at 4:30 pm. five minutes late.
Back in Chicago, we change our clothes, eat fast food, and walk over to the Opera House on North Wacker Drive, where we have seats in the balcony for the Lyric Opera of Chicago's evening performance of Richard Strauss' Salome, featuring one of Debbie Voigt's first run of performances in the title role. The stage set is entirely composed of some translucent plastic assemblies, strong enough to climb and walk on, that variously act as walls and other required stage features, as well as enclosing the stage elevator standing in for the cistern. Alan Held is Jokanaan (John the Baptist) and Kim Begley is Herod. Sir Edward Downes (the English conductor, not the former Metropolitan Opera quizmaster) conducts a suitable dramatic performance, and the star soprano is in good voice, although perhaps not in a full a grasp of the role as one would like. The supporting cast is good enough to make an excellent overall impact.
The walk back to the hotel (four blocks, none of them directly along the river) is frigid, although I notice some people even less warmly dressed that we (Chris has on a dress that does not reach her ankles, and stockings, and we're wearing warm jackets but not long overcoats).
Arising about the same time this morning, we walk back over to the Ogilvie Transportation Center, buy two Metra weekend passes, and, having done this more quickly than I expected, jump on the 10:40 am train the "UP West" line, newly extended (this past April) from Geneva to Elburn. This route is somewhat more interesting than the north route, in that it goes by UP's former C&NW Global 2 Intermodal Yard and its Proviso Yard along the way.
UP West Line Route Descriptions
The outward train, four gallery cars and a gallery cab car hauled by an F40, departs Chicago on time at 10:40 am and arrives at Elburn at 12:00 noon, two minutes early. As I, somewhat, expected, there is nothing to eat near the Elburn Metra station, so we ride directly back into Chicago and eat, once again, at the Ogilvie Transportation Center's Food Court. The return train departs Elburn at 12:25 pm, on time, and gets to Chicago at 1:46 pm, one minute early. We then go back to the hotel to laze around until it's time to change and head east, for dinner and our concert this evening. We eat at Miller's Pub. on the east side of the Palmer House, where our wait is punctuated by an interesting conversation with a woman who tries to tell us that Metra's "UP West" line only goes to Geneva, not as far as we had ridden just a few hours earlier! After dinner, we walk the two remaining blocks to Chicago's Orchestra Hall, where we take a look around the symphony store before taking our seats up in the balcony.
This evening's concert comprises a short Chacony by Henry Purcell, Bartok's Second Violin Concerto (the well-known one), and Brahms Fourth Symphony. The concerto performance is a polished run-through of a work that doesn't excite me at the best of times, but the symphony performance is an absolute stunner! The last movement is taken attacca, which doesn't seem to be indicated in my miniature score, and is taken at a pace that seems designed to show off the orchestra's abilities, especially in ensemble at this tempo. The orchestra is between music directors, and as we walk back to the hotel (Chris is more warmly dressed, this time), we wonder if the conductor, David Robertson, sees himself as auditioning for that job with these concerts.
This morning, we walk east to Michigan Avenue, and cross it, walking north on the east side expecting to be able to enter Randolph Street station on that side, as we had back in 1993. But we can't find an entrance on that side. The traffic control officer we speak to points to an entrance on the southwest corner of Michigan and Randolph, so we cross by means of three separate crosswalks (there is none on the fourth side) and descend that way. Inside, after passing beneath Michigan Avenue, we find a new concourse, still under construction, for both the Metra Electric and NICTD (Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District—operator of the South Shore passenger trains these days—that replaces the former rundown concourse we had used previously. The platforms themselves are one more level down.
Metra Electric Route Descriptions
We start by taking a Metra Electric train (five EMU gallery cars, with only the first two cars open) that runs on the east-side branch to South Chicago, which turns out to be an area that I would never choose to go to for any reason other than riding the rail line in that area Train 8309 leaves Chicago on time at 11:00 am, and arrives South Chicago at 11:40 am, three minutes late. As planned, we return directly on the same trainset we came in on, train 8308 (with only the two cars at the other end of the train open), leaving South Chicago at 11;50 am, one minute late, passing back through the gentrified Hyde Park area as far as Roosevelt Road (arrive 12:28, seven minutes late), where we get off to take the next mainline Metra Electric train south to the end of the line at University Park. (There would have been a four minute connection at Randolph Street, which is too short for my comfort level, as shown by the arrival time of Train 8308.) Train 809, also five EMU gallery cars, with only the first two cars open, leaves Roosevelt Road at 12:35 pm, on time. We pass through the Hyde Park area for the third time today, and then continue south through the Pullman area and then past the Metra Electric shops on the west side of the line and the former IC Markham Yard at Homewood on the east side of the line.
The train arrives at University Park at 1:39 pm, three minutes late. Again, we return directly on the same trainset from University Park (train 810, on-time at 1:50 pm, with only the two cars at the other end of the train open), passing through the Hyde Park area for the fourth time today and passing the crowds that are starting to leave Soldier Field in the late stages of the Bears' first loss of the season, detraining at Van Buren Street (2:58 pm, four minutes late), and walking back across the Loop area to the hotel. (Our hotel is just inside the Elevated Loop, with a good view of the west side of the Loop from our 12th floor hotel room window.)
Later, we walk east to eat dinner at Millers Pub again.
This morning, we take a different set of streets across town to Randolph Street station again, this time to take a Metra Electric train on the Blue Island branch (which doesn't run on Sundays, or we would have done it the day before).
Rock Island Line Route Descriptions
The trainset for Blue Island has only two EMU gallery cars. It departs Chicago on time at 11:15 am. This line runs down the main as far as Kensington (south of Pullman), and then heads west just before the Metra shops. Its terminus is just east of the former Rock Island yard at Blue Island (where we arrive at 12:00 noon, two minutes early), and just north of the station on the former Rock Island Commuter District there. We walk casually over to that station, anticipating the one hour wait indicated in the schedules, but it transpires that the northbound due out of here at noon is ten minutes late, and we're able to get on it (scheduled departure 12:01 pm, actual 12;10 pm), albeit without purchasing our tickets first (which costs us a couple of dollars extra). This train, an F-40 with at least five gallery cars behind it, takes us up the Beverly Hills branch and then up the former Rock Island main line to the rump of La Salle Street station (arrives 12:53 pm, seven minutes late), whence we walk west to Union Station.
Metra Southwest Line Route Descriptions
After eating lunch in the Union Station food court, we take the Metra Southwest Line service (train 819, an F-40 plus six gallery cars, departs 2:40 pm, on time) out to Orland Park 173rd Street (two stations short of the new end of the line in Manhattan, and as far as we can go and return the same day, where the train arrives on-time at 3:46 pm), returning on the same trainset, which terminates at 173rd Street. This service runs on the former Wabash Line that once ran to Decatur and St. Louis, but now terminates at Manhattan, IL. The return train departs on time at 4:01 pm, and arrives in Chicago at 5:05 pm, one minute late. Back in Union Station, we walk around the lower level to the north side, and then fight the crowds of homeward bound commuters up to the mezzanine and then street level to exit on the Adams Street side, and then walk east, still fighting the crowds going the other way, to the hotel. While in Chicago Union Station, I listen on the scanner to conversations on the railroad radio between "Glass House" (the Amtrak Customer Service Center) and "South Gate" (the Amtrak gates serving the south platforms) about train movements and when to release passengers.
Later, we walk east to the Berghoff Cafe, the restaurant which has replaced the old Berghoff Restaurant, to sample their revised menu of modified German dishes. We're unhappy with the changes that have been made to 'Americanize' the dishes; even if the meats and sauces themselves still seem to taste the same, Sauerbraten just doesn't seem right served with mashed potatoes! The cafe occupies only about a quarter of the space formerly used by the old restaurant, and doesn't seem stressed by the demand for table space.
This is departure day, so we check out and take the bags (by taxi, which drops us off at the Adams Street escalators) over to the Metropolitan Lounge at Union Station before riding a Metra Milwaukee-North service out to Fox Lake and back.
Milwaukee North Line Route Descriptions
Train 2117 departs at 12:35 pm, on time, with F40 111, named Beverly Hills, five gallery coaches and a gallery cab car, and gets to Fox Lake at 2:09 pm, one minute late, after stopping for three minutes along the way for maintenance folks to clear, and meeting an opposing train at Graylake. The return train (same trainset) departs on time at 2:45 pm, waits two minutes at Graylake for the opposing train, and is seven minutes late into Chicago at 4:25 pm.
We return in plenty of time to board the departing Amtrak Cardinal after regaining our bags in the Metropolitan Lounge. I'm unable to collect the consist as we move down the platform, so I get the locomotive and Chris walks the train after we start moving. We can't check luggage on this train, but fortunately there's an empty room being used for luggage storage in the sleeping car.
Coach 25023 The last three cars are deadheading to Indianapolis (for Beech Grove)
Train 50, 11-7-2006
|Ashland||6:14 am||7:29-33 am|
Cardinal Route Description
With a 5:45 pm departure, we had expected to eat dinner on this train. But the first-class meal attendant is serving only packages of cheese and crackers, and a glass of wine for those who want it, and claims that Amtrak does not provide him with enough dinners to serve them both on departure from Chicago and before arrival in Washington, DC, the following day. He provides us with a litany of the ways that Amtrak limits his ability to provide the proper service to sleeping car passengers on this train, but has no written policy telling him not to serve us a full dinner. Chris buys some fried chicken from the cafe, but I get enough food from the supplied cheese and crackers (hers and mine) to satisfy me.
We make more than one stop of five minutes or longer on the way out of Chicago, and the HEP goes off a couple of times. just after 7 pm. We sit for 13 minutes at Dyer for no reason that I can discern (but I'm sitting in the dinette with no access to the scanner). We're asleep before the train reaches Lafayette.
I awake as the train stops for its service stop at Russell Yard (7:18-22 am), just west of Ashland, KY, and we're up, dressed, and packed in time to get off at Huntington, WV, just a few miles further east. We take a taxi the twelve miles west to the Tri-State Airport, where we rent a car for the next week. Our first stop in the car is in Kenova, WV, just north of the airport, to photograph the Norfolk & Western bridge over the Ohio River there, before heading west into Catlettsburg, across the Big Sandy River in Kentucky, and then north into Ashland, where we stop for a late breakfast. After a drive past the big AK Steel facilities alongside the former C&O rail line that we had arrived on, and around the periphery of the nine track Russell Yard just north and west of Ashland, which has a locomotive shop on the north side of the line at the east end of the yard, as well as an on-line fuel rack, we head back south to I-64, and west on that highway through the wooded hills of eastern Kentucky to Lexington, where we take the south-side bypass road around to US 68 and then head south into bluegrass horse-country to find the northern end of the NS 'Rathole' line at "SJ Tower" (where there is no longer any tower), the junction of the lines from Cincinnati and Louisville, just north of Danville, KY.
'Rathole' Route Description
Having found the junction, we then follow the line into Danville, and to the north end of double track at Kings Mountain, and then after crossing over east to US 27, we follow that road and the line, past crossovers at Waynesburg and Norwood, south to Somerset, KY, where we stop for the night, as planned, at a motel that has changed its name since we booked a few months ago! Eating in the Pizza Parlor next door to the motel, we hear that Donald Rumsfeld has resigned as Secretary of Defense following the Republican's loss of both house of Congress in the previous day's elections (in which we had voted by absentee ballot before leaving home).
We're up at first light today, to maximize the daylight we have available for visiting to the remainder of the 'Rathole' line as we head further south. There's ice on the car's windshield as we start to pack the trunk, but it's easily removed. After examining some of the rail sites in Somerset, we stop at the Burnside bridge across Lake Cumberland, pass the crossovers at Tateville, where we see a southbound grain train headed by a CN locomotive, and then head onto back roads to find the deep cuttings on the 1963 line relocation just south of the Burnside area, at Caney Branch Springs Road (where we see a northbound NS manifest), Cave Springs Road, a bridge carrying a road we could not name, and Sheldon Road. We successfully find all four of them, all now carrying double track (as compared to the single track seen in the 1990 era Pentrex video) before returning to US 27, and later the bridge over the single track line south of Wiborg, where we see a northbound NS baretable train, but later fail to find the center of Stearns (although we find nearby sites) because the roads in the area no longer match those on the roadmap CD I had used to prepare the detailed maps, even though that is only a year old!
We do find road bridges near Stearns and in Revelo, and signal bridges and crossovers at Silerville, cross into Tennessee, and then take a side road through Oneida, where we catch up with the grain train headed by the CN locomotive at the signal at MP 208.x, and photograph the local facilities as well as a signal bridge at MP 211.5. We stop for lunch just south of Oneida, and then catch the signal bridge at Phillips (MP 215.4), just off the main road at Helenwood. We stop at Robbins to look at the signals, signal bridges and crossovers. Later, we take side roads to Annadel, and through Lancing to look for the tunnels approaching Oakdale, but fail to find any of them (while finding other expected rail sites), apparently because they're deep on dirt roads. We successfully locate Camp Austin and Oakdale, where we see that grain train with the CN locomotive again, awaiting a crew change, but don't find Harriman Junction (again, it's on a rutted dirt road that we can see from alongside the Knoxville line) or the tunnels to its north, before continuing south to out planned overnight stop in Dayton, TN.
We eat dinner at the separately-owned restaurant at the hotel, a place which is in a time-warp, both in terms of the low prices it charges ($6 each for a full dinner!) and the 1960s style of the meals it serves!
After eating the included breakfast in that same restaurant (another time-warp meal), we head south, without looking for the courthouse in the center of town, where the Scopes Trial had been held in 1923. Although we deliberately wait until mid-morning to leave, US 27 gets us to Chattanooga faster than we had anticipated, and the quality of US 72 onward to Huntsville, after we leave I-24, is such that we get to Huntsville much earlier than I had anticipated. In fact, with the one-hour time change from EST to CST, we're in Huntsville and at the Marriott Hotel early enough to join in the afternoon NRHS activity, for which I had not booked tickets because I had not expected to be here.
There are some no-shows, however (including Joe Williams,, who arrives but chooses not to participate, as well as Donald Bishop and Nina Lawford-Juviler, whom we never do see), so we're able to get tickets and join in the activity. The NAS facility is right next to the hotel, well within walking distance, so we walk over there a little after 1 pm. The group is split so that half go to the Space Camp and half to the Museum, and we find ourselves in the Space Camp half. That group is then split again, so that one set of people goes into the simulated Space Shuttle and the other to the simulated Ground Control Each facility is outfitted with all of the equipment needed to simulate a complete mission, and the Space Shuttle portion is also physically laid out in the same manner as the real shuttle, down to the limited spaces available for maneuvering, storage, etc. Space Campers perform simulated missions using these facilities—anything from a one hour set of activities to a complete 30-hour sequence, including taking all meals, sleeping, etc., in the confines of the 'shuttle', requiring complex planning beforehand. 'Ground Controllers' also participate in these missions, and can observe everything that happens in the 'Shuttle' (as we observe looking at the other half of the group during our visit).
The museum has a mix of real artifacts and accurate mockups of early rocket experiments (including those of Dr. Godard), a V2 rocket, Mercury, Gemini and Apollo (16) capsules, Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) landing and ascent stages, and the Soviet MIR space station that came down in Australia, along with space suits, etc. Our guide is very knowledgeable and is able to explain the exhibits clearly. There is also an Imax film theater that shows us a film on the recent (2003-2004) Mars lander and rover explorations.
In early evening, there is a short meeting of four of the National Directors for At-Large Members (Charles Bogart is not here yet) with Greg Molloy, Barry Smith and Doug White (President, Senior VP, and Secretary of national NRHS, respectively), covering where we stand on the survey and some other matters. I ask if the next NRHS News could list the names and (at least) e-mail addresses of the National Directors for At-Large Members, so that At-Large Members might at least know how to contact us if they wished. This was agreed to. After the meeting, the National Directors for At-Large Members who are present, along with Chris and Braley, have dinner together in a side room in the hotel restaurant (following a wait in the bar). The food is excellent, but the service excruciatingly slow.
After Thursday's temperatures in the high 60s, and Friday's in the low 70s, I'm anticipating something similar today, but this turns out to be a very cold day for the planned outdoor activities! At first, there is rain, but after the rain the temperature drops considerably further.
Today's NRHS activities start out with a visit to the Norfolk Southern Huntsville International Intermodal Center, which is at the end of a branch south of the NS main line in the area, along the west side of Redstone Arsenal (the NE corner of which is where the NASA Museum is located). There are two switchers at the Intermodal Yard, an Alco and an EMD, both painted yellow. The yard provides storage facilities for containers in between their usage by local industries, so seems a lot busier than it otherwise might.
The second stop is at the Huntsville Depot Museum, in the center of the town, based on the 1860 wooden depot built for the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, a Southern Railway predecessor. In addition to the depot, there are other facilities on the grounds including a replica roundhouse segment, with turntable, and a narrow gauge line giving rides on a toaster-style 'trolley'. Part of the depot is a museum of the railroad life of the 1960s, and part is a museum of its role in the local incidents of the Civil War (including 'graffiti' left by soldiers imprisoned on the top floor of the depot for awhile). Across the NS main line, the old freight depot is deteriorating, in spite of efforts to shore it up for preservation.
The Memphis & Charleston line passes this way en route from Memphis to Chattanooga, using the big bend in the Tennessee River down into Alabama to make its way around the southwestern end of the Appalachian ridges, the same way both the river and US highway 72 do. Because this is thus the NS main line between Memphis and Chattanooga, it is the route taken by the unit coal trains from the Powder River Basin to and from Plant Scherer (south of Macon, GA), of which we see one each way during our visit to the museum, with two head-end BNSF AC locomotives, and one similar DPU at the rear. (The plant's appetite for coal requires at least three unit loaded coal trains a day, on a multi-day cycle each way between coalfields in Wyoming and power plant in Georgia. These trains once ran on UP on the west side of the Mississippi, but BNSF took the contract away a few years ago.) These trains do not run on the former CB&Q main line across Iowa, used by the California Zephyr, but rather use the former Frisco line across Missouri to connect to NS at Memphis.
The North Alabama Chapter of NRHS was part of the early efforts in developing the Huntsville Depot Museum, but after a disagreement with the city in the late '70s/early '80s, the chapter developed its own museum at the Chase Union Depot, east of town, which is where we're headed next. The "smallest union depot in the country" (it's really just a small depot building that happened to be located on both the Southern Railway and Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railroad lines—the latter a branch that closed in the 1960s—at Chase, where the lines came close but didn't cross) is now the focus of the North Alabama Chapter's preservation efforts, including passenger and freight cars in various states of restoration or distress, as well as a few small diesel locomotives, at their North Alabama Railroad Museum. Enough of the rolling stock is in good order to run a three-car excursion train on the chapter's 5-mile "Mercury and Chase" demonstration line, developed in two stages on a section of the closed NC&St. L branch line.
Here, we have an outdoor barbecue, in weather that's clearly not appropriate for such an activity (but couldn't have been predicted), after which Chris heads back to the bus for warmth, while many people climb on the (heated) train that we'll be riding later. I walk around the rolling stock lines, and then go into the museum/library area. Here, I discover that there's a cat which lives in the office area of the depot, so I get Chris back off the bus to come and meet the cat, which she manages to do in spite of the grumpy office manager, who doesn't want the visitors in his area.
The chapter folks have only one car open on the train (an ex-PRR streamline coach), lest the visitors steal the stock from their concession car, but open the others before departure. Our train is headed by END SW2 484, lettered for the 'Mercury and Chase Railroad'. We sit in the dining car (created from an ex-Korean War hospital car, and presented to the museum by Jim Bistline, whose name adorns the car), with Bill Chapman for the ride to first one end and then the other of the line, and I detrain for the photo runby when we're almost back to the museum at the end of the ride. I choose to walk back to the museum, since it's as close to do so as to walk again to the rear of the train and reboard for the ride back. The buses then return us to the hotel.
The rest of the day is occupied by the 'pre-meeting meeting', where the NRHS Officers explain the budget for 2007 (drawing down the reserves to invest in the future) and their ongoing dealings with an outfit called Federly & Federly in Philadelphia, which handles non-profit group operations on a service-bureau basis that is of great interest to NRHS as an alternative to developing our own membership records and dues-billing system. This outfit's offices are just three blocks from the NRHS office in Philadelphia! Jack Salt says that he's long been familiar with their operations, which adds greatly to the credibility of NRHS using them. Some of the most telling events at this meeting are Jeff Smith's inept (even if factual) responses to difficult questions from the audience, and Greg Molloy's much more professional responses to those same questions when he intervenes on Jeff's or the society's behalf.
At the banquet, Charles and Marilyn Bogart join those of us who had dined together the evening before to make up an 'At-Large Directors' table. After dinner, one of the North Alabama Chapter officers regales us with a tale of a trip he, along with Charles and Marilyn Bogart, had made on BC Rail, with someone writing "Marilyn's Corner" in the area of the BC Rail RDC where she had spent much of the trip.
We're leaving this afternoon, so we pack and take the baggage out to the car, checking out before the start of the Board Meeting. In addition to the things that had been discussed on Saturday afternoon, the real item of interest is the decision to hold the 2008 Convention in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, in June, 2008, hosted by the North Texas Chapter. After the meeting, we, the Pastorinos, and Bill Chapman have lunch together at Landry's, a nearby restaurant, while Jack Hilborn and the Bogarts start their respective long drives home.
After lunch, we drop the others off at the hotel and start our drive back to Chattanooga, where we'll spend the night. This time, we recognize that the railway line running alongside US 72's north side as we head east-southeast in the early part of the trip is the NS main line between Memphis and Chattanooga, built as the Memphis & Charleston, that carries the Plant Scherer unit coal trains. The road and rail line run close to one another much of the way around to the Tennessee state line (the route curves from east-southeast to northeast following the bend in the Tennessee River), before we join I-24 for the run east, dipping down into the northwest corner of Georgia on the way, into Chattanooga. Here, we stay at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, the Holiday Inn that will be the site of the 2007 NRHS Convention. While checking in, we run into Dave Ackerman, who is also staying here, and some others who had been at the Board Meeting.
This morning, we head northeast on I-75 to Knoxville, and then north on I-75 to Lake City, where we have a late breakfast at a country restaurant before starting our rail route investigations on the CSX (ex-L&N) coal route north over the mountains, following US 25W and then KY SR 26, to Corbin, stopping first at the south end of the siding at Jacksboro, TN, then the intermediate signals at MP 242, the siding at Chaska, where we see a locomotive running around its train as well as the still-extant on-line coaling tower, the north end of double track and south end of a tunnel at Morley, and the depot in Williamsburg, KY.
After waiting for a southbound coal train headed by CSX751 and 142 at the SR 26 grade crossing, we stop at the intermediate signals at MP 182.x, on single track, and then those at MP 176.x, at a grade crossing on double track, followed by the signals and crossovers at Archer Street (with a signal bridge at the north end) and the signal bridge at Bacon Creek before the yard at Corbin, where we stop near the north end..
South of Corbin route description
After reaching Corbin on KY 26 (which used to be US 25W when I first knew it, in the late 1960s), we first follow the main line north from Corbin to London, and then (before we run out of daylight entirely) return to Corbin, examine the east side of the yard where there are some large coal loadouts owned by Arch Coal Company, and head east along the Barbourville line, where there are now many fewer coal loadouts than there where when Robby Vaughan wrote his e-mail Guide to Appalachian Coal Railroads back in 1996, when he was completing his studies at Eastern Kentucky University. We do, however, find a couple of places of interest to photograph, including intermediate signals at MP 172.x on the CV sub., a bridge over the side road with an interesting profile to the 'tunnel', and the Gatliff Coal Company's prep. plant, conveyor and coal loadout at Ada Tipple, the latter after waiting for a coal train headed by CSX 441 to finish switching across the main road at Heidrick.
North of Corbin route description
East of Corbin route description
We eat dinner at a Chinese restaurant near the hotel on the southwest side of Corbin, where the waitress hovers nearby the entire time we're there!
We get an early start this morning, as soon as dawn breaks, which unfortunately means we're driving in fog or near-fog all the way north (mostly on I-75) to Winchester, and then back south-southeast following the ex-L&N Eastern Kentucky subdivision past the three large steel viaducts (Dry Fork Viaduct, Howard's Creek Viaduct, and Rock River Viaduct, all of which we find, on back roads, but only two of which we can see because of the fog). We then follow that line past the maintenance shops at Ravenna Yard, and up over Elkatawa Hill, where the line comes north across the valley on a steel trestle at St. Helens and then turns east along one side of the road or the other past Athol and the coal pre. plant and loadout at Wolverine, before taking the highway direct from Jackson to Hazard while the line follows many large bends in a river. We investigate the yard in Hazard, and then again take the highway directly east over the mountain to the coal loadouts at Progress Coal (MP 284.1), Montgomery Elkhorn Coal Company at Democrat, and Deane, while the line follows the river bottoms to the south.
Winchester-Hazard-Deane route description
There are many piles of coal on the ground at Democrat, while at Deane the change from former L&N to former C&O is now quite seamless (at least from the paved road). We follow the latter's E&BV branch north past the large steel trestle at Hall, and the coal plant and loadout at Bates, to the Big Sandy Subdivision, which we then follow north, passing a large American Electric Power Plant with a balloon unloading track for until coal trains on the west bank of the Big Sandy River, and then a large barge transshipment terminal for coal trucks coming from the south, until US 23 intersects I-64, where we cut off east across the Big Sandy River to drop the car off at Tri-State Airport before darkness falls. We call the Holiday Inn to send their shuttle over to pick us up (which they do), since the Hertz agent says that's more reliable than calling a cab. We again eat Chinese food across the street from the hotel.
"Julie" says that train 50 is about an hour late, so we get up and dressed, and take the hotel's van over to Amtrak (about six blocks), where we board the train a little after 8 am for the run east to Washington, DC. The sky never really lightens all day long.
Sleeper 62047 Valley View
Train 50, 11-14-2006
|Huntington, WV||7:09 am||8:18 am|
|White Sulphur Springs||11:25||1:04-06|
|Washington, DC||5:55 pm dep.||8:35 pm arr.|
Cardinal route description
The first-class meal attendant turns out to be the same man who had served us only crackers and cheese, instead of dinner, a week earlier, but today he serves us breakfast, lunch, and dinner before the train reaches Washington, DC. The train loses another half hour between Prince and Hinton, standing still just west of the latter waiting for a failed freight train to move out of the way, 15 more minutes at Boral waiting for train 51 to go the other way, 15 more minutes just west of the NS crossing in Charlottesville, awaiting the NS Dispatcher's permission to cross, and ten more minutes at Charlottesville during the crew change. Darkness falls just east of Charlottesville, VA, so my note-taking ceases there, after a good run all the way from Huntington, up the New River Gorge and across the mountain. There is another 20-minute stop at Calverton, west of Manassas, for a switch that will not lock up, before we proceed by taking the time for our conductor to hand throw it (which costs five more minutes).
In Washington, DC, the redcap takes us all the way out to the street corner, whence we walk the block further west to the Phoenix Park Hotel on North Capitol Avenue, pulling the wheeled luggage with us.
After whiling away most of the morning in the hotel room, we walk the bags over to the station and check two of them through to Bakersfield, albeit with some difficulty in that the clerk doesn't know how to check bags to places for which she doesn't have printed tags! We then take the rest of the bags and stash them in Club Acela (the east-coast version of the first-class lounge) before having lunch in the station and then riding the Washington Metro for awhile, to pickup a section of the Green Line that we haven't ridden before. The weather is still dark and gloomy, and rain is falling, today, so we make no attempt to go anywhere requiring walking around the town.
About 40 minutes before train time, the redcaps come to take people from the lounge out to the train, and I manage to collect the consist as the redcap cart is passing the train, before I board the sleeper.
Train 29, 11-16-2006
|South Bend ET||7:35||10:39-44|
|Chicago CT||8:40 am||12:16 pm|
Capitol Limited route description
The train starts away to time, and runs well as far as Silver Spring, but then slows down to 10 mph at about the location I start seeing new signals along the lineside, erected but with their heads turned away from the track. We meet train 30, which is about three hours late arriving into the Washington area, and continue to run west at 10 mph. The Customer Service Manager riding this train gets on the PA and tells us that we're going slowly because we're following two MARC commuter trains (which we are), but as I tell him when I see him, if that were the reason it would be a good indicator that the timetable needed some revisions! In fact, the signaling system is giving false indications to all trains, so we're having to run at "restricting proceed". By the time we get a clear signal (almost to Point of Rocks), we've crossed over to the other track at Derwood, and have overtaken (at Buck Lodge) the two coupled (one to Brunswick, one to Frederick) MARC trains ("train 873") that were in front of us (as have the two coupled MARC trains ("train 875") behind us!) and are about two hours late in what is scheduled to be only an hour's journey.
As a result, we eat dinner (with a couple who are heading to South Bend to spend Thanksgiving with their daughters attending Notre Dame) while traversing the Magnolia Cutoff (in pitch darkness), and are in bed before the train departs Cumberland.
I awake as the train approaches the Maumee River Bridge, and we're up by the time it departs Toledo, in what passes for full daylight, somewhat over two hours late. At breakfast we encounter Bill Gill and his wife, who have boarded at Toledo and are heading to Chicago for a Rail Users' Network Board Meeting (Bill is on the board of that organization), so we relate to them what transpired at the NRHS Board Meeting.
The train manages to lose another 40 minutes by South Bend, because there are three NS freights in front (one is 21N), and then another half hour or more waiting for a problem to be cleared at Porter, IN. but the padding in the schedule gains some of that back on arrival into Chicago, where we're three-and-a-half hours late. There is, thus, little time to pass in Chicago before the boarding call for the California Zephyr, where again I manage to capture the consist while walking down to the train before boarding.
Train 5, 11-17-2006
|Creston CT||8:31 pm||8:36-43 pm|
|Glenwood Springs||1:53 pm||2:08-20 pm|
|Provo MT||9:31 pm||9:27-31 pm|
|Winnemucca PT||6:13 am||7:15-26 am|
|Emeryville||4:49 pm||7:00 pm|
California Zephyr Route Description
Unlike the eastward trip, BNSF causes no loss of time heading westward tonight. At Burlington, the crew at the rear of the train sends a couple forward to the sleeper, but the sleeping car attendant has not opened the door, so we nearly leave that couple behind before they attract the rear crew's attention by banging on the train as it starts away.
The padding in the schedule causes the train to be early on arrival into Denver, where it then sits for nearly 90 minutes, being 14 minutes late on departure! We eat breakfast mostly before the train leaves Denver. It then has to wait for an empty coal train on the Joint line to clear the flat crossing before it can head up the Front Range. At the 9000 ft. level, rivers and lakes are frozen. On the west side of the Divide, we meet train 6 at Newcastle, without either train actually stopping. The train loses no more time across Colorado and Utah (where darkness falls before we pass Thompson), and in fact is still on time on departure from Provo.
The sleeping cars on this train are full, and in fact have more than the usual number of people, with most rooms having at least two occupants and a number (not just the Family Bedrooms) having families with children. This also increases the load on the dining car. The attendant in our sleeper plays music on his computer-style speakers located by the coffee pot (mostly classical, fortunately), and makes long announcements about the history of the places the train passes along the way, over the PA system in the car (except on Donner Pass, where the whole train gets to hear the docents from CSRM speak their scripts; we hear the same words used over Donner Pass in both directions, on this trip).
I awake somewhere along the paired track, west of Elko but an hour or more east of Winnemucca. As the crew has predicted, the 40 mph and lower slow orders west of Salt Lake City have caused us to lose time (an hour or so) overnight, and we lose more time (another two hours or so) between Winnemucca and Reno, being three hours late leaving the latter. A couple of times, we pass through a 25 mph slow order that is sandwiched within a much longer 40 mph slow order. It is the latter that are the real problem. We then lose no more time crossing Donner Pass, meeting train 6 near MP 161, where it is following a manifest uphill through an area with a track gang operating where the Harsco rail-grinding train had derailed and burned-up the previous weekend. We get to Roseville before darkness falls, and the padding in the schedule ensures we're less than three hours late at Emeryville.
After checking into the same hotel as we used going the other way, we walk a block and a half south to eat at PF Chang's Chinese Restaurant in the Bay Street shopping area.
We take a taxi back to the station this morning, observing the southbound Coast Starlight (including a Pacific Parlor Car, despite what the current timetable indicates) at Emeryville only 90 minutes late(!), before boarding our train to Bakersfield.
Cab Car 8303 Mount Diablo
Cafe 8814 Napa Valley
Coach 8016 San Luis Ray River
Coach 8202 San Diego Bay
Train 714, 11-20-2006
|Bakersfield||4:11 pm||4:07 pm|
Leaving the Bay Area, we see three sets of the same train of UPS trailers, one entering Richmond Yard, one at Pinole, and one further east at Oakley. The weather is quite foggy along the bay, to the extent that we can't see the other shore even east of Crockett. The tide is very high this morning. At Hanford, we have to crawl and then stop to wait for train 715 to finish its work at the Hanford stop
At Bakersfield, the baggage crew is unable to locate the bags we had checked from Washington, DC, and has us give her our telephone number so they can call when they find them. (They never do call, but we get the bags back when we go down there on November 29th.) The fog that has been alongside all the way from the Bay Area clears (as we get above the clouds) at about 1000 ft., on the way up the hill, as darkness falls. We're home by 5:30 pm.