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An Amtrak Trip on the former RF&P An Amtrak Trip on the former RF&P by N. L. Pitsch

Sometime back in the spring, the idea came about riding an Amtrak train on the former RF&P to get a view of potential photo locations and see what structures were extant along the line. After some research, it was decided that a round trip on the Carolinian would best accommodate this task. Friends and club members were notified, reservations were made and it all came together on Saturday, July 19th. As I had worked late into the evening the night before, 8:30 AM saw a rather tardy departure from Manassas and soon I was racing to Rob’s place to meet up and drive over to the Metro for the trip to Union Station. After what seemed to be a couple of hours (in reality only about 35 minutes), we were in Union Station, Rob trying to get a line on the departure time and I, in line, waiting to pick up my ticket. After a few anxious minutes (It was only couple of minutes prior to the time-table departure time), ticket was and hand and we were off to queue up for boarding. Presently, we met up with fellow trekker, John Fuller. After a delay that might have had something to do with the last car, the Carolinian departed the station at 10:51AM, 31 minutes behind schedule. After four minutes thru the Capitol Hill Tunnel our train stopped at CP Virginia. Here, we switched from the Amtrak to the Conrail radio channel and soon we were rolling onto Conrail rail, past the former PRR tower, named for a neighboring street.

After passing the L’Enfant VRE station, our train once again came to a stop atop the Long Bridge. As a couple of Metro trains cross the Potomac over their own bridge, a very late Amtrak train 98, the Silver Meteor, lead by engine 836 rumbles by on our engineer’s side. At 11:14 AM, our train began to roll again, only to stop again a minute later at RO interlocking. Much had changed in this area since the derailment eleven days before. A pile of brick and roofing material is all that remains of RO tower on the right, and wreckage from the piggyback train is also sighted. New signals, still covered in plastic stand guard over the spiked switch that used to lead to the Rosslyn Connecting Railway, a now abandoned Pennsy subsidiary that served the Pentagon. After a brief stop, our train again pulled south, onto the route of the Washington Southern . After passing the Crystal City VRE station, we angled over to the new line to the east of Potomac Yard. Another Amtrak train passed to our right, although this time with two Genesis-type locomotives, probably train 92, the Silver Star, just a few minutes behind schedule. While passing by the former Potomac Yard, it appeared that one of the yard office buildings was in use by the contractor in charge of leveling the site. Except for the W&OD concrete abutments off in the distance, no other railroad evidence was noted. South of the yard was the site of the Fruit Growers Express shops, but again, nothing could be seen to remind us this once-thriving operation ever existed. We pulled into the Alexandria station at 1123 and were off again four minutes later. Just out of the station we pass CSX train Q414 with four CSXT engines and immediately thereafter pass a rail train lead by CSXT 6234. The teeth-jarring ride over the switches either side of Alexandria station confirm the presence of track maintenance forces at this location. Nearby, a rusty FGEX reefer sits on a siding (now in maintenance of way service) perhaps only a couple of miles from its birthplace.

As our train sped thru Alexandria, we zip past a NS GP38 in the yard, and then past two Metro trainsets at the Springfield station. As we roll by the lineside signals, I am reminded that the CSX has a radio practice that makes pinpointing the whereabouts of a train relatively easy. Train crews "call" the signals as they come into view. As many of these signals have been erected at places not listed in the timetable, I note the names and times as the crew call them; 1136, Ravensworth; 1137, Pohick ; and then we enter into a 25mph slow order to the VRE station at Pohick. A minute later we were passing the Auto-Train loading facility at Lorton, but I forgot to look for evidence of the "Lorton & Occoquan", a line that served the D.C. Department of Corrections prison. AMTK 559, an SW9 built for the Santa Fe in March 1953, was pausing in the yard at Lorton before marshaling the cars for the next Auto-Train. Just after the crew called the Colchester signal, our train was slowing down for a flag-stop at the VRE station at Woodbridge, and after two passengers exited the train we were off again at 1145. Our engineer was doubtless anxious to get back home, as for the second time he referred to our train as train 92, which when queried by the conductor, turned out to be his scheduled return train. We roll by a crossing protected only by a crossbuck, no gate, warning lights or bell, a surprising sight on this busy line, and the crew calls out a signal for a place that sounds something like Verdemont. After passing over the picturesque marina that has graced passenger railway calendars on occasion for years, we hear on the radio that there are three passengers for Quantico. We clear the detector at mile post 84.6 and pass the signals at North Possum Point at seven minutes to noon. After noting the venerable RS1 at the VEPCO power plant at Possum Point, we roll across the single track bridge and say goodbye to the former Washington Southern.

Before stopping to drop off our passengers, Amtrak 94, apparently one of the new North East Direct trains with a Genesis locomotive in charge, awaits our passing. While dropping off the passengers, evidence of trackage on the Marine Base can be seen. A large warehouse bearing the date 1919 once had tracks along side. After we pull out of the station, a large open area testifies to the absence of the RF&P freighthouse. Off in the distance, Marine 1 (or one of the several Marine 1’s) awaits its next call to duty and we quickly pass the unusual "air port crossing" signals. These are ordinary railroad crossing "flashers", dating from the 50’s or 60’s, guard the end of the runway that is shared with the road to the Air-Ground museum. A tracked naval gun displaying Baldwin Locomotive Works builders’ plate 50631 dated "Novewber" (sic) 1918 can be inspected here. South of Widewater we encounter more CSX trackwork, and we get a good rollby by the maintenance forces at Aquia. Before we pass the VRE station at Brooke, we pass a northbound CSX freight, led by two units. We receive news of another slow order at Ross and learn we are to be kept to 25 mph between milepost 62.5 and 58.6. Meantime, the detector at 66.6 gives us the green on track three. Potomac Run is called at 1210, and Leland a minute later. We come upon Dahlgren Jct. to find the siding tied up with maintenance of way equipment. As we roll into the Fredericksburg station, another CSX freight slips by behind two engines, and the rest of our contingent boards, Chapter President Mike Riabouchinsky and son Paul, Larry Duffee, Jim Schneggenburger, Mike Vaglio and Bill Jerow. While we wait the conductors all aboard call, Mike and son get a look at our locomotive, 86 We pull out of Fredericksburg, exactly an hour late by the schedule.

Soon we pass FB Tower, the first of four RF&P towers we will see this day, and just ahead we pass Auto Train #52 at Poplar. A minute later we pass thru Hamilton and the spur to the industrial park. The L. A. Clark spur at Massaponax is passed at 1233, followed by Crossroads at 1235, the VRE yard at 1236 and Summit at 1237. The detector at 51.5 gives our train a clean bill of health on track 3, and we dash by Guinea at 1239 and Jones two minutes later. On the east side of the track we are greeted by the sight of the ancient wooden depot at Woodford, and at 1244 we are gliding past the signal at Collins Crossing. Two minutes later we are past Rixley (no sign of KN tower mentioned in the 1949 timetable) and then Holly Hill. We next pass the station at Milford, along the meandering siding. Just ahead is the unused tower at Milford, constructed just before a new signaling system rendered it surplus. Just south of Milford we pass the signal at Penola, round the curve and pass the next signal at Polecat Creek. Rutherglen and Chandler are next before passing the approach signal at North Doswell for the C&O crossing. At three past one, we note several CSX units idling in the yard and then rumble over the diamond and past HN Tower and the joint depot. The next detector gives the train a clean bill of health at Taylorsville, milepost 19.6, again on track three. Ellet spur flits by to the east, and soon the train is splitting the town of Ashland in two. Like Woodbridge, Ashland station is a flag stop for Amtrak, although there is no stop this trip. At one fifteen we pass the signal at Elmont, two minutes later we are passing Loral, and in another two minutes we’ll be at Greendale, the station stop for Richmond, still exactly an hour behind schedule.

The "new" Greendale is actually .4 miles north of the old one, now just across the tracks from GN tower. After a fourteen minute stop, we are off again for the last 4.8 miles of the RF&P. Near the Dumbarton station point we pass CSX pig train Q176, and at Acca Yard, we pass the "Juice Train", awaiting a crew for the northbound trip. As we roll onto former ACL trackage, another radio frequency change is in order, and soon we soar over the C&O James River Subdivision and the river for which it was named. By 1344 are passing the signal at Meadow and two minutes later we pass Broad Run. In another six minutes we pass Centralia, where a connection leads to the parallel SAL route. In another minute, we pass Chester and are given a clean bill of health by the detector at mp 17.4. Train 90, The Silver Palm flies by three minutes from our stop at Petersburg, 57 minutes late. Upon disembarking, we find our locomotive this trip has been AMTK 86, and to our surprise, the private car "Pine Tree State" brings up the rear. This car was built by Pullman-Standard in 1955 as New Haven 553, for trains 168 and 169, the Montrealer and the Washingtonian, which ran over the Canadian National-Central Vermont-New Haven-Pennsylvania.

A check with the station agent reveals our return train is about thirty minutes behind so we have time for a look around. Downtown is several blocks away so we head in that direction. Along the way we notice a home that looks suspiciously like it might have been a passenger car once. Lunch is enjoyed at a small deli around the corner and on the way back, we notice the old station is still standing next to the 1950’s era station. The Amtrak station sign reads "Ettrick", but metal lettering on the north side of the station reads Petersburg. It seems that after the ACL-SAL merger in 1968, the SCL ended up having two stations named "Petersburg". The SAL station downtown retained the name, and the ACL station on the edge of town was renamed "Ettrick". The station is full of people, most of whom are waiting for train 90, the Silver Palm. For a while it seems it will be a toss-up to which train will arrive first so we take up waiting for our train outside. CSX sends two freights by, a northbound behind in the charge of two General Electric engines, and a southbound with a modern-day ‘we’re not mad anyone’ lashup, with an EMD and followed by one GE. The second-to-last car is a RF&P covered hopper, looking a very worn twenty years old. The northbound Carolinian pulls up with AMTK 810 in change, and we pull away from the station at 1532. Thirteen minutes away, we jet past the detector at mp 17.4. The mechanical voice announces we are traveling at 75 mph, and are 24 axles (one engine, 5 cars) long. A few moments later we are passing the huge warehouse complex of the General Services Administration at Bellwood, off the SAL to the east. Tracks scatter about the fenced compound, and we hear the signals called for Stathmore, Meadow and Douglasville called. A southbound freight behind three engines is passed at South Richmond, and we slip by "AY" at a minute past four. A lot of interesting equipment is in Acca Yard, a locomotive in Seaboard paint, boxcars of shortlines from all over the country, and a lone Great Northern boxcar with the modern version of "Rocky" on the side. We pull along side a southbound freight behind four locomotives with a in full view of GN tower for our northbound Richmond stop. We are passing North Ashland by 1632, and ten minutes later the detector at Taylorsville gives us a good rollby on track 2. After passing Doswell, the engineer calls to the conductor and mentions a college basketball player has been aboard, and we encounter more maintenance of way forces at milepost 29.6, Coleman Hill. We cross over to track 3 and at mp 34.2, just past Penola we get another automated rollby. Soon we find out why the track change - we pass the northbound juice train and soon meet the empty southbound at South Milford. We zip past Milford, Holly Hill and Collins and outside Woodford, we meet southbound pig train 153 behind three engines. The Stonewall Jackson shrine comes into view at 1718 and two minutes later we pass County Line. The detector says we’re fine on track 2 at milepost 51.5, and a couple of minutes later we pass a northbound near Hamilton. The Meade Pyramid is pointed out and we know our Fredericksburg friends will be detraining soon. As we roll into the outskirts of Fredericksburg, an ancient flat car is noted near the Hutting Co. on a spur track. As we pull into the station, Amtrak train 67, behind engine 31, prepares to pull out. Our conductor mentions the NRHS members have been aboard and Corky Price, friend of Rob Mesite, turned out to be the engineer of #67. We pull out of Fredericksburg only to pull to a stop at Dahlgren Jct., where Mike and Jim drive up nearby. After a ten minute stop to allow a CSX pig train to pass, we are underway again. The detector at mp 66.6 offers no complaints and we pass Brooke at 1814. Just outside Widewater we pass Autotrain 53 behind two engines, and pull to a stop at Quantico. As we pull out of the station, we see the headlight of Amtrak 91, the Silver Star, is waiting for us at Possum Point. Another detector at mp 84.6 is cleared without incident. Lorton and Pohick are passed. We meet a CSX freight behind five engines just before hitting the detector at mp 95.8. Just after Cameron Run we go encounter train Q401, behind seven engines, including one still in Chessie System paint and another is identified as a GP40, one of only a handful remaining on the CSX.

We reach RO tower (or at least where it used to be) at 1914, and we again pause. About the same time, the café car in which we had been riding is closed and we make our way to the coach cars. My log is interrupted at this point, and I now see that I was remiss in recording the time into Union Station, but recall was in the neighborhood of 1930. As we detrain and walk up the platform toward the station, Amtrak switcher 562 pulls up nearby. I can make out the identification numbers stamped on the right corner of the frame and my list reveals this is another former Santa Fe SW9. All in all, it has been an enjoyable trip. Many potential photo locations have been noted, a couple of RF&P structures are added to the list, and a general good time has been had by all. After a few minutes at the Great American Train store, we have a bite to eat and its back to the Metro and on homeward.

N. L. Pitsch
Manassas, VA