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Week of February 10, 1997

Rail News from Central Virginia
Week of February 10, 1997

Rail News from Central Virginia, by Paul Wilson

Mid-week Report: issued on Feb. 12, 1997

New Route for NS Intermodal Train

A re-routed NS 227/228 (Detroit/Norfolk stack trains) has been running now for a week and a half via Hagerstown and the W&LE. The first 227 ran on the new route on Feb. 3 and the first 228 left Detroit the next day. In NS territory, these trains are routed over the Manassas Branch between Riverton Jct. and Manassas and then down the ex-Southern main to Lynchburg. From there they resume their original routing over the N&W to Norfolk. So far loadings have been quite respectable on most days. Only a handful of stacks originate at W&LE's NEOMODAL facility near Navarre, Ohio, as most of the traffic is overhead. 227/228's schedule has remained fairly consistent, at least on this end of its run. 227 is scheduled to leave Lynchburg at 3AM and usually appears in Charlottesville between 4:30 and 7AM. Departure from Hagerstown for 227 is about 5:30PM. One one occasion last week this train ran 10 minutes ahead of Amtrak 29 up Sand Patch. The southbound crew for 228 is usually called out of Hagerstown at 9AM and the train reaches Charlottesville any time between 2 and 6PM. Arrival in Lynchburg is scheduled for 5PM. It's good to see a respectable stack train taking advantage of the costly clearance work undertaken on the ex-Southern main. The clearance project included replacement of the Main St. bridge in Charlottesville and the undercutting of the Rivermont tunnel in Lynchburg. Prior to 227/228 the line carried only a smattering of stacks on 213/214.


Work continues on the 9th/10th St. connector project in Charlottesville. The alignment for the shoo-fly on the NS side has been graded and ties are stacked up awaiting installation. Signal gangs are already busy working on the crossing protection at 9th St. Construction crews are installing the shoring for the "big hole" which will become the site of the new bridge for the C&O tracks. This bridge is being built adjacent to the present alignment.

Testing, one, two, three...

NS tested two SD90MACs on loan from UP on Feb. 1. At 11:30 a 664, with about 120 loaded grain hoppers, left Shaffer's Crossing in Roanoke bound for Greensboro. The route, the so-called "Punkin Vine" Winston-Salem District, is a favorite testing ground due to its roller coaster profile and almost continuous curves. Even so, 664, with SD90MACs 8020 and 8063 and pusher set NS C40-9 8954 and SD70 2538, had the train well in hand. The units continued south and were returned to UP at Memphis the next week. NS also had four CSX CW4400ACs on the property during the same week. CSXT35 and 112 powered NS214 north to Hagerstown on Feb. 1. These units were returned to CSX at Lynchburg last week.

News from VARP meeting

The Virginia Association of Railway Patrons held a General Membership meeting at the Henry Clay Inn in Ashland on Sat. Feb. 8. The Henry Clay Inn is immediately adjacent to the former RF&P station which is now an Amtrak stop. Amtrak arranged for trains 79/80 to make non-scheduled stops in Ashland today for member riding from Northern Virginia.

Speakers at the luncheon meeting included John W. Newell, a member of the Ashland Town Council and the Richmond Metro MPO; Richard Beadles, former President of the RF&P; Viktoria Badger, City of Richmond Transportation Planner; Stephen Roberts, Director of Operations, Virginia Railway Express and Alan Tobias of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

I will concentrate my remarks on the last three speakers, who outlined current rail initiatives in the Commonwealth.

Ms. Badger described the plans for Richmond's Main Street Station. The first phase of the project will allow Amtrak to return to the downtown station, with the construction of a new 500' platform. Amtrak will also occupy a waiting room and ticket office in the renovated facility. CSX is insisting that the platform be "removable" in order to perform needed track work. The initial phase will allow Amtrak's present Newport News trains to use the station. In order for all Richmond services to use the station would require construction of layover and turning facilities. Plans call for these to be constructed at the Richmond airport. Phase one will be complete in the spring of 1998 and phase two with the turning facilities is slated for completion in 2000. Ms. Badger also outlined proposed routes of a planned light rail system for Richmond.

Mr. Roberts described various capital improvements being undertaken by Virginia Railway Express in the coming year. These include the purchase of thirteen bilevel commuter cars, track improvements on the RF&P line, and the addition of a third track between Alexandria and Long Bridge as part of the track relocation through the former grounds of Potomac Yard. New crossovers are to be constructed at Woodbridge, allowing added flexibility. VRE is also in the process of designing and building new second platforms at Franconia, Crystal City and Manassas. These platforms will allow better reverse direction services. Also on the table are through services to Baltimore via the "Penn Line," using a rebuilt connection in Baltimore that will allow trains off the NEC access to Camden Station.

Mr. Tobias discussed several initiatives in the development stages. These include new service to Bristol and Roanoke from Richmond and Washington. Lynchburg would become a hub of sorts where the trains would join and split. This plan would include improvements to allow an automobile-competitive six-hour travel from Richmond to Bristol. So far Norfolk Southern's reception of this plan has been cool at best. The department is also planning incremental improvements to the Richmond-Washington Corridor and the Hampton Roads-Richmond Corridor. The Commonwealth is also in discussions with North Carolina concerning a revival of the abandoned Seaboard Air Line main between Petersburg and Raleigh. This line would be a crucial link in a Washington-Richmond-Raleigh-Charlotte High Speed Corridor. Of these plans, only the incremental improvements to CSX's RF&P Sub that have been funded with any certainty. Work will include grade crossing improvements, easing curves, increasing superelevation, reducing block lengths with the installation of new signals, and upgrading the diamonds at Doswell.

- Paul Wilson