Friday, May 05, 2006

Passenger Rail Service?

1957 saw the last running of the Norfolk-Western daily passenger steam locomotive train from Roanoke to Bristol. From 1942 until this last excursion, N&W had powered it's steam fleet with the cutting edge J Class locomotive. In 1950, the rail shops in Roanoke turned out the infamous 611 (two more were built after this model). It was the most powerful locomotive to date, harnessing over 5,200 horsepower onto 70" driver wheel. For the next seven years the 611 was a daily visitor for the folks in the valley between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny ridges. People in Shawsville would hop on the train and chug up the line to Vickers Switch, to start their day of work at the Radford Arsenal. Or ride from the community of New River to Pulaski for pocket change.

Several years after the diesel engine replaced the steam powered train, passenger service to Appalachia was discontinued. N&W had merged with the Southern Railway Company to become Norfolk and Southern. The company decided that continuing passenger rail service clogged up the rails with trains that could be hauling freight instead. Enter the end of private corporation / "public" transportation in SWVA. N&S decided years later in 1982 to bring out tourist excursion stream rides a few times a year, to the delight of small towns that the trains once stopped in. I have a few pennies that were flattened by the 611 near Dublin sometime in the mid-to-late 1980's. Radford was a water refill point for the steam locomotives so there was always a large crowd of photographers and on lookers in my hometown. My house was a few miles away from Downtown but you could always hear the pressurized steam whistle echo off of the hills when the excursions past through town each summer. That is, until 1994 when, once again, N&S decided to scrap the program. Luckily for Roanoke, and the rest of us, the 611 was donated to the Virginia Transportation Museum. Today you can get a good look at the machine up close and personal, and probably looking as good as is did coming off of the assembly line in 1950.

So, is there a need to return a passenger rail service to the most traveled corridor of Appalachia? Many people would say yes just based on today's fuel prices. Many local governments agree for reasons of economic development, so much so that over the past few years that the concept of the Trans Dominion Expressway has received the endorsement from Gov. Warner, Congressmen Boucher and Goodlate and has the drawn the interest of Norfolk and Southern. Unfortunately, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine isn't as interested in the TDX as Warner but hopefully that will change in his tenure. What what I've heard from him in his speeches, he seems to be of the mindset to pave our way out of a transportation issue on I-81 other than look at other alternative solutions to the rolling tire but time will tell. Also, the movement seems to have lost steam if you look at the website. The last update is July of '05 which leaves me wondering if the initiative has stalled. Anyone with insight feel free to follow up...


Anonymous said...

My name is Mary Clemons and I am the Marketing Coordinator for the O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke, Virginia. I recently came across your blog, "Passenger Rail Service?," while we are happy that you choose to use a Winston Link image to compliment your article, you needed to follow certain copyright concerns.
First, you must obtain permission from the Link Trust and the O. Winston Link Museum to use a Link image in print or online. Secondly, you must credit the image as "O. Winston Link / Courtsey of the O. Winston Link Museum," and you must mention the Link Museum in your article. We are that you correct this matter by credited the image and mentioning the O. Winston Link Museum. Failure to do so will result in a usage fee and legal concerns. We would greatly appreciate your cooperation in this matter. I have listed my contact information below if you have any questions.

Thank you
Mary Clemons
Marketing Coordinator
O.Winston Link Museum
101 Shenandoah Ave
Roanoke, VA 24016
(540) 982-5465

Dan said...

Please feel free to capture and use an image from either one of our title below.

North Carolina Transportation Museum

Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum

Or just respond and I will send you one of Jan's wonderful photos of any train subject you wish. Oh and there won't be any rules for you putting on your blog.


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