It’s festive yet sad day in Roanoke, Virginia, on Sept. 30, 1979, as the city is about to lose its only Amtrak service.
The Roanoke Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society marked the occasion of the last eastbound by operating three of its passenger cars on the rear of Amtrak train No. 66, the Hilltopper.
I don’t remember where the cars were added. They were painted in the colors of the Norfolk & Western, which of course, had a major presence in Roanoke.
I had boarded No. 66 in Catlettsburg, Kentucky, in the pre-dawn hours. I had ridden Amtrak’s Cardinal to Catlettsburg for the purpose of riding the last eastbound trip of the Hilltopper.
The Hilltopper was something of a laughing stock at the time. Wags noted that the two-car Amfleet train began and ended in the middle of nowhere.
The ancestor of the Hilltopper was a Chicago-Norfolk, Virginia, train named the Mountaineer, which had combined with the James Whitcomb Riley at Catlettsburg.
Serving a largely rural region of West Virginia and Virginia, the Hilltopper was doomed due to its low population base.
As this is written in fall 2016, there are plans to extend a Northeast Regional train to Roanoke, with funding help from the state of Virginia. Work has begun on the Roanoke station.
But on this day in 1979, no one could foresee that happening. For all they anyone knew, Roanoke would never see Amtrak again.