Pre-Dawn At Cattlettsburg Station


The baggage cart at this Amtrak station might appear to be an anachronism or it simply provides historical contrast between two distinct eras.

In Amtrak timetables this was known as Tri-State Station. It was built in 1975 to serve the Chicago-Norfolk, Virginia, Mountaineer, which operated combined with the Chicago-Washington James Whitcomb Riley west of Chesapeake & Ohio’s Russell Yard near Ashland, Kentucky

Located in the Kentucky town of Cattlettsburg, this was a staffed station that would later become the western terminus of the Hilltopper, a train that operated to and from Washington, D.C.

Tri-State station would draw passengers from Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. It replaced the stop in Ashland, five miles away.

The Hilltopper was discontinued on Oct. 1, 1979, but Tri-State Station continued to serve the Cardinal until March 11, 1998, when Nos. 50/51 resumed stopping in Ashland.

About a decade earlier the station had been renamed in Amtrak timetables as Cattlettsburg.

I only visited Tri-State Station once, but it was a quite memorable experience.

I had disembarked from the Cardinal around 10 p.m. and had a 7.5 hour layover until boarding the Hilltopper for its final eastbound run.

I didn’t get much, if any, sleep in the station during the night. Fortunately, there were a couple of guys to talk with, one of whom said he worked for Amtrak, who also were there to ride the last Hilltopper.

We also talked with the station agent, who locked the station’s front door during the night to keep out undesirables.

No. 66 was scheduled to depart from Tri-State Station at 5:33 a.m. I didn’t record what time it arrived from Russell Yard, where the equipment laid over during the night, but I must have made this image around 5 a.m.

It is hand held and the platform lights caused a color shift on the slide film I was using.

Few people boarded the Hilltopper that morning. The crew was C&O employees who would take the train a short distance to Kenova, West Virginia, where No. 66 would get onto the Norfolk & Western and get an N&W crew.

The conductor didn’t collect tickets or even wear an Amtrak uniform.

In March 1998, the C&O freight station in Ashland was renovated and became a multimodal facility known as the Ashland Transportation Center. It is used by Amtrak, local city buses and Greyhound.

Recent photographs posted online show the former Tri-State Station still exists, but is no longer used. Also still in existence is the C&O depot in Cattlettsburg, which is owned by the city and used as a visitor’s center.

The C&O depot was added to the Register of Historic Places in 2012.

It seems doubtful that the Amtrak station will ever be added to the Register even though in its own way it is historic as a monument to management thinking in the 1970s when modular stations were what Amtrak created.

Those stations were functional, but little else.

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