Posts Tagged ‘Norfolk & Western’

One of Those Places Amtrak Left Behind

February 15, 2019

I recently stopped in Milan, Michigan, while on my way back home from a trip to photograph Amtrak’s Wolverine Service trains.

I wanted to photograph the junction of Norfolk Southern and the Ann Arbor Railroad and, if luck was with me, get a westbound NS train.

No trains passed through during my brief stay, but I did make an image of the former Wabash station, which still stands and is used by NS.

Being in Milan reminded me that there are countless places that Amtrak turned its back on when it started up on May 1, 1971.

Milan was one of them. It was a stop for Norfolk & Western’s Wabash Cannon Ball that used to run between Detroit and St. Louis.

Amtrak didn’t want the Cannon Ball, which made its last trips on April 30, 1971.

Of course had the N&W had its way the Cannon Ball would never have lasted that long.

My parents subscribed to the Decatur Herald as I was growing up and by the time I was a teenager I read it every morning at breakfast before going to school.

I read the numerous stories about the efforts of the N&W to ditch the Cannon Ball, but public opposition persuaded the Interstate Commerce Commission to keep it going.

Twice the ICC ordered N&W to keep the Cannon Ball running. The second of those cases, decided in 1969, prompted the railroad to ask a federal court to overturn the ICC action.

The court refused, but three months later Congress created Amtrak and the Cannon Ball began running on borrowed time.

There was never any apparent serious thought to Amtrak picking up the Cannon Ball.

When it left Milan for the final time, intercity rail passenger service ended for good in this city of 5,800 located 16 miles south of Ann Arbor.

A few passenger advocates have called over the years for restoration of Detroit-St. Louis intercity rail service, but no serious moves have been made to do that.

The NS tracks are in good condition so passenger trains could use the route, although it would cost a lot of money to build station facilities.

Passenger trains have passed through Milan on the former Wabash on occasion, mostly notably during the NS steam program.

In 2014 I rode a trip from suburban Detroit to Fort Wayne, Indiana, behind Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765 and saw people standing by the Milan depot watching the steam train.

Soon it will be 50 years since Milan had scheduled passenger train service. Amtrak is something that happens somewhere else.

Photographed From Both Directions

April 12, 2017

An Amtrak trainman is photographed while standing in the vestibule of his train on the last day of operation of the eastbound Hilltopper on Sept. 30, 1979.

The train proved to be quite popular on the day of its last run with crowds waiting to board at some stations.

For much of its history, the Hilltopper drew low numbers of passengers, making it an easy target for discontinuance during the massive route restructuring of 1979.

The train had a largely Norfolk & Western route that has not seen an Amtrak train since the demise of the Hilltopper.

Festive, But Sad Day in Roanoke

September 28, 2016


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.