Posts Tagged ‘Southern Railway’

Quite a Long History Behind This Short Train

June 12, 2020

Southern Railway received a lot of positive attention for its Southern Crescent passenger train in the 1970s.

It even boasted about the train’s service in advertisements placed in Trains magazine.

The quality of the service aboard the Southern Crescent stood in contrast with that offered by Amtrak at the time.

So when this top photograph above came in from Bob Farkas, I was intrigued by it. This southbound Southern train was recorded at Alexandria, Virginia, on July 7, 1973.

The consist of one Southern FP7 6145 and a lone passenger car was clearly not the Southern Crescent. So what was it?

The Southern also had a train named the Piedmont that operated between Washington and Atlanta, but this didn’t seem to be that train, either.

Bob said his former traveling partner Mike Ondecker recorded in his notes from that date that it was Train No. 7.

This was the remnant of the Birmingham Special, which once operated between New York and Birmingham, Alabama.

At the time that this image was made No. 7 and its northbound counterpart, No. 8, operated between Washington and Lynchburg, Virginia.

Although by the middle 1970s they were little more than accommodation trains, they had a proud and interesting history.

Launched on May 17, 1909, the Birmingham Special was a Pennsylvania Railroad train between New York and Washington and handled by the Southern via Atlanta to Birmingham.

The Birmingham Special moved to a different routing on May 15, 1932, operating on the Southern between Washington and Lynchburg, on the Norfolk & Western between Lynchburg and Bistol, Virginia, and then back on the Southern to Birmingham.

It stopped in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and some sources say that song writers Mack Gorden Harry Warren wrote Chattanooga Choo Choo while riding the Birmingham Special.

However, the song’s reference to boarding on Track 29 at Pennsylvania Station in New York is poetic license because there was no Track 29 there.

But the famed Twentieth Century Limited of the New York Central did depart from Track 29 at New York’s Grand Central Terminal.

A recording of the song recorded by the Glenn Miller orchestra was featured in the 1941 film Sun Valley Serenade.

The Pennsy ended its segment of the Birmingham Special in the late 1950s and some of its services fell by the wayside in the 1960s.

The train named was dropped on Feb. 1, 1970, although the book Journey to Amtrak shows it still in use by N&W on the eve of Amtrak.

However, the last Official Guide of the Railways issued before Amtrak does not show the name in the N&W schedules for Nos. 17 and 18.

The former Birmingham Special ran for the last time south of Bristol on Aug. 11, 1970.

That night it was the last train to depart from Chattanooga Terminal Station, departing there for the last time in the rain at 11:35 p.m.

The N&W leg of the former Birmingham Special ended May 1, 1971, because the N&W did join Amtrak.

During the early Amtrak era, the Southern would combine No. 7 with an intermodal train just south of the Alexandria station.

The passenger portion would be separated a short distance from Lynchburg.

The procedure was reversed for Train No. 8.

Trains magazine reported in its March 1975 issue about the Southern having notified the Interstate Commerce Commission of its intent to discontinue passenger service on piggyback trains 7 and 8.

The magazine in its July 1975 issue reported that the ICC had cleared the way for the Southern to do that.

It is not clear when Nos. 7 and 8 ceased to carry passengers. At the same time that the Southern sought to end Nos. 7 and 8 it also wanted to change the operations of the Piedmont and Southern Crescent.

The ICC decision clearing the way for those changes was handed down on May 21, 1975, and the changes became effective June 1. Perhaps Nos. 7 and 8 ended at that time but they could have ended earlier.

Another Trains story noted that No. 7 and 8, which continued to operate through early 1975 with one locomotive and one coach, were the first trains to be ended under section 13a of Interstate Commerce Act after Amtrak began.

The photographer also caught up with the Southern Crescent on April 6, 1974.

As he tells the story, “It was my school’s Easter vacation (Yes, it was called that back then), and having a week off from teaching, my friend Mike Ondecker (who worked for the Erie Lackawanna) and I went on a trip to the South.”

They found Southern E8A No. 6910 in Birmingham as seen in the bottom image.

 Photographs by Robert Farkas

Branson Scenic Buys 3 Amtrak Cars

August 2, 2019

A Missouri tourist railroad has acquired three retired Amtrak cars.

The Branson Scenic Railway purchased Amtrak baggage cars 1204 and 1245, and dining car 8521.

All three cars are expected to be moved later this month from Amtrak’s Beech Grove shops near Indianapolis.

Both baggage cars are of Santa Fe heritage and were built by Budd in 1953. The dining car was built by Budd in 1949 and used by the Southern Railway on is Crescent between Washington and New Orleans.

The diner was also assigned by the Southern to the Royal Palm, Southerner, and Tennessean,

Amtrak acquired it in 1979 when the Southern ceased operating its last passenger train, the Southern Crescent.

The diner was rebuilt by Amtrak to HEP capability in 1984 when it received its current roster number. It was overhauled in 2012 and retired from Amtrak revenue service in 2015.

Branson Scenic plans to rename the diner Silver Belle and used it as a backup diner for Branson’s dinner train and as a premium car for its Polar Express excursions.

The baggage will be used for parts and storage but one may become a power car.

The Branson Scenic uses tracks owned by Genesee & Wyoming’s Missouri & Northern Arkansas Railroad through the Ozark Mountains.

Trains operate on 40-mile round trips north or south of Branson.

Charlottesville Station May be Expanded

September 7, 2017

Design plans have been submitted to the Charlottesville (Virginia) Board of Architectural Review for an expansion of the city’s Amtrak station.

The plans show show a two-story addition on the rail-side of the station, a new baggage claim area, and an expanded waiting room.

In 2016 the Charlottesville station served five times the number of passengers that it did when Amtrak began using the facility.

“It’s really necessary. It’s no longer adequate to serve the needs of the passengers,” said Meredith Richards of the CvilleRail and the Piedmont Rail Coalition. “They pack in here like sardines. When that train is coming, the passengers are packed tight, they have their luggage, there’s not enough space.

The architectural review board will discuss the station expansion plans at its meeting on Tuesday, September 19.

Although the Charlottesville station is a former Southern Railway depot, it is now privately owned.

Charlotte Station Plan Continues to Roll

September 6, 2017

The Charlotte Area Transit System continues to seek a new transportation center that would serve Amtrak in the city’s uptown area.

The center is expected to be built on a 17-acre site along  Norfolk Southern tracks between Bank of American Stadium and Ninth Street, an area that is now mostly surface parking lots.

It will be connected to the uptown transit center and the Blue Line light rail by a streetcar line being built on Trade Street.

Tina Votaw, the Charlotte Gateway Station project manager, said utility work is expected to start in early 2018.

Design work for the five new bridges at the site is expected to be completed this year. Votaw said that if everything goes according to plan, the station would open in 2024.

The first components of the project will cost an estimated $70 million to $80 million. The project has received a $30 million federal grant and a pledge of $48.75 million from the North Carolina Department of Transportation. The city of Charlotte has promised $33 million.

Amtrak currently used a small facility on North Tryon Street. Serving Charlotte is the New York-Orleans Crescent.

The Carolinian and Piedmont trains originate and terminate in Charlotte.

Votaw cautioned that much needs to happen before the new station can be built. Chief among those is the development of a partnership with a private developer.

CATS is expected to issue an open-ended request for proposals to see how developers suggest building the station.

“We’ve got this property,” Votaw said. “We want a station sooner rather than later. Tell us how you would do it.”

Greyhound owns a 1.3-acre tract on West Trade Street at the Gateway Station site that is uses as its Charlotte bus station.

CATS expected to buy that property and allow intercity bus-service on a “roll-through” basis.

Bus maintenance and other operations would need to be relocated.

Rail passenger trains last stopped in uptown Charlotte in 1962 when the Southern Railway opened the North Tryon Street depot that planners consider to be small, outdated and disconnected from the city’s downtown center.