Posts Tagged ‘The Hilltopper’

Waiting to Board One Last Time in Roanoke

November 29, 2018

A crowd of passengers waits to board Amtrak’s last eastbound Hilltopper in Roanoke, Virginia.

The date is Sept. 30, 1979, and No. 66 is making it final jaunt from remote Catlettsburg, Kentucky, to Boston by way of West Virginia and Virginia.

I rode the train from Catlettsburgh to Richmond, Virginia, before disembarking.

For much of its history, the Hilltopper was lightly patronized. So it was amazing how many people turned out to ride it on its last day.

This would not be the last passenger train in Roanoke, though. Westbound counterpart No. 67 would make its last stop here later in the day.

Also, many excursions trains, some pulled by home-built Norfolk & Western No. 611 would depart from Roanoke over the years during the two iterations of the Norfolk Southern steam program.

Amtrak itself would return to Roanoke 38 years after the demise of the Hilltopper when it extended a Northeast Regional train there in October 2017.

Perhaps some of those in this crowd were on hand to welcome Amtrak back that day.

Roanoke Ridership Meeting Expectations

June 28, 2018

Amtrak said recently that ridership of its Northeast Regional service to Roanoke, Virginia, has met expectations.

Since service began last late last October, 14,178 passengers have boarded the once daily train in Roanoke through April 30. The service has seen 13,591 passengers travel to Roanoke, which lost Amtrak service on Oct. 1, 1979, when the Hilltopper was discontinued.

Until the service was restored, many in the Roanoke region had traveled to Lexington, Virginia, to board Amtrak.

Ridership from Lexington has fallen since Amtrak began operating to Roanoke.

Statistics kept by the state of Virginia, which helps fund the service, shows that the record ridership from Roanoke was 3,288 in December with 2,941 traveling to the city.

This past April, ridership was 2,343 arriving and 2,327 departing.

Amtrak Begins Service in Roanoke

November 1, 2017

Amtrak returned to Roanoke, Virginia, on Tuesday when more than 150 passengers aboard Northeast Regional No. 176 departed at 6:19 a.m.

Many of the riders traveled to Lynchburg, Virginia, and returned by bus.

It was the first scheduled Amtrak departure from the hometown of the former Norfolk & Western Railway in 38 years.

A welcome ceremony was held on Monday afternoon and featured tours of a five-car special that included Amtrak business car Beech Grove.

The Amtrak station is located on Norfolk Avenue in the city’s downtown. The Commonwealth of Virginia pays for the service between Roanoke and Washington.

Roanoke’s last Amtrak service was the Hilltopper, which operated between Washington and Catlettsburg, Kentucky. It made its last runs on Sept. 30, 1979.

In Roanoke, Amtrak equipment will overnight at a facility with a small crew office along the ex-N&W Roanoke to Winston-Salem branch, close to the former Virginian Railway depot.

SmartWay Connector buses will shuttle passengers between the Roanoke station and Salem and Blacksburg.

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.

Last EB Hilltopper in Roanoke

February 14, 2017

hill-03

Amtrak will make a comeback in Roanoke, Virginia, some time within the next year or so.

There have been numerous passenger trains in the Virginia city in recent years, but they have been excursions pulled by Norfolk & Western J Class No. 611.

Amtrak served Roanoke between March 5, 1975, and Sept. 30, 1979.

Service initially was provided by the Chicago-Norfolk, Virginia, Mountaineer, which operated combined with the James Whitcomb Riley west of the Chesapeake & Ohio’s Russell Yard near Ashland, Kentucky.

Under pressure from West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, Amtrak divorced the Mountaineer and Riley on April 24, 1977.

The Mountaineer became an independent train that operated between Cattlettsburg, Kentucky, and Washington, D.C., and was renamed the Hilltopper.

Low patronage made the Hilltopper an easy target to be discontinued during the 1979 Amtrak route restructuring. It made its final trips on Sept. 30.

The eastbound Hilltopper had three passenger cars tacked on the rear for part of its journey.

The cars, owned by the Roanoke Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, were removed at Roanoke.

Roanoke Station Platform Work Begins

February 14, 2017

Construction began this week on the platform to be used by Amtrak in Roanoke, Virginia. The project is expected to take 300 days to complete.

Amtrak 4Roanoke is expected to gain Amtrak service through an extension of an existing Northeast Regional train. Service will be a daily roundtrip to Washington that departs in the morning and returns in the evening.

Service is projected to begin in October after the station work is completed. The Roanoke station is expected to cost $10.9 million.

The city best known as the former headquarters of the Norfolk & Western Railway, has not had intercity rail service since the Oct. 1, 1979, discontinuance of the Hilltopper.

In other Amtrak station news, work on the Union Station in Raleigh, North Carolina, is reported to be on schedule with half of the project already completed.

The facility will serve Amtrak trains and regional buses.

The capital of North Carolina is the northern terminus of the state-funded Piedmont trains and is also a stop for the New York-Charlotte Carolinian and the New York-Miami Silver Star.

The station will be located at the end of Martin Street on a site that once had an empty warehouse.

Union Station is projected to open in January 2018. The cost of the project is $90 million with the city paying about $15 million and the balance being funded by state and federal grants.

Festive, But Sad Day in Roanoke

September 28, 2016

hilltopper-at-roanoke

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.