Tuesday, December 08, 2015

East of Roanoke

Norfolk Southern; Villamont, Va.; November 24, 2015
Our journey to Appalachia started with chasing the CSX Santa Train on the former Clinchfield Railroad, then took us to the coal fields of West Virginia on Norfolk Southern's former Norfolk & Western mainline. Staying with a Norfolk & Western theme, the final day of the trip, November 24, 2015, kept us on the N&W's coal artery to tidewater, this time east of Roanoke where the line climbs up Blue Ridge summit before heading to Norfolk. While much of the former N&W is seeing its color position light (CPL) signals replaced as railroads adopt Positive Train Control, the railroad east of Roanoke still retains many of the old signals. How long they will last is unknown, as Amtrak is looking to extend its New York-to-Lynchburg train to Roanoke, which will require installation of PTC on this part of the N&W.

The NS mainline can be viewed on ATCS Monitor -- telemetry is sent from switches and signals along the line to the dispatchers' office to show dispatchers which way the switches are thrown and what the signals are displaying. This telemetry can also be picked up by the ATCS Monitor program and a pseudo-dispatcher display can be seen on a laptop computer. This allows one to see if there are any trains anywhere between Christiansburg (west of Roanoke) all the way to east of Lynchburg, and if trains are out there it displays which way they are heading. ATCS showed us we'd have a westbound train first, and, with CPL signals as our primary photo prop, we caught it at Villamont (above).

The next train on the screen was also a westbound. The short winter days and low sun were producing long shadows, so some of the CPL signals we wanted to get were unshootable early in the morning; we settled for the "backside" of the CPLs at Webster for the second train.
Norfolk Southern; Webster, Va.; November 24, 2015
We really wanted eastbound trains to take advantage of the morning sunlight. But our next train was yet another westbound. We caught this one at Bonsack.
Norfolk Southern; Bonsack, Va.; November 24, 2015
With nothing showing on the ATCS Monitor, we took advantage of the quiet railroad and headed into downtown Roanoke to see what was happening at the former Virginian Railway station in town. The building is under restoration by the Roanoke Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. A couple of coal trains were sitting at the station.
Norfolk Southern; Roanoke, Va.; November 24, 2015
A lot of the space in this area was at one time taken up by railroads. Indeed, a scrap yard was located near here that had four former Norfolk & Western steam locomotives residing in it well into the 21st century. A lot of the tracks -- and the scrapyard -- are now gone, replaced by an expanding medical center. Fortunately, all four of the N&W steam locomotives found new homes where they can be cosmetically restored. Only one remains in Roanoke, however.
Norfolk Southern; Roanoke, Va.; November 24, 2015
We had fought a bit of traffic getting into town, so we decided to leave town and head back east by way of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which had an entrance close by. Getting to the Parkway involved going up Mill Mountain, home of Roanoke's famous giant star that looks down on the city. We briefly stopped at the star to observe downtown; the Hotel Roanoke, once owned by the N&W, is in the center of the scene.
Hotel Roanoke; Roanoke, Va.; November 24, 2015
Finally we had trains showing up again on ATCS Monitor, and the sun was still good for those elusive eastbounds. The Blue Ridge Parkway dumped us off on U.S. 460 near Webster and we continued east from there. We got our first eastbound train splitting the CPL signals at Montvale.
Norfolk Southern; Montvale, Va.; November 24, 2015
The shadows were retreating from the tracks as the midday sun got higher. As the sun swung around to the west we headed back to the signals at the west end of the crossovers at Webster and got a train with a Union Pacific locomotive on the point.
Norfolk Southern; Webster, Va.; November 24, 2015
The day was growing short and the trains were getting scarce again. With one more westbound on the computer, we headed east into downtown Bedford to get it passing the CPL signals there. We wanted to be in Staunton, Va., by sunset and it looked like no trains would get to us on the N&W before we had to make our break. It was time to head north.
Norfolk Southern; Bedford, Va.; November 24, 2015
With changes happening all over the U.S., especially when it comes to older railroad signals, there's no telling what the former Norfolk & Western will look like when we get back down here again. But back in July, these old sentinels saw a familiar face, as former Norfolk & Western J-Class steam locomotive No. 611 went past them on a series of excursions. We'll look back at those trips in our next post.

Photos from this post can be purchased here.

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