On the Friday before Memorial Day I cut out of work early to head down to Washington DC to take a round trip on the Virginia Railway Express Manassas Line, which follows the old Southern Railway main line from Alexandria to Manassas, VA, of civil war fame. Normally this sort of VRE railfanning trip is not possible without resorting to Amtrak because VRE operates a peak direction service into and then back out of DC. However on the Manassas Line there is an "early" afternoon departure from DC around 2pm that then service-deadheads back into the city to for another run.
Now the motivation for this trip was an NS resignaling effort on the Southern main between DC and Manassas that would remove all of the old Southern RR signaling. VRE operates with Gallery car type equipment with railfan window equipped cab cars facing in the inbound DC direction. With the reverse railfan window having been blocked off on Amtrak Trains 19/20, VRE was my only other option to get photos of these signals in the northbound direction.
Now I was well aware that certain commuter operators get off on closing cab cars to allow the crews from having to interact with paying customers and I had little information on how VRE would open up its off peak trains. On the outbound trip my worst fears were realized when the reverse cab car was left closed, despite standing room conditions on the rest of the train. I figured that if the cab car would not be opened for a full train there was little chance it would be opened for a nearly empty deadhead. Well it appeared to be opposite day because on the return trip the front car was left open so I was not only able to get still shots of all the signals, but also shoot video all the way from Alexandria through the DC "trench" and First Street Tunnel to Washington Union Station.
Because of the difficulty in riding VRE for anyone not living in the hell hole that is Northern, VA this was my first ever trip on VRE, although I have covered the lines it uses via Amtrak. You can find the full set of photos here
We start on the lower level of Washington DC's Union Station where Amtrak has been using some P32-8WH's on VA service trains. Here is #514 awaiting its next assignment.
Well here is a rare beastie. I think all the MARC GP40WH-2 units had
been sent back to MPI and turned into MP32PH-Qs. Guess I was wrong as
#68 was puttering light around K interlocking.
So no railfan window means no photos until Manassas. Here gallery cab
car V718 departs past the station platform towards the terminal at Broad
Run, one stop to the south.
Ticketing on VRE is handled by an innovative Multi-ride POP system.
Multiple rides can be placed on a ticket and then at time of validation
they can be used up one at a time. Prices were rather expensive however
with the 30 or so mile ride to Manassas costing about $9. Compared to
older commuter lines in the Northeast VRE has remarkably few stops, but the 60mph or lower line speed results in leisurely travel times.
The Manassas, VA platform is broken up by several grade crossings.
Here is the Manassas, VA station. Six Amtrak trains stop here with the Cardinal only operating 3 days per week.
Southern RR cabin car X699 on display at Manassas.
The dump track in front of the station is occasionally used for setting out private cars. The electric switch lock uses a General Railrway Signal apparatus.
Rear of the Manassas Station. I like the red tile roof.
Signal displayed on track #1 at MANASSAS interlocking for my return train to DC.
I didn't want to waste my time taking stills of the infrastructure so I tried to take a few video shots between interesting signal locations. This inbound train was "express" so I also got a few shots of stations being bypassed in this montage.
Another Southern cabin car, #518590, was on display within the limits of CLIFTON interlocking.
For whatever reason the Southern made all the signals between Manassas
and Alexandria were controlled. Here we see dualing clear signals at
CP-FAIRFAX while replacement mast signals look on.
This guy was taking his young kid on a railroad train trip to DC...you can hear him taking in my videos -.-
The VRE stations are all situated on track #1 which somewhat limits
dispatching flexibility. This would need to be changed if all day
service were initiated.
Approach Diverging at EDSALL interlocking for the diverging route at CR TOWER.
NS C40-9W #9615 and C40-9 #8841 at Alexandria Yard.
Diverging Clear at CR TOWER.
Another Diverging Clear at CP-JAMES with NS SD60 #6788 waiting to pick up a train.
Amtrak P42DC #61 at the head of Train 91, the Silver Star as it departs Alexandria.
DC Metro train lead by #3074 near Braddock Road.
Here is the video of the run from Alexandria to the platform at Union Station.
took a short photo interlude to get a photo of the B&O CPL signals guarding the entrance to the First Street tunnels. The signal is displaying Approach Slow for the Slow Clear at A Interlocking. Note the lack of an Approach indication because trains are not allowed into the tunnel unless there is a route out to avoid exhaust issues.
V715 and train 336 using ALL the platform on the lower level of DC Union Station.
Power that day was provided by MP36PH-3C V67.
My train back to Baltimore was being powered by GP39H-2 #70 and MP36PH-3C #28.
More classic MARC power in the form of AEM-7s #4902 and #4903.
Amtrak's K TOWER.
More Amtrak power in at DC Union in the form of P42DC #175.
Well that's it. Next week tune in for the first part of my latest cross country Amtrak trip.