Before, after and in between our visit to the park we also made numerous railfan stops along the NS Shenandoah Branch and the C&O Washington Branch, which is home to Amtrak's Cardinal. We even managed to run into several actual trains, which was good because I am sure that not many of you would be interested in seeing the best of 1100 signal related photos. Of course if you are you can can find them here
The first stop was Shenandoah Junction on the NS Shenandoah Branch that runs between Roanoke, VA and Hageratown, MD. This line still has quite a few classic N&W color position lights along it as when it was resignaled about 10 years ago railroads still bothered to save $$ by cutting the old signals into the new interlocking equipment. Shenandoah Junction was a once busy interchange point between the N&W and B&O that was made largely redundant by the mergers of the past 25 years.
Next stop was the junction between the Shenandoah Branch and the former Southern "B-Line" at Front Royal, VA. Today this is part of the primary NS freight route between the Northeast and the South. Trains turn west off the Southern Main Line at Mananas, VA then head to Front Royal where they turn north again to Hagerstown where they enter former Conrail/Reading RR trackage to Harrisburg and Reading before finally going to either NY or Philly. The route is far less direct than the one CSX has access to that basically parallels the NEC. Here we can see the wye connection between the B-Line and the Shenandoah Branch off to the right, while the old Southern line to Strasburg, VA continues on over the diamond.
Here is the former N&W bridge over the Shenandoah River at Front Royal. You can see how the default route leads to the B-Line as most traffic heads towards the Southern Main to Atlanta while only a handful still use the N&W line between here and Roanoke.
Until 1990 Strasburg was a major interchange point between the former Southern system and the B&O. However the NS and CSX mergers eventually made this service plan obsolete so now the west end of the B-Line sees only sporadic local traffic. This resulted in a flange riding diamond being installed across the Shenandoah Branch.
I was lucky enough to catch a train while hanging out at Front Royal. Here NS C40-10W #7602 heads down the N&W line with a train of mixed freight.
Newly rebuilt SD60E #6960 was following behind as seen here in this video of the train as it pounds the Southern diamonds.
The N&W Shenandoah River bridge as seen from the side.
While the weather was a bit cold it did have some advantages like these cool clouds blowing across the Blue Ridge in Shenandoah National Park. This was shot just south of the US entrance.
When you have a National Park to yourself you can just stop on the main road and take pictures of wildlife without pissing other people off.
These deer weren't in the park, but were right outside the hotel place we were staying at.
Mid-day railfanning break on Day 2. This is VAUGHN interlocking, south end of a signaled siding on the Shenandoah Branch.
At the other end of the siding, SUMMIT interlocking, I caught wind of an approaching train as the southbound N&W PL mast signal was displaying Approach.
Sure enough a light engine move with NS C44-9W #9944 and SD70M-2 #2680 passed by a few minutes later.
Old school N&W Whistle board in Elkton, VA.
At the far end of Skyline Drive the former C&O Washington Branch bores through the Blue Ridge via the ~4,000 foot long Blue Ridge tunnel. The current tunnel, seen here, was constructed as part of a WW2 capacity improvement project.
The original tunnel, built in 1850 by Claudius Crozet, was, at the time of its construction, seen as an engineering marvel and was one of the longest tunnels in the world. It was also constructed mostly by slave labour using hand drills and black powder blasting. For anyone who thinks the South would have had less use for slavery in an industrialized economy, think again.
Here is some video of the various water features around the east portal of the Blue Ridge Tunnel. From other videos I have seen the tunnel appears to be plugged with concrete several hundred feet in.
The former C&O Washington Branch was leased years ago to the Buckingham Branch short line. While this served to preserve the classic signaling for a time they are currently in the midst of a re-signaling effort that dates back to 2011. This stage is affecting the Afton and Crozet sidings, the latter of which I partly captured in my 2012 trip to Charlottesville. Here is the east end of the Afton siding with a quirky cantilever mast for the main track.
While I was waiting Amtrak Train #50 showed up with P42DC #134 on the front. The engineer opened the door and actually give me his card so I could send him copies of the pictures. Class act.
I was told that T50 would meet T51 there at Afton, but they actually got Rule 241 past the stop signal and headed on to meet it at the IVY siding instead. Here is Viewliner #62011 and Heritage Baggage Car #1257 passing under the C&O cantilever.
For a better photo location I headed to the west end of the Afton siding where I saw the C&O mast signal had was displaying a Clear for Train 51's arrival.
After an extended wait it showed up with P42DC #50 on the front. Damn, one number off from having a "double feature".
Single door heritage baggage car #1709 was on the rear.
Video of #50 on T51 passing through West Afton.
After leaving the park at the end of day 3 my friend and I were hunting for some suitable Mexican food when we noticed that the northbound mast signal at NS SHENANDOAH interlocking was displaying a Restricting indication into Shenandoah Yard.
A few minutes later NS SD70M #2635 and SD60 #6598 rounded the bend running elephant style with a long mixed fright train in tow.
Hanging out in Shenandoah Yard was NS standard cab SD70 #2512.
NS Shenandoah Station building at Shenandoah Yard.
Second generation Pontiac Firebird parked across from the station.
After leaving the park for the last time on the 4th day I headed into Waynesboro, VA to grab photos of the C&O signals at either end of the now removed Waynesboro siding.
The west end of the siding was renamed LOIS interlocking and both this and the previous one will probably both be replaced with an automatic signal.
Crozet, VA was named after the man who built the nearby Blue Ridge Tunnel. Here is the former C&O station in town.
C&S crews were in the process of re-signaling the west end of the Crozet siding. This is what caused issues with Trains 50/51 meeting as planned at Afton.
After getting lunch in Charlottesville I caught this westbound empty coal train heading back on the Washington Branch. CSX still has trackage rights over the line and uses it for empty coal trains returning from the export terminal in Hampton Roads. Loaded trains use the "low grade" route of the James River Line.
Returning from C-Ville and facing the prospect of having to drive around the Beltway my friend and I took a sharp left turn off US 29 and drive back to the national Park along US 211. Skyline Drive is open 24/7 so we decided to take it back north to I-81 to eventually return home via I-70. Pitch black and lots of bends. Way more relaxing than driving in Northern Virginia (NoVA = No Vehicle Access).
Well that's all. Hope you enjoyed the videos and next week I should be back with yet another trip down to Georgia.