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Trip Report

Virginia and Maryland Trip

December 25-27, 2001
Section 1 of 3



This trip was the second of two taken in late December, as has become customary, so that I can travel at the time when Michael is in Florida with his grandparents. I also need something to look forward to, in order to get away from the holiday period that I have come to despise more and more each year. I would unfortunately have to endure the larger-than-normal crowds and the closed stores and restaurants on December 25th, which to me is just another day on the calendar.

My goals on this trip were to complete my track mileage on the Northeast Corridor by riding on the ex- Chesapeake & Ohio RR line in Virginia between Richmond and Newport News, and to ride the new MARC commuter line to and from Frederick, MD.

I chose the trains I did to maximize my explorations during the relatively short amount of daylight this time of year. So it had to be Train 67 to Newport News, and Train 94 back since their counterparts, 66 and 95 run on the ex-C&O stretch in Virginia when it is dark in the winter. Likewise, I chose the first MARC departure of the day from Washington, DC to Frederick, and the last morning departure from Frederick to Washington the next morning.

Tuesday, December 25th

AMTRAK Train 67, the TWILIGHT SHORELINER: Metropark to Newport News

This trip started out with another unfriendly calling time. I was to catch the southbound TWILIGHT SHORELINER from Metropark at 3:03 AM. At least there was never any problem finding a parking spot! I arrived at the Metropark parking garage at 2:35 AM, in frigid weather. I parked near the elevators and payment machine, and left my engine running while I fought with the machine to have it accept my bills. At 2:54, with nine minutes until train time, I headed for the station.

I decided to call AMTRAK's toll-free number from an outdoor pay phone (The station is closed at night) to find out how this train was doing. After negotiating the menus to get train status, I was greeted by a very friendly voice. A wonderful breath of fresh air, this woman was very nice to me. She asked me questions and told me to ask what I wanted to know, even told me to say "help" if I was confused. She informed me that Train 67 was running one minute late. I could live with that! I was falling in love with this sweetie, and then finally I realized I was talking to AMTRAK's new voice-activated system. Darn, thought I'd found Michael a new mother.

Actually, my new friend was wrong. When I got to the platform, it was 3:01 AM, and the TWILIGHT SHORELINER was just arriving. I boarded, and the train was moving south on time at 3:03 AM.

As usually happens, the train was crowded, with everyone who had a pair of seats taking up both adjacent seats in order to sleep more comfortably. I walked the length of the open cars and could not find a seat. One coach at the front was closed, in use only by crew members taking naps. I wanted to stretch out on two seats as well, but I could not find even one seat to sit in. When I got to the coach where a conductor was collecting tickets, he stopped me and told me the coach in front was closed. I said I could not find a seat, and he made some comment about the passenger count vs. the number of seats, and that there were plenty of seats. I asked him who I should awaken to be able to sit down, and he just made a face. I chose the person closest to me, and he moved over and allowed me to sit. Luckily, he was only going as far as Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, being in the front-most open coach, there was constant traffic of crew members going into the coach that was closed to the public. Each time the door slid open, everyone got a blast of cold arctic air from outside.

As I had planned to do, I took a sleeping pill, and was asleep before Trenton. If I could sleep all the way to Washington or Virginia, I would not miss anything important that I had not already seen. It was an uncomfortable sleep, crammed into a single seat. I had to let my neighbor out at Philadelphia, and then luckily nobody sat in that seat for the rest of my trip. More people detrained than boarded at Baltimore, BWI Airport, New Carrollton, and Washington, DC. I was wide awake, unfortunately, by Washington, DC, so I took a walk outside during the scheduled dwell time to check the consist as the train sat on Track 26.

945 AEM-7 locomotive (off at Washington) 1438 MHC (off at Washington) 1548 MHC (off at Washington) 82017 Acela Regional Coachclass (closed to pax) 82077 Acela Regional Coachclass (I sat here) 21251 Amfleet I coach 20141 Amfleet I cafe & Business Class 62016 Viewliner sleeper "Lake View"

The electric engine and MHC's were removed at Washington, and replaced by a P-42 locomotive, 108. I had been behind this power before on a Keystone Service train in Pennsylvania. I noticed that the Viewliner was not one of the three that had originally been dedicated to the TWILIGHT SHORELINER fleet, but rather was one that probably came off the LAKE SHORE LIMITED in Boston. I also noticed while outside that the platform for Tracks 23 & 24 is under construction, and I wondered if Union Station could handle the loss of this capacity during the rush hours.

My southbound train departed from Washington on time at 6:45 AM. For the remainder of this trip I would be at the mercy of CSX Transportation. The first defect detector I heard was at MP 106.5, which is in the old Potomac Yard area near the Braddock Street Metro station in Alexandria, as we passed over it at 6:58 AM with a clean bill of health. After making the Alexandria stop and passing through the improved AF Interlocking and finally past the road version of AF, known as the Springfield Interchange. It was interesting how quickly the railroad intersection was reconstructed last year, while the road project will take a few more years to finish.

At 7:07 AM we came to some stop and restricted signals. The engineer called these in to the CSX dispatcher on another channel. We were right next to the Van Dorn Street Metro station at this point. The Washington METRO, by the way, was closed, no doubt opening late (probably 8 AM) due to the holiday.

At 7:15, my train passed the AUTO TRAIN terminal in Lorton. Nothing was there except for a switcher (567). I figured we would pass the AUTO TRAIN somewhere between here and Richmond. Just beyond Lorton, we passed running left-handed the northbound SILVER METEOR, Train 98(24), which was running about two hours late.

We crossed the one-track Quantico Bridge, where a very red sunrise was evident over the water to the left of the train. We then entered and stopped at the Quantico Marine Corps Base. Our stop there could be counted in seconds. Since there was no detraining or boarding activity, the conductor said to the engineer, "Nobody in sight, let's go.". At MP 66.6 another detector found no defects. In the Leeland area, the ride on this track seemed to be rougher than elsewhere. Our departure from Fredericksburg was at 7:50 AM, still right on time. About 8:00 we passed Train 82, an Acela Regional bound from Richmond to New York.

About this time there appeared a plume of black smoke on the left side of the tracks. When we got closer, there was a pickup truck on fire. People were cautiously running towards it, and it was evident that the fire department was needed but had not yet arrived. The engineer noted the fire to dispatch, but said it was far enough away from the tracks that it was no threat to rail operations.

8:32 AM was our stop in Ashland, VA, known as one of those quaint towns where the tracks run down the middle of a street. Several minutes late, we passed Train 86, an Acela Regional train from Richmond to Boston. We pulled into the Richmond station (which is in Henrico County, not Richmond) at 8:46 AM, 3 minutes early. We pulled a bit forward of the station because we would be sharing station time with a northbound train. Had we stopped right by the building we would have blocked access to the other train.

I noticed that I had not seen the AUTO TRAIN, which is hard to miss. It must have been running several hours late.

Just one minute after our arrival, Train 92(24), the northbound SILVER STAR, arrived next to us 5 minutes late. It actually spent less time in the station than 67 did. The consist of Train 92(24) at "Richmond" was:

89 P-42 locomotive 199 P-42 locomotive 1526 MHC 1733 Baggage/Mail 2515 Heritage 10-6 sleeper as crew dorm 62024 Viewliner sleeper "National View" 62035 Viewliner sleeper "Shore View" 8512 Heritage diner 28011 Amfleet II lounge 25041 Amfleet II coach 25104 Amfleet II coach 25008 Amfleet II coach 25095 Amfleet II coach Plus 10 Roadrailers

92 left "Richmond" at 8:59 AM, 2 minutes late, headed for New York City. A minute later, we were rolling southbound. still on time. The train rolled slowly into Acca Yard, and seven minutes later, I could see the tracks off to the right where AMTRAK's Silver Service and the AUTO TRAIN turn to run in the median of I-195 as they bypass downtown Richmond. We would proceed straight for a bit. This still was not new trackage to me, as I can remember as a kid riding the SILVER STAR, it snaked through downtown Richmond and served the old station on Main Street. We passed a good-sized stadium on the left, this being where the minor league baseball Richmond Braves play. We then curved to the east, and our engineer layed on the horn for the many grade crossings we were passing through. We were running next to the combined I-64 & 95. Then there was a sharp curve to the south again, and we were in downtown Richmond. At 9:20 AM we came upon Main Street Station. The station building is located in between two tracks. The ones on the right looking south lead to Florida, meeting again with the bypass tracks I saw before. To the left is the connection with the former Chesapeake & Ohio RR, over which AMTRAK still runs its trains to the Tidewater area.

Now, I got what I had come for, new trackage. After passing the station, which should be returned to use as a passenger rail station in the next two years, we again curved to the east under a maze of highway overpasses. From here the train ran on an elevated track for a mile or so, next to a small waterway, a branch of the James River. The track was very rough here.

At 9:30 AM 67 was moving eastbound at a good clip, just passing the southern border of Richmond (Byrd) International Airport on the left. About three minutes later we slowed and then stopped. The engineer told the conductor on the radio that we had a stop signal. This being a point where two tracks go down to one, we had to wait here for a delayed Train 94. The engineer said, "Haven't heard from 'em yet". I knew we might be here for a while. End of perfect on-time performance. At 9:41 AM, I saw a National Guardsman with a rifle get out of a vehicle on the airport property, and he came up to the train. He spoke a bit with the crew. It turns out that the security force at the airport wondered why a train was stopped here, they usually just pass by. The conductor answered that he also wondered why we were here. Satisfied we were okay and were not a threat to airport security, the National Guardsman left. At 9:47, a full 14 minutes after we had arrived at this place, the crew finally got on the train's public address system and told the passengers that we were waiting for another AMTRAK train to pass. Finally at 9:50, 94 passed with P-40 engine 802 at the point, about 18 minutes down. A perfect example of how one late train can mess up the performance of other trains. The crew of 94 said to 67's, "We left one on the storage track for you.". We were moving east once again at 9:52 AM, so we had lost almost 20 minutes.

At 10:20 AM, I went to the cafe car. I figured with an 11 AM scheduled arrival, I would get a very early brunch, since I had a food-less bus ride ahead of me. I was dismayed to find the cafe attendant had already closed, and we doing inventory. I say this in every report, but I still wonder why this cannot be done after the passengers have detrained at the last stop. Had an annoucement been made before they had closed, I would have gone there sooner. The attendant threw me a free orange juice to appease me.

A minute later, we passed by the Williamsburg Pottery Factory, a flea-market-like attraction where a station stop was tested (and failed) for a year or so. We came to a stop at Williamsburg's downtown station at 10:27 AM. The station sits on the right (south) side of the tracks, and it also doubles as a Greyhound station. When the train departed at 10:28, we were just eight minutes off the advertised, so we had made up some time lost sitting by Richmond Airport.

We rolled into Newport News, our final stop, at 10:50 AM. Despite the delay we were 10 minutes early! The crew announced that there is a connecting bus to Norfolk and Virginia Beach.

AMTRAK Thruway Bus 6067: Newport News to Virginia Beach

The bus was, in fact, waiting right next to the curb on the other side of the small station building. I went right to the bus to claim a seat, but later found out that the light ridership would not threaten my ability to find a seat. There were only 10 passengers aboard: 7 for Norfolk and 3 for Virginia Beach. Since there were only two destinations, the driver was careful to stow luggage for Norfolk in one compartment under the bus, and that for Virginia Beach in the other. He told me that tickets would be collected aboard the bus before we leave. The bus was operated by James River Bus Lines.

I expected the trip to use the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel between Newport News and Norfolk, but they take a different route. We pulled out of the station driveway at 11:02 AM onto U.S. 60 east, and passed under U.S. 17/258, which leads to the James River Bridge, and then continued eastbound through downtown Newport News.

At 11:10 AM we got onto I-664, which leads through the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel. The route seemed circuitous, first on I-664, then on east on a freeway called Virginia 164, and then through local streets of Portsmouth and into the narrow Midtown Tunnel between Portmouth and Norfolk. After negotiating several city streets through the city, we came to a stop at a bus shelter near a large satellite parking lot (also known as Lot 39), served by the local Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) and a local shuttle called Norfolk Electric Transit. The stop also serves as a taxi stand. Evidence that the AMTRAK buses stop here twice a day was the sign on a wall that has AMTRAK's old logo on it. Next to the AMTRAK sign is another sign that lists the phone numbers of four taxi companies, and one pay telephone which can be used to call those numbers.

So in the city whose name is half the name of one of the nation's four largest railroads, even though AMTRAK does not serve this city with trains, the chosen station site is transit-friendly.

After dropping the Norfolk passengers, the bus headed at 11:39 AM for Virginia Beach. Once entering I-264, it was a quick, straight run from one city to another. Also known as the Norfolk-Virginia Beach Expressway, it comes into Virginia Beach as 21st Street, whereas the eastbound direction towards I-264 is 22nd Street. The bus stop, a facility similar to Norfolk's Lot 39, is at Pacific Avenue & 19th Street, just two blocks south. This facility is also served by HRT buses and rubber-tired, fake trolleys. Arrival at this resort city was 12:01 PM, 39 minutes early. AMTRAK even pads the timetables for its connecting buses!

Continued in next section

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