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Scenes such as this were common in the 1970s when Southern SD35's were in regular service hauling coal on the Division. The CR&E's long-time joint ownership by the Southern Railway and Norfolk & Western kept things interesting for railfans. This is an eastbound coal train exiting Cove Tunnel and crossing High Fill in the Loops above Glace, WV.

In the mid-1990's, Southern-painted units are but a memory. Here an NS B23-7 leads a westbound downgrade between Camp Two and Wolf Hills Tunnel in "the Loops."  Cove Tunnel, shown in the 1970's shot above, is just above this area but is obscured by trees.


(The account below is from one of our earliest operating sessions. Several things have changed on the railroad since then, but the spirit of the operations remain the same.)

October 17, 1998 dawned a beautiful Autumn day in the two Virginias. As we pulled up to the old tower at Shenandoah Jct., VA, we rolled down the windows and bundled up a little to fight off the brisk early morning mountain air. Having driven up from Roanoke, we stopped at a greasy-spoon in Abbott, VA, and grabbed some biscuits and juice.

The scanner crackles a few times and we hear some talk about a grain train. But before we can get half our breakfast down, we hear the flanges squealing and hear the chug of GE diesels climbing up the CSX connection toward Shenandoah Jct. A battled-scarred U30C, still in Norfolk & Western paint, pulls up to the switch at Shenandoah Jct. and calls the NS dispatcher in Lewisburg, WV. "NS 233 to the NS Lewisburg Dispatcher, over..." With nary a moment's delay, 233 is rolling its Norfolk-Chicago intermodal tonnage onto the NS CR&E mainline behind U30C 8001 and CSX C30-7 7007. The friendly hogger, who looked vaguely like the former yardmaster at the Piedmont & Western's yard in Ashford, VA, waved to us as he notched the train out and thundered onto home rails. They have a good chunk of railroad all to themselves, holding a track warrant to Glace, WV on the other side of the Allegheny ridge, where they'll meet the uphill grain train.

We hear the C53 New Castle switcher shuffling around at New Castle, and we head over there to watch Conrail GP40-2 3358 putting their train together. The dispatcher talks to the 632 grain train, led by NS 9101, and tells them to hold back of the 144 milepost until the local finishes building his train. After the switcher clears up, the grain train gets their track warrant to Abbott, VA, where they'll enter the siding to wait for clearance into Roanoke. The dispatcher said Roanoke will not be able to take them until they clear a westbound train out of the yard.

Engines 9101 and 8974 roll by with a long train of mixed grain covered hoppers. This train got some assistance from a pusher, engine 8950, between Lewisburg and Paint Bank, but the two DASH-9's on the head end were on their own now. The single pusher had returned to Lewisburg for its next customer.

The first situation to develop was the fact that 632 couldn't fit into the siding at Abbott and the C53 New Castle job had to get over that way to work. The dispatcher had 632 cut his first car off the train, shove it into the Southern States spur and return to the siding at Abbott. The 632's crew went for beans at a local diner, awaiting word from the dispatcher that Roanoke was ready for them.

We heard NS 351 coming off the CSX at Shenandoah Jct., so we headed toward Paint Bank to catch their meet with something else coming up the mountain. Train 351 had widecab DASH-9s 9095 and 9006 and a train that was better than half empty hoppers for Lewisburg-based mine runs.

The meet at Paint Bank turned out to be with the NS 8950 pusher engine, which had run light up to Paint Bank to couple on the head end of the next westbound, an empty Belmont train with a single unit. The Belmont train, Train 773, was under the control of only one NS DASH-9, the 8889, until they arrived at Paint Bank. Because of the grade between Paint Bank and Glace, two locomotives are required for dynamic braking on longer trains. After NS 351 departed Paint Bank, train 773 arrived and got the head-end assistance from the 8950 for its descent into the Greenbrier Valley.

It sounded like things were getting busy at Lewisburg, and we knew the New Castle area would be tied up by the local, so we headed down the hill ourselves. We chased 773 through the Loops and down to Glace. Train 351 had arrived at Lewisburg and terminated and the yard engine was hard at work trying to classify the train. After 351 was put away, 773 came through the yard limits and headed to the Lewisburg West Yard where they would get their crew change and depart towards Charleston.

It wasn't long at all before we heard eastbound time freight 456 calling the yardmaster at Lewisburg. "NS 456 to the Lewisburg Yardmaster, over." ... "Lewisburg Yardmaster, over." "456 is ready to come east with six cars for you." ... "Alright, 456, come on east, Main One to Main One at KD, stop short of East Yard Crossovers and make your cut, over." With that, engines NS 8520/UP 3024 rumbled into town and began doing their work. They finished up, got their brake test, and headed toward Paint Bank after receiving a track warrant from the dispatcher. We followed 456 up to Glace and watched the train snake through the Loops, and then we heard the C80 mine run coming east.

Train C80 would have a time of it today, delivering empties to Arch Coal in Caldwell and picking up loads, then running around the train at Glace so they could pick up off the Laurel Creek Branch. The power desk had assigned only one locomotive to C80's train, NS 8892, and this unit's 4000 horses were no match for a steep grade and heavy train off the Laurel Creek Branch. When it was all said and done, C80 had to triple the loads off the Laurel Creek Branch and ended tying things up at Glace for a good while. The crew of C80 registered a complaint with the Division Superintendent about the power assignment and it was agreed that two units would be dispatched on these trains in the future.

To add insult to injury for C80, their work had to be interrupted by a lineup of oncoming trains that was heating up by the minute. A CSX V610 coal train behind AC4400's 8 and 100 ground uphill, assisted by the C92 pusher again. The heavy CSX coal train got around C80 at Glace and then continued uphill to New Castle.

We heard the dispatcher talking to 456 at New Castle, telling him that Roanoke was still bottled up and CSX was going to take the train at Shenandoah Jct. instead. They would therefore run to Salem and then back to home rails. We also knew that westbound time freight 137 was out and running and would soon be interrupting C80's work again.

We watched as C80 struggled with its train and finally got it shoved into the siding at Glace. Train 137 was bearing down on the small West Virginia hamlet and the Lewisburg Yardmaster's tone of voice on the radio suggested that things were getting very stressful in his yard. We heard 137 and the V610 coal train meet at Paint Bank and then things got very quiet. C80's work was about done, but nobody was going anywhere.

We later learned that a major conference call was held between the dispatcher, yardmaster, and division superintendent. The purpose was to iron out the impending traffic jam at Lewisburg. All at once Lewisburg had an invasion on its hands consisting of:

1) NS Q72 Belmont Coal Train at West Lewisburg ready to come east. 2) NS C80 at Glace ready to come back into Lewisburg with 24 coal loads. 3) NS 137 at Paint Bank ready to come down the mountain. 4) NS C92 (pusher) coming back from New Castle with a cut of 15 cars.

The situation was all worked out very well, with 137 passing C80 at Paint Bank, making their setoff and pickup at Lewisburg and then continuing on to the West Yard, where the Q72 coal train was waiting. Train C80 followed 137 into Lewisburg and, with the help some fancy work coordinated between the yardmaster and yard engineer, C80's train was broken down and shoved into the appropriate tracks. Seven loads were bound for Linwood and the other 17 were heading for New Castle's American Electric Power plant.

Train Q72, the Belmont Coal Train, got out of West Lewisburg and started climbing the mountain behind two GE's. The 8950 was pushing for all she was worth on the rear of this long coal train once again. The Q72 got their track warrant to New Castle, where they were going to meet yet another westbound, the CSX E563 empty hopper train.

We watched at Glace as Q72 thundered up the Loops. Before long the mountain was rumbling again and the E563 appeared behind CSX AC4400s 27 and 52. The empty train pulled down the mainline at Glace and stopped at the west switch. Again without too much idle time, we heard another eastbound coming. This turned out to be the NS 794 (New Castle Coal Train), which entered the siding and then continued up the mountain. Train 794 was without a pusher because it was a shorter coal train.

The E563 got out of the way and on to Lewisburg as we watched NS 794 twist through the Loops, passing by Camp Two and then around the horseshoe curve, punching out of a tunnel and crawling up to Ridge. Through Ridge Tunnel, around the curve and out of sight they went, although the sounds of prime movers and squealing flanges echoed off the walls for a few more minutes.

After a short silence and a trip to Ma Johnson's Store at Glace for a Coke, we heard the sound of dynamic brakes and later saw the 8950 pusher coming back. The next thing through Glace was the returning 794's power, which brought a couple cars back from New Castle. The crew of the 794 went on the law at Glace and a relief crew was called out. Before they could get out of town, NS train 136 was climbing toward Glace and up to Loops. We heard that 136 would be meeting westbound time freight 457 at Paint Bank and we were surprised to hear that a Burlington Northern & Santa Fe engine was leading 457! We set up for some shots and waited for 457 ... when they came around the ridge we were pleased to see an orange-and-green DASH-9, the BNSF 1005, leading red-and-silver Santa Fe Warbonnet 605. The young hogger on 457 seemed just as pleased with the power as we did, as he leaned out the window and gave us a big wave and several blasts of the airhorn as they rolled by.

By this time it was late, so we started heading for home. All of us are looking forward to our next trip to NS's former CR&E rails ... maybe a couple months down the road we can let them put on another great show!

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