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The Smokey Mountain Railroad Club Special


Photo gallery of the Smokey Mountain Special operated by Amtrak between Knoxville and Corbin, Kentucky

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April, 1998

On Saturday 18 April and Sunday 19 April, members of the Kentucky Rail Task Force and Tennessee Association of Railroad Passengers were invited guests of the Smokey Mountian Chapter of the N.R.H.S. aboard the first Amtrak Special to operate from Knoxville TN to Corbin KY on the CSX Transportation Corbin Divison, formerly the Louisville and Nashville Railroad.

The last regularly scheduled passenger trains were operated by the Louisville and Nashville in the winter of 1968 when the Southland was discontinued between Cincinnati and Atlanta GA.

The train arrived on time in Corbin KY at 11:00am where 860 passengers disembarked. The train which was operated by Amtrak Charter Trains featured 12 Superliner Cars which included a transition Sleeper, two Dining Cars (Being Used as Coaches) two sightseer lounges and seven coaches. To increase seating capicity several privately owned heritage-type cars were attached to the train which included a former Northern Pacfic Dome Car and the Dining Car Moultrie once operated by the Atlantic Coast Line on its Flordia Fleet. Bringing up the rear was a CSX Buisness Car

The total train consist consisted of 18 cars. Seating was sold by three classes of service with the heritage cars being sold as first class accomodation and the fare including breakfast, lunch and dinner Other than the added amenities the first class cars were a reminder of the aging fleet once operated by Amtrak with one coach suffering air conditioning failure and many had inoperable power doors. To the rail-fan these private cars are considered special but to the general public they were no comparison to the superliner cars and generally unimpressive. The Saturday trip which started on an overcast day ended up with a drenching downpour shortly before the scheduled departure at 3:00pm.

The Saturday trip was operated with no delays by CSX and the train was given priority although operating on the extra board. It must be noted that the media and CSX Divison officials were on board the train arrived back in Knoxville 15 minutes ahead of schedule

Saturday night in Knoxville the city was faced with flash flooding and high water and the rain continued throughout the night. This downpour was to be the begining for operational difficulties on Sunday.

The train had boarded at the CSX yard on Volunteer Blvd since the tracks into the former Knoxville Union Station had been removed during the 1988 Worlds Fair when the depot was a center of activity and the former coach yard used as the site for numerous buildings during the 1988 event.

Being a yard area, the gravel pavement turned into one gigantic pooling area for water, and boarding was slowed due to the fact many vestibules could not be used and passengers were having to walk thru to other coaches in the consist. Despite these adversities the car hosts provided by the Old Smokey N.R.H.S. managed to keep a smiling face and displayed East Tennessee hospitality.

Departure was on time at 8:00 am and it seemed the train would have an uneventful trip back to Corbin. After being enroute approximately 25 minutes it was apparent to all the rain had created less than desireable conditions with flood water surrounding the tracks. With Amtrak and Csx officials on the private car a decision was made in the interest of safety to operate the trip at restricted speed of twenty miles per hour

Despite these operating speeds the passengers understood the need as it was apparent by the raging waters of the Clinch River in view of the train. Then a twenty minute delay occured when the train took to the siding for a southbound freight this occured again causing further delay a little further north as a 96 car freight with helper engine on rear was given priority once again. >

From Williamsburg to Corbin to train operated at speeds of 15 miles per hour. The delays begin to take its toll on the passengers who were well past their dinner hours who were riding in coach and it was apparent to all that an eariler departure from Corbin might be desired to prevent the train from arriving too late in Knoxville and to prevent the doglawing of a crew.

Amtrak Special Trains Coordinator announced that the stay in Corbin would be shortened to 45 minutes and box lunches would be available to passengers for purchase at the depot.

The snack car area set up in the Superliner Dining Car and the View Liners had run completely out of snack items and beverage items were selling more than anticipated. And it was evident that a restocking would be needed at Corbin. Members of the Kentucky Rail task Force had a truck at the station and arrangements were made to contact Kroger in Corbin to have them ready supplies and a trip would be made to pick up the needed items for the train, by members of the Kentucky Rail task Force. It was stressed by Amtrak that we had 45 minutes to drive to Kroger and to commisary the train. We arrived at Krogers to find the manager and his staff waiting with four shopping carts full of food which was promptly loaded by his staff and then brought back to the train, where members of the Kentucky Rail Task Force and the NRHS pulled train side and restocked the dining car and lounge areas this was done in less than twenty minutes time and was cooridinated by Jon Owen KRTF Amtrak Liasion and director of passenger operations for KRTF specials operated in the Louisville Area. (Owen was a former employee of The Auto Train Corporation).

The car hosts of the NRHS had turned the seats in the coaches and the CSX Yard crew took the engines to the shop for refueling and turning on the wye track and it was hopeful a 2:15 departure could be achieved, however the train was further delayed by CSX as there were problems getting the nessary signals needed to move the engines in the wye. At approximentally 3:30pm the engines were seen returning to the area adjecent to the main line where another twenty five minute delay occured due to signal problems

The passengers were loaded on at 2:00pm pending an expedited departure and were soon aware that they had begun a period of hurry-up-and-wait, and at about 3:00pm the original scheduled departure time, were let off the train to smoke and stretch their legs. At 4:10 pm the engines were coupled to the train and departure occured about 4:16pm, 1 hour 16 minutes behind schedule. Arrival at Knoxville was at 10:37pm, three hours behind schedule

It must be noted that overall, the trips were a success and the operational difficulties that ocured on Sunday were due to Mother Nature, and in the mountain region, the possibility of track washouts and slides could have been a factor.

And the problem of signaling was brought on by the high water as well in the Corbin Yards. The entire staff of CSX, Amtrak, and the Old Smokey NRHS were doing everything possible to assure the comfort and safety of the passengers aboard. And despite the delays on Sunday, passenger complaints were few. And Saturday was a perfect example on how to sucessfully operate a passenger excursion on a freight-only line. And thanks to Old Smokey, Amtrak, and CSX 1800, Knoxvillians experienced the passenger train, many for the first time, and all left wanting to ride the Amtrak System and hoped one day Knoxville would be a regular stop on the nationwide Amtrak system.

Sincerly Jon Owen - kentuckyrailtaskforce@yahoo.com

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