Nashville: Hot Spot, Big Steam, and commuter trains

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Thursday, April 12, 2018

I just got back from the American Short Line & Regional Railroad Association annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn. From Sunday afternoon to Tuesday afternoon, my colleagues Mike Yuhas, Jane Brenner, and I were on hand to meet readers, advertisers, and learn more about this important side of the railroad industry. It’s one of the reasons why you saw extra attention to this business in our April issue. The trade show’s two days were packed with seminars, speakers, and networking (more on the topics I listened to later). So after BNSF Railway Executive Chairman Matt Rose spoke (actually he appeared in a Q&A interview format with the association’s Linda Bauer Darr), I was ready to explore the city that’s long been a mystery to me but is starting to become more familiar with each visit. After a good barbecue lunch, Trains reader and logistics consultant Jon Gilbert and I set out to explore some of the highlights. Here’s what we found.

After warning Jon about Nashville’s epic traffic, we joined the masses on Interstate 40 and trekked downtown. There, we did a driveby of the Tennessee Central Railway Museum (an E-unit, two B-units, and a Geep were visible among other goodies), saw a pair of Nashville & Eastern four-axle GEs, and spotted the gorgeous Union Station (now a hotel, see our Trains Presents video from a previous visit), we wandered to The Gulch, the famous downtown hot spot where it seems like just about all CSX trains in this city eventually pass or pause for a crew change. I’ve used the balcony at Union Station to watch trains before and enjoyed it, but this time we took to the Kayne Avenue bridge adjacent to the tower there and enjoyed a real show of freight traffic. From locals to mixed freight intermodal hotshots, we saw it all in a short time. We included The Gulch in our 75 great places to watch trains in our Hot Spots special issue (ordering info here  ), and this brief but productive visit confirmed the decision to do so.

Our next stop was Centennial Park, near Vanderbilt University, where there is not only a full-sized copy of the Parthenon but the sole surviving Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway 4-8-4, No. 576 (See Big Steam is Back, our special issue and DVD, here ). The locomotive is the subject of an effort to restore it to operating condition for use on the Nashville & Eastern’s ex-Tennessee Central Railway that already hosts Music City Star commuter trains. Funding is coming in and if it keeps on rolling, the locomotive may be moved soon to the shop, where work can begin in earnest. For now, the volunteer crew is doing what it can to prepare the locomotive for the move and to get a headstart on the restoration. Evidence of that work was abundant as I did a quick walk around. (Full disclosure here, I hold a board of directors seat on the Nashville Steam Preservation Society, the group in charge of the restoration.) Learn more about it at

From here, we struggled through more Nashville traffic to Riverfront Station to watch the Music City Star commuter train arrive and depart. The equipment is former Metra bi-levels and ex-Amtrak F40s, so it is a real trip back in time. Trains run push-pull with the cab car on the west (Nashville) end of the consist and the F40 leading trains outbound. There are three round trips in the morning and three in the afternoon for a 32-mile run to Lebanon on the east side of the city. We picked up former Trains Editor and retired Kalmbach Publishing executive Kevin Keefe and contributor David Busse after they harvested all of that mileage as collectors.

From here, we returned to the suburbs in Donelson and Hermitage to watch the other two commuter trains of the day. While in the city, I learned that Nashville has a transit referendum coming up next month. Perhaps there will be more trains like this one on future visits.

The more I visit Nashville, the more I like it and its railroads. I’ll have more on the show and on Nashville train watching. Keep an eye out for it.         

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