Mixtures of Old and New

Posted by George Hamlin
on Wednesday, September 1, 2021

In the photo of Amtrak’s northbound Crescent above, passing Barboursville, Virginia, north of Charlottesville, on June 4, 2018, there is a mix of old and new elements, in some cases, on multiple levels.

To start with, the train is operating on what was the property of the Southern Railway, the Crescent’s creator.  For many years, this stretch of the Southern’s Washington, DC-Atlanta main line was known as the Washington Division.  More recently it became part of the Norfolk Southern’s Piedmont Division, and currently is the Hagerstown District of the Keystone Division.

Evidence of its Southern Railway heritage at this location is literally “cast in concrete”, in the form of the “SR” initials atop the abutments of the bridge that carry the railroad over the roadway that hosts the combined traffic of U.S. route 33 and Virginia state highway 20 in this vicinity.

Further evidence of the old/new dichotomy is seen at the head-end of the train, where Amtrak P42 Genesis unit 156 is leading, clad in its “Phase One” ‘heritage’ unit livery, commemorating the National Railroad Passenger Corporation’s fortieth anniversary in 2011.  Putting things into perspective, Amtrak, a relative newcomer on the railroad scene, is a decade-plus older than the NS, now the proprietor of this stretch of railroad.

Following behind the second Genesis unit is a long-haul Amfleet II coach dating from the early 1980s.  This type of equipment (in the form of the original Amfleet I cars) was Amtrak’s first purchase of new locomotive-hauled cars following its formation.  They have served long and well, and only now are their initial replacements scheduled for production.

Further back in the consist is the newest member of the equipage, in the form of Viewliner dining car “Montpelier”.  The last of the so-called “heritage” passenger cars, i.e. those inherited from the private railroad operators at Amtrak’s formation, were the single-level diners used on Amtrak’s eastern long-hauls, including the Crescent

In addition to the meal service cars, the latest addition of Viewliners included additional sleepers, baggage cars and baggage-dormitories.  Ordered in 2010, they were long in gestation; virtually all of the order other than the baggage cars didn’t enter service until at least 2017. 

In a happy geographical coincidence, this diner, named for the capital of Vermont, will shortly pass the still-standing Southern Railway station at Montpelier, Virginia, named for the nearby home of James Madison, the fourth U. S. President, and now a National Trust Historic Site open to the public.

Even though its seniority is still quite new on Amtrak’s roster, the combination of the introduction of ‘contemporary dining’ on the Eastern long-hauls and the Covid 19 pandemic has resulted in these cars being placed into storage temporarily; fortunately, both they and the more traditional food-service they were acquired to provide will be returning, according to recent Amtrak announcements. 

Change likely will continue to be evident here, however.  Subsequent to 2018, Amtrak is now celebrating its fiftieth birthday, including commemorative locomotive paint schemes, one of which takes the same basic form as that shown above on the 156.  For that matter, the P42s are about to begin the process of being replaced by new Siemens-built ALC-42 Chargers, and one of their first assignments reportedly will be the Crescent.  I suspect that those concrete initials on the bridge may outlast all that we’ve been discussing; time will tell.

To leave a comment you must be a member of our community.
Login to your account now, or register for an account to start participating.
No one has commented yet.

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

Search the Community

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy