Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Down the Rat Hole!

David writes from Utah Territory....

At the end of May, I traveled to Kentucky to visit my family and friends.  My trip home also coincided with one of the Norfolk Southern-Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum 21st Century Steam excursions.  This excursion traveled the Norfolk Sothern’s "Rat Hole" division from Lexington, Kentucky to Oneida, Tennessee. 

The "Rat Hole" division is not actually owned by NS, but by the Trustees of the City of Cincinnati.  It was built in the 1870s as a way for Cincinnati to secure its economic future by being a trade center to the south.  Later operated by the Cincinnati, New Orleans, Texas & Pacific ("CNO&TP"), the line was absorbed into the Southern Railway System in the 1890s.  The division gets its name because the line was known for its many tunnels, like rat holes in a wall.  However, most of these tunnels were bypassed or daylighted in the 1960s in an effort to improve clearances on the line.  The Rat Hole continues to be an important artery of commerce for NS and it was interesting to ride the trip and see the railroad at work.  To illustrate the changes that occurred, let us look at a Southern Railway promotion photo, showing a train powered by then-new EMD FT locomotives crossing the Cumberland River, just south of Somerset, Kentucky.  The photo is looking north. 

During the reconstruction of the line, the Army Corps of Engineers impounded the Cumberland River to create Lake Cumberland.  Here is another photo, taken recently.  The tunnel on the north end (not shown in the photo) is gone, and the curved bridge is replaced with a double track bridge. 
Now, on to actual trip photos:

Our trip departed at 8:00 am from the NS yard in downtown Lexington.  Lexington is about 45 minutes away from my hometown of Bardstown, so we were up and left home early.  Chartered city buses took us from free parking to the yard.  Here is the scene when we arrived.  Our train consisted of Southern 630, the auxiliary water car, 2 SD40-2 locomotives from NS and 12 cars.  About half of the cars are owned by Norfolk Southern, the other half came from TVRM and other museums. 

The car we rode in was Southern 829, which was beautifully restored first by volunteers at the Bluewater Chapter NRHS, and later by volunteers at the car's new home, the Southern Appalachia Railway Museum in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  The car is a Budd product and was very authentically restored.  The foot rests worked, the seats reclined and the air conditioning was cold.  What a nice car! 
Here, we are passing over High Bridge.  High Bridge is a large cantilever truss bridge that stands 275 feet over the confluence of the Kentucky and Dix Rivers.  This photo was taken on the northbound trip. 
Here we are passing Stearns Kentucky.  Stearns was home of the Kentucky & Tennessee Railway, and now home to the Big SouthFork Scenic Railway.  The K&T owned the once and future Southern 4501 from 1948 to 1964 as their number 12. 
Oneida is a small town just over the Kentucky-Tennessee boarder.  In addition to the Southern, it was home to two short line railways, the Oneida and Western, which operated to Jamestown, Tennessee and the Tennessee Railway, better known for operating a fleet of ex Monon steam locomotives.  The Tennessee Railway was later purchased by the Southern, and is now operated by RJ Corman.  The 630 turned on the old Tennessee Railway wye in the center of town. 

Here is 630 before running around the train to couple on and head back north.  A northbound train is blasting through on the adjacent track. 
Overall it was a fun experience.  I'm glad we went and I'm glad I finally was able to experience a mainline steam excursion. 

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