Wednesday, September 9, 2015

August 1992 -- The New Georgia Railroad from Atlanta to Montgomery

Over the weekend of August 21, 1992, the New Georgia Railroad, an organization operated by the Georgia state government (particularly the Georgia Building Authority) ran a public trip from Atlanta to Montgomery and return. Although they ran a regular dinner train, I had never ridden it.  But I had been on two of their previous long distance excursions (one to Savannah from Atlanta, and the other to Atlanta from Brunswick) and enjoyed them thoroughly. They also provided the equipment and car hosts for an excursion between Etowah, TN and Copperhill, TN/McCaysville, GA via the famous Hiwassee Loop the year before.  Their equipment was among the best in excursion service in the country, and their staff friendly and ready to please.

One of the reasons I was able to go on the trip is that it didn't start until 1pm on Friday.  That meant that I could catch a Friday morning flight to Atlanta and still make the train.  So I boarded a USAir flight for Atlanta on Friday morning and got to Atlanta about an hour ahead of my friends.  My friend, Dave Ingles, who was coming in from Milwaukee, arrived on the same concourse as USAir, so I went over and met him.  We then took the airport train to the Marta station where we met up with three other friends from Chicago (Rick Moser), Minneapolis (Brian Cutter), and Kansas (John Arbuckle).

Marta was a quick and efficient way of getting to downtown Atlanta.  We got off at the Five Points station, and walked through Atlanta Underground to get to Milepost Zero, the location of the New Georgia Railroad's station.  The station was new, and actually had the original milepost zero inside of it.  The fourteen car train was awaiting us outside, and soon my party was guided to our car, an ex-Atlantic Coast Line business car, third in the train.  The first two cars of the train were American European Express cars (including the New York, nee Sandy Creek observation car) being used by CSX to entertain.  They were using the cars as partial payment for charges owed to them by AEE. The rest of the train consisted mostly of coaches, except for a concession car, a crew sleeper, and a parlor observation car "Blue Ridge".  The train was pulled by 290, an ex-Atlanta & West Point 4-6-2 heavy Pacific and an F-unit, placed in a back-to-back configuration.  The 290 was to operate on home rails for the first time since retirement (I'm told).

The Blue Ridge (photo take on another trip)
Our group settled into the "living room" portion of the business car, and soon were chowing down on lunch: shish kabob, chicken, shrimp wrapped with bacon, salads, and more, including some incredible brownies.  Did I mention that the Georgia Building Authority runs cafeterias in public buildings?  I didn't? Well that's because the food gave no indication of that kind of operation.  It was superb.

The miles flew by as we headed down the rails of the A&WP (now CSX) towards West Point where they would become the Western Railway of Alabama (also now CSX) on into Montgomery.  Unlike Norfolk Southern, CSX placed no special speed restrictions on excursion trains.  They were allowed to operate at track speed.  This meant that we exceeded 50 miles per hour at times.  The Pacific is one of my favorite steam locomotives probably because it reminds me so much of the locomotives that hauled the commuter trains that my dad would ride home from work in Chicago in the 1950s.  From the vantage point of the third car, and with an open platform to sit on, we were able to listen to the locomotive to our hearts content.

We made several passenger stops along the way, and one lengthy service stop at West Point, to re-coal the engine.  The train arrived in Montgomery about 70 minutes late, but no one minded.  It had been a great ride.  Everyone loved it...well almost everyone.  The CSX dispatcher was heard to say (over the radio) "this train has been a thorn in my side all day".

We walked the block or so to our motel, the Riverfront Inn.  This motel was a converted WRy of Alabama freight house, and had once been a Sheraton and once a Clarion and now was a nothing, with good reason.  The rooms were big and clean, but in my first room the AC was non-operational, and all the rooms were dark.  During Saturday they checked one of my friends out of his room because he had taken his bag with him and then gave him a hard time about finding another room for him!  The food there was mediocre at best, but there was nothing else to do in downtown Montgomery, and we were warned not to venture far from the hotel at night.

A&WP 290 at Milepost Zero
Saturday was an off-and-on rainy day during which the 290 pulled excursions to a siding called Sprague on the ACL line to Dolthan (route of the old Floridian).  The F-unit was on the other end of the train, and it operated in pull-pull style all day.  A series of five excursions were planned, and they were all sold out.  My friends and I hopped into a taxi cab to the airport where we met another member of our group (Mike Cohrs) and rented a Mercury Sable for chasing.  We then spent an enjoyable day taking pictures of the train, and various freights (in between rainstorms and a fire-ant filled location).  The excursions ran progressively later and later in spite of shortening the trip so that it returned well short of Sprague. The last one left after 6pm, when it was supposed to leave at 5pm.  I have no idea when it returned...we were off to dinner at a great steakhouse called the Green Lantern.  After dinner we started a game of Rail Baron in my room.  I drew an off-line trip at the start and was never able to recover.  We suspended the game until a later trip, but the handwriting was on the wall...I had about half the money of the leader and was not likely to win.

Sunday was a really nice day...perhaps the nicest of the weekend.  The train pulled out at 10am, with us back on the business car.  There had been a cooler failure on the train and the New Georgia apologized to us about the food. There were some store bought biscuits with bacon and eggs, sausages, danishes, fresh fruit, juices, etc. and it was all very good.  No apologies were necessary.

The return trip ran pretty much as the trip down, with one exception.  Something had happened to 290 during the excursions (we had heard a call on the radio to bring a welding truck at one point) and the F-unit Diesel did most of the work.  Not nearly as satisfying in the stack talk department.  We again made a series of passenger stops, and a service stop, and arrived in Atlanta about 6:15pm, about 75 minutes late.

A New Georgia Diesel (E-8, not the one on our trip)
We hiked over to MARTA and went out to the airport and rented a car for the night (split 5 ways it allowed us to stay at a cheaper motel than one with a free airport also gave us transportation for the evening.) We quickly cleaned up and two of us were dropped at Fulton County Stadium where seats sixteen rows behind home plate were awaiting us.  We watched the Braves get trounced by the Cardinals (so what else is new?) and then were picked up and taken back to the motel.  While we were at the game, the rest of the crowd partook of another railfan tradition...a visit to the nearest Steak and Shake.

The next morning one of my friends, who was to be the last to leave, had shuttle duty.  He dropped me at the airport in plenty of time for my USAir flight home, and I was back at work by lunchtime.

According to Wikipedia AWP 290 (of which I cannot locate any pictures in my personal library) made its last run before being taken out of service in 1992. This may well have been that last run. It is currently undergoing restoration and may be back in service in the future.

1 comment:

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