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Buffalo To Corning, NY On The Erie Limited
  Before I started doing Amtrak trips, some of my earliest train rides were excursion trains, specifically, trains pulled by steam locomotives. I was very fortunate to ride a total of three Norfolk Southern-sponsored steam excursion trains from 1991 through 1993. 1991's trip was pulled by Norfolk & Western Class A 2-6-6-4 Locomotive #1218 and ran from Buffalo to Albion, PA, west of Erie (I boarded that train in Dunkirk, NY). #1218 was taken out of service in 1992 for an overhaul (little did we know at the time that 1991 would be her last year operating as the overhaul was never finished) so it wouldn't be used in the following years. 1992's trip was pulled by Norfolk & Western Class J 4-8-4 Locomotive #611 and ran from Buffalo to Girard, PA (another small town west of Erie). 1993's trip was also pulled by #611 and ran from Buffalo to Conneaut, OH. No trip was scheduled in 1994 out of Buffalo and by the end of that year, NS's Steam Program would end. I thought maybe I had rode my last mainline steam excursion over a Class 1 Railroad out of my hometown for good...
  Yes, Norfolk Southern restarted its Steam Program (it technically restarted in 2011 but this was the first year of an excursion back in Buffalo again) using N&W #611 as well as Southern Railway Class Ms 2-8-2 "Mikado" #4501, and our locomotive for this trip, Nickel Plate Road Class S-2 2-8-4 "Berkshire" #765! Today, #611 is owned by the Virginia Museum Of Transportation in Roanoke, VA and is based there. #1218 is now on permanent display at the aforementioned museum (though not operational) and #4501 is now owned by, and based at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in Chattanooga, TN and was scheduled to operate trips later in the year as part of the NS Steam Program (#611 had already completed all of her scheduled trips under the program by the time #765 began operating).
  There are steam locomotives, and then there is Nickel Plate #765! This engine is owned by the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society (FWRHS) and is based in New Haven, IN, a Fort Wayne suburb. In April 2015, an announcement was made that #765 would be part of NS's new 21st Century Steam program for 2015 and would be coming to Buffalo on August 1st and 2nd for a round-trip each day to Corning, NY! This would be the first time that #765 has come to Buffalo for a run down the Southern Tier Line in 30 years! For me, I finally would get a chance to take another mainline steam excursion out of my hometown! The last time we had this type of an excursion was in 1993 as I was saying before, and it was with #611. I was a goofy 15 year-old high school student on that train (OK, at 37 I guess I'm starting to show my age!) so I knew one way or another, I had to find a way to buy a ticket and ride this particular train.
  When tickets finally went on sale, I purchased my ticket in First Class riding in Private Car "Hollywood Beach", just three short minutes after ticket sales commenced online! The total cost for the ticket was $349.00 Ticket prices started at $129.00 for regular coach, with the highest price ticket being for a seat in the Private Car "Dover Harbor" at $449.00 each. I chose the Hollywood Beach car because it features huge windows that run up to the ceiling of the car on one end of it. A dome car is an experience like no other, however the curved windows in such a car make for less than ideal conditions when it comes to photography so I felt the best option was to use the Hollywood Beach car as this trip was all about the experience and the photography for me!
  Today's "Erie Limited" would travel from Buffalo to Corning, NY on the Norfolk Southern (Former Conrail/Erie Lackawanna/Erie RR) Southern Tier Line. We, the passengers were instructed to drive to Bison Yard off Harlem Road in Cheektowaga, NY (this town borders Buffalo) where we would board the train. Bison Yard was more or less abandoned by Conrail in the early 1980's when they consolidated most of their operations in the area to Frontier Yard up on the Chicago Line (Ex-New York Central Water Level Route). I can remember as a young kid, riding over the yard on the New York State Thruway (I-90) and seeing all those empty tracks, and then in later years, a huge open field as most of the tracks were eventually ripped out.
  Fast-forward to 1999 when Conrail was taken over by CSX and Norfolk Southern. NS would get the Southern Tier Line in the deal to break up Conrail and CSX would get the Chicago Line (from Cleveland-east as NS got it from Chicago to Cleveland). NS would later rebuild a huge portion of this once great rail yard and on a track known as the "Panama Lead", we would board the train. After driving into the yard and being directed where to park the car, I walked over to the train. I arrived there shortly after 7:00am and boarding was to commence at 7:30am. I of course, wanted to get photos of the engine as well as roster photos of the train (which I would ultimately get from multiple locations mostly the day after I rode the train, so I could pick the best looking ones for this travelogue!). Most people were congregated around the engine so as to be in photos with it or just to take in the view of this monster of a machine and living example of a golden era of railroad history. Shortly after 7:30am, I made the walk down to the Hollywood Beach car which was the second to last car in the train. I noticed one huge thing that was thankfully missing from this train, a diesel unit behind the steam engine! YES!!! No diesel unit would be needed on the train! The operators of #765 constructed an extender on the tender which increased the capacity of the coal tender by 6 tons, eliminating any possible need for a freight unit on a trip of this length.
  By the time I had boarded the train, all the window seats were taken but this would prove to be no big deal because of the Hollywood Beach's extra-large windows! I was seated with a couple from Hamilton, NY who would actually be riding the train to Corning today and would ride back to Buffalo tomorrow! I was also seated with a railfan who traveled all the way from Bay City, MI to ride today's train! Yes, this excursion attracted people from all over the country! Once everyone was boarded, we had to wait for NS Train #525 to clear the area before we could proceed. We would have to back up off the Panama Lead back to CP-Panama before going forward and exiting Bison Yard. The train would back up all the way to William Street with our car being by the intersection of William and Ideal Streets in Buffalo. Our train symbol on NS today would be Train #957 going eastbound.
  Announcements were made by the two attendants in the car. One was from the FWRHS and the other was a member of the Western New York Railway Historical Society (I'm a member of this group but chose to buy a ticket and ride this train as a passenger so as to create this travelogue, rather than sign up to be a member of the train staff). It turns out, famous actor Jackie Gleason, best known as "Ralph Kramden" on the 1950's TV sitcom "The Honeymooners", frequently rode in this car as he didn't like to fly! An announcement was also made that this car was actually for sale! This beautiful historic, Amtrak-certified car can be yours for the unbelievably low price of $585,000! (Oh well, I'm still paying back student loans, and I haven't won the lottery yet, so I guess I'll have to skip buying this "new toy", bummer!).
  Finally, at about 8:40am, we were out of Bison Yard and heading east. I had my radio set up on the table and would use the Google Maps app on my phone as a GPS to figure out where we were (two things that didn't exist when #765 was new back in 1944!). One thing I noticed right away were lots of railfans and just local residents who were lining the crossings and streets that paralleled the tracks just to get pictures and video of this train! Of course, we would also encounter many railfans chasing the train as well! Once out of the yard, we would pick up speed as we pass through Lancaster and eventually Alden and Darien Center. Around Attica, we were served 'Continental Breakfast"-style food from Panera Bread (yep, the good stuff!) which consisted of danishes, bagels, and bear claws among other things! Coca-Cola products as well as coffee and bottled water were also available and included in our ticket price as well! We would eventually pass through Warsaw, and then Rock Glen, where the NS had a freight in the hole at CP-Rock Glen waiting for us to pass. We then went through Silver Springs before heading into Castile and Portageville where we would go over the big bridge over the Letchworth Gorge on the Genesee River at Letchworth State Park. The train would slow down to 10mph while going over this bridge and there were literally hundreds of railfans at the park both in the clearing near the bridge as well as down in the gorge next to the river, all there to see us! This would be one of the last passenger trains to go over this bridge as NS has already begun site clearance for a new bridge that will be built next to it. This old bridge is made out of iron and the new one will be a steel arch bridge. There have been conflicting reports about wether the old bridge will be demolished when the new one opens or possibly be converted into a foot bridge similar to the "Walkway Over The Hudson" in Poughkeepsie, NY which uses the old New Haven Maybrook Line bridge.
  This is actually my second time taking an excursion this mainline. The first was in 1998, using Amtrak equipment. That travelogue is the oldest one on this site! Now out of Portageville, we would pass lots of railfans along NY Route 70 which parallels this mainline for about 15 miles. We would pass through Dalton, Swain, Canaseraga, and Arkport before slowing down to make a "food stop" in Hornell, NY. As the train inched forward for food to be loaded on at a few points during the overall stop, we would pass by Alstom's big plant where the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner cars were built many years ago. There were some Port Authority of New York subway cars at the Alstom Shops on shop trucks when we passed by. The "boxed lunches" for this part of the trip came from a local Subway restaurant and consisted of a turkey sub (some were also ham and veggie), with a bag of Lay's potato chips, and a chocolate chip cookie. Lunch would be served as soon as we departed Hornell.
  We would later pass through Cameron, and ride along the Canisteo River, just beautiful, and so far, the ride quality was excellent as well! NS maintains this mainline very well! We also passed through Addison where County Road 119 parallels the mainline. We would also go through Erwin and Painted Post before arriving in the city of Corning, the Glass City where we arrived at 12:35pm! As part of the ticket cost, a tour of the Corning Museum of Glass was offered. To get there, school buses waiting at the "station" which was near the old Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad passenger station. The mainline around Corning is actually of DL&W heritage due to a realignment that occurred in the 1950's. The DL&W would eventually merge with the Erie to form the Erie Lackawanna which eventually became part of Conrail. The buses would take passengers to the museum though there was an option to stay onboard the train. By now, you can probably tell what decision I made! Don't get me wrong, the Corning Museum of Glass is one incredible place, but my whole goal there was more train photography-related so I decided to get in the extra couple mile staying on the train while it was being turned as well as photograph most of the car interiors! Once all passengers who wanted to go to the museum were off the train, I started walking the entire length of the train to get more pictures!
  We would start to wye the train by heading a little further east from our "station" to CP-Gibson where one leg of the wye up to the Corning Secondary would be located. I would see lots more railfans on the overhead bridges taking photos of the train during this movement. Once we were onto the Corning Secondary, the engine would get a load of coal dumped into its tender for the trip back (not sure if it ultimately was even needed but it never hurts to have the extra coal available enroute). Once coal loading was done, we would pull forward on the wye back onto the Southern Tier Line, this time at CP-Corning, then back up to an area near where we would reload passengers. At some point during this time, the engine would also be watered from a fire hydrant. Yes, the logistics of operating a steam locomotive where no facilities exist to service it requires some heavy equipment to load coal into the tender and for a fire hydrant to act as a "water tower"! I would head to the lounge car to pick up a hat and a lapel pin from the souvenir shop there before getting back to my car as we were now making the backup move to the loading site again.
  One thing I had been doing periodically throughout the day was taking notes on different places I might want to photograph this train at tomorrow as I was planning to do so anyway and Google Maps, though very good, doesn't always give the most information. Our train would now have a new crew from NS and would be known as NS Train #958 for our westbound run to Buffalo. Click the link below for photos taken during our ride here to Corning!