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Paul Wilson & myself went out to Huntington to see & follow the POTUS train on Sunday, August 25. Here's how we did:
Heavy fog was the rule as we arrived in Huntington, WV to see if we could get a glance of the POTUS trains near the C&O station. Around the station, streets were already blocked off at 8 AM and police presence was heavy. Hi-cubes and empty coal cars were on the adjacent tracks between the Amtrak station (on the south side) and the C&O station (on the north side). As we programmed into the scanner every CSX frequency in the book, silence was still prevalent.
At the station itself, we didn't see a single passenger car. But, just west of the station sat the pilot train, called "Train #1". It consisted of Amtrak F40's #300, 392 on the west end. Following was a baggage car, Inspection car A10001 (the Beech Grove), and a CSXT business car #318 (the Georgia). The dinky was the only thing in sight.
As we looked for the other two trains, we noticed the lack of cars in the yard. It was probably no accident that the yard was cleared, and the remaining cars were strategically placed.
Then on the scanner, "OK off the coach yard lead ..." So, we found an opening between cuts of cars for the train. As the exhaust approached, it was the unmistakable sound of Genesis engines. The lead unit came out from behind the first cut of cars. P40 #817 was dressed up in Presidential seals with flags fluttering along top of the unit. Following were two other P40's, lettered with slogans alongside of the units. And then, the Superliners ... 21st Century Express ... the President of the United States ... In total about, 9 Superliners. Then the real stuff ... the M-K-T #403, and finally, bringing up markers, Georgia #300.
With the fog burning off substantially, the train pulled into the C&O station. Secret service personnel swarmed out of the station and the train. Moving to the C&O side of the station, we were able to get close enough to get detailed pictures. It was a race against time to get good pictures as the Huntington police began to string up the yellow tape. The lead P40 of the P990-25 looked like an antenna farm. The last train then sneaked in behind the presidential train. Although it was hard to see, we could see that a CSX Yellow-Nose 2 unit was leading. This was the trailing train, to be known as P991-25.
The President's arrival a little before 12 noon was signalled by military helicopters flying overhead. After scouting ahead for a location, we chose Kenova (just west of the N&W bridge) as our location. We were there for no more than 2 minutes when the Kenova police raided our location at the end of a street. They told us that we couldn't be there and that the minimum distance we would have to keep back was 25 yards. Twenty-five yards! We hadn't seen any location that a had a clear view that was 75 feet from the tracks. Further, the Kenova PD said all grade crossings would be closed and no one could stand there either. The full sunshine was now heating things up.
After doing some more searching, we settled on another location just east of the bridge. It was wider, but not as good scene-wise. Yet, we had very limited choices. The first priority was to get a clear view of where we could actually see the train.
As 1 PM came & went, more people began to stream out of their houses. Many had been watching the speeches live on TV. West Virginia state police now were beginning to make their presence known. More people came out - they were all well away from the tracks, yet the police insisted on more than a wide berth, in many cases, more than 25 yards from the tracks. The scanner was uncharacteristically quiet.
Tempers were getting as high as the mid-day sun as fire trucks came in and blocked the grade crossing. One man who owned a house next to the track came out and stood on his grass, but was warned to get back. He argued that this was his property and he mowed the grass. The ensuing argument brought the state policemen back and the owner retreated (at least temporarily).
As 2 PM neared, more people came trackside. CSX and NS special agents showed up, and state police even climbed onto the N&W trestle. A mini-photo line had formed where we were. Each time a policeman would come closer, we were nervous about whether we would be told to move. But, they said nothing to us, and so, we stayed. The sun was now in our favor here.
Finally about 2:30 PM, we heard P989-25 receive the final go ahead. Clear signal "HO". The detector announced the first train was getting close. But, then, the scanner crackled about signal problems. One of the indications had burned out. Then P990-25, the Presidential train got the signal at HO. At Kenova, "P989 west has a clear signal at KV, west on #2 track". The pilot train then glided by at about 35 MPH.
The Presidential train, P990-25 was following. It had gone by the detector. Pilot train P989-25 radioed that there were a lot of people at Kenova, so "use your horn freely" and take it slow. Rounding the curve into Kenova, "P990 west has a clear, KV, #2". The crowd had pushed and crept forward nearer to the track.
As Amtrak #817 neared with all its flags waving, there was cheering. An Amtrak train never looked better. Cruising by at about 35 MPH, people were waving and holding up signs. As the rear car approached, we could see the Railfan-in-Chief leaning out the back platform of the former Katy business car. More cheering. And as the Georgia went by, the crowd had witnessed a rare event indeed, more rare than a mainline steam event in the 1990's.
With the pressure eased, we moved back to the original position to try to do the last train with the bridge. The police were a lot more relaxed now, as the P991-25 neared. Two CSX B40-8's (ex-NYS&W), freshly repainted, with 2 CSX business cars, the Baltimore and the Kentucky. This train looked great.
With the trains stopped in Ashland, we elected to leapfrog ahead and set up west of Russell, KY at Greenup where the track crossed an open deck bridge over a river inlet. We met some others from RR-list here and had a wonderful time as we waited for the trains to leave. Every grade crossing had a police car watching it.
Although anticipated departure was at 1730, the train actually left after 1830. CSX special agents were concerned about the crowd at Russell. But, then the go-ahead was given. P989-25 had permission to back up by a signal to clear the interlocking for the AM Dispatcher to reset. Then the trains couldn't leave because the people were still around them at Ashland. The trains were due into Chillicothe between 6 & 7:30 PM; it'd be lucky that they would get there by 9 PM by this point.
At about 7 PM, the first train was getting by RJ (west end of Russell Yard), so the anticipation built. The pleasure boats had maneuvered into position to see the man himself. A police boat chased away boats too close from the bridge.
Finally, the Nathan 5-chimes of the lead F40 were sounding. So, we were set. The P989-25 glided across the bridge and charged west. Some of the people then went away satisfied, "I saw him!!", they said. One of us told them that he would actually be on the second train. (oops).
P990-25 was getting closer. Meanwhile, P989-25 had cleared a detector. "... no defects ... Speed 7-9 miles-per-hour". Spare no speed on this train. The 21st Century Express was late and they needed to make up time.
Then it was P990's turn; more horns. Then the train glided across the bridge. And this time, from the rear platform of the the Georgia, Mr. Clinton was indeed waving.
P991's turn was next. The initial transmission of the detector indicated that the P990 was hammering west. We were curious as to its speed - we were answered by the transmission: "... no defects ... Speed 8-1 miles-per-hour".
The following train looked like a model crossing the bridge, the two B40's with the blue biz cars couldn't have looked any better. We were satisfied.
We continued the chase for a while, but we they were moving too fast. It became evident that a shot at the Sciotoville bridge would be difficult. And we did miss it. Oh, well, maybe next time.
Overall, it was a great show. Maybe next time we can hope for some steam.
- Vic Stone