Image of the C&O for Progress monogram A graphic image of the words C&O Piedmont Subdivision

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Operations on the Piedmont Sub


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Freight Operations

As noted on the introductory page to this site, the Piedmont was primarily a passenger line after the acquisition of the James River line in the early 1900’s. As such, it didn’t generate much freight traffic. Throughout its history, however, a variety of products were shipped and received by customers along the Piedmont Sub. Over the years inbound freight included coal, fertilizer (especially to the two firms in Ellerson), oil (Gordonsville, Louisa, and Mineral), LPG (Melton and Keswick), and lumber and other building supplies. Major outbound traffic, at least since the 1960’s, has included pulpwood, wood chips, crushed stone, vermiculite, and newsprint. As summarized in Table 1, the Piedmont Sub hosted six scheduled freight trains during the final decades of the C&O. These were, for the most part, through trains and they handled general merchandise and some piggyback business. During this time, a freight with a cut of cars for the other direction would drop those cars in Lindsay. For instance, if train 95 had a cut of cars for Potomac Yard, those cars would be dropped on the siding in Lindsay for pickup by the next 92.

A C&O local, led by GP9 5981, rounds the wye at Gordonsville sometime in 1967. Following C&O practice for locals, the train has a caboose on both ends of the train, even though there are only two cars between them. It was a desire to model trains in Gordonsville that led me to model the Piedmont Sub. (Photographer Norman Blackwood. From a slide in the collection of Larry Z. Daily.)
Trains 90 and 91
Train 90 was known as the Expediter and train 91 as the Speedwest. They ran between Newport News and Chicago. Train 90 crossed the Piedmont in the morning and 91 in the afternoon. Both were routed over the James River line in the mid-1970’s.

Trains 92 and 93
These trains ran to and from Potomac Yard in Alexandria.

Trains 94 and 95
These trains ran between Charlottesville and Richmond. Trains 94 and 95 handled any needed local switching between Charlottesville and Richmond after the locals were discontinued in the early 1980’s.
Table 1. Scheduled freights on the Piedmont Sub.
SD50 8574 leads ore train from Potomac Yard through Gordonsville on August 19, 1984. (Photographer Mark Demaline. From a slide in the collection of Larry Z. Daily.)
A CSX local passes the Mineral depot on December 29, 1995. CSX 6459 is a GP40-2 and is (I believe) paired with road slug 2308 (a former GP-30) in this photo. (Photographer Wade Massie. From a slide in the collection of Larry Z. Daily.)

By the early 1980’s, local traffic had dropped off almost to nothing. In 1984, however, the C&O began running the Virginia Rock Runner, a unit train between the quarry in Verdon and several sites in Tidewater Virginia. In the late 1980's CSX reinstated locals from Charlottesville to near Doswell (the Charlottesville Local) and from Richmond to near Doswell (the Beaverdam Turn). As needed, those trains would exchange cars at Doswell, Verdon, Noel or Beaverdam. In the early 1990’s many of the remaining active sidings (e.g., the lumber yards in Trevilian and Bibb) were removed or taken out of service. This left only the Bear Island paper mill, the quarry in Verdon, the sand loader in Beaver Dam, the vermiculite loader in Louisa, the pulpwood yard in Gordonsville, the Kl√∂ckner Pentaplast plastics plant, and the LPG plant in Keswick receiving regular service. Occasional increases in freight traffic occurred, however, when flooding or other disruptions caused the diversion of trains from the James River line over the Piedmont and Mountain Subs. Still, during this time, CSX considered abandoning the Mountain Sub which would, I believe, have led to the eventual abandonment of the Piedmont.

In 2004, CSX leased the former C&O lines from Richmond to Clifton Forge to the Buckingham Branch Railroad. Currently, the Buckingham Branch runs the local service on the Piedmont Sub. Five days a week the BBRR runs turns between Staunton and Gordonsville, Doswell and Richmond, and Doswell and Gordonsville. CSX also runs westbound empties over the line.

These June, 2010 photos show some of the current operations on the Piedmont Sub. In the left-hand photo a Buckingham Branch local passes the former C&O freighthouse in Gordonsville. The right-hand photo shows a CSX train of empty coal hoppers at the same location.

Passenger Operations

At its height the Piedmont Sub had 44 stations between Richmond and Charlottesville and, as shown in the 1925 timetable (right, click the link for a larger view), the C&O had 10 trains — including the Fast Flying Virginian — running in each direction every day to service those stations. Among these were morning and evening locals each way, a pair of locals off the Virginia Air Line Subdivision (trains 402 and 403), and overnight trains between the eastern cities of Washington, Richmond, and Newport News and the western cities of Cincinnati, Louisville, and Chicago. After the inauguration of the Sportsman and the George Washington in the 1930’s, all three of the C&O’s best-known passenger trains plied the rails of the Piedmont Sub. Through the 1940’s there were often two sections of each name train (a Washington section and a Norfolk section) in each direction each day. Most of the Piedmont stations were either scheduled or conditional stops for these trains. In addition, train 141 ran from Newport News to Charlottesville daily and train 30 ran from Charlottesville to Richmond every evening except Sundays; on Sunday train 16 (later 116) covered the route in the afternoon. During this time, most of the Piedmont stations were still listed as conditional or flag stops on the public timetables, though some (e.g., Highland Park, Strawberry Hill, Patton, Bakers Creek) had been removed.

The schedule remained much the same through the 1950’s, though the Washington and Norfolk sections now combined or separated in Charlottesville. Despite the C&O management’s plans concerning post-war passenger business, passenger revenues began to decline precipitously in the 1950’s. In an attempt to stem the decline in April of 1958 the C&O purchased three Budd Rail Diesel Cars (RDCs) and placed them in service on the Peninsula and Piedmont Subs. The three-unit train — known as the Chessieliner — made one round trip daily between Newport News and Charlottesville and served as the connection for trains 4 and 5, the Sportsman. In August 1958 the schedule was changed so that the RDCs could make three trips each day. This was accomplished by moving the connection with the Sportsman from Charlottesville to Gordonsville. Chessieliner service over the Piedmont lasted until 1962 when the connection with the Sportsman was eliminated and the RDCs left the Piedmont Sub to run only on the Peninsula Sub between Newport News and Richmond. The 1960’s, of course, saw the end of all of the C&O’s passenger trains but the George Washington. In the mid-1960’s the C&O removed most of the stations left on the Piedmont Sub and late 1960’s timetables listed only Louisa and Gordonsville between Richmond and Charlottesville.

Passengers trains still polished the rails of the Piedmont Sub after the creation of Amtrak in May of 1971. Trains 50 (the George Washington) and 51 (the James Whitcomb Riley) ran between Norfolk / Newport News and Cincinnati. In November 1971 the routing of the trains was changed to Washington to Cincinnati via Charlottesville, with connecting sections from Charlottesville to Newport News. The connecting sections were renumbered 98 and 99 in June 1973. So that the train had the same name in both directions, the eastbound train was renamed James Whitcomb Riley in May, 1974. Two years later the Newport News section was discontinued, leaving no passenger service on the Piedmont east of Gordonsville. Amtrak trains 50 and 51 were renamed the Cardinal in 1977 to reflect the fact that the state bird of all the states through which the train ran was the cardinal. The Cardinal was discontinued in September, 1981, leaving the Piedmont Sub without any scheduled passenger service for the first time in its history . By Congressional mandate, the Cardinal was reinstated in 1982 and today continues to cross the Gordonsville to Charlottesville segment of the former Piedmont Sub three times a week.

This photo shows #41 the George Washington crossing the RF&P at Doswell in September, 1966. (Photographer unknown. From a slide in the collection of Larry Z. Daily.)

Amtrak’s train 50 The George Washington pauses in Charlottesville on Christmas Eve in 1972. (Photographer unknown. From a slide in the collection of Larry Z. Daily.)

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