Tennessee Passenger Rail improvements

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Joined
Sep 14, 2021
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30
Location
Decatur, GA
The Bristol - Knoxville - Chattanooga ties in nicely with Virginia's developing plan to extend service from Roanoke to Bristol. If carried out, it would substantially restore the Northern end of the route of Southern Railway's Pelican.
 
I think the most feasible proposal is the extension of Trains 391/392 to Memphis. That really just becomes a matter of capacity. Those trains already run with extra rolling stock to meet the insane axle count requirement. The downside is coming up with an additional Superliner train set.
Schedule is a problem with serving past Roanoke. You get unpleasant schedules at one end or another. I don’t see this as likely, but I’d be curious how the first state supported sleeper train would work.
The services between Louisville and Atlanta seem to be the most challenging between track conditions, the mountain environment, and not having a link to an existing service.
 
I don't see Tennessee supporting a sleeper train, but it wouldn't the first one. California had one for a few years back in the 1980s.
 
I don't see Tennessee supporting a sleeper train, but it wouldn't the first one. California had one for a few years back in the 1980s.
I am not sure whether the 1994-1995 weekends only Niagara Rainbow was supported under Section 403, by New York or not, on its overnight run between New York City and Niagara Falls, but it did have a sleeper in its consist…
http://www.timetables.org/full.php?group=19940501n&item=0010
 
Much as I would like to see a resurrection of rail passenger service in Tennessee, most of these plans vary between being a dream and being a hallucination. Most of the routes are simply too slow due to alignments.

The most likely to carry any worthwhile number of passengers would be to extend the Chicago-Carbondale trains to Memphis. This would give a day train Memphis-Chicago, During ICRR days the daytime City of New Orleans would run up to 20 cars, with the loading north of Memphis being roughly twice of that south thereof. However, that was pre-interstate highways and an under 10 hour run time, and before Memphis became a high crime city where the general rule is "don't go inside I-240 at night", and best not at any time city.

Memphis-Nashville best time was around 5 hours and even pre-interstate the "good" day train was gone (in 1953) although the overnight mail train lasted into about 1967, carrying a single coach for the last few years. It parallels I-40 which carries a large traffic volume, but I-40 is part of a major transcontinental route because it is far enough south to dodge most of the northeastern toll roads and bad winter weather, so its traffic volume has not relevance to the rail traffic potential.

Chattanooga-Knoxville-Bristol with connections into the Virginia service. Sorry, again very slow alignment. Due to curves the highest speed allowed anywhere on the line was about 10 miles allowing 60 mph. Overall average run time speeds were about 35 mph. Major alignment work, or forget it.

Nashville-Chattanooga-Atlanta? Nashville-Chattanooga 150 miles by rail versus about 130 miles via I-24. Three hours was about the best ever time, and that was for the Georgian when the NC&StL was basically on this train owns the road mindset. Chattanooga-Atlanta around 135 miles by rail versus about 125 by road. In general the whole route is crossgrain to the Appalachian chain. Again, about 3 hours best ever time. The last 40 miles into Atlanta is a very curvy with a 40 mph speed limit. Again, major alignment work or forget it.
 
This line in the report is a classic showing the lack of reality of this discussion:
"They said as a result, driving from Nashville to Knoxville would turn into a four-hour trip."
The direct line, Tennessee Central to Harriman TN and then Southern the rest of the way into Knoxville was an 8 hour train ride when they had passenger service. Since the eastern part of the TC line is no more, a train at any speed is no longer possible. In fact it was so slow that at one time there was a through Nashville - Knoxville sleeper that ran via Chattanooga. It was also an 8 hour plus trip,
 
. In fact it was so slow that at one time there was a through Nashville - Knoxville sleeper that ran via Chattanooga. It was also an 8 hour plus trip,
Sleeper was actually a Bristol -<> Nashville. Mainly a political run especially before I-40 was in operation. See link table "I" Neighbor was TN legislator. Would Hob Nob with others in car until often Chattanooga. They had passes on SOU RR and NC&SL RR just paid pullman fare.

http://streamlinermemories.info/South/SOU52TT.pdf
 
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The Bristol - Knoxville - Chattanooga ties in nicely with Virginia's developing plan to extend service from Roanoke to Bristol. If carried out, it would substantially restore the Northern end of the route of Southern Railway's Pelican.
Jis, when I looked at the Pelican link, I noticed this nugget of just how complicated routing the Pelican must have been:

In 1957, the Pelican carried:[3]

I think that makes 5 different destinations if you count the Roanoke to Birmingham as just one. I do not know why, but this is amazing to me. I know that this is typical in India, China and Europe but the complexity of the routing just intrigues me.
 
Jis, when I looked at the Pelican link, I noticed this nugget of just how complicated routing the Pelican must have been:

[details elided for the sake of brevity]

I think that makes 5 different destinations if you count the Roanoke to Birmingham as just one. I do not know why, but this is amazing to me. I know that this is typical in India, China and Europe but the complexity of the routing just intrigues me.

Most of the through and sectional carriages are gone in India. They have been replaced by what amounts to unit trains sometimes running complex routes between odd pair of origin/destination, but without any drop carriages. This especially true of trains that have centralized source of hotel power either in Generator Cars or so called HOG (Head End Generation) capable locomotives.

There are some historical cases that still exist, using self generating cars, but those are now sort of third tier service behind higher speed and very limited stop services unit trains, so very few who want tog et anywhere fast use those. They are used more as a large collection of medium distance trains. But all that belongs to a thread about IR I suppose.
 
Chattanooga-Knoxville-Bristol with connections into the Virginia service. Sorry, again very slow alignment. Due to curves the highest speed allowed anywhere on the line was about 10 miles allowing 60 mph. Overall average run time speeds were about 35 mph. Major alignment work, or forget it.
It depends on your definition of "very slow" - this is a mainline freight railroad very similar to the NS route from Atlanta to Birmingham. I think the majority of the line has a track speed of 50 for freight, with some areas slower for curves of course.
 
It depends on your definition of "very slow" - this is a mainline freight railroad very similar to the NS route from Atlanta to Birmingham. I think the majority of the line has a track speed of 50 for freight, with some areas slower for curves of course.
Yes it is slow. Some 25 MPH running from Bulls Gap to Bristol. It runs on crooked bluffs overlooking Jonesborough Tn that was 20 MPH back in the day. #:45 was best time for Knoxville ~~ 128 miles. Here is TT for 1952 TTs G,H, I for the three trains . Note; 7:30 times Roanoke - Knoxville. No change from when I lived there except CTC and a new long siding south of Bristol. Beside the street running in Johnson City.

I-81 = I-40 driving 4 hours. ROA - Knoxville
 
Louisville to Chicago is a problem with poor track to Indianapolis and a roundabout route to Chicago. The "James Whitcomb Riley" in 1941 was much faster on that route.
From what I understand, the ex-PRR line is actually in decent shape because CSX uses this line into Louisville. Upgrading and modifying the Cardinal's route to a 6 hour or less running time will benefit future service on the Cardinal's route.
 
It depends on your definition of "very slow" - this is a mainline freight railroad very similar to the NS route from Atlanta to Birmingham. I think the majority of the line has a track speed of 50 for freight, with some areas slower for curves of course.
That's "slow" compared to an interstate highway where all the traffic, even the large 18-wheeler semi-trailers, can go 65-70 mph (or faster if they want to risk a speeding ticket) pretty much the whole way, even around the curves and up the grades. Well, maybe the big semis slow down a bot on the uphill grades.
 
That's "slow" compared to an interstate highway where all the traffic, even the large 18-wheeler semi-trailers, can go 65-70 mph (or faster if they want to risk a speeding ticket) pretty much the whole way, even around the curves and up the grades. Well, maybe the big semis slow down a bot on the uphill grades.
But it's not "very slow" compared to many other passenger rail routes in the USA.

Yes it is slow. Some 25 MPH running from Bulls Gap to Bristol. It runs on crooked bluffs overlooking Jonesborough Tn that was 20 MPH back in the day. #:45 was best time for Knoxville ~~ 128 miles. Here is TT for 1952 TTs G,H, I for the three trains . Note; 7:30 times Roanoke - Knoxville. No change from when I lived there except CTC and a new long siding south of Bristol. Beside the street running in Johnson City.

I-81 = I-40 driving 4 hours. ROA - Knoxville

Many Amtrak trains have some 25-35 mph running in certain areas. The Capitol Limited meanders along for 35 for a long stretch along the river. I've ridden that line a few times when TVRM was running excursions a few years ago.. I don't remember it being extremely slow and I KNOW we did mostly 40 the entire stretch between Chattanooga and Knoxville (40 was the speed limit for steam.. the track speed was probably 50... not sure).
 
I think the most feasible proposal is the extension of Trains 391/392 to Memphis. That really just becomes a matter of capacity. Those trains already run with extra rolling stock to meet the insane axle count requirement. The downside is coming up with an additional Superliner train set.
Schedule is a problem with serving past Roanoke. You get unpleasant schedules at one end or another. I don’t see this as likely, but I’d be curious how the first state supported sleeper train would work.
The services between Louisville and Atlanta seem to be the most challenging between track conditions, the mountain environment, and not having a link to an existing service.
It likely wouldn't be a Superliner set. More likely is a piggyback order onto the upcoming corridor train order.

I don't see a state-supported sleeper train (though I wouldn't be shocked if something came together...I think VA might be able to be talked into supporting something given the length of a putative Chattanooga-DC run, both in terms of time and mileage). However, Amtrak (or the DOT) working something up wouldn't be impossible to imagine.

Edit: By way of explanation, Bristol-Washington is presently estimated at about eight hours one-way. Thats doable for a day train. However, on the old Pelican timetable, Bristol-Chattanooga was another seven hours. That is beginning to push the limits of a day train (if it can be achieved) and on the proposed timetables it would be arriving close to midnight (and departing at like 0200). Obviously, there's room to move this around in various ways (e.g. pushing the NB runtime north by like four hours, which would align with 66's schedule better), and once you extend to Bristol you don't have to add any new equipment (Bristol basically forces you to add a second set), so the incremental costs here aren't a complete disaster. Heck, you could even potentially make it from Roanoke to Chattanooga with the same operating crew, though a crew division break at Bristol might make better logistical sense. The question is "How close can you come to the Pelican's timetable?"

One other thing of note - I realize that this is not likely to be a slam-full train like you get further north, but I do wonder at the state of buses and so on in that area. I feel like there will be more ridership than might be expected, if just because of a lack of alternatives along the line.
 
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Nashville to Chattanooga would be a challenge on account of Cumberland Mountain-single track for several miles at speeds lower than 30 mph. Don't know if trains are still required to make a stop eastbound coming out of the tunnel at the summit. Back in the day, there was a runaway track just east of the tunnel. All eastbound trains were required to stop at the east end of the tunnel, then proceed. If they did not, they went on the runaway track.
 
The past history of the trains running thru Bristol had one interesting ridership metric. The number of passengers on all trains increased in numbers the farther the trains got from Bristol. Now would that metric apply today? Have no idea. Before I-81 / I-40 driving from Bristol to Roanoke or Knoxville was slower than the trains. US-11 in VA and 11E and 11W in Tennessee. A further problem was US-11 driving west out of Knoxville for about 20 miles.
 
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