The American, Part 1: 6-1-16 N&W 611 Ferry Move to Manassas

June 1st was a day I had been looking forward to even before my trip to Roanoke in May. 611 was going to be coming practically to my backyard, and this time I was ready! Last year, I waited in the rain for seven hours to catch the train coming North. I was one of hundreds of railfans out for the chase, and in my excitement I didn't take good care of myself and ended up catching a nasty cold. I was still able to go to the Manassas Railfest on Saturday, and did some 611 chasing on Sunday before work, and even went down to watch it prepare for departure on Monday, but it was all a bit haphazard and slapped together. This time, I prepared! I planned out every spot I wanted to catch the train, stocked up on quality camera supplies, and made sure I got time off of work. Frustratingly, my intel told me June 2nd was the planned day for the ferry move, but I found out at the last minute that it would be Wednesday after all. It's times like these that I am grateful for flexible students. Anyway!

I waited to leave the house until I saw the 611 Facebook page post that they had departed Lynchburg, after picking up several additional coaches deposited in the station siding by Amtrak Regional trains and topping off the water. I drove down to the same spot I waited last year, Bealeton Virginia, smack dab in the middle of a 10-mile stretch of double-track on the Washington District. I wasn't the only one, but there were certainly less folks out than there were last year. One gentleman in a pickup truck asked if it had gone by yet, and when I replied in the negative, he parked next to me and we chatted for hours about all manner of steam trains, model trains, and of course, train accessories! We watched 12R go by, as well as the Northbound Cardinal, and then it was showtime!

NS 957 Northbound at Bealeton, VA. Note line of railfans pacing the train at right.

When I arrived, there were some maintenance crews addressing an issue at the small bridge just past the South end of the double-track in Remington. The issue wasn't entirely resolved, and 611, operating as NS 957, was ordered to take the bridge at 10mph, with another 10mph restriction near the North end of the double-track. Despite this, the train was up to at least 20mph by the time it reached us, and the crew did not disappoint with their whistle show! 

The moment the coal gondolas passed my truck, I was already turning the key, and some very gracious train chasers let me out of my parking spot! I raced up US 29, with a classic steam engineer voice ringing out of my scanner, calling signals as the J trotted over the last few miles to Manassas. Despite the slow traffic ahead of me, I managed to get about-even with the head end through the rolling fields of Virginia, and I planted my tripod at the Godwin Road crossing with barely a minute to spare.

Once the train was past me, I zipped down to Powell Junction, where many railfans were waiting to watch the steam engine enter the yard. 611 paused while switches were lined, and then proceeded to slip its drivers many times as it negotiated the tight yard tracks with a 25-car train. Passersby were awestruck, stopping their vehicles even when the gates weren't down, and absolutely everyone was silent, save for the occasional honk by a motorist uninterested in such beautiful history.

Yard crews walk 611 through the tight and slippery switches at the entrance to Manassas Yard. The drivers were slipping like mad, with 5,000 horses chomping at the bit.

Once the tool car cleared the crossing, I headed down to a spot behind a local business, adjacent to the North end of the yard. Local train P58 was waiting for 611 to clear the junction so they could reverse South, and then proceed West to a quarry just up the line. For reasons not entirely clear, the train pulled all the way forward first, providing an unobstructed view of the excursion train, and then reversed down where the Dash-9s were stopped next to the Class J. My guess was that they were waiting on 203, a higher-priority intermodal train, to clear the junction, but I couldn't be sure.

Eventually P58 left, and after the coaches were tied down, 611 pulled forward of the switches, paused for admirers, and then reversed down to the Manassas house track to await the final excursions of 2016.

The 611 crew confers as they finish up with the ferry move from Roanoke on 6-1-16.

The entire 611 unit, including engine, tender, water car and tool car, pulls forward of the switches at the North end of Manassas Yard.

611 pauses in the sunset while shifting over to the Manassas Yard house track after uncoupling from the excursion coaches.