It’s partly cloudy in Terra Alta, WV.
About a month ago, we saw Chessie System GP40-2 4162 in bright sunshine at Salt Lick Curve.
That was two miles west – and down the hill. The weather can change dramatically between Rowlesburg and Terra Alta, let alone from any point in between. It’s partly cloudy in Terra Alta, WV on February 21, 1988.
We’re at the Main Street crossing in Terra Alta looking west. We’re on the north side of the tracks, which puts this side of the train in a bit of a shadow. However, this view allows you to see where the world ends about 17 cars back. Well, the world doesn’t really end there – it just looks like it does. That the train disappears from view in such a short distance gives you an idea of what the grades are like on this line.
Eastbound coal drags have a hellacious climb out of the Cheat River valley that ends here – the 4162 and sisters won’t notch back until the train has rejoined us at the top of the world.
I haven’t watched a train pop up and enter Terra Alta in about 20 years. Time flies, but I digress. Way back then, it was quite a spectacle as you heard the train long before you saw it. The rumble of the prime movers and the whine of the turbochargers and fans (yes – a rumble and a whine at the same time) would get louder, and then you’d see the lead locomotive appear from top to bottom as it climbed over the edge. Within a couple of hundred feet of appearing, the whistle would blow for the Main Street crossing – exactly where would depending on how fast the train was going when it crested the grade.
Fast is a misnomer, as that was typically somewhere around 13 mph. Mountain railroading isn’t fast railroading… If it gets to be fast railroading, then there’s probably going to be a problem… And yes, that’s unfortunately happened on the West End, and it’s cost some lives over the years.
Things have changed on the West End. Yes, coal still moves east, but not as much due to factors and reasons far beyond the hills of West Virginia. Gone are the EMD GP40-2 and SD50 locomotives that dominated my time there. Quieter, more powerful General Electric locomotives predominate. I’ve heard that the informal road that used to be the third track that was a key element in making the images in the Chessie & CSX: The West End Gallery is now blocked by locked gates.
The spectacle of man and machine versus nature still happens a couple of times a day. For how long remains to be seen. It’s possible to bypass the West End by running northwest to the Monongahela River valley, then north to the Pittsburgh area, and then east – but it may not be practical. Yet.
It’s hard to imagine the West End gone, but it’s not safe by any means.
I don’t know if or when I’ll get back there. If nothing else, I’ve got the Kodachromes…