Let's Get the Chamber's Fluff Out of the Way First"Developed by the railroad as a mineral springs resort, the origin of the town dates back to the late 1840s. Officially incorporated on February 19, 1858, the town was named “Ashland” after native son Henry Clay’s estate in Kentucky.
"With the relocation of Randolph Macon College to Ashland in 1868, the town evolved from a railroad resort to a small college town. The construction of U.S. Rt. 1, and later I-95, further shaped the Town character and development.
"Today, Ashland is a community of seven square miles and 6,000 plus residents that enjoys prosperity fueled by the College, a growing private sector and a strong regional economy."
Well, It Was Richmond Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad Land When I Took My First Stint of Pictures in Ashland Beginning Fall 1968 Through Summer 1972
This is the Silver Star which ran between New York City and Miami. The RF&P handled the train between Washington, DC (90 miles north of Ashland) and Richmond (17 miles to the south). As the picture shows, the RF&P's tracks ran in the median of the main north/south street, Center Street. This is the southbound Silver Star heading for Miami on September 18, 1968. The diesel/electric locomotive is an E8A built in 1949.
I was in Ashland for four years teaching at Randolph-Macon College which is conveniently located adjacent to the tracks.
At that time the railroad that handled the passenger trains south of Richmond was the Seaboard Coast Line (SCL). Often its power was used on the RF&P portion of the run. We are looking at the southbound Everglades, a New York City to Jacksonville train, on March 2, 1969. Snow was relatively rare in Ashland and the mailbox adds a touch of color. The Pennsylvania RR which handled the trains north of Washington DC was electrified so for trains the diesel/electric locomotives were exchanged for an electric locomotives while the train was in the DC terminal. Visa versa southbound. SCL 575 is also an E8A.
Freight was also hauled through the middle of Ashland by the RF&P. Here three of their units (GP40, GP7, and GP40) do the honors down Center Street in January of 1970.
Amtrak came into existence on May 1, 1971 and reduced the number of passenger trains running through Ashland by more than a half. This is Amtrak's Silver Star in May of 1972. Initially Amtrak had no equipment so it negotiated with the railroads to use/buy their locomotives, baggage, and passenger cars.
One Day The Southern Railway Detouring Trains Through AshlandIn Virginia, their mainline from the South to Washington DC roughly parallels the RF&P. It passes through Charlottesville and must have been blocked.
I caught this detour from the Southern Railway moseying through Ashland in August 1969. The white flags mean was an "Extra". It's a backlit northbound. The first unit is a GP30R. It was wrecked and put back together with a GP35 body and Alco trucks from a trade-in. Here's two more photographs of the train as it passed by.
I also caught a couple of Southern passenger trains detouring through Ashland. I wish I knew what southbound train this F3A is leading. It's late evening. Could be the Crescent ... but F-units? The detour could have messed up the power pool. Here is a second shot.
Here's a northbound with piggybacks (truck trailers on flat cars) on the end. Lighting is late afternoon or evening. Don't know how late the train is. My guess it is the Piedmont. And a second picture.
Auto TrainThe Auto Train concept was conceived by a private company (Auto-Train Corporation) and the first train ran in December 1971. The trains ran daily in both directions between Stanford, FL (central Florida) and Lorton, VA (just south of DC). It carried passengers in passenger car comfort and their automobiles in freight car auto racks overnight between the end points. Initially quite successful, Auto-Train added a second route into the midwest. That route became problematic, pulled down the company, which folded in April 1981. 22 months later Amtrak started a similar service between Lorton and Stanford which continues daily.
The first picture below is the original Auto Train just north of Ashland in March 1972. The auto-racks are first and the passenger cars last. Amtrak did it oppositely with the passenger cars first as the next two pictures show. Dates are May 2007 and May 2013.
And the auto racks behind the passenger cars in May 2013. Big train!
Last RunsEven before Amtrak the Seaboard Coast Line was attempting to discontinue poor performing passenger trains. Here's a couple trains it did.
The first two pictures are of the Sunland making its last run on September 9, 1968. It was a Washington to Tampa train. Not many passenger amenities in its last years. Who would want to ride it? Few did. Thus it was a money looser and the Interstate Commerce Commission allowed the Seaboard Coast Line to drop it.
And this is the last run of the Silver Comet passing Mile Post 13 on the RF&P on May 8, 1969. It was a New York to Birmingham train via Atlanta with connections to New Orleans. To try to justify the train the Seaboard Coast Line added priority freight on the end of the train as did other railroads during that period.
A Look at a Few Freight Trains Passing Through
Led by an old guy, RF&P 102, A GP7 built in 1950 leads two newer Geeps and a Road Switched down Center Street in July of 1969. And below we see 102 with sister 103 doing local switching in September of 1969. The industrial spur they are on has been removed.
With a GP35 up front, the fourth unit is a passenger unit. With the number of passenger trains diminished, passenger horsepower was used regularly on freight trains. This is from August 1969.
Through a series of mergers, the RF&P became part of CSX Transportation on July 1, 1986. Quite soon RF&P power was roaming around the eastern United States and CSX power hauled freight trains through Ashand as these next four January 1994 pictures show.
Here's Amtrak's Southbound Silver Star Marches through Town in the Spring of 2007First the telephoto lens shot (note the lens flair from the head light on the baggage car), then the normal lens shot, and finally the turn around shot. The photographs were taken in 2007 and the lead locomotive was built in 2001.
Amtrak's Carolinian heads north from Charlotte, NC in the next two shots with the Randolph-Macon College Campus to the left. I also captured the southbound Carolinian the same day (third shot below), January 8, 1994. The Carolinian's northern terminal is Boston and the locomotive in the first two shots was built in 1981 and in the third shot in 1979.
Here Are Some More Passenger Trains
Train 86, The Everglades was photographed north of town in September 1968. The lead locomotive is an early passenger diesel electric, a SCL E6, built in 1942. The second unit is an RF&P E8 built about 10 years later.
Ashland has a neat little depot which was turned into the town's Visitors Center after Amtrak took over and only one train each way called. Now the State of Virginia funds several additional Amtrak trains and with a few others make Ashland a stop. But the depot remains the Visitors Center with no ticket agent or baggage handling. The train arriving is #93 to Richmond, a State supported train. The rainy evening was May 17, 2013.
With the older RF&P paint scheme, locomotive 1003 heads Train 21, the pre-Amtrak Silver Star on August 4, 1969. The four cars between the locomotives and passenger cars, the head-end cars, include two cars of Railway Express packages (today's FedEx equivalent) a U.S. Mail Car possible with mail being sorted on-route (if so it was a Railway Post Office (RPO)), and the baggage car for the passengers' baggage. The far end of the train is just leaving the track on Center Street.
This is a State supported train from Newport News stopping at the depot on that rainy May 7, 2013 evening.
A foggy day make interesting pictures. This is the Silver Star in 1968.
The Everglades with Seaboard Coast Line power in 1968.