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Steam excursions showcase spring countryside

staff report • Feb 9, 2013 at 6:41 AM

Two spring steam train excursions next month will allow passengers to celebrate the glory of the season in Northeast Tennessee.

The excursions are offered by Norfolk Southern Corp. in partnership with the Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society & Museum and the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.

On March 9, the Bristol-to-Radford Special will roll through the Southwest Virginia hills while celebrating the grand return of 21st Century Steam with historic steam locomotive Southern Railway No. 630 from the Tennessee Valley Railway Museum in Chattanooga. This rare opportunity is being offered to communities along Norfolk Southern lines for display and periodic excursions.

The train will travel through historic Abingdon, home of Barter Theatre and the Martha Washington Inn. Nearby is the famous route of the Virginia Creeper. The excursion will wind through the Virginia highlands, passing Emory & Henry College, Marion and Wytheville, before traveling down Pulaski Mountain and into the town of Pulaski.

The train will then steam into the New River Valley and on to Radford, Va., where passengers will be able to enjoy the town and its many restaurants, shops and museums.

This trip will leave the Bristol, Va. Train Station at 8 a.m., making a scheduled stop in Abingdon at 8:30 a.m. to pick up additional passengers. The train will arrive in Radford at noon and will depart Radford at 2:30 p.m., arriving back in Bristol at 7 p.m.

On March 10, the train will operate from Bristol, Va., to Bulls Gap and return. There will be a station stop at the Elm Street Norfolk Southern Elm Street Station in Johnson City.

After leaving Johnson City, the train will pass through historic Jonesborough and Washington College Academy. Next on the route is Limestone, then Greeneville. After descending into the lowlands, the train will arrive in Bulls Gap, where passengers will have a chance to visit the Archie Campbell Birthplace along with the railroad museum and hotel.

The Bulls Gap excursion will also begin at the Bristol, Va. Train Station, departing at 9 a.m. and arriving in Johnson City to board passengers at 10 a.m. The train will arrive in Bulls Gap noon and depart at 2 p.m., arriving in Johnson City at 4 p.m. and Bristol at 5 p.m.

Motive power for the Radford and Bulls Gap excursions will be steam locomotive Southern Railway No. 630, which also operated on the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad out of Johnson City from 1952 to 1967. Steam Engine No. 630 will be assisted by powerful NS diesel to pull the 12-car train.

The train has climate-controlled heated and air conditioned cars along with restrooms.

Ticket are $65 each for ages 3 and up for both trips. Children under the age of 3 cannot occupy a seat. The Radford ticket does not include a meal. The Bulls Gap ticket does include a box lunch.

Tickets can be purchased by calling (423) 894-8028 or visiting www.wataugavalleynrhs.org.

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