Local residents might get a chance to travel the old-fashioned way by riding the rails instead of the interstate next month.
Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society & Museum, along with Norfolk Southern Corp. and the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, will celebrate Southern Railway No. 630’s return to the area with two excursions traveling through the Tri-Cities and Southwest Virginia.
The 12-car excursions will take place March 9 and 10, with one trip from Bristol, Va., to Radford, Va., and the other leaving from Bristol, Va., to Bulls Gap.
“The railroads give us this opportunity to run this train that’s going to be running in the Southeast over the next two months and Bristol and Johnson City is its first stop,” said Mike Tilley, president of Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society & Museum.
He said the March 9 trip to Radford, which has already sold out, will begin at 8 a.m., leaving from the Bristol, Va., train station. The train will travel through the Virginia towns of Glade Spring, Chilhowie, Marion, Wytheville, Dublin and Pulaski and then will make a stop in Radford.
“We’re going to let the passengers off for a visit to the town and they’ve got a museum there,” Tilley said. “They’re going to have about a two-and-a-half-hour layover in Radford and then ... everybody will have a lunch and then get back on the train and get back into Bristol about 7 that evening.”
On March 10, the train will depart from Bristol at 9 a.m. and will stop at the Norfolk Southern Elm Street station in Johnson City. The train will depart Johnson City and go through Jonesborough, Washington College Academy, Limestone, Greeneville, Mohawk and Moshiem until reaching the Bulls Gap station.
“When they get to Bulls Gap they’ll have about a two-and-a-half-hour layover there and then they’ll be able to visit ... Archie Campbell’s homeplace and they’ll have a railroad museum and they’ve got a lot of activities, the town does, just ... near the old train station where we get off at,” Tilley said.
The train will leave Bulls Gap at 2 p.m. and be back in Johnson City at 4 p.m. before continuing on to Bristol.
He said Southern Railway No. 630 used to work out of Johnson City, as it was operated by the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad from 1952-1967.
“It’s really like bringing it back home again,” Tilley said.
He said while both excursions do have a commissary car where passengers can purchase food and drinks, a box lunch is included in the ticket price for the March 10 excursion.
Tilley said 600 tickets at $65 apiece were available for both excursions and that while the March 9 ride has already sold out, the March 10 trip still has around half the tickets available for purchase.
He said he’s excited to introduce people –– young and old –– to steam trains and to provide a unique family outing.
“It’s a steam train and, you know, there’s none of them running anymore. There’s not (any) passenger trains around here. This is a 100-and-some-mile train trip ... and it’s something you can’t get every day,” Tilley said.
“It’s a good family event. So many people have never ridden a train before. This is an opportunity to do that, and many of the young people in the area, they’ve never ridden one. It’s something different.”
For ticket information, call (423) 894-8028 Monday-Friday between 10 a.m.-4 p.m. or visit the website at www.wataugavalleynrhs.org.