C&O 614 to return to service in 2012?

Both local and national press outlets are reporting that Jim Justice, owner of The Greenbrier Resort, is investing in a luxury train to bring passengers to the resort:

The owner of The Greenbrier says the resort is investing $15 million in a luxury train that should be operating in 12 to 14 months.

Jim Justice says the Greenbrier Express will feature the last steam engine ever made in the U.S. and may someday travel to Keeneland, a prestigious Kentucky race track and horse-auction house.

The two properties announced plans for a strategic alliance and cross-promotions Wednesday.

Justice says the original plan was to run the Greenbrier Express from Union Station in Washington, D.C., to White Sulphur Springs.

The phrase “the last steam engine ever made in the U.S.” appears to be a reference to ex-Chesapeake & Ohio 4-8-4 614, owned by Ross Rowland. No. 614 has been stored out of service on the Reading & Northern for several years.

Mr. Rowland has confirmed some activity in a post on Trainorders.com:

The Greenbrier Express project is real and the check has cleared the bank, therefore it is no longer a ” concept” but rather a solid project.

The GBX will be a 17 car long, ultra first class day train that will bring 210 guests from Washington DC to the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs,W.Va. It will operate the same route as the Cardinal, departing Wash.,DC on Tuesdays at 10:00 am arriving at WSS at 5pm. . . The GBX will return to Washington on Sundays, departing WSS at 10:00 am arriving DC at 5 pm.
. . .

Motive power will be a mix of modern diesels and classic mainline steam locomotives. On the steam powered portions of the journey there will be NO diesels in the train with HEP supplied by 2 baggage/generator cars. . . Service is scheduled to commence on July 2,2012.

Update:More information from Mr. Rowland here:

1. Motive Power- We have purchsed 3, C-39-8 locos on the second hand market ( all runners equipped with cab signals) and will be giving them a top to bottom going over and then a first class repainting into GBX livery as designed by noted rr artist Bob Lorenz.
The biz. plan calls for the GBX to be all diesel powered for its first season ( 7/2/2012- 1/15/2013 ) and for steam to be added ( subject to approvals from Amtrak, CSX and Buckingham Branch RR, approvals that I am guardedly optimistic we will achieve) in the second season ( 3/17/2013- 1/15/2014).
When steam is added the GBX will be diesel powered WUS-Gordonsville and steam powered Gordonsville-WSS in both directions. There will be NO repeat NO diesels in the consist when steam powered.
C&O 614 will be one of 3 steam engines in the steam stable. We will need 3 engines so that we have one on hot standby and one in cycle maintenance in addition to the one in active service.
We are actively vetting many candidate engines to be 614’s 2 stable mates with a goal of finishing that task by 11/1/10.

Emphasis added. So:

  • “Greenbrier Express” is a separate company, presumably controlled by Mr. Rowland.
  • Some portion of the Washington – White Sulphur Springs route will be steam-hauled, presumbly by no. 614.

The Cardinal route is NS Washington – Charlottesville, Buckingham Branch Charlottesville – Covington, and CSX Covington – White Sulphur Springs. The Buckingham Branch trackage is leased from CSX.

At this point we enter into the realm of speculation until someone wants to confirm planned operating details, but an operating plan that has no. 614 hauling the train over the scenic Buckingham Branch trackage while diesels handle the NS and CSX portions of the journey seems the most likely. Further speculation might be that the train operates under Amtrak auspices on NS and CSX, but not on the Buckingham Branch.

The American Orient Express luxury train operator operated a similar service for a short time, hauled by CSX’s F-units and by Amtrak power. It was not a financial success. The Greenbrier Express may also fail – but if it did, an operating steam locomotive (with years of service left on its boiler inspection) would be among the assets left at the end.

Assuming this plan moves forward, congratulations to Mr. Rowland, and best wishes for the success of the Greenbrier Express.

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