One of Amtrak's more scenic trains to skirt the Appalachian Mountains was its Shenandoah, which operated between Washington, D.C. and Cincinnati. The idea for the train was actually thanks to a senator from West Virginia who hoped to see rail service restored across the Mountain State, which had once been provided to both the northern and southern regions. Thanks to his efforts Amtrak began to serve both areas including a forerunner to the Shenandoah as well as the Cardinal along the New River Gorge. For nearly a decade the national carrier tried to make things work for the northern corridor although just as predecessor Baltimore & Ohio had experienced a lightly populated region made ridership numbers difficult to both gain and sustain. Ultimately, Amtrak pulled the plug on the route in the early 1980s and a few years later much of the line was shortsightedly abandoned by Chessie System/CSX Transportation.
During the first few years of Amtrak's operations the carrier actually experimented with several trains using the B&O's main line from Baltimore/Washington, D.C. to St. Louis. This route headed west to Cumberland where it continued due southwest to Grafton, West Virginia. From there it wound its way through the Mountain State's northern foothills with the largest cities along the corridor at Clarksburg and Parkersburg, the latter of which lay along the Ohio River. Crossing over into Ohio the line reached the small college town of Athens, then on to Chillicothe and Greenfield before connecting to Cincinnati. From there it continued westward through southern Indiana and Illinois before reaching St. Louis. For decades it was a key route for the B&O, both in terms of passenger trains like the National Limited and expedited freight movements, especially from the 1960s onwards when the route was heavily upgraded through West Virginia to raise tunnel heights for COFC (Container On Flat Car) and TOFC (Trailer On Flat Car) traffic.
By the early 1970s this was still an important source of revenue for the railroad. However, after Amtrak took over intercity passenger responsibilities on May 1, 1971 it initially ended scheduled trains over the route. The B&O's final service over the route ended a day before on April 30th with the National Limited. However, thanks to democratic congressman Harley Orrin Staggers, the future brainchild behind the Staggers Act which would deregulate the industry in 1980 the loss of passenger rail service to the Mountain State was shortlived. In September, 1971 Amtrak launched the West Virginian between Washington, D.C. and Parkersburg. Interestingly, the B&O had operated a train of the very same name between Jersey City, New Jersey (New York City, as the B&O liked to proclaim) and Parkersburg listed as trains #23 and #24.
It was a dayliner that served the 351-mile corridor for many years although lack of ridership eventually forced the B&O to merge it with the Cleveland Night Express in 1954 and tried to increase patronage by extending it to Cincinnati. New equipment was even purchased in 1962 but eventually the railroad gave up on the train with its last run occurring on July 4, 1964. Amtrak's version, which also became known as Harley's Hornet or the Staggers Special because of the congressman's influence, also had trouble attracting ridership (it did not help that around the time the train was introduced the city of Parkersburg razed their beautiful, two-story Sixth Street Station in place of a parking lot). Interestingly, in 1972 in an attempt to gain attention and passengers Amtrak experimented by rerouting its high speed UAC Turbo Train along the line and renaming it as the Potomac Turbo.
The trainset later became known as the Potomac Special but unfortunately, mechanical issues and a lack of ridership saw Amtrak pull it from service on April 29, 1973. In its place the carrier inaugurated the regional Blue Ridge from Baltimore/Washington to Martinsburg and while it was later canceled the route is still served today by commuter line MARC Train. Surprisingly, this was not the end of passenger service over the route. On October 31, 1976 Amtrak again inaugurated a train between Baltimore/Washington and Cincinnati known as the Shenandoah. From Cincinnati passengers had the opportunity to catch a connecting train to Chicago via the James Whitcomb Riley/Mountaineer, later renamed the Cardinal in 1977 and operated to Newport News, Virginia.
By the late 1970s Amtrak had acquired enough new equipment that the Shenandoah's consist usually included Amfleet cars and either a GE P30CH or EMD F40PH for power. Accommodations on board, since it was only a short run of under 300 miles, only included coaches and a cafe/snack car. However, due to complaints Amtrak began offer makeshift sleeping accommodations known as Ampads at the ends of coaches. About 1979 the train began to receive Superliner sleepers. Unfortunately, later that year congressional budget cuts to Amtrak forced the carrier to reduce its network, particularly those trains that saw the lowest ridership. As on of its worst performing routes, as stated by the company, Amtrak was quick to cut the Shenandoah in 1980.
The train made its final run September 30, 1981. The eastern leg of the route was picked up by the Capitol Limited
(Cumberland-Baltimore/Washington). Sadly, the hope of riding a train
through northern West Virginia and southern Ohio was no longer an option
after 1985 when CSX/Chessie System oddly elected to abandon the route
between Clarksburg and Cincinnati citing high maintenance and low
traffic. Today, the Mountain State section of this line is now a
rail/trail while the Ohio portion is mostly an overgrown path save for a
few sections that remain in use by short lines.
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