Manassas - Front Royal, VA
Contents And Navigation:
This excellent resource is the result of the knowledge, hard work, and inspiration of Henry Mikus. It is doubtful that a better railfan guide to the B-Line exists.
It has been made even better by:
Markolf Gudjons: provided an extensive update in August, 2000
Mark Cleveland: Provided broad up-dates and corrections in early 2007, including a complete re-write of the difficult to traverse Gainesville area. New road construction and closing of some older routes made this effort a necessity.
Train Gifs. All train gifs used within this tour are from the Ed Bindler's train gifs site, which is here.
Tony Hill: Webmaster -- the guy who makes Frograil go. Any first person singular pronoun in this tour refers to Tony Hill, unless specifically otherwise noted.
Frograil is an immense Web railfan resource, and no one person is capable of visiting thousands of railfan locations and writing them up. Your help is requested: Send new individual locations, correct/supplement existing individual sites and tours, and even consider creating a new Frograil Tour. Contact me here.
Mapwork: Much of the tour is not easy if you have no detailed map for back country roads. I definitely recommend you get a DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer, study it before your trip, and copy pertinent pages for your field work. You can find information here about Railfan Maps that are available.
General Introduction: The Harrisonburg Branch, more commonly known as the "B-Line", starts in Manassas, Virginia at a junction with the former Southern main line that runs from Washington, DC all the way to Atlanta, Georgia which is also known as the Crescent route. The eastern 50+ miles of the B-Line certainly no longer comprises a branch, having achieved mainline status in 1988 as a vital link in a major reroute that saw traffic to/from the northeast and the south diverted from Potomac Yard in Alexandria, Virginia and Amtrak's Northeast Corridor over to the Hagerstown Gateway. Both the branch and the Crescent main are now part of Norfolk Southern's Piedmont division; together they form two legs of the newly-enhanced link with the former Conrail territories to the north. The B-Line is the vital piece that connects the former Norfolk & Western Shenandoah Valley Line near Front Royal with its northern connections through Hagerstown to the former Southern's mainline to the south.
The B-Line has a unique blend of traffic mix and good density coupled with a trek through Virginia's Hunt Country and the steep ascent of the first line of mountains of the Blue Ridge. This piece of railroad stretches 50 miles and closely parallels I-66 and state route 55 for its length. The beautiful scenery and ease of access make it a wonderful railfan experience.
History: The Southern's mainline from Alexandria across the Potomac River from Washington headed for points south via Manassas and was originally incorporated as the Orange & Alexandria. Business interests decided to tap in to the riches of the Virginia Piedmont to the west and somewhat further, the Valley of Virginia. Access to the Valley over the Blue Ridge Mountains was through Manassas Gap near Front Royal, hence the line's name as the Manassas Gap Railroad. The line ultimately turned south near Strasburg, Va. and ended in Harrisonburg, after traveling about 110 miles from Manassas. The terminus became the line's namesake after its inclusion into the Southern system in the 1890s. For decades, "the Weed Line", as it was affectionately called by its crews, only ran a series of road locals linked relay-race like from end to end. The line had a brief flash in the limelight during the Civil War years, as its junction with the main at Manassas occasioned two major battles, and its east-west routing was utilized to advantage by the Confederate army to shuttle troops quickly to and from the Shenandoah Valley.
Things changed dramatically in June of 1988, when NS and Conrail moved their interchange for north-south traffic from Potomac Yard to Hagerstown, Maryland. This resulted in the reroutes of several through freights over the B-Line which began serving as the connection between NS's Valley line and the Southern mainline. The ensuing decade has seen this traffic grow, with another surge in volume in the wake of the recent Conrail merger.
Traffic Base: For quite some time, the line has seen, on a daily basis, two pair of merchandise trains, two pair of intermodal trains, a pair of roadrailers, and an out-and-back local. There are also frequent extra sections, a weekend autorack train, a weekend intermodal, and other merchandise runs of no set pairings. The line will see between 10 and 12 trains a day. One pair of the merchandise freights is the CP/D&H/StL&H run-through set, so foreign power is common. One pair of intermodals was known as the "Atlanta Flyer" during Conrail days; the second set of intermodals serve the Virginia Inland Port just past Front Royal. Both intermodal pairs are frequently run with double stacks in their consists.
Running the Railroad: Because of its very recent ascendancy to mainline status, the east half of the B-Line remains basically a 50 mile stretch of single track, unsignalled, non-CTC railroad with minimal passing sidings of any appreciable length. It is dispatched by track warrants, most frequently issued via radio, that allow travel between specific mileposts or named points. Although only an average of 10 to 12 trains a day traverse the line, it means that at any given time there is at least one train somewhere on the B-Line making its trek or waiting for a mate to clear. Milepost B1 is in the yard at Manassas, and the junction with the former N&W is known as Riverton Junction just past milepost B50.
One major meeting point is at the siding called Allison (named after a former employee who worked "The Southern Crescent" for years) which sits between the towns of The Plains and Marshall at approximately mileposts B20 to B22. The switches at Allison are hand-thrown, but they are protected by non-absolute block signals that the crews do call. A second major meeting point is between mileposts B45 and B47 along a portion of the line known as White's Cut. This is actually directionally run double track with spring switches at either end. The east end is called Cody, and the west end is called Woods. The switches are protected by signals that indicate switch positions, which train crews are required to call. Both sidings plus a connection track at Riverton Junction were installed after the 1988 route change.
The maximum speed is 45 MPH, although there are many speed restrictions of 35 or 25 MPH and even a few short 10 and 15 MPH sections on account of curvature (remember, this line was built pre-Civil War). With the good network of roads available, it is fairly easy to leapfrog trains from good photo point to good photo point.
A scanner is essential to finding trains on this line. The "North End Dispatcher" as he/she is known communicates on frequency 160.950. Crews use an audible two-tone system to call the dispatcher up. The east end is served by radio towers near Manassas on the main line at either Calverton or Fairfax (Calverton is more commonly used). The middle of the line is served by a tower at Marshall, MP B24, and the west end has a tower at Linden, MP B43. There are four talking defect detectors evenly spaced apart, at MP B10.1, B19.7, B33.3, and B42.9. Trains entering the line at Manassas or Front Royal contact the dispatcher for track warrants, and trains leaving the line call in to report the warrants they hold as clear. Finally, the yard office at Manassas talks to crews to arrange crew swaps and the like, and the Valley Line "Crewe Dispatcher" at 161.440 talks to trains prior to their arrival or after their departure from his territory. A separate track warrant is always given for the run Riverton Jct. - Woods, and another separate track warrant is always granted for either main Cody - Woods as appropriate to the trains' direction of travel. Track warrants are given to/from or even through Allison, depending on meets.
Eight miles out of Manassas the B-Line begins following Broad Run for its crossing of the first line of hills at Thoroughfare Gap (MP B16). Then just past Marshall near MP B26, the line starts to track the winding course of Goose Creek for its assault of the Blue Ridge. The crest is at Linden, MP B43, over a shoulder of Apple Mountain. From Delaplane (MP B34) to just past Markham (B38) the line rises at 1.6 %. The last 5 miles are the steepest at 1.75 %. The west slope goes from 1.4 % to a short stretch of 1.7 % just shy of the crest. On account of the curves, length of the grade, and the longer section of steepest haul, west bound trains have a much more difficult time with Linden Hill than east-bounders. It is not all that unusual for west-bound trains to stall at about MP B40; then they have to double the hill.
On straight runs without any waits for meets, merchandisers take about 1 hour 45 minutes to traverse the line; intermodals, because of their (usually) better horsepower-to-ton ratio, will do the trip in about 20 minutes less. The slowest parts of the journey are between mileposts B25 and B34 on the looping path along Goose Creek through Rectortown, and either of the ascending grades up Linden Hill.
Running I-66: Although visiting the B-Line via an end to end tour is probably the most relaxing way to see the scenery and trains, I-66 provides a very efficient way for railfans to access all parts of the line as train locations dictate. Travel from Gainesville near Manassas to Linden near Front Royal at a steady 65 MPH (the posted speed limit) takes only 30 minutes compared to the hour and three quarters for most trains. Going from east to west, listed below are the exits off I-66 together with the rail viewing spots they offer access to and the side of I-66 the tracks are on:
Manassas Rte 234 (business): Tracks are some ways to the south, 234 (business) passes the Manassas station.
Manassas Rte 234 (bypass): Tracks are to the south, 234 (bypass) is a fairly new road, it crosses Wellington Road (take it east to the yard), and further south passes over the Crescent route near the airport.
Gainesville US 29/211 & Rte 55 (I-66 MP 45): There is a grade crossing through the US 29/211 & Rte 55 intersection just west of I-66, Wellington Road's west terminus is here, too. It is a very messy traffic place...
Haymarket US 15 & Rte 55: Tracks are close, to the south, exit here for Haymarket, Thoroughfare Gap, Broad Run, and the Beverly Mill.
The Plains, Rte 245: Tracks are to the north, you can see trains at the siding at Allison and go to The Plains
Marshall/Warrenton US 17 south: Tracks are to the north, you get to Marshall, plus access to Rectortown from the south.
Marshall (west): Tracks are far to the north, this exit is only good for doubling back in either direction!
Delaplane US 17 north: Tracks are to the north, Delaplane, plus access to Rectortown from the west.
Markham Rte 688:Tracks are to the south, access to Markham and the Duck Pond and Distillery road crossings at the start of Linden Hill
Linden/Front Royal Rte 79 and Rte 55 (I-66 MP 13):Tracks are just to the south, go back east on 55 to get to the crest of the grade at Linden, go a short hop west on 55 the right on Rte 647 to get to Cody, go further on 647 to get to Woods, stay west on 55 to get to Front Royal.
Front Royal Us 522 & US 340:B-Line tracks are south, Valley Line tracks are both south and north along US 340. Front Royal and Riverton Jct. are just to the south.
I-66 & I-81 junction (I-66 MP 0): I-66 ends at I-81, which runs southwest to northeast through the length of the Shenandoah Valley.
|Alphabetic listing of sites||Sequential listing:
South (West) to North (East)
|Belvoir||Manassas -- Station and Yard MP B0.0|
|Delaplane||Manassas -- Wellington Road|
|Front Royal -- Front Royal JCT||Gainesville -- Aggregate/Concrete Plant|
|Front Royal -- Riverton JCT||Gainesville -- Galleher Road|
|Gainesville -- Aggregate/Concrete Plant||Gainesville -- US-29|
|Gainesville -- Galleher Road||Haymarket|
|Gainesville -- US-29||Thoroughfare Gap|
|Haymarket||Thoroughfare Gap -- Beverly Mill|
|Linden||Thoroughfare Gap -- Turner Road|
|Manassas -- Station and Yard||The Plains|
|Manassas -- Wellington Road||Belvoir|
|Thoroughfare Gap -- Beverly Mills||Front Royal -- Front Royal JCT|
|Thoroughfare Gap -- Turner Road||Front Royal -- Riverton JCT|
Manassas -- Station and Yard Area: If you take VA-234 (business) south from I-66, after negotiating past what will appear to be endless strip malls, you will eventually reach old town Manassas and the railroad. (BTW, taking VA-234 north will put you in very quick order at the entrance to the National Historical Battlefield Park that celebrates the two Civil War battles fought here.) If you stay on VA-234 south, you will go under the tracks; immediately after the underpass is a traffic light for Prince William Street. A left gets you to the station and some clear views from the platform and the commuter parking lot. Even though it is on the Crescent main, the station is listed as MP B0.0. A right gets you along the south edge of the yard and the actual start of the B-Line. MP B1.0 is midway through the yard.
Another way to the yard is to turn right on VA-28 south just before you cross under the main line tracks. About a mile down, you will get to the first B-Line grade crossing. Again, just after the tracks is a light for Wellington Road. A left puts you to the south end of the yard and the wye near the yard office that marks the actual start of B-Line trackage. A right turn onto Wellington road will allow you to follow the tracks past several grade crossings and photo spots. These are, in order going west, Cockrell Road, Godwin Drive, and Rixlew Lane. Just past Rixlew is the huge Vulcan quarry; it is private property and visitors are discouraged. Past the quarry, Wellington road intersects VA-234Bypass which to the north has an interchange with I-66.
Manassas -- Wellington Road:Just before* the VA-234Bypass interchange, turn right on Bethlehem Road. It crosses the B-Line at MP B4.0, this is a neat "woodsy" spot that is especially fine in the fall. You can either go back and follow Wellington out to Gainesville, or follow Bethlehem on around to view an industrial park that often has a local switching cars during mid-day. Bethlehem will intersect with Balls Ford Road, turn left on Balls Ford. The park is a short distance, on your left, with several public roads in it running back towards the B-Line. The park is serviced by two industrial leads connected to the B-Line at MP B5.0. Continue on Balls Ford, as it loops around the park and crosses the B-Line near MP B6.0, then ends at Wellington Road. The Balls Ford crossing offers a nice long head view of west-bounders as you look back east. Turn right on Wellington to get to Gainesville.
* [Webmaster's NOTE: The Delorme Atlas shows Bethlehem Road to be past the interchange. That is incorrect. Markus Gudjons has provided this update.]
There is no other way to say it: Gainesville is a mess. At rush hour it often gets gridlock, especially if a train dares to pass through! Even at night it's a tough spot to get around. Recent road construction has improved things a bit, but as of this writing (2/2007), none of the online mapping programs show the new and changed roads correctly. (For those sites with aerial photography, the photos generally show the new roads, but the map data does not.)
There are two fairly good routes thru Gainesville, a couple of alternates, and a "trick" you can use to get through the worst intersection on the route more smoothly. Mark Cleveland has provided this February 2007 update for us. Here are two basic routes that get you from Manassas via Wellington Road into Gainesville proper. Note that these are in bold print, but are not considered railfan locations -- they are given solely to help you navigate thru a tough area.
1. Gainesville -- Nissan Pavilion Bypass. As you approach Gainesville from the east on Wellington Road, you will pass the Nissan Pavilion (a concert arena) on the left side of the road. Traffic can be very bad before and after concerts - if you see signs for concerts or encounter heavy traffic at (or before) the intersection with Balls Ford Road, you may want to consider avoiding this section of Wellington Road altogether. Here's how:
From Wellington Road, turn right onto Balls Ford Road. You will cross over the B-Line near MP 6.0. Shortly after the crossing is a stoplight at Prince William Parkway/VA-234. Turn left onto VA-234 north, and get in the right lane to exit onto I-66 East (which is also VA-234 North). Take I-66 one exit and take VA-234 North into Manassas Battlefield National Park. Your next turn will be left to go south on US-29/Lee Highway in the heart of the park. This will bring you to the intersection with University Boulevard. [Webmaster's Note: This latter is a 1.3 mile connector between US-29 and Wellington Road. It was completed in August 2006, and is on no map that I have found.]
2. Gainesville -- Solely via Wellington Road. If the area around the Nissan Pavilion isn't Looney Tunes, just continue westward (compass northwest) on Wellington Road. You'll pass the pavilion on your left. When you get to University Boulevard, take a right.
Gainesville -- Aggregate/Concrete Plant. This facility has a siding that usually has some rolling stock stored on it. If you're lucky, you might get to see cars being switched, loaded or unloaded here. If you took route #1 (the detour via Balls Ford Road), take a left at US-29/Lee Highway onto University Boulevard. This will take you by this location. When finished at the plant, continue south to Wellington Road.
If coming via route #2, take a right onto University Boulevard and, after you've checked out the plant, make a U-turn and head back to the intersection of Wellington and University Boulevard.
Now we're ready to get thru Gainesville itself. Two primary routes through Gainesville both start at the intersection of Wellington Road and University Boulevard, and end at the intersection of VA-55 and Galleher Road.
Gainesville -- Thru Route
#1 (Galleher Road). Ok, here we go. At Wellington Road and
University Boulevard, stay on Wellington westbound. Wellington will curve
toward the south, away from the tracks and comes to an end on
Linton Hall Road. If you've followed the route before, you may recall Wellington ending on US-29. This is no longer true, although the old road is still present and open to travel, and it does cross the B line shortly before it ends on US-29. The crossing, however, is not a good location for pictures.
Turn right on Linton Hall Road. As it approaches US-29, the road will become very wide - stay in the middle. At US-29, you must go straight across onto Galleher Road. There is only one lane that goes straight (out of five lanes), so be careful what lane you are in. Shortly after US-29, Galleher will cross the B line. This is a pretty good spot for pictures. A short distance after the crossing, Galleher ends at VA-55. Bear left (really basically straight ahead) onto VA-55. (NOTE: You cannot turn right here.) Follow VA-55 to Haymarket.
Gainesville -- Thru Route #2 (US-29). If you'd like to spend some more time in Gainesville when following Gainesville thru Route #1, you can turn right onto US-29 from Linton Hall Road. Once on US-29, you will soon come to a crossing of the B line. Just across the tracks, it is possible, BUT VERY TRICKY, to turn left onto VA-55. Note that there is no left turn lane and US-29 is a very busy road in both directions (See Trick #1 below for an alternative). There is a 7-11 at this corner which is a good spot to take pictures. From this point, follow the directions for Haymarket. NOTE: This alternate is NOT RECOMMENDED during rush hour!
The safest way to get to the crossing described in the
previous paragraph is to take the exit to I-66 west from US-29. No, you're
not really getting on I-66, you're just getting in the right lane on southbound
US-29 so that you
can easily make the turn onto VA-55. From the difficult turn described in the previous paragraph, stay on US-29, go under I-66 and turn right onto the ramp. Once on the exit ramp, merge left into traffic going from I-66 to southbound US-29. This will put you in the right lane, for an easy turn onto VA-55. This can be slow in rush hour, but is far safer and easier than the alternatives.
Haymarket:Beware the Haymarket speed traps! This little town is notorious for its radar totin' ticket writin' lawmen who love to amass those out-of-town dollars for the town coffers. Don't speed, don't speed, don't speed...keep it at 25 mph, 'nuff said. They love to sit right at the town line, next to a school, under some shade trees, on the west-bound approach to town. Note, there are TWO schools on VA-55 east of town, the radar trappers sit at the second one.
In the center of Haymarket, a left on Jefferson street will get you trackside for some OK spots. BTW, Jefferson is named Old Carolina Road outside of town. This is one of the routes George Washington surveyed in his younger, pre Revolutionary War days. Just out of town to the west, VA-55 crosses US-15. The US-15 I-66 interchange is just to the north, the tracks cross US-15 just to the south. This is at MP B11.0. Continue west on VA-55 as you head towards Thoroughfare Gap.
Thoroughfare Gap: Just west of Haymarket lies the first chain of hills that mark the start of the Blue ridge Mountains. VA-55, I-66, the railroad, and a watercourse called Broad Run all squeeze through a notch in this line of hills known as Thoroughfare Gap. It has several pretty spots to watch trains.
As you go west on VA-55 from Haymarket, prior to the gap you cross the tracks right where the railroad goes under I-66. Good photos can be had here.
Thoroughfare Gap -- Beverly Mill. Shortly after the crossing, a right turn on Turner Road puts you on a bridge over the interstate. Once over the interstate, take a right onto Beverly Mill Road (variously spelled "Mill" and "Mills" on different maps). Beverly Mill is closed and fenced, but it is still possible to park near the end of the road at the Bull Run Mountain Conservancy. They maintain some hiking trails on Bull Run Mountain, which is on the north side of the the road, the tracks, and Thoroughfare Gap.
The trail head is near the end of the road. Park in the lot at the Conservancy's house, not at the trail head. The trail (which, at this point, was formerly a road) crosses the tracks very close to the trail head, and the view to the west is fairly good. Just east of the crossing, the tracks curve fairly sharply.
If you continue on the trail, always taking the trail to the left when there is a choice, you will get to a couple of places where there are views across to Beverly Mill. At least one or two of these viewpoints have a fairly good view of the tracks and the Gap as well. A winter visit would greatly improve visibility.
Frograil thanks Mark Cleveland for information concerning this location.
Thoroughfare Gap -- Turner Road. Continue over the bridge and go straight for another half mile. The road turns to gravel, and you will shortly arrive at a grade crossing by a farm. The railroad crests a hill here, and scenic, long head-on shots are possible in both directions.
Back on 55, you will get to the gap on its left, or south side. There are rock outcrops to the left that can be climbed safely in spots. One rock in particular isn't too high or tough to ascend; it gives you a wonderful view across I-66 and Broad Run to the tracks which are on the far right, or north, side of the gap. Winter can be especially pretty since water cascading down the rocks above the tracks will freeze in several spots, making a nice backdrop. The mill is in view a little distance back towards the east.
If you go a little further on through the gap, make a right turn on Bust Head Rd. which will take you under I-66 and over Broad Run, and finally to a grade crossing which is at MP B16.0. Good pictures can be had here of trains. Also, early morning or evening this area can be teeming with deer heading to water and forage. Just to the left of the crossing is a small spur track that often is used to store MofW cars or equipment. If you continue on Bust Head past the crossing, a nice vista over a sweeping curve of the tracks can be had to your left.
Past Bust Head Road, VA-55 goes to a brief section of 4 lanes where it crosses under I-66. Shortly after, VA-55 parallels the railroad through some woods, still along Broad Run. There are two private roads leading across the tracks to some "Hunt Country Estates". One crossed the tracks on an old timber bridge that made for nice elevated pictures, but the last time I was there was before this line had clearance work done to accommodate doublestacks, so this bridge may no longer exist.
The Plains: The west side of Thoroughfare Gap brings you to Fauquier County, home of Virginia's famed "Hunt Country" with its palatial estates kept by well-known families such as the Gettys and Vanderbilts. Retired star Washington Redskin running back John Riggins has settled out here; rumor holds that his favorite pastime is horseback paintball over hurdles while dressed in camo fatigues!
Rte 55 enters town over a slight hill. A right turn near the town center on Rte 626 will get you trackside. If you turn left on Stuart St. just before the tracks you will find a rustic area with old-style street lights and a low board fence along the tracks with ample parking that offers photo opportunities around a gentle curve. Stuart St. follows the tracks around to where they cross 55 at the west edge of The Plains. Near the 55/626 intersection is The Rail Stop Restaurant, which as its name implies has a railroad motif and an operating layout along its walls. On Stuart Street, the old depot still stands, and has been turned into a railroad art store.
Also near the 55/626 intersection, Rte 245 goes south to an interchange with I-66 that features an unusual slant-leg steel girder bridge. the start of the Allison passing siding is visible off to your left. Further south a short distance on 245 lies Great Meadow, home on the first Saturday in May to the Virginia Gold Cup, the premier Hunt Country horse race over timber hurdles. The Virginia gold Cup is known for its fashionable tailgaters who dine out of limos and Rolls Royces on fine crystal and china.
Belvoir: After you continue west on Rte 55 from The Plains, you will come to a crossroads named Brookes Corner. Turn left here on Belvoir road, and travel south a short distance until you cross the tracks. There is a dirt/gravel area here under some shade trees good for parking and a view of the tracks. A nice, long grassy area stretches back east that provides fine vista photos of the rail action. This crossing, known as Belvoir, is at about MP B22.0 and is the site used for photo run-bys when NS ran steam excursions out the Branch. The house off to the right is owned by the Allison Family, whose patriarch was a long time Southern employee and for whom the new siding was named.
Get back on 55 and go west to the next intersection, Whiting Road. This led to the site of a crossing known informally as "Shirley's", but the crossing has been blocked off, and the south side of the tracks are inaccessible without trespassing. This information is via Markolf Gudjon's update.
Marshall: Get back on 55 and resume the trek west. You will come to the town of Marshall. The tracks cross 55 at the east edge of town at MP B24.0, and there are several rail served industries at hand: a brickyard, a grain co-op, and a construction supplier. Just over the crossing on the left sits a dark brown wooden barn. A small gravel lane squeezes between the barn and the tracks that actually looks as if it really part of the ballast. Turn left in here and go past the barn. A large graveled area opens up that is ideal for sitting and taking pictures of trains as they round a curve. Marshall has a short (15500°) passing track here, so on rare occasions the rail view from the gravel area behind the barn is obstructed by parked cars or MofW stuff. As an alternate spot, the brick plant stores finished materials on the right/north side of the tracks just past the crossing. There is usually space next to the road right by the crossing to park and take photos. As long as you exercise prudence and don't wander into the stored materials, no one will bother you.
After crossing the tracks and getting to the center of Marshall, making a left turn onto US-17Business just before the gas station will get you back out to I-66. Otherwise, turn right onto VA-710/Rectortown Road, which a short ways to the north crosses the tracks at a reasonable photo spot. Continue on Rectortown Rd. into the heart of "Hunt Country". as you drive on, you will see some amazing country homes, many worth photographing. Just after passing Crenshaw Rd on your right, make a left onto Maidstone Road. A short ways in you will come in on one leg of a triangular intersection. Bear left on Rte 624, which will curve around an old building and some stored (derelict?) farm implements to a grade crossing over the tracks. Right next to the road the tracks cross Goose Creek as the railroad begins its ascent of the Blue Ridge. There is ample parking here with good views in both directions. A right turn to continue following Maidstone at the triangular intersection brings you to another grade crossing. The area between the 624 and Maidstone crossings is full of good photo spots with old trackside homes and the
creek as backdrops. Speed limits range from 10 MPH to 25 MPH here because of several very sharp reverse curves in a row. This is Rectortown, and the mileposts are B30 to B31.
If you continue on Maidstone, eventually you will come to a tee intersection at US 17. A left on 17 puts you back to an interchange with I-66. If you turn right (north) on US 17, after a very short distance you will pass, first Rte 55 west going left, and further, Delaplane.
Delaplane: US 17 crosses the railroad at Delaplane, MP B34.0. This little village has a couple antique shops in trackside buildings that predate the Civil War. Delaplane is noted as being one location where Confederate troops got on/off the railroad from their shuttle runs to/from the Shenandoah Valley in support of the two Manassas/Bull Run battles to the east. There is good parking right next to the crossing and ample space to set up for photos. If you back track on US 17 to the south, turn right at the Rte 55 intersection mentioned just previously to resume your trip west. BTW, taking US 17 north from Delaplane gives you a quick shortcut to the northwest and the upper end of the Shenandoah Valley Line. 17 ends at US 50 near a hamlet called Paris, take US 50 west there, cross the Blue Ridge at Paris Mountain, and come to the Valley Line about 15 miles north of Front Royal at a place called Waterloo. US 340 crosses US 50 here. On US 340 you can follow the tracks south towards Front Royal or north towards Berryville, VA or Charlestown, WV.
Markham: Keep on Rte 55 west. It will parallel 66 like a third set of travel lanes. Goose Creek and the tracks will go under I-66 and Rte 55 under a triple set of bridges. The 55 bridge does not have sidewalks, but frankly, shooting from the bridge makes for good photos. Often in the summer, if a faster westbounder is chasing a slower compatriot, the tail guy will stop here in the shade under the bridges to let his slower forerunner get a good run at the tough part of the hill. These bridges are at MP B36.0.
From here on until Linden at MP B44, the tracks and Rte 55 are never far apart, with the tracks to your left/south. As you travel 55, numerous photo opportunities will present themselves off to your left. Just keep an open mind and eye! From Markham to Linden is the heart of the westbound climb. Tracks, creek, and both highways share a narrow but beautiful little valley that is chock full of scenery no matter which direction you look. In winter, it is not unusual to observe what we call "the ice storm phenomenon" in this area. As you climb the grade, there is enough of an elevation change to result in a noticeable temperature drop from bottom to top. During winter rain storms, a discernible line marking the boundary between just wet trees, and iced trees is visible along the hills that make the sides of the valley. If the sun appears at a later time, you feel as if you are traveling in a bowl full of sparkling crystals!.
Shortly after the bridges, a left turn on Old Sage road gets you trackside at a crossing. Further on 55, you will come to Markham at MP B38. Several colonial style homes surround the tracks, making for some nice rustic photos. a permanent fixture is a railfan mongrel whose fine ears will detect oncoming trains long before humans can hear them. He announces the rail arrival by furiously barking and roaming up and down the tracks. Either Old Markham Rd or Rte 688 south will get you from 55 the short distance to the tracks.
If you take 688 north, you'll pass under I-66. Just after the on ramp left, make a left onto Belle Meade Lane. A short distance west, Belle Meade climbs up a hill which puts you a bit above I-66 and the tracks. Looking south towards the tracks, you will see that you are on the outside of a curve as the railroad crosses the shoulder of a hill. This hill is completely covered with dogwood trees, which makes for a spectacular backdrop to trains in the spring when the dogwoods flower their unique creamy white. A number of apple trees are mixed in giving a subtle variety to the color of the blooms. Backtrack to 688 and Rte 55, and continue west on 55.
Not far west from Markham, two roads head south towards the tracks that offer some good photo spots. Keep in mind that in this area, westbound trains are fully into their climb of Linden Hill and tend to travel rather slow. The first road, Fiery Run Rd, gets you to a crossing known by railroad folks as the "Duck Pond Crossing" because of the geese and ducks on a nearby farm; this is at MP B40. You can park in a gravel area just over the crossing, and catch good photos in either direction along the tracks. If you hike on further back on the road, you can catch photos of trains as the go over a fill next to the crossing. This can be a very scenic shot in the fall as you can either frame the shot with colorful branches from the trees along the road, or catch lots of fall foliage in the background. Beware of one complication: right in here is where trains with a problem on the grade will stall. It is possible to get caught on the wrong side of the grade crossing and be isolated for the time it takes the crew to double the hill! The second road is Distillery Road; halfway back to the tracks a nice distance shot opens up of trains lugging up hill. The road and land just over the grade crossing is private property, however. As long as I have remained on the north side of the tracks I have never been bothered here. Morning light is best. A vacant older brick structure just to the west is supposed to be the former distillery that gave this road its name.
Linden: The summit of the grade is a Linden, MP B43. Make a left at the post office onto Fiery Run Road, after which you will cross the tracks on a bridge. A right just after the bridge onto Station Lane puts you trackside at the crest with the sun at your back. The bridge is a good spot to shoot pictures, too, as looking east the tracks are in a deep cut. The Linden tower and a defect detector are located trackside here. Follow Station lane over the tracks, to where it connects back to Rte 55.
The tracks and road share a common boundary the next couple miles, making for easy places to pull over and photo. A little ways on west you will come to Rte 79 and its interchange with I-66. Several stores are clustered here. The Apple Mountain store is well-known for its home-baked desserts. The Texaco station and its convenience store back right onto the tracks; its lot provides some train viewing. Crews have been known to stop here for a quick forage for supplies...
Just past the apple Mountain store, make a right onto Rte 647. Then turn left on Rte 651. There is a small place to park just over the grade crossing, a short hike west gets you to the east end of double track at Cody. A shot taken here was on the rear cover of the 1999 NS calendar.
Go back on 651 to 647 and turn left. The road will make several large loops and cross under I-66 several times. This is dismal Hollow, and is the heart of Manassas Gap. 647 will eventually end at a tee intersection at Happy Creek Road. Turn left, and at the top of the hill you will be at a grade crossing that also marks the west end of double track at Woods. Happy Creek Road closely parallels the tracks all the way in to Front Royal. On the way in, there are many grade crossings or other places to stop and catch photos. Be careful, though, as this road can be quite busy.
Front Royal -- Front Royal JCT: Happy Creek Road turns into W 6th Street. Once in town, make a right onto Manassas Ave, which will take you back to Front Royal Jct., the location of a wye and connection of a short stub track that used to be the passenger access to the town center. The stub is now just used for storage, most common are cuts of ballast cars. The wye is a good place for pictures, just to the west is the approach signal to Riverton Jct.
Get back on 6th St. and head west. Cross US 522, then turn right on N. Royal Ave, which is US 340. There is a 7-11 at this corner. At the top of a hill, US 340 makes a sharp turn left, and N Royal Ave actually continues straight north on a much smaller street. There is a discount vehicle lube business on the left corner here. Go straight keeping on N Royal Ave. At the bottom of the hill the street will go under some tracks; turn right before the underpass onto Depot Street. These tracks are the former N&W Shenandoah Valley line. Follow the street back to Riverton Jct., where there are several connecting tracks between the two lines and a diamond. Despite the many posted railroad "no trespassing" signs, the street (actually gravel by now) is a public thoroughfare and access to a quarry, so as long as you don't wander too far away along the tracks it is a legit place to stop and watch. There is a pull-in next to the diamond and signal box that is an ideal place to park. Unfortunately, footing here is dangerous because of the many glass shards and other trash left by non-railfan nocturnal visitors...
When you go back out on Depot St. and turn left on N royal Ave, make your first right onto W 18th St. which will take you easily and quickly to US 340. W 18th tees at 340, make a right to go on US 340 North, cross the dual bridges over the two forks of the Shenandoah River, and you will be at I-66.
When you are in town, if you stay on 6th street rather than turning on N Royal Ave to get to Riverton Jct., you can get to the N&W Front Royal station and the small yard. Follow 6th St., at a shallow right curve it becomes Kendrick Lane. The station will be on your left just before Kendrick goes under the tracks. The best place to sit is to the right of the station, as this gives a nice view of the signal protecting the entry into the passing siding.
A word on the track layout at Riverton Jct.: as you come to the junction on Depot St., the N&W tracks will be to your left, and you will see a position light signal ahead. Depot St. will cross two tracks that are the south connecting tracks between the two lines. They do not host through traffic but they are used to interchange cars. Next you cross a single track, this is the B-Line. To the right (east) is the line portion you have been following on this tour. To the left (west) is the B-Line continuation towards Strasburg and Harrisonburg. Looking in this direction you will see the diamond and shortly behind, the bridge over the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. Just past this track is the pull-off on the left where you can park. The fourth track with a crossing is the new connection track that was installed in January 1989 for through trains to access the two lines without a difficult run-around move. Looking left, you can see where this track joins the N&W main, and the Bridge over the Shenandoah River. The two forks of the Shenandoah come together directly below this bridge. Trains crossing the bridge are headed to Hagerstown and points north.
When you are in Front Royal, taking US 340 south will put you at the entrance to Shenandoah National Park, which is also known as Skyline Drive. "Doing the Drive" is an experience that should not be missed. Also, every fall Front Royal hosts a "Festival of Leaves" that is a rich collection of events including music, crafters, antiques, and others. Old town Front Royal has many shops, including antique stores that are sure to please most anyone. Weekends sees a busy flea market along US 522 south near the large shopping centers at that end of town. Further south along US 522 just out of the town limits, there is a 4H recreation center with a pool and other activities such as riding.
West of Riverton, the B-Line only hosts a daily nocturnal local that services the rest of the branch as far as Edinburg, MP B79. The south end of the line, from MP B110 in Harrisonburg north to MP B84 in Mt. Jackson is served by a daily day local based in Harrisonburg.