Rails & Trails Pages

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Blue Grass Scenic Railway 2016

August 8, 2016 saw the birth of our third grandchildren, a girl named Natalie, in Louisville, KY.  Of course, a visit to Kentucky was immediately scheduled.  Here the grandparents pose with Natalie, her sister Catherine, her brother Christopher, and her proud parents Allison and Josh.
 I used the opportunity to visit the Blue Grass Scenic Railroad and Museum in Versailles, Kentucky.
This railroad is a treasure, and has many items and features not found on other tourist railroads--including a 2 MPH speed restriction! (To be explained later, below).  Although they only have 5.5 miles of track, the 90-minute ride was GREAT!   The track was built by the Louisville Southern Railroad in 1889 to link Louisville and Lexington.
This tourist line is completely run with volunteers and trains run on Saturdays and Sundays with an occasional charter during the week.
A Wiki-pedia history of this railroad is at the end of this Blog.
I arrived several hours early and had time to explore the grounds before anyone else arrived.  There are many displays, each having a sign explaining the item.

 These ex-army cars have been refurbished by a Boy Scout for his project.
To me, the most interesting item is the very early railroad track, which was strap iron attached to limestone rocks.  These were discovered near Lexington and moved to the Museum site.
Inside the Museum was another rock with a piece of strap iron attached.
A large room in the depot was devoted to railroad items and displays.

The railroad crew and personnel were very cordial, and invited me to their conference room while they ate their lunch and to 'talk trains'!!

Then it was time to get the train ready for a train ride.  Our power today is a GP8, originally a GP7 built for the Reading Railroad.  Later it was upgraded in the Paducah, Kentucky railroad shops and designated a GP8.  These units are known as "Paducah Rebuilds."

Our train will have four passenger cars, three tourist class cars and one first class car (which has air conditioning).
The last three cars are ex-commuter cars and the tail end car has been painted for high visibility during the shove move back to the depot.
The controls for the conductor who mans this car on the shove back.
Signs along the depot wall give the history of each of the cars and locomotives.
The railroad's other main locomotive is this Norfolk & Western GP-9.
Also operable is this Fairbanks & Morse H-12-44.

Our crew today are brothers, Engineer Mike Walker and Brakeman Steve Walker.  Steve will be the engineer on tomorrow's train.  Both are big railfans and travel the country to watch trains, they like restoring railroad artifacts, and have model trains.  (Sounds like someone else I know).
Let's go for a train ride!!  As we leave the siding to enter the main track, we pass under the "new" signal tower.  Engineer Mike enjoyed this SOUTHERN Railroad signal as he grew up, and when it was discarded, he got it and restored it.  Each light is toggled to light either green or red for special photos.
There are many small crossings on the railroad.  Note the unique SOUTHERN whistle post.  Instead of the traditional W posts that we see, these signs have the whistle pattern of two long, one short, and a long.
With a non-functioning speedometer in the cab, a GPS serves as the speedometer.  The track is rated for 15 MPH but the max speed for the excursions is 10 MPH.
This part of Kentucky is covered with beautiful horse farms with large brown fences.  Here is a small horse farm along our route.
Tobacco formerly was a big cash crop in Kentucky.  I only saw one tobacco field while I was in the Blue Grass State and it was along this rail line.
 And there are still a lot of tobacco barns, even if they are no longer used for tobacco.
At Abbott, people exit the train to picnic or pick their pumpkins during the Pumpkin Train runs.
We approach the half way point and the small village of Milner.
Along the route there is a siding with several vintage cars awaiting restoration.  First is a flat car with six-wheel trucks that formerly hauled Army tanks.
Next is a milk car that still holds 2 large stainless steel tanks.  This should definitely be restored and saved for display!
And, a small crane and dynamometer car round out the siding.
Here is the 2 MPH speed restriction.  A while ago, a storm washed out the track here and it is about a 200-foot drop down the cliff to the right.  So the railroad relaid the track and imposed the 2 MPH speed restriction.
There are several rock cuts along this section which are very narrow and scenic!

It would be really hard to change ties out at these locations.  There isn't room to slide a tie in or out.  So several ties would have to be removed and then slid or repositioned at an angle to get them out!
The grade through here down to the Kentucky River is 1.3 % so trains must be under control!
Very near the end of the line is Tyrone.  Besides the siding showing, there was a long siding down the hill to the river to the Tyrone Power Plant.  The Power Plant is the main reason this railroad existed, as cars of coal were brought into the plant.  There was a runaway train here some years ago so procedures were changed to force the crew to stop and throw two switches to line the track down the hill to the plant.
On the siding are 5 cabooses, privately owned.  The owner planned (still planning??) to use them for a Bed and Breakfast operation.  But years of deterioration and vandalism will mean a lot of work!

Around the corner is the end of the railroad's track.  The large trestle, Young's High Bridge,  had the rail removed a few years ago.  After stopping, passengers are allowed to disembark and walk up to the bridge for easy viewing.  Built in 1889, the trestle is 263 feet tall and 1,653 feet long.

The left side of the bridge.  People aren't allowed on the bridge but a bunge group has built an access from the other end and frequently jumps off this bridge.
The right side of the bridge.
Also crossing the bridge is Highway 62 with an S-curve bridge, reportedly the only highway S-curve bridge in the country.  Note the Wild Turkey Distillery at the top of the hill.
I wanted a picture of this bridge from the Highway so I took Highway 62 home.  But, there was a car following me (about 10 feet behind!) so I couldn't even slow down.  Here is a pic from the Internet. 

As passengers view the valley and bridge, they are allowed to get pictures on the engine.
Time to shove back to the depot.

Thanks to the Blue Grass Scenic Railroad for a GREAT ride and hospitality.  This is definitely one of the funnest tourist railroads I have been on!!!!

The rail line was originally built by the Louisville Southern Railroad in the 1880s. For a brief time it was leased by the MONON Railroad.  Later, it became part of the Southern Railway.   While operated by the Southern, a switching accident at the Tyrone Generating Station caused coal shipments to be received by truck, and hastened the end of the usefulness of this portion of the line. Later, the Norfolk Southern Railway operated the line. A few years into NS ownership, the portion of the line between the Kentucky River and Versailles was slated for abandonment, and subsequently sold to the museum. The line from the Kentucky River to Lawrenceburg, Kentucky was abandoned and sold to a scrapper in 2009. The rails on Young's High Bridge and into Lawrenceburg were then quickly removed and sold for scrap. Young's High Bridge itself has been bought by a private party who have formed a LLC to develop the area into a tourist attraction. Vertigo Bungee, a loose band of thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies known for appearances on MTV sports since the 1990s, has since developed Young's High Bridge into a permanent bungee jumping platform. Young's High Bridge is now considered to be the highest permanent platform bridge jump in North America. Meanwhile, the railroad line from Versailles to Lexington has been sold first to the Lexington and Ohio Railroad and now to the R.J. Corman Railroad/Central Kentucky Lines. 


  1. You didn't visit the distillery? SHAME!!!

  2. Nice ride and 5.5 miles is plenty to maintain. Equipment and displays are interesting and well maintained. I would hope they would place a large bumper at end of track by the high bridge to prevent a run away train from going over the cliff.
    Thanks, for sharing this.