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Historic Locomotive Steams into Mingo

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Trains are a daily occurrence in Mingo County as locomotives make their hauls from the "billion dollar coalfield."
Passenger trains, however, are a rarity in Hatfield-McCoy country – especially trips powered by 1904 vintage engines. That will be the scenario in April when the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and the Norfolk Southern Railway team-up for the Tri-State Train Excursion.
Morning and afternoon 3-hour, 64-mile round trips are scheduled on three dates. Each will originate in Grundy, Va., travel through Pike County, Ky., and venture into the Matewan area of Mingo County before making the return trip to Buchanan County, Va.
Steve Freer, operating coordinator with the Chattanooga museum, says the trips differ from the tourist railroads based in Cass and Elkins in that this will be along an "active" track.
"Norfolk Southern operates what they call the 21st Century Steam program," Freer said. "It's their way of bringing history alive to the people along their tracks."
The trips have proven to be a popular attraction among history buffs and train enthusiasts. With a capacity of 600 passengers, five of the six trips scheduled on April 12, 13 and 19 are already sold out. Morning trips will board at 8 a.m. and afternoon trips depart at 2:30 p.m.
Freer says the third date was added when all of the seats for the weekend excursions were purchased in a matter of hours. The passengers will be a combination of local and out-of-state tourists.
"Based on the popularity of the trips, we were able to add an additional date and we increased the capacity with two additional coaches," he said. "We won't be able to have additional dates or capacity.
"One of the draws of this trip is that it hasn't been done out of Grundy since the end of regularly scheduled passenger trains in the 1950s. That's what makes it exciting."
Operating along active lines leads to trip limitations, based on the Norfolk Southern schedule. That also means there can be no stops along the way, but there is a commissary car for snacks and gift shop with souvenirs.
The train will be powered by Southern Railroad #630, a relatively small coal-burning steam locomotive. The engine has been restored to current safety standards. A 10-year restoration project complete in 2011 cost $500,000.
"Because it's an active freight line, there won't be an actual stop made at the destination to let people off," he said. "It will be a quick turnaround at Devon (near Matewan) and return trip. It looks to be a nice, scenic line (including tunnels) that follows the river."
While the train will not be stopping in Williamson, Mingo County tourism officials say it will be easy for visitors to return to the area in their personal vehicles.
Tug Valley Convention & Visitor's Bureau Executive Director Natalie Young says it's another opportunity for the area to stoke the hot Hatfield-McCoy Feud craze.
"People are eating this up," she said. "I think we're looking at something that could be a big plus for the southern part of the state."
The museum is encouraging overnight stays with special rates offered at local accommodations such as the Hatfield McCoy House Bed & Breakfast, the Tug Valley Inn and the Sycamore Inn in Williamson.
Tickets are priced at $35 (coach) and $45 (deluxe). Call 423-894-8028 for availability.
Several rail trips are scheduled this spring by the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society.
The Cherry Blossom Express to Washington, DC is planned March 30-April 2. The Greenbrier Day Trip to White Sulphur Springs is scheduled April 18. The Capital City Limited to Washington is scheduled May 4-7 and the Big Apple Express to New York City is planned June 11-15.
See www.newrivertrain.com or call 866-639-7487 for details.