Change is the one constant. It sounds like an oxymoron some wag made up long ago, yet this year has proven the truth of it like no other I recall. Consider this location where Norfolk Southern D9-4400, #9519 trundles gently toward the camera, to begin the day’s work.
Built by GE in May of 2000, she’s one of 864 such locomotives on the railroad, a no nonsense 4400hp workhorse ready for whatever the job throws at her. On this fine late September day in 2017, that involves switching cars for the plastics plant behind her.
Examining the area today it may seem there’s not a lot to see here. One would never know that 164 years earlier just yards away from this spot, the first locomotive arrived in Richmond in March of 1853. Named the Swinett, she was most likely a 4-4-0 American type and a fraction of the size, weight and horsepower of the 9519. The occasion was marked with tremendous fanfare and celebration. When regular service began in September of that year, Richmond became one of many places on the map where the railroad and the Industrial Revolution joined hands in their march across the continent.
Returning to the present, the compressed perspective of the long lens, might suggest this track is ill suited to such a beast. Appearances can be deceptive though, for the D9-4400 walks in the footsteps of giants. She’s easing her way along remnants of the former freight mains near the last of three depots that have graced this end of town. Upon these tracks, long freight trains behind the best of Pennsy steam and diesels, tiptoed around the congestion of the passenger platforms as they traveled east toward Glen yards and west to Newman interlocking, where St. Louis, Chicago or Grand Rapids beckoned.
Near 12th Street, where those silos and hopper cars sit, the PRR had a small yard during the first half of the twentieth century, for sorting out local industry cars destined for the C&O interchange, Ralston Purina, the freight house and various factories whose remnants still line the blocks up and down North E Street. Shuffling those cars here made more sense than tying up the yard ladder at Glen.
Going back earlier still to the late 1800s, the roundhouse, yard and shops of the Grand Rapids & Indiana occupied the ground to the left beyond the fence and trees. Once the beating heart of industry and travel, the ground is mostly quiet now, save for the comings and goings of NS freights and the likes of the 9519 doing her duty. The decades since were not kind. The PRR stumbled and fell into a disastrous merger that also failed during railroading’s darkest hour in the sick ‘70s. In the late 1980s and early ‘90s Norfolk Southern came to town and the long cleanup began. However, evidence of this increasing distant past can still be seen if one knows where and what to look for.
Change is the one constant we can bank on. Reflect on the love that draws you to the tracks. Remember the events, and be grateful you are there to see them. Like the K4s, F-unit, forty-foot boxcar and all that came before, one day this too will be gone.