After a 20-year absence, the sound of steam will once again chug along the rails of the Norfolk-Southern main line to Oneida, as a steam excursion train treks up the Cumberland Plateau this November.
The Scott County Chamber of Commerce announced Thursday the very first BSF Vintage Train Fest, slated for Oneida City Park on Sunday, Nov. 10. The festival will be centered around the arrival of the excursion train from Chattanooga.
Through a co-op between Chattanooga's Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and Norfolk-Southern's 21st Century Steam program, the excursion train — pulled by a 1904 vintage steam locomotive — will bring 400 passengers to Oneida on Nov. 10. Passengers will disembark at the park to visit and experience what Oneida and the northern Cumberland Plateau has to offer for two hours while the train is turned around and serviced for the return trip to Chattanooga. At the park, the festival will include arts and crafts vendors, a classic car cruise-in, live music entertainment, and other fall festivities.
"This is a wonderful opportunity for Scott County," Chamber of Commerce executive director Stacey Kidd said. "Many of these passengers will be making their first visit here, and this is an opportunity for us to extend our hospitality to them and show them the many amazing things we have to offer here."
The excursion train and the festival at the city park is not unlike the popular Steam Train Festival held in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In those days, Norfolk-Southern and the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum teamed up to bring the Autumn Leaf Special steam excursion train to Oneida for two weekends in October. When the excursion trains stopped coming, the Steam Train Festival became the Sorghum Festival before eventually ending altogether.
"We're excited that the train is coming back," Kidd said. "Many Scott Countians enjoyed hearing the sound of the steam engine coming up the tracks when the Autumn Leaf Special came to Oneida."
The Chamber of Commerce Tourism Committee's Brandon Hughett helped organize the train's return to the northern plateau.
"I want the BSF Vintage Train Fest to welcome the train's passengers as guests in our town," Hughett said. "As a community, it's important that everyone comes out to show their support and hospitality in welcoming our guests."
Oneida was an ideal destination for Southern Railway #630, the locomotive that will pull the excursion train, because it is one of the few railroad towns with a wye that makes turning the train easy, Hughett said.
"That and we happen to have one of the most beautiful city parks in the region adjacent to the Norfolk-Southern main line make Oneida a perfect destination town for a steam excursion train," he added.
The trip up the Cumberland Plateau will take train passengers through N-S's famous Rathole Division, a section of rail that once included 27 tunnels and many bridges due to the hilly terrain of the northern plateau. Today, the Rathole Division includes four tunnels and the high bridge at New River — an awe-inspiring pass over the river gorge, some 300 ft. above the river itself.
"Trains are something that every child loves," Hughett said. "I'll never forget, as a child, seeing the steam excursion trains from the 1980s roll through Robbins on their way to Oneida. It'll be good to once again hear the steam whistle roar at the many road crossings along Norfolk-Southern's main line."
The BSF Vintage Train Fest will be a free event. Details are still being finalized, but a vendor registration form and information on entering the classic car show was expected to be posted on the Chamber of Commerce's Discover Scott website — www.discoverscott.com — by Friday.
Tickets are expected to go on sale soon for the train ride from Chattanooga to Oneida. They can be purchased at tvrail.com/pages/21st-Century-Steam.