Howdy from Nashville!
Well if the MegaBus Stop in Chattanooga is inconvenient, the Greyhound Stanton is in the middle of nowhere. It is out by the airport. There is a bus route that serves it directly but only six times a day on a round about route that seemed unnecessary. I could have taken MegaBus to Nashville but I would have arrived at 3:20pm which seemed like cutting things a little close and I wanted to arrive in time to ride one of the main SubwayNut reasons for this trip to Tennessee, its only commuter rail line, the Music City Star. This only works to railfan on a Friday evening when it makes a special night out round-trip. Instead I just got a final tap in on my 24 hour card (love the few systems that do this) and took it out to the decaying strip malls of exurbia for a 2/3 of a mile sidewalk-less walk in view of an Airport Runway. I got to the empty small-town feeling older Greyhound station at 10:05 and picked up my will-call express ticket (same price but I lack a printer). I watch a bus depart bound for Atlanta and then mine finally comes in. It is a retrofitted bus with a LED destination sign for Chicago. What a ridiculously long ride for just one bus. I believe it originated in Atlanta. It is relatively crowded and I am stuck in the last set of two empty seats, the wheelchair ones which lack an outlet. The driver is an old suspender waring man who says nothing as we leave at 11:07 (scheduled for 10:55). I had an Express Ticket but the usual line-up by number boarding procedures were not done I guess because I was boarding at an intermediate stop. At 11:22 pass Downtown off in the distance and follow the river around lookout mountain. As we go around the Appalachians we briefly enter Georga for about 4 miles (I can now say I’ve been to Georgia twice, on I-24 and at the end of St. Elmo Road at the beginning of Georgia-193) at 11:34 we reenter Tennessee after going into Georgia briefly (two exits), there is a nice big welcome to Tennessee sign but I missed the one for George, the road is curvy as we keep going through the Mountains. I spend the ride zoning out to my iPod and typing some of this triplog until my computer dies and I am at a seat without an outlet.
We arrive into Nashville at about 12:45pm to a modern LEED certified Greyhound Station south of downtown in the 90 degree heat. I whip out my iPhone and discover the Music City Youth Hostel is two miles away and not all that bus accessible. I wait at a bus stop briefly and decide not to wait around having a terrible walk through construction sites, over a highway overpass and get my first glimpse of Nashville’s historic Union Station. It is now a hotel. I check into the hostel and am happy to notice that there is a bus line into downtown a block away.
Now comes my one afternoon of rail fanning in all of Tennessee. Riding the Music City Star a Regional Rail Line (that’s what the website claims) that was built on the cheep, using old Metra Galley Cars (complete with there Caution the Doors are Closing Recordings), and ex-Amtrak F40s. It has an odd schedule with trains not stored in Nashville during the middays, two trainsets run two trains in from Lebanon that immediately leave and return, with the first train making a second round-trip as far as Mount Juliet. It uses the tracks of the Nashville and Eastern Railroad, a short line railroad which also operates it. To visit all 6 stations I have to start on buses. The Nashville MTA provides service to the first two stops. I take route 6 first to Donelson, and due a photo essay. There I see the first Inbound trip as I am already back on the bus to continue to Hermitage.
I get to Hermitage and photograph the second inbound trip and realize I can’t buy my $5 ticket (the Music City Star charges $5 per boarding when you buy a ticket at a vending machine, there slightly cheeper from downtown but don’t have intermediate fares so I’m stuck paying $5 per ride), the machine has been vandalized. My train comes in and the conductor takes my $5 for the ten minute ride out to Mt. Juliet where this trip terminates. It is full of regular commuters, addressing the conductor by name. There I get off and photograph the train heading back to Nashville before boarding the next train buying my $5 ticket (exact change only, you can also buy 4 for $2) from a machine that feels like a mini-meter, and dispenses both a glossy card (your ticket good as far as the terminus in Lebanon) and a receipt. I board a car away from the conductor who does bother to walk the length of the train to collect my ticket. At that point I decide that since all the outlying stops have the same exact construction, two shelters, one with a bench, one with a TVM, and a third mini-high level platform with a long bridge plate for wheelchair level boarding with the galley cars at the inbound end of the platform, (Metra doesn’t use these having on board wheelchair lifts instead. I’m surprised Nashville didn’t do that route), I will skip Martha, sticking my camera out of the train and getting a few photos and spend a little time in Lebanon to see how they store the train sets. As we arrive in Lebanon the conductor makes a really amusing, joking announcement about if you haven’t been served dinner on the train it will be waiting for you as you leave the train. One of my favorite parts of the Music City Star is hearing conductors with there Tennessee accents over the PA system I guess because I’ve never been on a train in the south before.
We get to Lebanon and I have 40 minutes. The train continues beyond the station and I start walking. I walk a few blocks into downtown until I realize that the yard must be on the opposite side of downtown (the Music City Star Station is just before downtown to provide parking) I do though get some pictures of the old Lebanon Depot, still in Railroad use headquarters of the Nashville and Eastern. I get back to the Star’s Station and see it is full of families deciding to ride the train. They are all having issues with the TVM. I manage to buy my $5 ticket. The two car train comes in and there is great excitement. I board and position myself at the front window since trains run in push mode into Nashville. This window is my favorite feature of the galley cars. I am amused (and any long-term Metra Commuter would be to) that no one realizes they can flip the seats, I demonstrate. The train leaves a little late and the conductor mentions safety rules including to keep your children seated as the train lurches. It is a fun ride through mostly the woods of Tennessee at the front window, I see deer in two different places and a rabbit dashing away from the train. I almost have a panic attack when a boy trespassing along the tracks runs up the embankment away from the train. We slowly curve along the Cumberland River and into Downtown Nashville. This brings me to my final complaint about the Music City Star, the track is in terrible condition (at least compared to the NEC and commuter rail lines of the East Coast), we have to slow down to cross a few wooden trestles and there are no concrete ties to be found.
I get back to the Riverfont Station and spend the evening wondering around soaking in Broadway crowded with bars, everyone having live music. What strikes me most is the fact that all the bands seem to be playing in the front as an almost advertisement for there band. I feel like I am window shopping for bands. I wonder around for awhile but don’t step inside anywhere enjoying some more pulled pork for dinner before getting one last ride out of my day pass back to the hostel.