By Dan Hust
SULLIVAN COUNTY If you’re anywhere near the Norfolk-Southern railroad tracks in western Sullivan County this morning (Friday), keep your eyes open.
Billionaire Bennett Levin of Philadelphia who collects and restores trains has assembled eight passenger cars and one of his circa-1950 EMD E8 locomotives for a trip along the old Erie mainline from Hoboken, NJ to Youngstown, Ohio.
“We’re redoing the route of the old Erie Limited,” explained Forestburgh resident Gene Blabey, one of those who got a seat (along with his wife Shirley).
The Blabeys, however, are boarding in Port Jervis, so they aren’t paying the full $5,000-a-head ticket price.
And yes, it’s all filled up, mostly by railroad aficionados and officials, including those who rack up “rare mileage” travelling on tracks no longer used for passenger service.
Regular passenger service, in fact, has not been offered on these tracks west of Port Jervis since the 1960s, but viewers in Narrowsburg, Cochecton, Callicoon, Hankins and Long Eddy will have a chance mid- to late Friday morning to see what that used to look like.
The locomotive is reportedly painted in Pennsylvania Railroad colors, but its bulldog-nosed shape should be enough to set it apart from the typical freight trains that occasionally pass by.
Blabey, who perhaps is best known as the former owner of WVOS radio, is now chairman and CEO of two freight railroads, headquartered out of upstate Olean: the Western New York and Pennsylvania, and the Bath and Hammondsport.
He’s along for the ride because much of the trip late Friday and Saturday will take place on the Western NY and PA.
If you’ve seen last year’s Academy Award-nominated hit “Unstoppable” with Denzel Washington and Chris Pine, then you’re already familiar with some of the route, as the $100 million movie was mostly filmed along Blabey’s railroad.
“We’ll take the branch from Meadville, PA, to Oil City and back,” he explained.
Levin is also reportedly bringing along his observation car, which once ran on the Pennsylvania Railroad’s prestigious Broadway Limited service.
The whole train will return to Philadelphia by rail via Pittsburgh next week, said Blabey.
Levin is known for such excursions, according to Blabey, along with transporting wounded soldiers in his train from Walter Reed Memorial Hospital in Washington, DC to Army-Navy games at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.