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Thursday, June 16, 2016

16-06-16 PHOTOS: Gasden Purchase

The Gasden Purchase was the last territorial expansion of the contiguous United States. It was carried out by the Pierce administration back in 1853 as part of an effort to build a transcontinental railroad and expand slavery into the west. Needless to say the civil war intervened and the transcontinental railroad was constructed on a more northerly alignment in 1869. It would be 11 years later when the Southern pacific would compete its route from LA to El Paso, with that particular railroad eventually stretching to New Orleans.

In 1895, the Southern Pacific began operation of the Sunset Limited, making it the oldest continually operated named train in the United States. It's path, from New Orleans to Los Angeles via the Gasden OPurchase, became informally known as the Sunset Route. Last year I attempted to photograph this route, but unfortunately Dan Aykroyd's private car busted my attempt. This year my view was unobstructed and you can view the full set of photos here.

In 2015 Amtrak was running the eastbound Sunset Limited 2 hours ahead of its usual schedule to accomidate Union Pacific track work. This year it was back on the normal 10pm departure which meant that I got two hours of additional sunlight in the morning and two less in the evening. I woke up as the train was stopped at the Maricopa, AZ station (which is the closest Amtrak gets to Phoenix) where, for some reason, former CBQ California Zephyr observation car #375 is on display. WRONG ROUTE MORONS!

Here we see passengers hanging out on the Tuscon station platform for an extended smoke break. The train was a good 20 or so minutes early into Tuscon so the break was a bit longer than normal. SP 2-6-0 Mogul #1673 was on display, but was unfortunately stuck behind several layers of terrorist grade fence.

My perch for this part of this trip was Amtrak Superliner I sleeping car #32016, which was destined for Chicago on the Texas Eagle. 

Here we see the Tuscon Amtrak Station platform with the baggage ramps and refueling truck. It appears that in the resent past the station used an island platform configuration with a passenger/baggage tunnel, however the tracks were re-aligned and passengers no longer use the ramp.

Here UP AC4400 #6630 and SD70M #4233 are flat switching doublestack well cars at the west end of Tuscon Yard.

Over at the engine pit UP SD70M #4126 was coupled to ES44AC #7977.

Stack train lashup at Tuscon Yard with UP ES44AC #8266, SD70ACe #8437 and second ES44AC #7930.

UP SD70ACe #8534 was attached to the rear on DPU duty.

Flat switching yard power lead by remote controlable UP GP39-2 #1211, SD40N #1699 and AC4400 #7286.

Surviving Southern Pacific cantilever signal at 36TH ST interlocking at the east end of the Tuscon yard.

Don't let the headlight food you. UP SD70ACe #8482 is actually a DPU pushing on the rear of a merchandise train.

The Sunset Limited offers some unique scenery like saguaro cacti which, contrary to popular belief, are only located in the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona and northern Mexico. This example is located in the hills south of Saguaro National Park. Pro tip, don't hug cacti. They can defend themselves somehow.

Prickly pear cacti are also common in this area, with some of the patches growing quite large.

The famous Cienega Creek viaduct where track 1 flies over track 2. Between Vail, AZ and Benson, AZ the two main tracks split and take different routes through the Rincon Mountains. The current track 2 was the original alignment, while track 1 was a later, low grade alignment. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

16-06-15 PHOTOSL LAUPT Night

Previously on Amtrak Cross Country Trips I had tended to arrive at Los Angeles' Union Passenger Terminal in the mid afternoon and then depart in the twilight period. The first time was in conjunction with my Southwest Chief with a 6pm departure and the second was with last year's Sunset Limited attempt where the schedule moved ahead 2 hours to 8pm to accomidate Union Pacific trackwork. This year the Sunset was running to its usual schedule with a 10pm departure which would provide me with an opportunity for some night action at LAUPT. I will admit to not being overly enthusiastic about my railfanning duties during this year's layover. While LA certainly isn;t hostile to photography, the layout makes its rather inconvenient to take pictures and then get back to the Amtrak lounge for sleeper boarding. Moreover I needed to walk some distance from the station to find an acceptable dinner option and after that I was content to just grab whatever shots I could during the boarding process. You can find the full set of these and other photos here.

While still on the Surfliner train, I was treated to a bit of action while passing by a regularly scheduled grass fire when a helicopter showed up to drop some water on it.

As usual, BNSF/ATSF GP60M's were hanging out around Hobart yard. ATSF was the only customer for the GP60M, intending them to be used on fast intermodal trains, but the industry moved past the need for special purpose B-B truck fast freight units. Here we see warbonnet painted #106 and BNSF painted #108.

The famous REDONDO tower is still standing at the site of the former junction between the ATSF and Southern Pacific lines south of Downtown LA.  Previously the ATSF would cross the SP in order to run up the LA River and then turn into LAUPT. Later a flyover was constructed and the tower was closed. Today it stands at the head of the grade separated Alameda Corridor trench that provides direct access to the Port of Long Beach. 

LA's Amtrak facility is located along the west side of the LA River near Redondo Jct and must be reached by rather lengthy non-revenue moves. Here we see Surfliner F59PHI #462 sitting next to an unidentified P42. The Amtrak facilities support both the Surfliner corridor service as well as three long distance trains.

Here we see NRE 3GS21B hanging out with two siblings on the other side of the LA river. These genset locomotives, generally shunned for their weak performance and unreliability, are used in the LA basin for air quality reasons.

Power on my Surfliner had been provided by Amtrak F59PHI #461.

Re-signaled in the 1990's, the Union Terminal complex had embraced the solid state "Unilens" searchlight replacement. However as time passed these signals proved expensive to maintain and used plastic fibre optics that degraded over time. At some point over the last year the Terminal interlocking had most of its Unilens signals replaced by LED searchlights with those that remain being gutted and reduced to a single Red LED lamp to display Stop/Restricting indications. 

Metrolink's fleet used to be composed almost entirely of Bombardier "GO" style bi-level cars, which are aluminum bodied and lack continuous end to end frame elements. As you might expect these have found to perform poorly in accidents so Metrolink purchased new stainless steel cars from Rotem, included dedicated Driving Van Trailer type cab cars that provide an extreme amount of protection at the cost of trainset flexibility.

Nevertheless, after a level crossing accident earlier this year in which a Rotem cab car derailed, Metrolink declared that the new cars were unsafe and went about leasing BNSF freight power for Pull-Pull operation. I guess that someone neglected to tell Metrolink management that "crash resistant" is not the same as "crash proof". Meanwhile Coaster, ACE and Caltrain continue to operate the original Bombardier cars without a second thought. Anyway, here BNSF AC4400 #5638 is pulled along on the rear of a Metrolink train as it departs LA Union Station.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

16-06-14 PHOTOS: San Diego Trolley

So when I fly out to Southern California I make it a point to avoid the LA Basin as even if I found something remotely redeemable in that metroplex, it's airports are not transit accessible and far from anywhere I would want to be. Therefore I utilize San Diego as my SoCal port of entry as it not only has a rich transit scene and a pleasant climate, but one can easily connect with one's choice of Amtrak long distance route out of LA via a short Surfliner ride.

This year I was conducting a do-over of my 2015 Sunset Limited trip that, due to an unfortunate placement of a private car, turned out to be a complete waste. After scheduling time to stuff fish tacos in my face and visit the beach, I still had more than enough left over to take another tour of the San Diego Trolley network and wander around downtown. I am actually no stranger to San Diego, as this would be my 4th visit since 2009, however I had still not ridden the full length of the Orange Line nor had I ridden either the Orange or Green lines since my first trip back in 2009.

You can find the full set of photos, which also include Amtrak and Coaster content, here.

Transfering from the airport bus to the Green Line trolley I spent a few minutes taking pictures at the former Santa Fe station, southern terminus of the Surfliner corridor. Amtrak handles most of its maintenance at LA, but they do keep a protect F59PHI at San Diego, just in case. This time #460 was filling the role.

Coaster cab car #2303 was at the southern end of the trainset that was currently laying over at the station providing mid-day service on the line to Oceanside. Despite Metrolink's freakout over the safety of this type of cab car, and their beefier replacements, in various types of accident, Coaster, Metrolink and ACE have no compunction against operating the type. 

Milwaukee Road private car "Montana" was also hanging out on a station track. The car lives in LA and the owners had decided on a short trip to San Diego to entertain a client.

Passengers shuffle out of Green Line LRV #4017 at Santa Fe Depot. The westward track serves both the Green Line as a station and the Orange Line as a terminal. A separate berthing area is provided for each service as Green Line trains will often pull up behind Orange Line trains to allow passengers to transfer. 

MTS LRV #3005 is seen here on the head of a train stopping at Washington St. The 11 3000 series S70 LRV's were purchased in 2004 for the construction of the Green Line. They are about 10 feet longer than the rest of the fleet and may not be able to operate on the downtown loop, restricting them to the Green Line service.

MTS LRV #4052 arrives at the Olde Towne Transportation Center, which also provides a connection with Coaster and Surfliner trains. The 65 4000 series LRV's were purchased to supplant the original U2 trams purchased from Germany in 1981.

The Green Line loops west through a valley north of the city, eventually joining with the opposite end of the Orange Line before terminating at a "towne centre" in Santee. The Green Line is the only part of the San Diego Trolley system no built on an existing right of way as is evidenced by numerous elevated sections like this one at Grantville. The route was partly motivated to serve the San Diego Chargers' stadium.

The San Diego Trolley was the country's first modern Light Rail system and line several successors, it operates under an FRA waiver to allow freight service on the original rail lines the Light Rail took over. While the freight traffic on the orange line is greatly reduced, a customer in an El Cajon industrial park still gets shipments.

Here we see MTS LRV #4039 at the Santee terminal. Since the 4000-series delivery was completed, the MTS has moved to sandwitch the older 2000-series SD100 cars in the interior of 3-car trainsets for ADA reasons. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

16-06-04 PHOTOS: AEM-7 Faux Farewell Fantrip

In the middle of June I had an opportunity to go down to Baltimore and since I would be forced to miss the big AEM-7 fantrip due to my 2016 Amtrak Sunset Limited trip I decided to take the train in order to catch the last active Amtrak AEM-7's laying over in the Baltimore Penn Station area (in the company of HHP-8's I might add). I was also armed with a class upgrade coupon which would allow me to avail myself of the railfan window on the rear of the Amtrak train. The full set of photos from the trek are included, starting with PATCO, then moving to the 30th St parking garage before I eventually arrived at Baltimore. You can view they all here.

We start off at the Haddonfield PATCO station. There was a whole bunch of single-tracking going on with Vickers car #271 departing eastbound on the westbound track.

A short while later Budd married pair car #239 arrived in the proper direction.

My own then hit its own patch of wrong railing between Ferry Ave and Broadway.

SEPTA Silverliner V #723 at 30th St station.

The evolving Philadelphia Skyline.

Power in Amtrak's Race St engine terminal consisted of MoW GP38-2's #722 and #721, Phase III Heritage unit #145 and ACS-86 #657.

ACS-86 #615 was hanging out in the Penn Coach Yard along with Metroliner Cab Car #9641 and NEC camera car #10005.

Amtrak's TLM was hanging out on station track 10 while P42DC #97 and GP38-3H #521 sit on the engine serving tracks. 

GP15D #577 pushes 2 Amfleets onto one of the Penn Coach Yard tracks. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

16-05-27 PHOTOS: Ardmore

Sometimes the best way to go railfanning is on your own two feet. After last year's successful LIRR walk from Floral Park to Queens Village I looked to repeat the experience a bit closer to home and a quick look at the map showed a pleasant walk along the old PRR Main Line between Narberth and Ardmore. This let me walk between two classic PRR signal bridges while the half hourly SEPTA service passed by.

Later I was treated to a Silverliner V railfan window ride on the return trip to Center City that I followed up with a session on the 30th St parking garage. As usual you can find the full set of photos here.

To start things off I was treated to a bit of wrong railing on PATCO to get around some MoW work between Ferry Ave and Broadway.

While walking towards Suburban Station I came upon the rebuilt Dillworth Plaza and its SEPTA City Hall/15Th St Station entrance. The difference was quite striking with grass replacing bare concrete and homeless replaced by suburban families. Way to go!

Progress was also apparent on the new Cynwyd Connection that will allow retirement of the increasingly derelict Valley Flyover. The connection is an oddly simple affair, utilizing the former Schuylkill Valley branch freight alignment. Why it took 22 years to implement I don't know.

SEPTA SL-IV #412 waiting to complete its station work at Narberth while staring at a Clear signal on the #69 Track 4 automatic signal that it would soon take.

Sometimes its hard to remember how wealthy the PRR was back in the day. This underpass was built back in the 19th century over some dikly local road, but due to the state of material science at the time, the only option was the granite arch bridge. Just look at the craftsmanship that was involved and think how many centuries it will probably last.

Between Narberth and Ardmore is Wynwood. The station is now mostly used by a cafe.

At the Church Rd overpass I caught an outbound R5 local with SL-IV #405 on the rear.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

16-05-22 PHOTOS: NS Savannah

The NS Savannah is the United States' first (and so far only) nuclear powered merchant ship. It was built around 1960, back in a time before Medicare and other social spending sapped our collective ability to do big/cool things. Part of the "Atoms for Peace" program, the NS Savannah was mostly a propaganda vehicle to convince the rest of the world that nuclear technology was about more than blowing up the Soviets (Hint: it wasn't). The Savannah had the additional distinction of being a passenger liner built just before such travel was rendered obsolete by jumbo jets and a loose cargo vessel built just before that was rendered obsolete by containerized freight. The ship was mothballed in 1972 due to the cost of operating the nuclear plant compared with oil fired ships...just before the 1973-74 oil crisis. Talk about not being able to catch a break! After being decommissioned the ship spent decades in the James River Ghost Fleet before being moved to the Port of Baltimore for preservation. There it is open occasionally for tours, including every year on National Maritime Day in late May. This year I was able to coordinate with nuclear enthusiast Phil Nasadowski to take full advantage of the open house and some additional rail related sights in the vicinity. You can view the entire set of photos here. The Savannah is best described as a Silver Age comic book come to life or, in perhaps somewhat broader terms, imagine what Tony Stark's yacht would be like. It's half luxury liner, half cargo ship and all nuclear powered.
The 60's styling doesn't hurt the impression much either. People forget that the Metroliners used to be this cool/advanced as well.
Not that some parts of the ship don't come across like your grandmother's house.
Here we see the most important part of anything in the Mad Men era...the bar. Note that the tables, which were also electro-luminescent, all come with integrated ash trays because back then smoking was good for you.
You won't find any computers in this control room. Here we see the main reactor control panel. Other parts of the big board controlled the steam plant and electrical system so it looks more complicated than it is. Also remember that compared to older steam ships this was miles ahead of their brass gauges and valves. 
The manual control rod control panel was the other nuclear specific part of the control console.
Once the steam is generated it was dealt with in the standard way. Here we see the engine room with a typical high pressure/low pressure compound turbine setup.