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Saturday, May 15, 2010

10-05-15 PHOTOS: Georgia Scenic Route

When traveling to Georgia from the Northeast via Amtrak one has two options. You can travel directly via Train 19, Amtrak's Crescent which leaves Washington DC a little after 5PM and travels mostly overnight arriving in Georgia at about sunrise. However there is a second option that involves catching the earlier Train 79, The Carolinian, which departs WAS around 11am and travels via the RF&P, the CSX A-Line and NS H-Line before transferring to Train 19 in Greensboro, NC after a short 6 hour layover.

This route has the added benefit of having a reverse railfan window on Train 79 so you can do more than stare out the window aimlessly and on this trip I was determined to take advantage of it despite the poor light conditions and overcast skies. For those of you scared of a little layover Greensboro has a somewhat happening downtown with a variety of non-fast food eating establishments and one of the best train stations in the Region that was re-opened in 2005 to replace an Amshack that was located away from downtown opposite a freight yard.

Normally if T79 is running on time it will meet the westbound evening Piedmont train across the platform, but on this trip there was a bit of a hiccup. Around 9am a morning Piedmont train struck a low-bow trailer that had become wedged on a grade crossing causing a spectacular derailment and completely closing the H-Line. Fortunately Amtrak was able to respond by terminating that day's Train 80 at Grensboro, Bussing the passengers to Rocky Mount, NC where they would meet my Train 79 and we would perform a little swap. The northbound passengers would take Train 79's set and we would bus past the derailment site and meet Train 80's set at Greensboro that would load up and continue south to Charlotte. Since my destination for this leg of the journey was in fact Greensboro I would be able to enjoy the re-training procedure as a spectator instead of a participant.

At the end of the day my Train 79 arrived at Rocky Mount about 30 minutes late mostly due to a police action way back in DC. The buses for folks using Train 79 past Greensboro went express right from Rocky Mount and we arrived at 7:30, 30 minutes late. So on what was my first Amtrak bustitution I ended up losing a total of 0 minutes.

Anyway. most of the 300 odd photos I took on this trip were out the back of Train 79 as it traveled on the CSX RF&P and North End subdivision. They are grainy and consist mostly of signaling so I won't really bother to showcase them here, but if you are at all interested in what these main lines look like feel free to check out the Ma href="">entire collection here. The list is in chronological order starting in DC and cover most of the signals, interlockings and bridges except for a stretch between RO and Springfield-Franconia on the RF&P.

So, let's see what we have here. A year ago MARC's old GP40-2WH's were still queen of the roost as the deliveries of MP36's were taking place. Here is #60 at Baltimore Penn Station.

After the trip down the NEC and power change at Washington Train 79 proceeds southbound here emerging from the First Street tunnels which run under Capitol Hill.

Our train crosses the Potomac River on the Long Bridge which was built in 1903. The bridge still features its PRR catenary supports and cross spans as well as the feeder cables for what was electrified freight service into Potomac Yard. The draw span on this bridge no longer operates.

At LORTON intelrocking, where Amtrak's AutoTrain accesses its northern terminal off of the RF&P Main Line, I noticed that the northbound mast signal was displaying a Restricting aspect while the switch points were reverse.

The beefy truss bridge over the Occoquan River.

The new bridge (right) at Possum Point replaces a long irritating single track viaduct (left) that served as a bottleneck on the busy line just north of Quantico, VA. The single track bridge was installed by the cash strapped RF&P in the 1980s. The new bridge provides space for a total of 3 tracks, although only one is installed at this time.

 The AutoTrain finally shows itself at about Milepost 74 (Lorton is MP 92). I guess there wasn't much traffic on the RF&P today if the dispatcher could clear the route into the terminal so far in advance.

Following a bit behind the AutoTrain was a northbound Regional.

 Today what cost thousands of Union lives is easy, crossing the Rapahannock River on a high level concrete arch viaduct at Fredericksburg.

At the Fredericksburg station VRE trains use only track #3 to the right, while Amtrak trains can platform on either track if necessary.

The small Federicksburg yard with CSX SD40-2 #8809.

South of Fredericksburg Yard my train 79 overtook a CSX local freight consisting mostly of tank cars and lead by GP38-2S (rebuilt GP40) #6151 running on track #2.

Here is a still photo taken on the curve after the successful pass.

The local freight soon caught up with us, but we had the last laugh as we were routed ahead of it at HAMILTON interlocking. HAMILTON is one of the few interlockings using classic RF&P style signals which include full speed stacked US&S H-2 searchlight dwarf signals for reverse direction moves. The RF&P was sort of a small one trick pony railroad and had to save costs wherever it cound.

It's all here in one photo, CSX #6151, the reversed crossover, new exit signal on track #4 displaying Approach Medium and the reverse direction dwarf stack.

We're about 6-8 miles south of Fredericksburg now where we reach XR intelrocking, probably one of the last built by the RF&P before the CSX takeover. This interlocking served the new storage yard for the then new VRE train service. Rather odd to run so far past the last station to the layup yard. The Manassas Line has a similar configuration, but its terminal yard is only about a mile or 2 past the downtown and features a Park n Ride station.

At Milepost 31 I happened upon a slot train hauled by CSX SD40-2 #8882

NORTH DOSWELL features an old school RF&P bracket mast growing up out of the trees.

The Doswell Diamonds are where the C&O branch between Gordonsville and Richmond crosses the RF&P main. Today the C&O route has been leased to the Buckingham Branch short line, but is still used by CSX empty hopper trains. The interlocking was re-signaled in 2007/8 with some, but not all of the RF&P signals being replaced. The bracket mast still stands, but it is unclear if there are plans to replace it. The RF&Ps HN tower still standard although it has been closed for decades.

The Doswell Diamonds are a very popular railfan location due to the high speed Amtrak and CSX action. Here is how it looks from the train.

Ashland Virginia is well known for its Burlington, NJ style street running. Train speed is limited to 35-45mph depending on the time of day. Here we see the Ashland Amtrak station in the center of the street running segment. The duckboards for pedestrian crossings are cute.

Approaching the end of the RF&P main line we reach Amtrak's Staples Mill Road station. Staples Mill Road is Richmond's version of the Albany-Rensselaer or Buffalo-Depwe Amshacks in that it replaced a real Railroad Station in a much better location. Here we see CSX's GREENDALE interlocking and long closed RF&P GN tower. The interlocking was in the process f being re-signaled with the relay logic in the tower being replaced by one of those stainless steel relay hut with solid state logic.

Closeup of RF&Ps GN tower. The satellite dish replaced the old pole line for CTC signaling communications. Will be interesting to see what happens during a massive solar flare event.

 Amtrak #19 and #155 at the end of a Silver Service train departs the station track northbound at Staples Mill Road on a Slow Clear signal displayed on the US&S model N-3 dwarf.

Another view of the Staples Mill Road platform showing the main track platform, station track and a new thin platform serving the second station track. About half the Virginia Regional trains terminate here with the rest coming from Newport News.

CSX Acca yard is the major yard in the Richmond Terminal area and was also the heart of RF&P operations when it served as a bridge line between North and South. Back in the day the Atlantic Coast Line and Seaboard Air Line trains would pull in here for a power change due to the RF&P's cab signal system. Power would be changed again 100 miles to the north at Potomac Yard. Today this yard is one of CSX's major classification points in the east as Potomac Yard is a mall and there are no large mainline facilities in either Baltimore or Philly. Notorious for delays CSX has solves some of the problems by improving the interlockings north of the yard. All passenger traffic has to snack around the perimeter of the yard via the single track to the left.

At AY interlocking NPN Regional take the straight route through downtown Richmond, eventually reaching the C&O Peninsula Sub. The LD trains however take the diverging route to the West and enter the CSX A-Line. The 1958 Atlantic Coast Line and Seaboard Air Line merger was the first in a series that would result in what is today CSX. The SAl and ACL had two competing main lines between Richmond and Florida and to this day they are known as the S-Line (Seaboard) and the A-Line (Atlantic). The A-Line ended up being the one that was left intact and the S-Line was cut in several places including its northern and southern ends. All Amtrak LD trains follow the A-Line between Richmond and North Carolina.

Seen here is the curve off onto the A-Line with the RF&P Acca Yard office visible behind the bridge supports.

South of AY junction the A-Line travels in the median of Interstate 195 as it bypasses downtown Richmond.

The CSX A-Line bridge over the James River was another concrete arch bridge built in 1919 by a joint venture of the RF&P and ACL to bypass the ACL's old sow route through Richmond.

A few miles south we reach FA interlocking where the pre-bypass A-Line went straight through downtown Richmond. This line has been largely abandoned.

The northern end of the A-Line is notable for is use of Seaboard style (P) boards on automatic signals. Instead of the more common numberplate which would mark a signal as "permissive" (Stop and Proceed as opposed to Stop) the SAL/SCL would mark them with a circular (P) and no number plate. This makes determining the millage somewhat difficult. Here we see pair of new darth vader type signals with (P) boards at milepost 14.1...ish.

The Amtrak Petersburg Station features a holdout style platform, but the building is quite large and could easily accommodate a service expansion.

The single track bridge over the Appomattox river is another potential bottleneck on the A-Line, but due to the fact that much of the A-Line is single track anyway it is not yet a pressing concern. I am not sure of the bridge originally supported two tracks or if it had always been this way. The bridge is within interlocking limits as it is still in the two track section of the A-Line.

Past CSX Collier Yard we encountered the Juice Train dutifully waiting for us to pass and take the single track portion of the line.

The CSX dispatchers were doing a good job of giving our train the railroad. At the Carson siding a northbound freight led by CSX #5441 was waiting for us to pass.

And another northbound freight waiting at the Jarrett siding.

The A-Line seems to be nothing but bottlenecks. Here we see another single track viaduct at Roanoke Rapids.

We pass another nb freight at the Weldon siding with CSX standard cab C40-8 #7597.

Approaching Rocky Mount the northbound Train 90 Palmetto was already in the station so we had to perform a pull in pass at BATTLE interlocking. After taking the siding we stopped and the dispatcher lined the route for Train 90.

When then took the signal as it proceeded into the single track northbound.

After that we waited for the dispatcher to re-line the switch and pull up the signal so that we could back out onto the main line then proceed south. It was here that I became acutely aware of the fact that most interlocking signals on the former Seaboard system lack the ability to display a Restricting or Call-On aspect. All Northeast railroads could display a permissive aspect at interlockings, usually in the form of R/Y or R/R/Y to allow trains to follow closely behind another after the switches were reset. However in the south the lower traffic density didn't make this much of a necessity so instead of using bottom yellow for Restricting, the Seaboard used lunar white and simply didn't fit lunar lamps to most of their absolute signals. This would require the dispatcher to give permission past Stop permission. The lower yellow is instead used for Medium Approach (R/Y) or in this case Limited Approach (R/*Y*). Under NORAC R/Y is Restricting, R/*Y* is Medium Approach and Limited Approach doesn't exist.

Here we see the track #2 mast signal with the switch lined for the reverse move, but we have to wait for Train 90 to clear the block before getting our signal displayed. With a long slow freight train this could end up taking some time.

At the Rocky Mount the Buses were lined up and waiting for us, having driven the northbound passengers from Greensboro and intermediate points. While we barely had any delay the northbound passengers were about 4 hours late.

The Train 79 passengers weren't overly pissed off because it was made clear that the buses were there and all that needed to be done was sort people by destination. Still it took about 30 minutes to work everything out and load up. 

 The Rocky Mount station is the eastern terminus of the ever growing NCDoT Piedmont Service. Here we see the Porte coch%e8re in front of the building.

The delayed passengers on train 80 were given boxed lunches at this point as they were still about 30-45 minutes from departing. The southbound trainset needed to be wyed at Rocky Mount and re-crewed.

Anyway about two and a half hours later I arrived at the very nice Greensboro multi-modal transportation center which consisted of the recently rebuilt former Southern Railway station. Here you can see the buses unloading in front of the building.

I don't know what this place looked like when it was closed, but I assume it wasn't as nice as this.

The train information board was kept intact from when the Southern RR transfered its service to Amtrak in 1982 and presumably closed the station.

The Southern Serves the South...or at least a swath of it between the Seaboard and L&N systems.

Amtrak ticket windows.

And waiting area. Yeah, if you take the senic area you will come to know this waiting area very well.

Up on the platform area the new Train 79 was ready to depart with Train 163 in the lead.

The station consists of two platforms. One on the H-Line for Carolina service trains and the other on the main line for the Crescent.

Looking to the west we see the signals for POMONA interlocking and a grade crossing where another damned bus is trying to ruin my shot.

With the bustitution buses I could finally take a proper picture of the old Southern RR depot.

And another photo of the depot at night.

In an effort to kill some of the 6 hour layover I wandered over to that grade crossing west of the station. There was also an underpass next to the grade crossing (not sure why they kept the crossing open then) which made for a nice photo subject. Hmmm, I wonder what else could be around in the area.


Over by the grade crossing I took some photos of the cars crossing in front of the POMONA interlocking signals. In this case I caught the middle signal displaying the ultra rare Lunar/R/R/R aspect.

As Train 19 approached I had some time on the platform for more photos. Saying that these platforms are "well lit" would be a big understatement.

Eventually Train 19 showed up right on time lead by P42's #199 and 83.

I always have a hard time falling asleep in a coach seat and thus I was awake when we got to Charlotte about 2am. I alighted to try some more night photography. Charlotte's platform is not as well lit as Greensboro and predominantly makes use of sodium vapour.

But I was able to get this nice shot of downtown Charlotte. God forbid the station was in a convenient location instead of in the middle of a rail yard. Why did Amtrak think it was such a good idea to place its stations in the middle of yards again?

Daylight had once again arrived when I reached my destination of Gainesville, GA. I had time to take another photo of Train 19 departing southbound with an Approach Diverging signal at MIDLAND interlocking.

Gainesville is an NS crew base with a small yard that hosts a variety of EMD units including SD40 3378, Southern High Hood SD40 #3203 and an old friend from home, former Conrail SD50 #5441.

Well I know it was a long post, but I think it was worth it. There are over 300 additional photos available in the full set so please check them out.

Coming up next week some railfanning in the Athens, Georgia area.

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