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Sunday, June 20, 2010

10-06-20 PHOTOS: C&O Main Line Survey 2010 - Washington Power Change

In the hopes that the 400 or so odd C&O Main Line photos wouldn't overshadow the smaller amount of admittedly more interesting photos when my train #50 arrived in Washington Union Station I am presenting them as a supplement to the main batch posted previously.

The setting isn't anything spectacular, just the lower level of Union Station where our diesel P42DC was swapped for an electric AEM-7. However it was sunny out and the southbound Crescent, Train 19, arrived with two private cars on the rear so the photos are worthwhile from that point of view.

In case you need reminding the full set of photos can be found here and just scroll down to the final 30 or so to check out the ones that pertain to this subset.

I will actually start a little before the arrival in Washington DC when our train was waiting at CP-VIRGINIA for its lineup off of CSX territory. Yup, even when trying to leave their system CSX makes you wait. Fortunately just as I poked my head out the dispatcher gave us our signal and you can just see the Medium Approach indication on the new track #3 signal. Below the new cantilever is the old PRR signal bridge that was taken out of service around 2005/6. I really regret not getting photos of that when had the chance. :-(

On the other side of the train we can see the pocket track that is being debated for use by VRE trains as a turnback to ease congestion in Washington Union Station. With yard space virtually at capacity this pocket train could hold an additional train over the course of the day. Also note the space on the CP-VIRGINIA cantilever for a signal governing the pocket track if it were to be extended into the interlocking.

The old PRR VIRGINIA tower is still standing strong at CP-VIRGINIA which has now been re-signaled twice since the old girl was closed.

Closeup view of the upper story and bay window on VIRGINIA tower.

Who watches the watchers? Well I guess I was that day. The rail line through DC is completely encased by a post-9/11 high tech surveillance system that probably accomplished little more than padding the profit margins of some defense contractor.

Southern portal to the First Street Tunnels with a B&O style CPL signal standing guard to the Union Station terminal complex. The signals here lack any approach indication because trains cannot enter the tunnel unless there is a proceed indication displayed at A interlocking on the other end. This is to prevent trains getting stuck on signals while still in the tunnel and fumigating the passengers.

My engine, #201, in the shade on track #26.

When Train 19 pulled in it had two private cars already on the rear. The first was a former CB&Q stainless steel Budd car from the California Zephyr trainset named Silver Quail. 

It was followed by the former Canadian Pacific car Metis. Here some workmen hang out on the rear open platform.

10-06-20 PHOTOS: C&O Main Line Survey 2010

Well after my success of my 2009 C&O Main Line survey I was eager to get a second bite at the apple since I had only learned the trick to cleaning the rear Viewliner window from inside the train just as we were approaching the Southern main line at Orange, VA. Trying to get good views out the back of an Amtrak train is always a crap shoot as there can be rain or a private car stuck on the end. In 2010 everything seemed to be going my way. It was closer to the solstice so I had maximum daylight. The weather was clear and sunny. There were no private cars. Unfortunately, a month before my trip Amtrak added a baggage car to the consist of The Cardinal and decided to move the sleeper from the rear of the train to the front and in doing so I was stuck with shooting through two panes of glass at the rear of the train.

Needless to say I was pissed off and although I persisted and got the full measure of photos the quality suffered greatly with much increased amounts of grain and a red tint that I had to struggle with in post production to mitigate. Still I did manage to document the next section of C&O signaling on CSX's hit list and I documented some territory that I had missed in my first go around.

Last year I had to split the C&O survey photo set up into two parts, but this year due to the decrease in quality I don't plan to bombard you with so many photos simply because there are far fewer good ones I would want to show off. Needless to say I think I will show off the photos I took during the power change in Washington DC in a bonus set.

In case you have forgotten my goal with this set of photos was to document the incredibly senic trip of Amtrak Train 50 as it snakes its way through West Virginia and the New River Gorge. I begin taking photos just west of Russell Yard in Kentucky and continue through Huntington, WV where CSX has already ruined things with last year's re-signaling effort. After that I went and had breakfast before returning to the rear end where I took photos straight through from Montgomery, WV to Clifton Forge, VA. When it was time for lunch and I resumed photos out the side of the train between Charlottesville and Orange, VA.

The super awesome set of photos can be found here: and I urge you all to just sit back and take the whole trip.

We begin our trip at 6AM at the west end of Russell Yard with some good old fashioned Ohio Valley fog. I know this and the other photos I took in the fog look cool enough, but I still hope the low light performance of non-DSLR cameras improves to get rid of the grain.

Sitting just outside the east end of Russell Yard at RU CABIN was a string of AC4400's including CSX #347 and 545 on a coal drag.

The fog had already burned away a few miles later as my train went from track 3 to track 2 at NC CABIN adjacent to some sort of industrial complex that had worked through the night.

Spoke too soon. The Ashland KY Amtrak station was completely shrouded in fog as my train continued eastward through 19th St interlocking.

Between Ashland and Big Sandy Junction was a 3-track freight super line with big C&O signal gantries at every block boundary. Here at the MP 514 auto we find ourselves in a coal train sandwich.

The train on track three was being lead by AC4400 #476. CSX seems to like keeping their AC4400s as the primary source of power on the old C&O.

Around the bend we find Big Sandy Junction where the Big Sandy Subdivision splits from the Kanawha Subdivision. This impressive interlocking complex had its perfectly serviceable C&O signals removed just a week or two ago replaced by sterile crap signals.

The closed interlocking cabin still stands Big Sandy Junction complete with a vintage C&O safety sign.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

10-06-19 PHOTOS: METRA Western Ave

METRA's Western Avenue Complex is sort of the Wayne Junction of the METRA system, to replace one obscure reference with another. Located about 3 miles west of downtown it is the primary storage and maintenance facility for the CNW and Milwaukee Districts. Peak trains terminating at either Union Station North or the CNW Station will deadhead back out to the Western Ave yards to wait for the evening rush. At the heart of the Western Ave complex is former Milwaukee Road TOWER A-2 which handles the crossing of the 3-track Milwaukee District trunk with the 4-track CNW West Line. The crossing is flat and the acute angle necessitates the use of movable point diamonds (8) and double slip switches (4). As one might expect at such an important and complex interlocking the tower is still manned and operational so naturally I was going to have to take a trip out there eventually.

Fortunately Western Ave also has its own METRA station and is a reasonable walking distance from the California Ave station on the Green Line L to Oak Park. I had profiled TOWER A-2 and its interlocking via a METRA train on the CNW West Line a few years ago, but this time I wanted to get out and walk around, to the best of my ability. My trip plan was to take a Milwaukee District train out to Western Ave. Wait for another Milwaukee District train that would shortly follow. Then walk to the Green Line station for the trip back downtown. By this time of day my bags had already been dropped at Union Station for my departure on Train 50 so I was generally unencumbered.

The remainder of the photo set mostly takes place at Quincy Adams while I was waiting for a Pine Line train to take me around the loop to where I could walk to Union Station and then photos taken from T50 as it weaved its way out of Chicago.

As usual all of the photos can be seen by following the link and I encourage you all to check them out for plenty of CTA action that didn't make the cut.

If you are confused by the layout of TOWER A-2 and would like a little cheat sheet you can find the original PRR interlocking diagram here. I will not be going into great detail on the interlocking this time around because I have some interior photos and I will be using those for a more detailed essay on the tower itself.

I will begin with a problem common to all METRA trains and this is METRA's annoying policy of tinting its windows green. Nobody wants to look at green pictures so I take the time to color correct them back to a semblence of normality. The front windows use a slightly lighter tint which I can usually banish with a simple automatic color correction (counter-intuitively making the color temp cooler), however the side windows use a much heavier tint and my last attempt to get rid of this didn't work to my satisfaction. This time I broke out the advanced checkbox on my automatic color correction option and it had some handy dandy sliders to bias towards green or purple so moving the slider all the way down towards the purple end of the bar resulted in some much improved coloration. However background items that included more than ballast tended to suffer.

While things weren't perfect I was happy with the improvement. Also, due to shooting out the side window (the rear cab car was closed :-( ) resulted in some poor shooting angles as my train crossed the field of diamonds in front of the tower. I did the best I could at the time then decided that it was more important to present the correct orientation than it was to crop off the black rotation borders. So in what was probably my best result we have the levers 33/39 double slip switch and lever 41 movable point frog. If someone has some of their own tricks to bust the METRA tint let me know. I could have probably stood to find a want to replace the purple tint with red, but the only method I knew was endless fiddling with the color saturation values that only seem to replace one bad option with another.

Stepping off the train I saw that my train had a lineup at TOWER A-3 so I switched over to Video Mode in order to capture both my train departing and it knocking down the Clear signal. TOWER A-3 of course is now just an interlocking name and is remote to TOWER A-2. For reference the cars with the small windows are the Budd originals from the 1960's and 70's and the larger windowed cars are the newer models made by M-K, Amerail and Nippon Sharyo.

Bringing up the rear was METRA Cab Car #8425, one of the newt generation Gallery cars made by Amerail in the late 1990s.

TOWER A-3 provides a healthy mix of new and old with a brand new tubular signal gantry for northbound trains and a classic Milwaukee road era lattice gantry for southbound trains. Both gantries supported classic searchlight style signals with the phantom second head to allow for a call-on head. Be careful how you act here while railfanning because there is a CCTV camera at the end of the Track 1 platform used by the operator in A-2 to determine the identity for trains waiting on the platform.

As a second train would be following the first the signals at TOWER A-3 were fleeted and in a fit of OCD I captured the whole signal progression including Approach, Clear and Advance Approach. Of course Advance Approach is a flashing aspect that that requires another video segment.

This would have been a photo worthy of if it weren't for that #%@#$ anti-pedestrian fence between tracks 1 and 2, Subject is METRA MP36PH-2S #427. This is the last unit in METRA's MP36 order.

Yup, its time for another video. Here #427 accelerates from a stop at Western Ave and through TOWER A-3 interlocking. Note the large number of cab cars being used as coaches. I don't think I have seen a computer outfit that uses more cab cars away from their customary position than METRA. Also note the differences between the small window old stock and large window new stock and the pleasing growl from the EMD 645 engine as it works to get the train moving.

On the rear of that train is an 8500 series Nippon cab car shown here passing through TOWER A-3 interlocking. This zoom photo clearly shows off the mix of new and old rolling stock common to every METRA trainset.

Unlike most other commuter railroads METRA employs a rather verbose Delay in Block rule warning signal. So instead of a (D) or [D] or DIB we have a text explanation of the rule. Even more ludicrous the signs at Western Ave are located about 3 feet from the home signal the rule is meant to warn the engineer about!!

It is sort of hard to see, but the operator in A-2 has already pulled up the 38R signal on MILW track 2 for a move across the CNW tracks. There must be really really long weekend headways on the CNW for the MILW route to be cleared so far in advance. The train this signal is meant for didn't even show up while I was anywhere near the tower. Also visible past the pleasantly searchlit 40R signal is TOWER A-2 itself and the interlocking's very own signal maintainers' shoppe. Yeah, its that complex. 

The Western Ave Milwaukee District yard is empty today as it is a weekend and all of the trainsets are stored safely in their remote terminal yards. Visible in on one of the far tracks is a painted carbon steel Pullman/St Louis/ACF built gallery car. Also notice that like its bigger brother, TOWER A-3 also uses pneumatic point machines with a sufficiently robust air plant.

The eastbound signal gantry on the 4-track CNW line is visible from the Western Ave platform and stands in contrast to the beefier MILW models. 

Closeup view of the west side of TOWER A-2 with the C&S shack and the 40R signal. The MILW route was originally 4 tracks and, like the CNW line, used single-direction signaling. At some point the interlocking was rationalized with one MILW track being removed and reaplaced with bi-directional operation on all tracks. This saw the 40R signal change to a three head high signal instead of a dwarf.

Leaving the station platform one can walk around the block to the aforementioned Western Ave and then take a picture of the ivy covered eastern side of the tower. The speed limit sign is for trains on the CNW West line.

Friday, June 18, 2010

10-06-18 PHOTOS: CTA and METRA Electric

Well for those of you who dislike America's great rail freight transportation network I have arrived at the City of Chicago, home of the world famous L. In the two days I was to spend in the Windy Apple I had plans to head down to the Museum of Science and Industry to check out the U-505 (the tour turned out to be a bit of a letdown). Later I had plans to visit the John Hancock Tower and take a trip on Metra out to Western Ave. While that last bit will be covered in the next set, everything else will be shown where where I travel around the downtown area via either the L or Metra Electric (for the MSI).

You can see all these great photos, including the non-rail Chicago scenery here at this link. You can also continue reading and check out the small sample of photos that I deemed to have best illustrated the trip.

We begin at the Randolph-Wabash loop station with the latest monument to Donald Trump rising in the background like some sort of giant dick. I guess buildings and their owners do share things in common ;-)

A short ride on a Green Line train later I arrived at Clinton St station which is adjacent to the old Chicago Northwestern Station which serves METRA's Union Pacific run commuter rail services north and west of the city. I caught an inbound train with Nippon cab car #8445 in the lead navigating its way through the field of doubleslip switches.

Unfortunately the old dwarf semaphore signals have now been removed, but Lake Street tower is still an active with its original GRS Model 2 machine from the first decade of the 20th Century.

Later I took the METRA Electric down to the 63rd St station, which is a flag stop and kinda in a sketchy neighborhood. The reason I didn't get off at the normal stop for the MSI about 10 blocks earlier was that I wanted some pictures of the 63RD ST tower....which turned out not to be at 63rd St, but 4 blocks north at 67th St. Anyway here is my train on the center local track taking the Approach Diverging Y/Y signal at the home signal.

At 63RD ST the straight route from the local tracks leads to the South Chicago branch so all continuing local trains on the main line must make a diverging move after traversing the extra rare mainline 4-track scissors doubleslip crossover.

Returning from the museum at the 55th-56th-57th-St Station I was lucky enough to catch a southbound mixed freight on the CNIC main line with CN SD70M-2 #8833 in the lead.

The train was so long that it had a pair of C44-9W mid-train helpers. In this photo we see #2678.

Eventually my express train arrived for the trip back downtown. Unfortunately METRA does not mark the numbers of its electric stock on the front, only the train number.

METRA Hi-Liner #1552 on the storage track at Van Buren Station.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

10-06-17 PHOTOS: Capitol Limited Freight Spectacular - Part NS

Here is Part 2 of the westbound Capitol Limited trip I took with my father last Summer. The first part covered the former B&O route now owned by CSX between Washington, DC and Cumberland, MD. This part covers the former New York Central/Conrail Chicago Line now owned by NS between Ligonier, IN and South Bend, IN and then between Porter, IN and Chicago, IL. While I had very favorable sunlight on the first half of the trip, as the world turned the afternoon front lighting turned to morning back lighting so unfortunately almost all of these photos have less than optimal lighting and by less I mean these photos generally suck. However they aren't blurry and useless, just backlit with odd colors. I tried my best to fix the problem in post, but there was only so much I can do.

The photos cover two ranges of the Chicago Line, the first from CP-397 through to CP-437 in South Bend and the second from milepost 489 through to milepost 516 in Englewood, IL. I began where the railroad took a slight turn to the north and got the morning sun away from shining directly into the back of my train. The omitted section was where NS had already carried out a re-signaling project and I decided not to waste my time. I will attempt to pick out the most informative of the photos, but if you don't mind viewing photos with some technical difficulties I urge you all to view the complete set here.

The super-set of photos from both parts CSX and NS will be available at this link.

We begin at CP-397 in Ligonier, Indiana. This is a facing point half-crossover on the former Conrail Chicago Line. The New York Central was a early adopter of CTC technology and its entire Albany to Chicago main line is dotted with little oddities such as half crossovers or asymmetric block lengths depending on direction. This interlocking has also seen a bit of modification including the addition of two traffic light style masts on #1 track, but the retention of the NYC era masts on #2 track, including an old bracket mast. The two traffic lights were installed at different times (one is a darth, the other is not) so either there were issues with the structural integrity of the original equipment or this interlocking is prone to derailments.

In the background we can see that the Gerber St grade crossing has been removed for rehabilitation.

The Freight Spectacular bit wasn't confined to the CSX portion of the run. Here we see NS SD70N-2 #2678 with an eastbound mixed freight train in Millersburg, IN.

Here we see a late model New York Central style signal gantry at the 418 automatic approaching Elkhart, IN. That line of darkness is a squall line that marked the leading edge of a line of severe morning thunder storms that my train was to pass through.

When it rains it pours here at the Elkhart Amtrak Station showing the mini-NYC gantry that guards the east end of CP-421 that marks the east end of Elkhart's Robert Young Yard and and the junction with the Kalamazoo Branch which crosses the outer Track 1 via a diamond to connect directly with track #2.

Based on the track alignments you can tell which was the original route and which was added later.

Bad news for the old NYC Bracket Mast at CP-423, but fortunately it is only a partial re-signaling. Robert Young yard it off to the right.

West end of the Robert Young Yard at CP-425 showing a classic NYC gantry that has had its footings reconstructed instead of being replaced by some new signal gantry. Reduce reuse recycle is what I always say.

A somewhat blurry photo taken in the rain of CP CEFX lease unit #1040 approaching Elkhart.

Another freight is in line to the Elkhart terminal with NS C40-9W #9363 in the lashup.

10-06-17 PHOTOS: Capitol Limited Freight Spectacular - Part CSX

Last summer I treated my father to a Amtrak trip to Chicago with sleepers booked on the Capitol Limited westbound and the cardinal eastbound with an additional night spend in the Windy Apple itself. Over the course of this trip I took probably more than 1000 photos and today I present the first part of the first set of photos. I had originally planned to present the entire westbound photo set at once, but I had so many good pics from just the CSX portion of the Capitol Limited ride that when I finished up that section it made the most sense to post it as the first part of a two part installment.

The name of the set comes from the exceptional amount of freight my train encountered on its westbound journey from Thursday afternoon to Friday morning. Despite all of the freight traffic dispatchers at both CSX and NS performed an exceptional job at keeping out train running on Clear signals and we even had an early arrival in Chicago. Today's set documents the journey over the former B&O main line between Washington and Cumberland which is today's CSX Metropolitan and Cumberland Subdivisions. My photos focus on the parts of the line that have retained their classic B&O CPL signals. My trip was taken as close to the summer solstice as possible to ensure the maximum amount of daylight for photos and by the time I stopped for the night in Cumberland it was approaching 7:30PM.

The first part of this photo set can be found here:

And I really encourage anyone who reads this to check it out as I had pretty good conditions for the trip and there will be many good photos that won't get a featured spot.

We begin in Baltimore with a southbound Amtrak Regional departing the station behind AEM-7 #918 under a Medium Approach signal.

Of course because the Medium Approach aspect involves flashing it requires some sort of moving picture to do it justice, which fortunately I am able to provide :-)

The Meeps were already invading Baltimore in the summer of 2010 as #24 arrives with a northbound train.

At Washington Union Station we find an instance of the very old leading the old leading the young as Amtrak SW1000R #793 tows MARC GP40-2WH #60 and MP36-2C #16.

Out on the Metropolitan Sub my train encounters old B&O stations now in MARC Brunswick Line service such as this one at Germantowne.

And classic B&O CPL signals such as these at Seneca Fill. Most of the Metropolitan sub was re-signaled in the early 90's to coincide with the expansion of MARC train service which also brought about the GP40s and single level K-cars. Fortunately CSX was still installing CPLs in B&O territory for new signal projects.

Since I now have ample access to the Point of Rocks station and interlocking complex via car I decided to capture a Westbound move from the Washington branch to the original Main Line alignment with video. Here the train makes a move from track 1 to track 1 on the Metropolitan sub, but traverses two reverse turnouts to do so as the Old Main Line routing still gets the normal speed signals.

Approaching those High Rock signals I profiled in last weeks photo essay I discovered a partially camouflaged railfan hiking the tracks. How do I know he was a railfan? He later gave himself away.

Shortly thereafter we passed the first of many freight trains. This time it was an westbound coal train with a pair of helpers on the rear the lead of which was CSX AC44CW #448.

The conductor gives me a wave as my train overtakes CSX SD50-2 #8567 as it waits at East Brunswick interlocking to enter the yard.