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Saturday, August 21, 2010

10-08-21 PHOTOS: Point-of-Rocks

Point of Rocks, Maryland is located at the the point where the Catoctin Ridge crosses the Potomac River. It is also the junction between the Baltimore and Ohio's Old Main Line to Baltimore and its Metropolitan Branch to Washington, DC. The junction takes the form of a Wye with an interlocking at each apex and a station building/MoW base in the middle.

The Old Main Line is exactly that, the original B&O Main Line between Baltimore and Ohio constructed in the years after 1831. Today most traffic heads to and from the double track Metropolitan Branch as the OML has a large number of tunnels and is not cleared for double stacks. Furthermore to improve clearances from their 1830's design the line was single tracked in the 1950's further restricting capacity and combined with its slow curvy track it made the Metropolitan-Capitol Sub route the preferred one even if it is several miles longer.

Point of Rocks remains a passenger station on the MARC Brunswick Line and sees weekday directional service to Washington, DC. It also sees the daily passage of Amtrak's Capitol Limited with the eastbound Train 30 passing around 11am and the westbound Train 29 passing around 5:30pm.

This selection of photos was taken on a trip to Point of Rocks last August and highlights the various rail action as well as the fixed infrastructure available. The presence of the station makes Point of Rocks a very accessible railfan location with platforms and walkways that put you right in the middle of the action.

You can find the full set of photos here. As usual I will be posting a variety of select photos, but the train shots will be down at the bottom to encourage you to read through the entire essay :-P

We begin with the Point of Rocks station building. It was constructed in 1873 and is a Nationally Registered Historic Place. I believe it is still staffed by a CSX ticket agent, one of the last in the entire company and the job position probably stretches back to the early days of the B&O, nearly two centuries ago. A newspaper article profiled the woman who worked there and at the time CSX had opted not to bid to continue running the MARC commuter service and there was a big thing about her finally going into retirement. However with CSX continuing to run the service I am assuming that the agent position was saved and with it a piece of living history.

The station also serves as a crew base for local CSX track and signal maintainers and there is a large parking area for CSX owned trucks and hi-rail vehicles. The south side platform canopy was damaged in the February 2010 blizzard, but as of January of 2011 work had been started to restore it.

Of course as a railroad crew base the required motivational safety poster was present.

The inbound platform had been provided with rather austere bus type shelters for waiting passengers, but in 2008 these were replaced with a new design that matched the look and feel of the 1873 station building across the tracks.

The main island platform between the two main lines is still equipped with its original brick paving as well as cast iron lampposts and signs. (Alert Forgotten NY!) Still a second, modern type sign has been provided at a lower level, probably for ADA reasons.

POINT OF ROCKS interlocking comprises the west apex of the wye and is a double-track flat junction between the Old Main Line and Metropolitan Sub with the OML being given the straight route and the Metropolitan Sub the diverging. As the Metropolitan Sub begins a few miles to the west at Brunswick trains taking the same logical route at the junction must actually make a diverging move. In this case looking east we see a Medium Clear indication displayed on the #2 track mast for a diverging route from #2 track to...#2 track.

A conveniently placed set of duckboards allow one to stand right in the middle of the interlocking. Here we are looking west at the parallel set of crossovers for the double track main line split between the OML and Met subs. While each individual interlocking that makes up the Point of Rocks Wye only contains a half crossover, combined there exist a full set of crossovers for all tracks.

Here we see CSX C44-10W #939 splitting the westbound OML mast signals as it moves from OML track #3 to Met Sub track #1.

Behind 939 was fellow AC4400 #501 at the head of a long strong of empty coal cars headed westbound.

Opposite Point of Rocks interlocking is EAST ROCKS which provides access to the east leg of the wye from the Met Sub as well as a trailing point crossover. Here in this zoom view we see a Clear indication displayed on #2 track for whatever train has the Medium Clear displayed back at Point of Rocks. This entire 3-interlocking complex was rebuilt in the early 2000's in preparation for the MARC expansion to Frederick. Frederick trains use the east leg of the wye to access the OML to travel Northeast for about 5 miles until another wye junction where the train will turn onto the MARC owned Frederick branch. Despite the close proximity to the Point of Rocks station, no platform was constructed for Frederick Branch trains and they pass through without stopping.

In the MoW yard we see a large collection of something CSX can never have too many of...temporary speed restriction signs. The Yellow with the / is the Approach TSR sign, the restriction takes affect at the solid yellow sign and is then released at the solid green sign. Solid red signs are Stop boards for work crew possessions and can only be passed with permission from the employee in charge.

Also in the MoW yard is a rusty spring frog panel of the type installed at industrial sidings. Spring frogs are a popular new device that eliminates the flangeway gap normally present on rail frogs and reduces vibration for the railcars passing over it as well as maintenance costs.

Now you would think that the north apex of the wye would be called something like NORTH ROCKS, but that would be too logical for CSX so instead it is SATTERWHITE interlocking. I don't know where they pulled that name from, but it is slightly mitigated via the use of a Conrail style big blue interlocking station sign on the relay hut. Here we see the eastbound cantilever mast along with a non-interlocked MoW siding track in the foreground.

The opposite end of SATTERWHITE interlocking features a pair of mast signals. Many of the signals around Point of Rocks contain the full compliment of lamps for the Seaboard system of color light signals. This is 2 heads with 3 lamps and 1 with 4 as the Seaboard requires the use of Lunar White for Restricting. The necessity for these full compliment signals are due to the short signal distance between the interlockings which will require a Slow Approach (R/R/Y) and the back to back nature of some of the crossovers which require Medium Approach Medium (R/Y/*G*).

Soon arriving westbound on Met branch #1 track was another train of empty coal cars this time lead by one of CSX 99 6000hp AC6000 units trailed by a Road Slug pair. The train came at a halt in front of a Stop signal at Point of Rocks interlocking.

The Road Slug pair consisted of former GP35 and current Road Slug class leader #2200 mated to GP40-2 #6406. For those unfamilliar a road slug is like a hump trailer with one locomotive providing electric power to the traction motors of another to increase pulling effort at the expense of total power available. CSX has converted 190 former Geeps into road slugs by removing the engine and associated equipment, but keeping the cab and air compressor to allow them to be used in every day road service. This makes sense as light duty engines such as these are normally run in pairs in every day service.

 Here is a closeup of the nose of #640 showing the CSX specific class designation of CW60AC.

The pulling power of the mamouth AC6000 and the road slug pair is in evidence when the dispatcher overcame his brain fart and decided to give the train a signal for a diverging route from #1 track to #1 track westbound. The train quickly accelerates to the line speed of 30mph as seen in this video.

Here we see the coal train snaking its way across OML track #4 to continue on Met Sub track #1. Hmmm, maybe I should have used the duckboards for a closer look.

And a short video clip of the end of the train doing the same.

Now if you were wondering there is still the matter of the displayed route eastbound on #2 track. Well my patience (and now yours) was rewarded as Amtrak train #30 showed up, slightly late, but still close to on time. Here is takes the switch from track #2 to track #2. The sign in the foreground indicates a mileage break due to the Metropolitan Sub taking the path of two different B&O era lines. Millage on the B&O main from here through to at least Pittsburgh is measures from about the B&O Museum in Baltimore. However the Metropolitan Branch is measures from Union Station in Washington DC. The present day Metropolitan Sub must account for this with a mileage readjustment skipping from MP 42 from DC to MP 68 from Baltimore.

Your Train 30 today is lead by P42 #95.

With P42 #59 following and a bonus unknown third unit. The Cap normally rates 2 units, but one was added in Chicago for whatever reason.

Here is a video clip of Train 30 passing by. Today's consist was 3 sleepers followed by a dining car, sightseer lounge and 3 coaches.

And we conclude today's photo session with a shot of the tail end of Amtrak's Train 30. Tune in next week as we travel to Dover, NH via Amtrak Downeaster train service.

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