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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

10-11-24 PHOTOS: A SEPTA Thanksgiving

In another annual custom that has become a yearly tradition each year I meet up with Chuchubob on the Wednesday before thanksgiving to go driving around the Philadelphia area with an eventual stop on Amtrak Northeast corridor to catch the somewhat augmented schedule of Regional and Keystone train rushing people back to their families. SEPTA also gets in on the action with 6 car trains on the R7. In years past we had used the day to visit some of Bob's good friends at the SMS Lines Pennsylvania Division in Morrisville, PA or staking out the Bristol, SEPTA station, but this time around I was looking to be a bit more ambitious. With the impending retirement of the Silverliner II's and III's as well as ongoing re-signaling operations on the Doylestown Branch there was a lot that needed to be documented away from the NEC and therefore after summoning Bob and its eldermobile we were off to drive a circle around the Philadelphia metro area.

The full photo log of this trip can be found here or just stay tuned and read on for a sampling of the best and brightest. I know this post is going to be long, but please at least skim through to the end because a lot of the Silverliner II and Amtrak action will be down there.

We begin with this photo taken of the PRR Arsenal Branch as it passes over the Sure-Kill Distressway just south of Center City. This was the freight line that linked the PW&B and West Philadelphia Elevated at ARSENAL tower with the Greenwitch Yard serving the import/export facilities on the Delaware River and South Philadelphia industry. This beefy overpass was built back in the 1970's when GG1s were still using the line along with the yearly Army-Navy passenger specials that brought thousands of fans directly to JFK Stadium.

Anyway we drove directly to Lansdale where the old signals were still standing at LAND interlocking.

Soon after a northbound R5 Doylestown train of Silverliner IV's showed up with #412 bringing up the rear.

Waiting on the station track with S-IV #344 on point was a Landdale terminating trainset getting ready for the next southbound departure. 

Which is soon did, crossing the non-automated grade crossing directly south of the station.

CSX was still in charge of local freight operations and a pair of Geeps with GP38-2S #6159 was hanging out with its partner north of the station. This unit had been a GP40-2 and was downrated to 2000hp to save maintenance costs. This unit started life as Chessie System/Western Maryland unit #4260.

Hanging out with #6159 was GP40-2 #6224.

The departed SL-IV train was soon replaced on the station track by another train of SL-IVs including #454 shown here.

The Lansdale Substation retains its original 1930's equipment including two 22kv to 12kv autotransformers that emit a pleasing 25Hz hum. 

Leaving Lansdale and its empty storage yard behind we made a stop a few miles up the road at the Link Belt station, which was named for the a tracked construction machinery factory owned by the company of the same name. The station is co-located with a Controlled Point appropriately named CP-LINK which was displaying clear in the northbound direction for the next train to Doylestown. This Controlled Point served as a holdout signal to allow trains to pull north of LAND interlocking without needing to have traffic thrown all the way to CP-FORREST. This Controlled Point was taken out of service in August 2011 when the new controlled siding a half mile to the north was placed into service.

Even though the Rule 261 ABS signals were still in service along the line, at some point SEPTA decided to replace the old electro-mechanical searchlight signals with the solid state Unilens variety.

For decades opposing trains on the branch had passed each other interurban style at the CP-FORREST passing siding. CP-FORREST, like CP-BELT, was a controlled point, not an interlocking and features spring switches on either end of the passing loop with automatically operated absolute signals governing the trains. Located just south of the highly acute Rt 202 crossing here we see the northern spring switch which is set in the normal position. With the opening of the new Link belt siding the north end of this siding was removed.

Northbound trains would be routed into the siding where if the track to Doylestown was free of opposing movements this stacked dwarf signal would display a Medium Clear. With the opening of the new Link belt siding this signal was removed along with the northern spring switch.

Friday, November 5, 2010

10-11-05 PHOTOS: Southern Crescent

So what does one do after getting piss drunk and taking over 400 photos of the New Orleans streetcar system? Well you stumble down to the New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal at 5am and make your way aboard Amtrak's Crescent for the 30 hour trip back to the Northeast. As anyone who actually pay attention to my photos will know, the Crescent has become my most commonly encountered Amtrak conveyance as of late due to a friend in Georgia that I see twice a year. However I had never had an opportunity to ride it over its entire distance. The Crescent is Amtrak's longest single level Long Distance train route at about 1400 miles from NY to NOLA, which is longer than even the Cardinal. As almost the entire route is over Norfolk Southern the Crescent is pretty reliable and where not limited by topology or kudzu attack the train runs reliably at 80mph.

By this time the sleepers on the Crescent had been moved to the head end and thus removing the First Class reverse railfan window. While there was a view out the back in coach, the generally lackluster signaling on the former Southern Railway combined with the realities of cloudy weather and shooting through two panes of tinted glass while in a non-air filtered Amfleet II caused me to stay in my Roomette with my friend for most of the trip. Ample snacks and a full case of beer also contributed to this decision. Anyway this somewhat limited the number of photos I could take (which was probably for the best) so this report should be a bit more concise from the rest.

You can find the entire set of photos in Chronibetical Order at this link here.

We begin in the pitch blackness of 5am New Orleans outside the 1954 vintage station, making it one of the newest old time style rail terminals ever built. Some Amtrak peon actually bitched me out for going outside to take pictures (I believe they selected terrorism for their reason), but since I had finished up I decided not to get belligerent.

The inside of the station retains all the charm of a 1950's school or office building. I am not sure if the murals painted on the upper walls were original, but they do add to the ambiance. Unfortunately Amtrak has been forced to share this station with arch enemy Greyhound. >-:O There was also a bunch of filming equipment by the front door, which may or may not have been related to the shoot I caught in progress on Carrollton Ave.

NOUPT is the terminus for the Crescent, City of New Orleans and Sunset Limited and as such is equipped with a first class lounge. However compared to the ones in Chicago, DC, NYC and Boston it is pretty rudimentary and I was relieved when we were taken out to our accommodations a good 20 minutes before departure. On the head end that day was Amtrak P42 #198 here as the dawn's early light begins to make an appearance.

Here is a 360 degree video taken from the end of the NOUPT platforms. You can see that our train already has its lineup through CLARA ST interlocking with a Restricted Proceed signal (*R*) on the dwarf before the terminal interlocking and then a Clear indication out onto the Main Line. Also visible to the right is the New Orleans Arena, home of the Charlotte New Orleans Hornets.

The entire NOPUT complex used to be controlled from Clara St Tower, which is visible in this photo just above the second red dwarf signal from the right. Built as an area interlocking scheme for the new station in 1954 it featured a GRS CTC machine and served to control the Amtrak owned terminal trackage until it was closed in 2003 with control being first remoted to 21st St tower in Chicago before finally being taken over by the new Chicago Train Director's office in Chicago Union Station.

Standing by for switching duties at NOPUT that day was Amtrak P32-8WH #511 still in its Phase IV paint and shown here posing in front of the Superdome, where the Saints of football play.

 After escaping New Orleans via the 6 mile long Lake Pontchartrain causeway it was time for breakfast. The first leg of our trip from New Orleans to Meridian, MS runs over a line called the New Orleans and Northeastern, or NO&NE for short. The Southern Railway was really oriented for traffic between Washington and Atlanta and Birmingham and past there getting to New Orleans just sort of happened via mergers. The final (or first in my case) leg over the NO&NE is barely eve a main line, still running a single track with Rule 271 operation. This means there is bi-directional ABS, but no CTC so trains need track warrants for movement authority and passing sidings are operated by hand.

The only bit of excitement on this route was a CN freight train waiting for clearance through the diamond crossing at Hattiesburg, MS. The train had SD75i #5684 in the lead and the conductor was out of the cab working the punch box to get a route after we cleared up. Like I said this line didn't have CTC so even the diamond crossings were worked automatically.

Shortly after lunch we reached the station at Meridian, MS, which was really nice for a station that only saw two trains a day. It also featured a collection of historic Southern Railway equipment.

The point of the long stop at Meridian was not just to allow smokers to get their fix, but also to enable a crew change.

Heading east into Alabama we passed an aggregate quarry with an old GP8 belonging to the Dunn Roadbuilders Railroad.

Off the NO&NE we transfered to the Alabama Great Southern Railroad which runs all the way to Birmingham. At the town of Boligee, AL we encountered a diamond crossing with the Alabama & Gulf Coast Railway, a Rail America shortline. I took this opportunity for some out the side window shots of the diamond itself showing the main track and siding track signals... well as a westbound freight train headed by Union Pacific ES44AC #5548 crawling along at Restricted speed on the non-signaled siding track allowing our train full use of the railroad.

A few more miles down the road in Woodstock, AL we passed the first of two westbound Train 19 Crescents. This one had left New York the previous afternoon and was headed towards an evening arrival in NOLA.

The westbound had been given the railroad fording us onto a controlled, but non-signaled siding at Restricted speed. At least compared to the NO&NE we had actual interlockings on this line instead of hand throw switches and track warrants. Here we see the eastbound siding dwarf signal displaying a diverging clear, returning us to the main. Here we see the southern employing a poor man's dwarf stack that substitutes an upper semaphore unit for a simple marker light.

While most of the Southern main line had been untouched by large re-signaling projects there was a reasonable amount of singleton replacements like the westbound main signal at Woodstock. Here we see a 3-headed Darth Vader unit taking the place of a previous 2.5 headed searchlight signal (the .5 is a missing middle head that changes R/Y ro R/-/Y for Restricting moves). This new signal not only has an explicit 3rd head for R/R/Y Restricting, but a yellow on the middle head for Y/Y/R advance approach.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

10-11-04 PHOTOS: A Streetcar named RTA - Part 2: Green Cars

In the second two parter in as many weeks we wrap up my trip to New Orelans and its growing Streetcar system. Unlike the Silverliner Farewell two parter, which warranted a "Previously On", this week I will forgo such formalities because the the way the photos turned out actlly did a nice job breaking things up into two distinct narratives. While last week I presented a comprehensive survey of the streetcar renaissance in New Orleans, today we tackle the elder of the two New Orleans streetcar lines, the one that was never discontinued and never lost its original equipment.

The St Charles Line runs from Canal Street at Bourbon through the iconic Garden and University districts before turning north on Carrollton Ave where it passes the Carrollton Carbarn before terminating at Claiborne Ave. The line literally follows the Crescent of the Crescent City which have proved resistant to the sort of poverty that pervaded the rest of the city and therefore it had the clout to keep its streetcar service when the other lines were retired in the 1960's. Despite the higher ground, this line was just as susceptible to Hurricane Katrina and didn't fully return to service until 2008 although the Carrollton Carbarn did not experience the flooding that the Canal St one did.

Like with the Red Car lines I have compiled a very complete survey documenting the line from end to end and you can see the entire set of photos here and also get a feeling of why I needed to split the whole set up int two parts.

We begin our journey at the downtown terminus of the St. Charles line where it spend a block making a loop on Canal between Bourbon and St. Charles and waiting there to greet us is #920, is one of the 35 olive green Perley A. Thomas Car Works cars that were built in 1923-24 out of an original order of 75.

At the corner of St Charles and Canal there are some section breakers that can tie the DC feeders between the two lines. Normally open one wonders if the circuit is ever closed due to beads...

Unlike the new replica cars which are built by a mining equipment concern and have T controllers, AC traction and electric brakes, the original cars have such amenities as an On-Off switch, pneumatic brakes, wooden bench seating, rubber flooring, bulb lighting and windows that go up and down.

After leaving downtown the tracks make a nearly 360o circuit around Lee Circle which has a famous monument to General Lee which depicts him not turning his back in retreat to the North. Hmmm, Germany banned statues of its Nazi war leaders yet somehow this is acceptable. 

Here we see #910 at Terpsichore St. The 2005 hurricane allowed the line to be completely refurbished with new feeder cable and new trolley wire. Fortunately classic style insulators and wire attachments were used.

Here we pass #930 at Polymnia St.

The can-do, party hearty attitude of New Orleans was evident all along the line including this example of a Bead Tree. In face I believe you can find beads in most of the photos I took. Sort of like a Wares Waldo of drunken hedonism.

As the line continued past Loyola and Tulane Universities it began to encounter more and more of what can best be described as "tree tunnels" made from native live oaks like at this one near the super ritzy and gated Audubon St.

Here is another view with car #948.

As we continued on the passenger traffic began to lighten and my railfan sense prompted me to switch to video mode and I was rewarded with a superb express run from Burdette St to Maple, which included the 90 degree turn onto Carrollton at the point where St Charles runs into the Mississippi River levee. Also included is inbound car #951 waiting at the great bend to turn onto St Charles.

Continuing up Carrollton I passed a film shoot that probably had something to do with the HBO series Treme.

Reaching the end of the line I found that the light was perfect to shoot the "changing of the poles".

 Like the Red Car lines there was no shortage of tourists milling about and taking photos.

10-11-04 PHOTOS: A Streetcar named RTA - Part 1: Red Cars

Before I begin I would like to reassure everyone that I am not trying to spin myself off into a private investigation blog and the next two photo essays were the result of a simple two day tourist trip to the somewhat soggy City of New Orleans. Yes, the Crescent City is on the rebound and after 5 years and a hell of a lot of bleach they almost have that mildew smell taken care off. In fact, after exporting a large segment of its poor population to cities like Houston, TX some might say this city is better than its been in decades.

As part of a conference exchange programme with my good friend I was offered both a free hotel room, two amazing free food and drink opportunities and a free sleeping accommodation on Amtrak's Crescent. For most people the combination of New Orleans and free drink would result in a severe loss of verticality if not outright hospital admission, however no amount of overindulgence was going to keep me from properly railfanning New Orleans' recently reconditioned streetcar system.

For those of you who are unaware of the Tennessee Williams play, New Orleans had and still has a pretty impressive streetcar network. While clearly much more impressive in the past, New Orleans has one surviving "heritage" line running mostly along St Charles Ave with original 1930's Percy Thomas green painted cars and two more modern lines, Canal St and Waterfront, using new built red cars. The Waterfront Line was built as a tourist attraction in the 1980's and runs between the French Market and the Convention Centre and the Canal St Line was re-built in 2004 serving both the original terminus at Cemeteries and a new branch to the City Park. Over the course of my 1 full day in New Orleans I took over 400 photos profiling all three lines and as these will take more than one week to process I am splitting up the set into two parts along the natural break point between the Red Car part of the System and the Green Car part.

Today we will be tackling the Red Car portion along with the miscalculation photos taken before I started riding the trolleys. You can find the entire set of photos covered in Part 1 right here.

So despite getting absolutely blitzed the night before I was up bright and early the next morning to help my friend return the rental car to the agency. Of course no trip to New Orleans would be complete without a visit to its newest tourist attraction, the Lower 9th Ward. While the scene of much devastation during the 2005 Hurricane, today most of it has been cleaned up and simply resembles something more akin to an abandoned company town with lots of streets and trees, but little else. However there were still plenty examples of water and wind damage.

You would wonder why anyone in their right mind would build anything of value where you need elabourate flood gates and pump stations to keep everything dry, but I guess people are pretty desperate to avoid that evil frozen water seen in more sensible parts of the country. Here we see the cut in the flood wall for the NS freight branch that runs over the road/rail Flordia Avenue Lift Bridge past one of the many pumping stations in the background.

New Orleans sees a healthy amount of freight traffic both for its local industry and intermodal traffic from its various ports. Here we are looking northbound through Oliver Junction on the former Southern RR NO&NE Dictrict with a Diverging Approach indication displayed on the tk2 dwarf signal. Amtrak's Crescent actually enters/exits Oliver Junction at the Darth Vader mast on the far left. In the distance we see that the 2x2 diamond crossing with the CSX Main Line is currently being occupied by a string of autoracks. Also visible at the crossing is what I believe to be the former L&N NE Tower.

Anyway, the rental car place was actually right on Canal St so I was able to directly board and outbound car at the Corzat stop. While waiting I caught #2003 heading inbound.

The major arterial roads in New Orleans take the form of boulevards with wide grass and tree lined medians. Therefore when restoring the Canal Line it was only necessary to re-lay the track and put up new wire poles instead of re-engineering the street for rail traffic. Here we see the transition between the downtown segment of Canal which uses concrete set rails and the outer section that has the rail covered by grass in the style of the St Charles Line.

Here we see #2013 at the Broad Street stop. Major stops on the Canal Line were built with small passenger shelters, but amenities are still sparse with no TVMs or ADA mini-highs.

At White Street we find a more typical stop that consists of nothing more than a concrete slab and a trash can. Behind the platform is one of the frequent trailing point turnbacks that allow for trolleys to short turn in case of a service disruption. BTW if you think the tracks look odd (or familiar) they are 5'2 1/2" Pennsylvania Trolley gauge

#2023 at the Carrollton Ave Junction with the City Park branch. Several blocks to the south Carrollton Ave hosts the western end of the St Charles Line.

 My car for this journey was #2002 here waiting at the Cemeteries Car Stop for the motorman to change ends.