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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.

Approaching the Birmingham Station we pass through the famous 14th St Junction where the two track CSX line crosses the NS ASG District at grade over a set of movable point diamonds. The Crescent stays clear of the frey by staying to the north and actually entering CSX territory for about a mile or so in order to access the station platforms. I was lucky enough to have a CSX freight train pounding the MPD's as I passed by.

Birmingham is another smoking stop and although the station technically has three tracks, only one of them is used for the daily Train 19/20 arrival.

Sitting on a storage track is a Cold War throwback.

Our P42 #198 seen here in the daylight by platform location 13.

In a sign of the times, part of the platform area had been turned into a bulk transloading facility for corn sweetener. 

The light was such that I was able to take a picture of the inboard mounted disc brakes on an Amfleet II Pioneer III truck assembly that provides that superior stopping power you have come to expect from Amtrak equipment.

Looking back towards the 5-track signal gantry governing eastbound trains through 14th St Junction. A Clear indication has been displayed on one of the two Norfolk Southern AGS district tracks now that the CSX train had passed.

After a short stint on the CSX Boyles Sub we were back onto the NS line at the 24th St diamonds.

Sitting on a siding east of the downtown I spotted a pair of BNSF units which consistedof ES44DC #7816 and C44-9W #4740.

The next smoke stop was at Atlanta, but by then the sun had long since set and even with a tripod I was no match for the absolutely horrendous lighting. Here we see the cramped low level platform of Amtrak's Atlanta Peechtree Station. Considering the fact that a sizable portion of the people who ride this train are traveling to/from Atlanta, the station that serves them is simply an embarrassment. I hope there's a plan to replace this Albany amshack level piece of shit with something halfway descent...and perhaps with LED or fluorescent platform lighting. 

Anyway, the only place I could be free of the sodium glare was in the overpass ahead of the engines so here is 198 again with a bit of headlight glare.

At the other end of the platform I was also able to escape the orange glow by taking a picture of the milepost 633 intermediate signal gantry just south of the station. The streak in the sky is an aircraft flying by.

Things were pretty dull through the late night hours and then through the morning until we arrived at Manassas, VA, just about 45 minutes from Washington DC's, Union Station. At that point a pair of light engines were released from the Manassas Yard eastbound on track #1 just as we began to pull away from the station on track #2. With a 50mph track speed between here and the RF&P junction at AF nobody was going to have a clear advantage and the race between Amtrak Train 20 and NS GP38-2's 5565 and 5051 was on. Of course this is what those openable side windows on the Viewliners were made for ;-)

Of course this is also what video mode was made for. In this first segment we see the light engines begin to pull away due to their quicker acceleration.

However we caught back up and began to pace the units just before crossing a grade crossing with both sets of horns blaring. Of course then the light engines pulled away again and opened up a lead of several carlengths.

Side-by-side Clear indications displayed on the eastbound home signal gantry at CLIFTON interlocking on the Southern Main Line as both trains double barrel towards it.

The NS lite engines are in the lead, but not for long.

As we are going to be taking the short route through AF interlocking and thus will be crossing ahead of the lite engines at EDSALL interlocking. Slowing for the signal we drift pass allowing me to take a picture of the former Southern high hood GP38-2 #5051.

On the ground in Washington, DC I found a Regional train on the adjacent track with AEM-7 #939 on point about to pull out.

Our train had come equipped with an extra third Viewliner ahead of the baggage car which was then pulled off at Washington with the diesel engines. My friend grabbed the camera to take a picture of what he considered to be an attractive Amtrak carwoman.

Replacing our diesels was Amtrak HHP-8 #655.

And for our last photo today here is a side-on shot of Amtrak's K Tower.

Well that marks the end of a pretty crazy journey. Tune in next week as we hitch a ride with Chuchubob and go circling around the SEPTA regional rail service zone on the day before Thanksgiving in a hunt for Silverliner IIs.

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