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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

12-02-28 VIDEOS: Caltrain and MUNI in HD!

You may remember back to my first set of Caltrain videos documenting the entire line between San Jose and the San Francisco King St terminal. I say set because I had to present it in the form of a Playlist due to the various limitations of video length on YouTube with breaks occurring at the station stops. Moreover due to the memory card capacity of my older camera I could only shoot about an hour of standard definition video which was insufficient and forced me to cut in some previous head end video I had taken.

Well today thanks to my ability my YouTube account having no length limit and my camera using 16GB SD cards I can now shoot over 80 minutes of 720p HD video on a single go and with all of the old fretting about card space out the window I could sit back and let the video run. So if you have the next 53 minutes free sit back and enjoy the ride on Caltrain's 4:25 departing 5-stop Baby Bullet run between San Jose and San Francisco.

If you are still up for more here are a pair of videos taken from the front running board of MUNI cable cars running on the Hyde Line. The first is from Powell Street to Hyde Street via Jackson and the second is from the Beach terminal all the way to Union Square in the opposite direction. Enjoy.

Monday, February 27, 2012

12-02-27 PHOTOS: Caltran Caltrain V

Ah yes, it is time again for yet another trip out to the Bay Area and what is shaping up to be the most competent and railfan friendly commuter rail system in the country. Frankly its pretty bullshit that I have to travel 3000 miles just to find a descent express run with a railfan window, but what's worse is that some people actually complain about the service and want to replace it with something far less enjoyable. Anyway this being the 5th set of photos to document the Caltrain system there's not a lot of new territory to cover so this time around I'll just stick to pictures of locomotives.

This set actually combines both the Caltrain portion of the trip and the San Francisco portion of the trip. However I was a bit busier on this trip than previous ones so I didn't have much opportunity to get out and ride the cable cars and F Market, but I've taken photos of those things before and they don't tend to change much.

You can find the entire set of photos here.

We begin once again at the Millbrae BART/Caltrain transfer station where despite my employer's contracted carrier on this route changing from United to Air Tran, my flight still arrived just in time for me to just miss a BART train which then causes me to just miss a Caltrain connection. I find it baffling when you have something with hour headways that the schedulers of the rapid transit system will allow their trains to miss said connection by 2 minutes.

Anyway, the scent of diesel exhaust still in the air I went down to the Caltrain platform where I discovered that the extended portion that covers the siding track was actually open that day (more likely had forgotten to have been closed). That gave me a much better vantage point where from I could get a photo of the next scheduled northbound Caltrain, which was still scheduled to use a Baby Bullet trainset with Cab Car #119 on point.

Caltrain MP36PH-3C #926 passing under the signal gantry at CP-BART.

#926 discharging and recharging at the station.

I was also able to get a good photo of one of the BART signal units which make use of the SafeTran Unilens signal fitted with a special goose-neck extension for close clearances and other odd fitting locations.

An hour after arrived my southbound train finally showed up with F40PH #914 in the lead.

Friday, February 17, 2012

12-02-17 PHOTOS: Woodlawn

Not to be confused with either Woodhaven or Woodside, Woodlawn is one of two major junctions on the Metro-North system where the New Haven Line splits from the Harlem Line. In addition to the junction there is a rather insignificant passenger station that only sees about 1 tph off peak. Of course what it lacks in service it makes up for in having lots of train pass through the interlocking at top speed (well, 60mph at least) and a (4) train stop only two blocks away.

Woodlawn has two main vantage points for taking photos of trains. One is from a pedestrian walkway on the north side of the Bronx River parkway and the other is the station itself. Of course if you don't know the way to reach the walkway you can try taking pictures from the Neried Viaduct, but its close mesh chain link fence makes taking pictures there challenging.

Anyway I spent about two hours taking photos from both the viaduct and the station itself. You can see the entire set here.

We start with a train of outbound M-2's making a reverse direction move onto the New Haven Line through the east end of WOODLAWN, crossing over to the proper outbound tracks. Please take note that because Metro North doesn't put numbers on the the front of its MU's I can't tell the difference between an M-2, M-4 and M-6 so I'm just going to refer to all unidentified NH MU's as M-2's.

Despite Metro-North's complete expungement of wayside signaling, at WOODLAWN they made a mistake and left in place a few remnants of Penn Central signaling here in the form of a signal bridge and mast.

Outbound 4-car NH Line train passing under the Bronx River Parkway on the proper outbound local track.

Hey, it looks like the new Joint Metro-North, JR East service between Grand Central and Tokyo is up and running.

Moving down to the station I am going to start things off with a little montage of the constant parade of trains that pass through there, even if they are a but uniform and sterile. There were some MoW guys fixing up part of the outbound platform so that prompted a good bit of horn blowing.

View from the station looking east/north showing the stump of WOODLAWN interlocking tower and the NH Line flyover in the background.

Inbound New Haven Line train crossing under the Bronx River Parkway.

Another followed close behind coming in over the flyover.

Inbound train of M-3's sliding in for a station stop. I passed up the opportunity to ride it as I had nothing to do for an hour and decided to risk getting harassed by the police by staying an extra headway at Woodlawn. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

12-02-04 PHOTOS: S is for S-Motor

Yes its a Sesame Street theme this week, although instead of me teaching basic vocabulary and how to count to 12 you are all going to get a lesson on early New York Central electric locomotives and DC motor control systems. Sounds fun doesn't it? The framing device for today's lesson comes in the form of a number of locomotives "preserved" in a forested flood plain south of Albany, NY. These locomotives belonged (or still belong) to the Mohawk Chapter NRHS which received them from Amtrak and Conrail sometime around 1980. The collection includes an ex-NYC, ex-PC, ex-Amtrak Alco RS-3, an ex-NYC, ex-PC, ex-Conrail General Electric U25B and two former Ney York Central electric locomotives. While RS-3s and U25's are great, the two electrics are the real gems here because not only are they quite old, they also represent about half the total number of ex-NYC electrics that have been preserved.

The first of these electrics is the only surviving T-Motor, built as class T-3a in 1926 and represents the last batch of the second generation of NYC electric locomotive power. The second of these locomotives is S-Motor #100, which isn't just a member of the first class of New York Central electrics, but is in fact the prototype for the first class of New York Central electrics and because the S-Motors were the first class of independent main line electric locomotives ever built anywhere, #100 is the world's first main line electric locomotive.

Now I know what you're thinking, wasn't the first main line railroad electrification built on the B&O's Howard Street Tunnel in 1895? Well you would be right, but remember that that system was designed for electric assist of steam locomotives over a short stretch of steeply graded track with tunnels. Electrics would tow the steam engines, still fired up and making steam, through the short electrified section and then cut off to allow the steam hauled train on its way. The New York Central embarked on a much more ambitious scheme to both eliminate steam engine exhaust from its Park Avenue Tunnel and build a Grand new downtown rail terminal completely below ground level, which would make any sort of steam locomotive, under load or tow, completely infeasible. The S-Motors were the locomotives initially designed for this task with #100 being constructed in 1904, two years before the start of electric operations, in order to be throughly tested by both Alco (who built the locmotive) and GE (who supplied the propulsion system), on a test track in Schenectady, NY. #100 was originally assigned the class of L and the number 6000 while undergoing this testing. When it was time to enter service with 34 additional sisters #100's class was changed to T-1 and the number changed to 3400. After a deadly derailment on the second day of electrified service exposed a design flaw, #100's class was changed again from T to S and she was given the number she wears to this day.

Anyway, enough with the Wikipedia summary, its time to get onto some photos. You can see the whole set here (scroll down a bit), but I will actually urge you all to finish reading the remainder of the presentation here first. In fact you should start by viewing this little video tour of the two units. Inside some interesting items are obscured by darkness so reading the photo essay afterwards may help make things clearer.

So how exactlyis the world's very first main line electric locomotive being treated these days? Climate controlled shed at a major railroad museum? Complete interior and exterior restoration with a goal of returning her to running condition? No, one of the most historic locomotives in the world is being left to sit out in the elements on an isolated spur track located within the Hudson River floodplain.

So whats going on here? As far as I have been able to determine the Mohawk Chapter NRHS simply became defunct with their historic collection left to fend for itself. Fortunately their collection is not located where some landlord would care to threaten it with scrapping, but the condition of all these locomotives is hardly ideal.

There are some on again off again efforts to get people out there to at least stabilize the units and I have been told that they have been purchased by a heritage line in Massachusetts, but whomever the owner is getting these locomotives out of their current location is going to take some doing because even if the rail link to the former Conrail Albany secondary is intact it is not passable without a good deal of rehab. Whatever the state of the preservation efforts I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to tell the story behind these amazing relics from the past.

The most apparent feature of the S-Motors are their short length, however these units were not designed for switching, but for hauling main line long distance passenger trains. The short length 39 feet was seen as an advantage as it was half the length of a locomotive and tender and trains could be doubleheaded without significant loss of platform space. However they entered service a number of tracking problems were identified and after 6 short years the units found themselves relegated to secondary duties as the new T-Motors replacement them.

The S-Motors were built with the 1-D-1 wheel configuration, which was soon upgraded to 2-D-2 after the 1907 derailment. The driving wheels were mounted on a rigid 4 axle frame with a suspension that was primitive to say the least. Another problem with these early electrics was that they made use of "bi-polar" electric motors. No this does not mean that the motors would be full of energy one day and sluggish the next, but that the DC motor armature is mounted directly to the axle with two static electro-magnet "poles" mounted to either side. This allowed the axle/armature combination to move in the vertical plain as the wheel moved over bumps in the track. unfortunately this axle/armature combination added to the units Unpsring mass that of course affected track handling and ride quality. As soon as improved technology allowed the motors to be reduced in size, electric locomotives switched to using geared motors and ultimately nose suspended motors. Also in this photo note the third rail pickup shoe fuse box rated at 700 amps.

Squeezed in front of the 4 driving axles on each end of the unit are two, twin axle pony trucks. These were originally a single axle truck, but after the 1906 derailment it was determined that the 1-D-1 design was not sufficiently stable at high speed. The single S-1 and her 34 S-2 sisters were modified to fit the new 2 axle design. The later 12 units of the S-3 class built in 1909 were lengthened by 4 feet to better fit it. Unfortunately, in solving the stability problem the extra pony axles took even more weight off the drivers and resulted in poor starting characteristics, especially with long trains. 

Another neat 1904 feature on the S-motors are the use of friction bearings on the main driving axles. Virtually unheard of today on modern railroads, friction, aka plain, bearings make use of a consumable oil supply to lubricate the action of a round steel axle rotating in a plain soft metal semi-circle. The oil would create a hydrodynamic boundary layer between the axle and the Babbitt metal of the bearing that would prevent the two parts from physically touching. The oil was applied to the rotating axle via a pad at the bottom of the journal box, which had a reservoir of oil it that was wicked up through the pad.

Well that's enough for the exterior of #100, let's head inside and see what we can find. The unique design of the S-Motor is sort of a rich man's Steeplecab, clearly inspired by the latter, but with a bit more fit and finish for its main line assignments. Compared to s Staplecab design, the cab space of an S-Motor was a lot more spacious to fit both a larger air compressor and a train heating boiler required for passenger service. Here we stand inside the cab area looking toward the #2 end. The S-Motor was designed for both a engineer and fireman with each position being on the accustomed side.

The control stand of an S-Motor should be familiar to anyone who has visited a trolley museum as the technology behind it is basically the same, only a little bit more fancy. Acceleration of the S-Motor is completely manual in that the engineer does not select an acceleration rate (as one does on more modern electrics), but instead has direct control over the amount of voltage going to the motors. In a DC motor control system rotational speed of the motor is dependent upon the voltage supplied. As the controller is advanced resistance is cut out of the circuit applying more voltage to the motor. The large number of notches on the controlled is to allow the engineer to make small adjustments to the voltage in order to create a smooth acceleration profile, avoid wheel slip and to avoid stalling the wheels and burning out the windings. Today such tasks are automated by camshaft controllers in DC propulsion systems or software in AC systems.

This control system would also make use of series and parallel wiring to increase efficiency by negating the need to dump power into heat through the resistance elements. With motors connected in series seeing the total voltage drop split between them so at 660 volts DC from the third rail, 4 motors connected in series would each see a voltage of 165 volts, two motors in series 330 and all 4 motors in parallel the full 660 volts. I am not sure how those modes are engaged, either automatically as one notches up the controller or via a separate mechanism, but such a system has been part of DC systems since Thomas Edison.

Also seen here at the engineer's station is the instrument cluster including gauges for air pressure and DC amps running through the motor. The S-Motors were fitted with 4 GE model 84 electric motors rated for 550hp maximum output giving the S's a total of 2200hp starting power, which put them towards the upper end of contemporary steam passenger trains in terms of power. The continuous rating was 1700hp.

The fireman's side is a bit more spartan featuring only an emergency brake valve. Note the New York Central green interior which later went on to become Penn Central Green.

If there was one thing that was not in short supply in these electrics it was heaters. The cab was full of resistance heaters which I guess implied that New York City still used to see "winters" back a century ago.

Heavy load auxiliary items like the air compressor and cab heaters were controlled from these breaker-switches.

Friday, February 3, 2012

12-02-04 PHOTOS: Saratoga and North Creek Ski Train

One of the rising stars in the East Coast tourist train scene is the Saratoga and North Creek railroad, operating between Saratoga Springs and North Creek, New York. A division of shortline and heritage line operator Iowa Pacific Holdings, the S&NC runs over the former D&H Branch Line to Tahawus and operates with a D&H theme. The S&NC operates out of the Saratoga Springs transportation center and connects directly with Amtrak's Rutland service trains as well as the Adirondack. The line is no short out and back, instead running some 50 miles between Saratoga and its terminus, yard and shoppe complex at North Creek and at current speeds the trip takes about two hours. The line sells itself on the amazing scenery of the upper Hudson River and also impeccable food service at prices that are a pretty good deal for even non-mobile restaurants.

What is perhaps more surprising is that the S&NC is not some mom and pop operation It is a fully regulated passenger carrier and it makes use of Iowa Pacific's 24/7 nationwide reservation call center. Equipment consists of two ex-Alaska Railroad Great Dome cars which hold the food service facilities and provide head end power for the train and a number of former Budd built stainless steel long distance passenger cars that were previously used by MARC in commuter service. Motive power for the line consists of either a GE B39-8 or an old EMD BL2, which was one of the units recently excessed by the Bangor and Arrostook railroad when it went bankrupt.

Having opened in the 2011 summer season, the S&NC has been making money hand over fist with very innovative ideas that cater to the Adirondack tourist crowds, especially families. During the peak fall leaf season they were selling out 7 or 8 car trains for an entire weekend and during the lead up to Christmas they licensed the Polar Express property and set up their own Polar Express with a large set built out on a field and a large cast of local actors to play the roles both on the train and on the "North Pole". Again the trains sold out and they were even seeing thousands of riders per day on weekdays all through December. The manager told me that when they did a Day Out with Thomas they actually lost money compared to their usual operations (due to the hefty fees involved and because the S&NC relies less on voulenteers), but felt they needed to do it to spread word of their operation, which appears to have worked.

So, during the deep winter months the S&NC has partnered with the State of New York to offer a Ski-Train package in conjunction with the state owned Gore Mountain resort. The combination train ticket/lift ticket only costs about $12 more than the regular lift ticket itself and includes two free drink tickets which makes the S&NC Ski Train service a real no brainer. A shuttle bus provides transportation too and from the mountain and the train is a wonderful way to relax and have a bite to eat before and after a long day on the slopes. This season, due to the lack of snow, patronage was rather light, but they are expecting larger crowds next year, weather permitting.

You can find the S&NC photos at the top of this larger photo set here.

So normally the S&NC prefers to operate its more aesthetically pleasing BL2 #52, but it was sidelined with mechanical issues in the yard.

This put the onus on their more homely GE B39-8 freight hauler #8524 to get the train out and back successfully.

Front view of #8524 with the engineer.

The North Creek station is pretty typical for a tourist line, but also features ADA compliant high level platforms. Here we see the station with one of the Budd built ex-MARC commuter coaches.

Even the shuttle bus that takes one to the mountain is painted in a D&H scheme. In the fall the road has a similar deal going with Gore Mountain's canopy tours with the combined package only costing about $5 more than the normal tour price.

The Alaska Railroad heritage of their Great Domes is still evident. It's amazing how versatile those cars are providing a first class sight seeing experience, food service and head end power. Ironically the former Alaska cars were not winterized, causing all sorts of problems when it first got cold that winter. If one wonders how cars from Alaska can be laid low by Upstate New York weather one must realize that in Alaska they were only operated during the summer tourist season and then drained if liquids for the winter. 

While I was surprised to find the MARC coaches that had disappeared from the Brunswick Yard between 2010 and 2011 in another case of what was once lost is now found former Staten Island Rail Road Also S-1 #821 is also on their property.

The crew was really cool, actively encouraging passengers to take pictures out the open vestibule half doors...for at least as long as one could stand the bone chilling temperatures. 

Here is a short video taken from the side window as the train arrives in North Creek.

Longer side-window video as the train runs along the ice bound upper Hudson. Speed on the route is only about 30 mph, but with all the money rolling in they hope to upgrade it to 40mph or more operation in the near future. Also there are plans to restore the track 20-40 miles beyond North Creek to the former mine at Tahawus which would not only provide even better scenery for riders, but also cater to Adirondack park visitors, hikers and boaters.

Here we have a video walkthrough of the train starting with the car after the dome car. The high pitch noise at the beginning is the HEP generator in the Dome. The first car was a former Amtrak Long Distance lounge car complete with an authentic 1980's Am-bathroom. The final car is a MARC coach where the skis were stored.

In this final video we look out through the darkness as a member of the crew unsets the derail to allow passage of the train onto the former D&H (now Canadian Pacific) main line at CPC-38. Note the very bright Searchlight signals with a Medium Approach Indication at CPC-38 and then a Restricting at CPC-37 into the unsignaled station tracks at Saratoga Springs. A re-signaling project by CP will provide a power operated derail at CPC-38, eliminating the need for the derail stop, however it will also eliminate the searchlights which I was lucky to have captured here in HD.

In one final photo we have #8524 in the darkness at Startoga Springs after discharging the Ski Train passengers. The train departs around 7am and arrives back around 7pm getting one to the mountain before 10 and getting one off the mountain by 5.

Anyway if you couldn't tell I had a great time on this trip and I highly recommend the Ski Train if you happen to be staying in the Capitol Region. The S&NC provides great value for money and is a very high quality operation. Hopefully Iowa Pacific will be able to work its magic elsewhere, including plans to attach sleepers and dining cars to existing Amtrak equipment to then offer a private first class service competitive with Amtrak's prices.

Next time a special post devoted entirely to the surviving New York Central electrics sitting in a woods south of Albany.