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Monday, October 19, 2009

09-10-19 PHOTOS: Southern to Southern NEC

The Southern Serves the South is how the saying goes and while I normally prefer to have nothing to do with the Confederacy, when a friend of mine moved to Georgia I decided to make lemons out of caustic soda and travel there via Amtrak's Crescent. I have since made multiple trips there, one every six months or so, and have found ways to shake up the itinerary beyond a straight shot on Train 19 and 20, but for my first trip I just took a straight coach seat down and got a roomette back. While the sleeping accommodation turned out to be a partial waste of money seeing as how I got screwed out of BOTH dinner and lunch, I was able to enjoy use of the rear facing railfan window to take a full survey of the Southern Main Line north of Charlottesville, VA and the southern portion of Amtrak's NEC to Baltimore.

Because some people complain about large quantities of signaling photos I will leave most of them featured on my website so I urge everyone to please go and check out the full set here in chronibetical order.

Because Train 19 runs mostly in darkness below Washington late in the year I didn't really bother with photos on the southbound trip. The generally rainy weather didn't help matters any, but I did fool around a bit with video. Here is a video of my GPS rolling over to a 100mph average speed as my train blitzed south toward Washington.

And another side video of my train passing through New Carrollton at Speed.

I did catch HHP-8 #655 hanging out on the lower level of Washington Union Station.

And he soon took off lite into A Interlocking in order to run back to Ivy City or another station track. At the same time a northbound VRE commuter pulls in on an adjacent track.

4 states and about 700 miles later my train dropped me off in Gainsville, GA at about 7am. It were there I was able to capture that epic "Double Rainbow" shot, but there were a couple others that ended up on the cutting room floor. Anyway, here's the good one again.

Hanging out at the station (which was also an NS crew base and local freight yard) were a number of high-hood SD40-2 of former Southern RR heritage. Here is number 3262.

And Conrail Blue painted unit #3371.

The Gainesville station sees far more use by freight crews than passengers which is a useful flip from the normal case of old passenger stations being seen as liabilities for freight railroads. On this trip the station still had a QuikTrak machine, which it has since lost. BTW, the station is located near a number of disused and collapsed factories and is served by local Bus 22-A after the Little Newark and Crackton stops.

Again we skip ahead to my night of departure. The local NS crews were just getting to work and after being started #3371 was exhibiting a slight emissions control problem. d.d b.b

Here's the video version

After coupling up to some of its Southern RR friends, 3371 began to assist in moving long cuts of hopper cars.

Here is a still shot of NS #3451 leading the cut of hoppers with #3371 last in line still pretending to be a steam locomotive.

After a good night's rest in my sleeper I was into the Dining car promptly at 6am, but alas when I got out not only was it still dim outside we at arrived at Charlottesville, so I would not be able to document much "new millage". Still, it was nice to get a photo of JC Cabin from the Southern route instead of the C&O Route, which I have used 4 times.

We had barely gone 4 miles when we got held up for AN HOUR at RIO interlocking waiting for maintainers to clear some sort of signal problem. Apparently the dispatcher had never heard of Rule 241. Anyway after a good long wait they god a signal to magically display and our train took it. This delay did have the bonus of allowing the light to improve.

The entire Southern RR Main Line between Manassas and Atlanta was reconstructed by the Southern RR in the 1970's into a single track with lots of frequent passing sidings. Some parts of the line were surprisingly rural like here with simple mast signals placed on either side of the track and trees almost covering it on top.

Unlike Conrail practice that liked to space interlocking every 8-10 miles, the Southern had them about every 4 to 6 miles with frequent use of equilateral turnouts like this one at GILBERT interlocking. Good for 40mph, this equilateral turnout allows trains to approach the interlocking on Clear signals with the speed restricting being handled by the timetable. The signaling dates from the 1970's when the Southern was clearly trying to save costs by eliminating the double track main and classic ABS signaling.

At Orange, VA I was back on familiar turf as we re-joined the Cardinal's C&O route. However it was still mostly new to me as I typically spend this section of the Cardinal trip in the dining car for second dinner.

Just south of Culpepper we met an NS local freight shifting cars on an industrial spur.

The Culpepper station is now served by 6 trains a day thanks to the addition of the Lynchburg Regional.

Original southern signals use boxy GRS modular "traffic light" style heads and Black-on-White number plates. Similar signals were used by NJT when they upgraded their M&E division from the DL&W signals.

Newer "Tombstone" style NS Darth Vader type signals were in evidence at Manassas due to recent re-signaling in the area to expand VRE capacity. Here at POWELL interlocking the through-freight component of traffic here on the former Southern Main Line makes a sharp turn to the left onto the "B-Line" to Front Royal, VA where it will make a sharp right onto the former Norfolk and Western line to Hagarstown, MD, where it will follow the former Conrail Lurgan Branch (itself composed of both PRR and Reading alignments) to Harrisburg where trains will continue on the Harrisburg Line to Philadelphia or split at Reading to travel to New York City via the Lehigh Valley route at Allentown, PA. This crazy quilt of routings for former Southern RR through freight traffic is a result of the closure of the RF&P's Potomac Yard in Alexandria, VA and Amtrak kicking freight off the NEC.

Here is Downtown Manassas with the Manassas station which is shared by VRE and Amtrak.

Normally on Amtrak LD one will poke along on hilly, twisty tracks until you reach a Metropolitan commuter zone at which point speed increase for a last dash to the finish. On the Southern Route the cross country portion is straight and fast with speed of 70-75mph. When one reaches Manassas the line becomes curvy and hilly and speeds drop to 50mph for the final 20 or so miles into DC.

Here we see one of the many curves as the line maneuvers to find a route over Bull Run at Milepost 30.

Between Manassas and the RF&P junction ALL of the signals on the line are controlled, either as interlockings or controlled points. For reasons unknown there is not a single "automatic" signal on the line. This might be caused by some sort of former Southern RR policy regarding permissive operation. While some of the signals can display a Restricting aspect. others cannot and trains would need a 241 to pass them at Stop. Here we see CP RAVEN with Restricting capable signals southbound and full Stop signals northbound.

CR TOWER is where the former Southern RR joins the former RF&P for the last few miles into DC and Union Station. Unlike New York City where every railroad had its terminal in Jersey City, for Washington the C&O joins with the Southern which joins with the RF&P which then filed across the single PRR owned bridge into the City.

AF Interlocking was the rail version of the infamous "mixing bowl" freeway interchange southwest of Washington DC. The original interlocking was built in 1921 by the RF&P and was state of the art when installed. However by 2001 the old layout built to handle movements in and out of Pot Yard was badly configured to handle rush hour loads of VRE and Amtrak trains along with CSX freights with many slow speed moves that tied up the whole plant. The state eventually paid for a complete rebuilding of AF Interlocking in 2001 and here is what it looks like today.

It even has the capability to support a 4th southbound track.

The Alexandria, VA Amtrak and VRA station showing how the third track is not served by a passenger platform.

RO interlocking was the former division post between Conrail/PRR and CSX/RF&P. It also marks the northern limit of the former RF&P cab signaling system which has since been harmonized to the PRR standard. The third track from AF was recently extended from SRO interlocking at MP 109 to RO proper at MP 110.

 The swing bridge over the Potomac River into Washington DC still shows the remnants of electrification which was removed in 1980.

The former Conrail Landover Line (used by CSX through freights in the east coast corridor) lines up with the Washington Monument as it passes the VRE L'Enfant Station.

VIRGINIA tower still stands at the junction of the former PRR freight bypass and the passenger route to Union Station via the 1st Ave Tunnels.

As we pulled into Amtrak territory there was already a route lined up for a southbound Amtrak train.

Passing the B&O style CPLs my train entered the Washington Union Station complex.

My dining car for the trip was #8507. Soon after this I was told that lunch had moved from a time (11am) to a place (Baltimore) screwing me out of a meal.

Also, with trucks this complicated why are Heritage cars only good for 110mph?  The answer is the lack of tread brakes would cause too much heat build up at 125mph. 

Departing Union Station we pass K Tower with an Amtrak critter looking ready to haul a MARC set out of a station track.

A short while later we see MARC Geep #53 pulling into with double-slips galore.

As my train accelerates out of the terminal we pass CP-AVENUE and enter CTEC territory. B&O style CPLs constructed out of PRR position light hardware guard the entrance into K Tower's territory. In this case the 509 signal is displaying an Approach Slow.

For a short period of time the CSX Capitol Sub is sandwiched between the NEC and Amtrak's Ivy City yards. Here we see the southbound B&O CPL Cantilever signal that was installed in the early 1990's at F TOWER.

Passing signal 1339 we pass what at first glance looks like a Regional, but a baggage car hints it's one of the longer distance trains. To the right the CSX Capitol Sub splits off on a more northerly alignment. At least until Halethorpe.

Signal 1307 makes use of the CSX/B&O Alexandria Extension bridge to span both NEC tracks. Freights traveling north from CP-VIRGINIA would use this track to reach the CSX Main Line to Philadelphia and New York. Note the cleared land to the right of the RoW. This is where the transmission towers for the 132Kz 25Hz lines is being built to supply the new sub station in Ivy City.

LANDOVER interlocking is where the PRR era freight bypass departed the NEC in order to reach CP-VIRGINIA and Pot Yard. Today it is used by CSX coal trains heading for the Popes Creek Secondary. As one can see there is not much demand for freight trains to use #2 track.

LANDOVER also has a surviving closed PRR interlocking tower and pneumatic point machines.

LD trains like the Crescent run express on the NEC so here we are blasting through New Carrollton at 110mph.

North of Bowie we hit the infamous NEC Corner Cut where tracks 2 and 3 were re-aligned to save just enough time on the schedule to allow Metroliners to make the run in under 3 hours. Track 1 continues along on the older, slow road. I guess Amtrak's mother never told it to never cut corners.

Many of the signals in this area were installed new in the early 1980's as part of the NECIP. Here is the 1145 signal on a new type beam gantry.

Because the platforms at BWI only served tracks 1 and 3 a high speed turnout was constructed at GROVE interlocking between tracks 2 and 1. This was the first HST on the NEC, originally installed in the 80's or 90's and good for 70mph and later upgraded with concrete ties and 80mph operation under the new Cab Speed signal. Compare with the 45mph #20 turnout between tracks 3 and 2 (which has movable point frogs and wooden ties oddly enough).

And in our last video of the day here we are blasting through BWI on the center express track while an HHP-8 hauled Regional makes a station stop on #3 track.

Past the Halethorpe MARC station the NEC temporarily grows to its proper size of 4 tracks. Here we see the 993 automatics on the former beam gantry of GWYNN interlocking.

The old PRR GWYNN tower still stands although its a bit...rustic.

As we approached BRIDGE interlocking where the NEC shrinks down to 2 tracks for the B&P tunnels my train overtook a MARC local led by GP39 #70. The train would both be slowing for the West Baltimore station stop as well as the Approach signal for BRIDGE interlocking.

 The brand new cable ducts for the 132Kv transmission lines through the B&P tunnels look a lot less Rustic than the old ones.

Finally, we MARC GP40WH #52 framed by the B&P tunnel arches and the restricted clearance pedestal home signals at FULTON interlocking. FULTON recently had its switches replaced, but the pneumatic point machines were retained due to flooding conditions.

Anyway I hope you enjoyed the photos and I urge any of you interested in a more complete picture of the route traveled to check out the full set. The fact that I booked a sleeper solely for the rear window allows me to put a cost on each of my photos which after discounting for the breakfast I got comes out to about 75 cents per photo. Wow, that's more expensive than old analogue development costs so I would hate my efforts to be wasted due to indifference.

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