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Friday, May 23, 2014

14-05-23 PHOTOS: Manassas

On the Friday before Memorial Day I cut out of work early to head down to Washington DC to take a round trip on the Virginia Railway Express Manassas Line, which follows the old Southern Railway main line from Alexandria to Manassas, VA, of civil war fame. Normally this sort of VRE railfanning trip is not possible without resorting to Amtrak because VRE operates a peak direction service into and then back out of DC. However on the Manassas Line there is an "early" afternoon departure from DC around 2pm that then service-deadheads back into the city to for another run.

Now the motivation for this trip was an NS resignaling effort on the Southern main between DC and Manassas that would remove all of the old Southern RR signaling. VRE operates with Gallery car type equipment with railfan window equipped cab cars facing in the inbound DC direction. With the reverse railfan window having been blocked off on Amtrak Trains 19/20, VRE was my only other option to get photos of these signals in the northbound direction.

Now I was well aware that certain commuter operators get off on closing cab cars to allow the crews from having to interact with paying customers and I had little information on how VRE would open up its off peak trains. On the outbound trip my worst fears were realized when the reverse cab car was left closed, despite standing room conditions on the rest of the train. I figured that if the cab car would not be opened for a full train there was little chance it would be opened for a nearly empty deadhead. Well it appeared to be opposite day because on the return trip the front car was left open so I was not only able to get still shots of all the signals, but also shoot video all the way from Alexandria through the DC "trench" and First Street Tunnel to Washington Union Station.

Because of the difficulty in riding VRE for anyone not living in the hell hole that is Northern, VA this was my first ever trip on VRE, although I have covered the lines it uses via Amtrak. You can find the full set of photos here

We start on the lower level of Washington DC's Union Station where Amtrak has been using some P32-8WH's on VA service trains. Here is #514 awaiting its next assignment.

Well here is a rare beastie. I think all the MARC GP40WH-2 units had been sent back to MPI and turned into MP32PH-Qs. Guess I was wrong as #68 was puttering light around K interlocking.

So no railfan window means no photos until Manassas. Here gallery cab car V718 departs past the station platform towards the terminal at Broad Run, one stop to the south.

Ticketing on VRE is handled by an innovative Multi-ride POP system. Multiple rides can be placed on a ticket and then at time of validation they can be used up one at a time. Prices were rather expensive however with the 30 or so mile ride to Manassas costing about $9. Compared to older commuter lines in the Northeast VRE has remarkably few stops, but the 60mph or lower line speed results in leisurely travel times. 

The Manassas, VA platform is broken up by several grade crossings.

Here is the Manassas, VA station. Six Amtrak trains stop here with the Cardinal only operating 3 days per week.

Southern RR cabin car X699 on display at Manassas.

The dump track in front of the station is occasionally used for setting out private cars. The electric switch lock uses a General Railrway Signal apparatus.

Rear of the Manassas Station. I like the red tile roof.

Signal displayed on track #1 at MANASSAS interlocking for my return train to DC.

 The train soon showed up. I was expecting the same trainset I rode out on, but instead I was greeted by cab car V715.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

14-05-20 PHOTOS: VTA Express

The last time I was in San Jose back in 2008 I made ample use of the region's ample Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority light rail system. Built at throughout the 1990's .Com boom, the VTA Light Rail has seen some of its fortunes decline as the city he was meant to serve failed to see the growth that was anticipated. Even with housing prices exploding in nearby San Francisco, the second tech boom of today has failed to make the city less of a ghost town after hours because for some reason Google workers would want to pay more and drive more to live at the opposite end of the bay.

Well this year a conference that I attended last year moved to San Jose this year to reduce costs and that meant I would have the better part of the week to get out and see what fun I could make a fairly typical and bland light rail system. spoiler alert, there wasn't much I could do, however the VTA did provide convenient connections to the San Jose Diridon Station, home of Amtrak and Caltrain, as well as the Caltrain Tamien station south of the city. The one interesting thing the VTA itself had to offer was an extress service running from the Ohlone-Chynoweth station on the Santa Teresa Line north along the CA 87 corridor to downtown. I was able to try the express run for myself by getting up sufficiently early to make it down to Ohlone-Chynoweth and then catch the express train back.

You can find the full set of photos here

I'll begin at the San Jose Diridon Station which is one of the southern termini for the Caltrain service as well as Amtrak's Capitol Corridor. Here we see Caltrain F40PH-2CAT #901 sitting next to Amtrak F59PHI #2006. Apparently the F59PHI fleet got some sort of ECO Engine rebuilding even thought they were already equipped with 12-710's.

Here is MPI built F40PH-2C #922 also laying over at Diridon. With a build date of 1998 this was probably one of the last F40's ever made.

Well this is odd. Apparently Amtrak has taken to using P32-8WHs on the Coast Starlight. #510 sits behind P42DC #206 along with Heritage baggage car #1237.

Here is a video of a little three way I caught at the end of the San Jose platform. First a departing northbound Caltrain local departs track #5 and lights up the Christmas tree signal gantry at CP-SHARK. Next to it a Caltrain deadhead powered by F40PH-2CAT #916 heads back towards the Caltrain yard north of the station on track #6 under Restricting signals. Finally the aforementioned Amtrak Train 14 arrives on track #1.

Same Train 14 departing under an Advance Approach indication at CP-JULIAN CP-SHARK.

Here we see VTA LRV #914 about to depart Ohlone-Chynoweth towards San Jose. The signals at this station were interlocked with the pedestrian crossing protection.

Here is a little video montage of operations at Ohlone-Chynoweth including the arrival and departure of Almaden shuttle trains.

LRV #938 was on Almaden Shuttle duty. The ~1 mile spur serves a major mall and residential area south of where the Blue Line curves off to continue its route down a freeway median.

Specially wrapped "Express Service" LRV #995 pulls into Ohlone-Chynoweth. Hmmm, wonder if they have had trouble with people mistaking it for a local. The service runs express all the way to the convention center.

Here's a good place to insert a montage of some videos I took downtown.

The VTA uses some of the cheapest signaling I have ever seen. There is no reverse direction signaling, there is no ATC, no ATC, no cab signaling and not even providing for reverse direction signals...even at interlockings. A fixed reflector is used instead.

I went back to Ohlone-Chynoweth later that afternoon for better lighting. Here is an inbound Blue Line train with LRV #957 entering the station.

LRV #938 again at the Almaden terminal.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

14-05-10 PHOTOS: National Train Day 2014

I always try to get out and do something for national Train Day, usually because its a great way to earn bonus Amtrak Guest Rewards points. More often than not I usually find myself having to scurry through the top level displays as I wait for my non-excursion Amtrak train to take me somewhere like Pittsburgh or Georgia. Well since I had nothing else planned this year I decided to just head over to Amtrak's 30th St station and check out all the equipment on display on the lower level combined with a quick AGR trip to Downingtown via Amtrak's Keystone service. Accompanying me on this adventure was Sub Chat's very own Chuchubob.

You can find the full set of photos here

We begin with a photo tour of the Penn Coach Yards via the adjacent parking garage. Sir Not Appearing in This Equipment Display was private car Clipper Creek.

Amtrak AEM-7 #939 sits next to GP15 #575 at the Race Street Engine Terminal.

Heritage P32-8WH #512 and P42DC #33 were on hand for power change duties. 

Here is a quick video of SEPTA R5 and R7 trains departing simultaneously from the upper level of 30th St Station.

A rather dingy looking Amtrak AEM-7 #929 pushes past Chuchubob at Downingtown.

If I had had more time I would have walked down to get some better photos of DOWNS interlocking. Note the limited speed triangle on the 70L signal. DOWNS is remote controlled by a classic CTC console at THORN tower.

On the way out to Downingtown I took some video out the front of the leading Metroliner Cab Car. The first is running express between Villanova and Paoli and the second running from Paoli to Exton.

Outbound SEPTA local with Silverliner IV #289 on the rear as it passes the location of the old Downingtown MoW yard, which is now a superfund site.

AEM-7 #938 arriving with an eastbound Keystone at Downingtown.

This year for NTD Amtrak filled up tracks 1 and 2 at 30th St with all manner of "cool" equipment. First among these was Bennett Levin's PRR E8 #5809.

It sat across from Amtrak ACS-86 #606 with its horrendous LED headlights. Come on FRA, headlights shouldn't look like Restricting signals.