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Monday, December 28, 2015

15-12-28 PHOTOS: SEPTA Mid-Winter Trip XV

This was another SEPTA Mid-Winter milestone year with the event now in its XVth iteration. The focus this year was on the R3 West Chester/Trenton and the Rts 101/102 Suburban trolleys. Due to issues with using the day pass to West Trenton, the trip started with an R3 run out to Neshaminy where one could quickly catch the return train. Instead of proceeding back to Center City we next alighted at Fern Rock for the traditional Broad Street Line express run to 30th St (via the MFL) in order to catch another R3 out to Media. From there it was time for lunch followed by a cross county Rt 101/102 trip utilizing a transfer at Drexel Hill Jct. After a walking transfer, the planned photo shoot at the Sharon Hill R2 station was a bit underwhelming, but this was made up for by a few minutes at Temple University.

Attendance was about 15 persons of all ages and I want to thank everyone for coming. All of my photos for the event can be found right here.

The trip started off well enough with me not botching the inbound PATCO express run video. Last year my GoPro was a new purchase and I still didn't have the hang of its minimalist interface and various quirks. This year I've finally managed to get a handle on the little beastie.

We begin the official part of the trip on the Reading Viaduct with SEPTA AEM-7 #2303 returning as a deadhead through downtown, possibly en-route to Frazier for maintenance. I had previously seen this trainset at Market East discharging its revenue passengers in time for work. Note the mismatched numberboards.

Another returning deadhead set of SL-IV's with #388 in the lead near North Broad.

Not every trainset would need to be reshuffled. As usual there was a conga line of trains waiting to get into Roberts Yard at HUNT interlocking.

SEPTA SL-IV #164 processing over the double slip switches at HUNT.

SL-IV #102 at Wayne Jct.

Freight action on the Trenton Line representing three of the big four American railroads headed up by CSX ES44AC #3173 teamed with a BNSF GE and NS EMD towing a unit crude oil train. This train has just come off the New York Short Line and will descend the grade down to CP-NICE where it will then head to South Jersey via CP-PARK.

AEM-7 #2305 sitting on the third track at Fern Rock waiting its afternoon call to action. Behind it is the only operating ALP-44 #2308 attached to its trainset.

The spike of railfans alighting from SL-V #869 at Neshaminy.

SL-V #702 pulling away from the Neshaminy station. This was the site of the old NESH interlocking where the New York Short Line freight bypass that previously departed the passenger route at Newtown Jct, rejoins. Throughout the Reading era the line between here and Yardley consisted of 4 tracks to accomidate the combined passenger and freight traffic. Before 1994 the SEPTA and Conrail tracks were seperated to Woodbourne and just this past summer they were seperated all the way to West Trenton. 

Group photo time! Those who attended from the start of the trip got the best sunlight. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

15-12-27 PHOTOS: Keep on the Sunnyside

I can't speak for everyone, but the novelty of riding the same historic subway cars over the same route year after year has its limits. This is why my new policy is to pair my quasi-annual nostalgia train excursion with something else in the NYC metro area. Two years ago I had some success visiting some LIRR signals in Queens and this year I settled on a little walking tour of Sunnyside Yard via the Honeywell Bridge.

The weather wasn't super cooperative, but that's December for you. You can see the entire set of photos here.

The early morning fog was making things a little Erie at the Trenton Transportation Center after connecting from a RiverLINE parking shuttle. The circling murder of crows only added to the unnerving atmosphere. At least the signals were putting on a show.

R1/9 #100 sitting at Second Ave. About 5 minutes prior a surly NYCTA employee, angry I would not tell him "what I was looking at" (answer, 5 FTE's sitting around getting paid to do nothing on a Sunday morning) told me that the holiday train had been canceled. Yeah, fuck you too buddy. 

The success of the holiday Nostalgia Train program is undeniable, however the increasing popularity has pushed out the original fans in favor of yuppies and hipsters who wouldn't be able to tell an R1 from an R9 if one trapped them in the doors and dragged them along the platform. The only way to get a halfway descent ride is to show up for the first run and even then the train quickly went SRO.

To avoid the crush at the railfan window, this year I employed my GoPro to stand there for me. Videos to follow in an additional post.

#100 at Queens Plaza waiting on its Diverging Approach Restricting signal.

R1/9 #401 getting the flash treatment at 2nd Ave.

BMT Triplex #6112 was on hand as a popup Transit Museum annex.

15-12-28 VIDEOS: GoPro Nostalgia Train

In previous posts I have lamented the growing crowds on the Holiday Nostalgia Train. Moreover, a number of MTA busy bodies see fit to place children in front of the railfan window no matter their order of arrival. Until now the method of dealing with these problems had either been complaint or shamelessness, but now there is a technological fix. Thanks to miniaturized HD cameras and suction cup technology, I no longer have to press my face to the front window to shoot video through the front window.

This would be my third go at videoing the Holiday Nostalgia Train. The first was in standard def. The second in high def and this one would be in Go Pro high def with a fixed mount. For this one a fortuitous placement of a red holiday bow on the front of the train allowed part of the RWF to remain reflective creating an in-camera picture-in-picture effect so you can watch the reaction of myself and others as the train proceeds on its run.

First up is the first run of the day, Second Ave to Queens Plaza. I have to give some credit to the kids because they actually knew my videos and also knew me by voice! Not often I get to meet some of my fans. Thanks guys, you make all the effort worthwhile.

Of course here is the return trip from Queens Plaza to 2nd Ave. Due to some unexplained delays, this run took six minutes longer. The highlight of this run actually occurs at the very end. Because of the Museum Annex triplexes, our train was signaled into the 2nd Ave platform over two R/R/Y Call-on signals, complete with manual key-by.

I could stop here, but I also an additional pair of Nostalgia Train videos showing the old school door operation involving the conductor standing between the card. The first video is shot from inside the train as it pulls into 6th Ave.

The second shows the conductor from the platform as the train relays at Queens Plaza.

Well that's it. Tune in next time for the famous SEPTA Mid-Winter Trip, 2015 edition.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

15-12-20 PHOTOS: BSM Annual

Every year as Christmas begins to roll around I make a point to visit Ye Olde Baltimore Streetcar Museum as their seasonal Santa runs provide an extra dose of photographic subject matter. Although the content of museums tends to change slowly over time, in recent years the BSM's collection has been expanding at a rapid clip as it acquired a number cast offs from SEPTA's back lot so at the very least I wouldn't be photographing the exact same equipment in the exact same places.

Unfortunately it was during this visit that I learned that Dan Lawrence had passed away in October of 2015. I hadn't been able to run into Dan at the BSM for the better part of a decade, but I always asked if he was around. Whatever issues people had with his personally this is a huge loss to the community, although I suspect his grandson will be able to step into Dan's role if he wants. You can find all the photos here.

The BSM sweeper C-145 sits adjacent to former NSC PCC #26. The weather was great for a mid-December afternoon.

I could not recall seeing #26 out and about the last time I had visited. Maybe we'll get to see it in operation sometime soon.

PCC #7404, a BTC survivor, is of course the BSM's original PCC car.

Funny how 5 120v light bulbs, wired in series, equals the 600 volts of most trolley systems. Coincidence? 

SEPTA PCC #2168 was once again performing the task of shuttling young children to their meeting with Santa at the 28th St loop.

BTC #6119 was providing the non-Santa service.

Friday, December 4, 2015

15-12-04 VIDEOS: Blue Island RFW Round Trip

Both paths to Blue Island from downtown Chicago via METRA offer express options. Electric trains often run express from Kensington to Randolph Street Station after exiting the painfully slow Blue Island branch, and Rock Island trains that travel the Main Line between Blue Island and Gresham Jct also bypass the closely spaced stops through Beverly.

Furthermore, with the replacement of the old METRA Highliners now complete, all Electric Division trains now offer railfan windows in both direction and, of course, the push-pull trains offer a railfan view on inbound trips. I was able to string together a wonderful pair of trains that provided a full RFW round trip express run. Outbound, I caught an early morning reverse peak express to Blue Island, basically a deadhead move that bothered to collect a few extra fares. Inbound I caught the last Joliet Express of the morning.

Here is the Electric Line express run from Randolph Street to Kensington. Other stops included Van Buren, Roosebelt, 57th St, 63rd St and Kensington. This video was shot with a GoPro cupped under my hand as I stood at the front RWF to avoid any issues with the crew. Check out around the 14:00 mark for one of the last Highliner trainsets still in service.

This second video is far less exciting and shows the METRA Electric Blue Island branch. This is a single track branch with a single passing siding at Pullman. Trains move via the Controlled Block system, which is basically APB. No dispatcher intervention is needed to switch traffic or display signals. All the stops are flag stops and with few passengers, few stops are made, however since we were then running early there was a bit of a delay at Pullman waiting for the inbound train to pass. Also note the wheel screech on the sharp curve entering the branch.

Finally here is the inbound Rock Island express trains. It makes the two stops between Blue Island and Gresham as well as 35th Street near the White Sox Stadium. This was shot with my usual still camera. Note towards the end the train passing through the famous 16TH ST crossing interlocking with its 1902 vintage interlocking tower. Also note the lineup of MP36PH-3 power at La Salle St Station.

Well that's it for this week. Next time we check in with Ye Olde Baltimore Streetcar Museum.

15-12-04 PHOTOS: Blue Island

Those of us from Philly like to point out things like the Chestnut Hill East and Chestnut Hill West lines as an example of extravagant redundancy. However, this sort of setup is not unique to the Philly area with its dueling railroads. In Chicago both the Illinois Central and Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific, wound up serving the southern Chicago suburb if Blue Island with competing commuter rail services. In this case the community was actually located on the Rock's main line, while the IC was the one reaching in with electric service from is own main line in Kensington.

In addition to two parallel stations, Blue Island also hosts an active interlocking tower with a vintage 1950's CTC panel that controls a sizable portion of the Rock Island line between here and Joliet. The Rock was almost completely abandoned in the 1980's with METRA directly purchasing the commuter portion and Iowa Interstate nabbing the rest. Like other examples of commuter railroads in the Northeast, METRA was slow to close the towers with ROOT ST, GRESHAM JCT, BLUE ISLAND and UD (in Joliet) all in operation up through the 1990's. Today only BLUE ISLAND is still manned.

My trip to Chicago also included brief stops at the Halstead St. METRA station along with a brief walk across the famous Roosevelt St. bridge. You can check those and all the other photos out here.

We begin at the Rosedale CTA stop where 3600 series Budd #3023 is arriving at the head of an inbound train.

Amtrak P42DC #88 passing through the infrequently served METRA Halstead Station on the Aurora Line with an Illinois service train.

I was visiting Halstead St to take pictures of the old 1990's vintage searchlight signals at the large UNION AVE interlocking plant. Unfortunately they had been alreadyreplaced. Of course the searchlight signals in the Eola area are still standing some 3 years after re-signaling efforts began.

Moving to Roosevelt Ave, here we see the lineup of trainsets in the METRA storage yard awaiting the evening rush.

F40PH's #122 and 189 outside the engine-house.

BNSF operates the Aurora Line under contract to METRA and sometimes supplies its own switchers to work the coach yard. Here GP39-3 #2655 switches a trainset.

Across the way Amtrak P32-8W #500 switches private car Sierra Hotel.

Amtrak cabbage F40 #90219 sits attached to a trainset of Superliners, possibly marking it as the Pere Marquette.

The next morning I encountered more CTA Budd 2600 cars at Rosemont.

Gallery Highliner #1243 at the IC Blue Island Station. How I got there will be the subject of a forthcoming video post.

You can see how close the RI station is to the IC station. Forget about a Swampoodle connection to enable electrification to Joliet, the IC line is terribly slow, runnung down streets and through back yards at 40mph. It is also single track with only a single passing siding. 

METRA's BLUE ISLAND tower was high tech shit back in the 1950's when it was built. CTC signaling using an N-X model board all contained in something akin to an air traffic control tower.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

15-11-29 PHOTOS: Halethorpe Thanksgiving 2016

Railfan Thanksgiving is the day when fans from across the northeast descend on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor to catch not only extra trains and extra cars, but also leased commuter equipment giving fans both north and south coveted photos of foreign power. Also making this year's Thanksgiving Sunday poignant was the presence of now mostly retired HHP-8's on the leased MARC trains and what will certainly be the final Thanksgiving appearance of the venerable AEM-7.

In 2014 MARC opened a new high level platform station at Halethope, MD. Last year a number of mostly young railfans had discovered that the new station was a great place to watch the Thanksgiving Sunday parade. This year even more fans had joined them, with numbers reaching the 20-30 range, making Halethorpe one of the hottest spots on the southern NEC.

While the weather was rather crummy, I was able to use my body mount GoPro strategy from Levittown to capture both videos and stills. You can find the full set of photos here.

One major new selling point for Halethorpe as a venue is that he now hosts MARC weekend service on Sundays. While the 2-hourly headways aren't super amazing, it's a lot better than nothing. Making their debut this year are new MARC Bike Cars made from old single level coaches like #7710 shown here.

MARC MP36PH-3C #13 pushing the shot weekend train towards DC.

In what would become a familiar pattern for the afternoon, new ACS-86 #651 hauls a long southbound Regional on track 3. 

I had timed my arrival to coincide with the scheduled arrival of the first Holiday Extra, #1057, using leased NJT Arrow III.

The second MARC holiday extra of the day, #1064, soon followed in the opposite direction with HHP-8 #4915 in the head.

The second big advantage of Halethorpe is WINANS interlocking located just south of the station along with automatic signals 1031 and 1033 on track 2 and 3. Here the northbound MARC weekend trainset coasts towards its stop with MP36PH-3C #31.

Friday, November 27, 2015


I don't get out to Winslow Junction as much as I should, and by "as much as I should", I mean more than once a decade. WJ used to be my go to place for railfanning in South Jersey, usually on random weekends with my father. However in recent years my general unavailability combined with his decreased activity lead to Winslow Junction being that place we'll get around to visiting "next time". Well, finding myself at a severe loss for content in 2015, I decided to take a little detour from my Black Friday shopping to swing by what used to be one of the busiest rail interlockings in the entire world.

You can find the full set of photos of my trek around the old complex here.

Of course the real stars of the Southern Railroad of New Jersey are the two F7A cab units that used to work the Salem Branch between Salem, NJ and Swedesboro, NJ. They are former B&LE units and numbered 727 and 728. #728 is painted in NYO&W colors because the former SRNJ owner had a bit of a crush on the NYO&W.

#727 is painted in a CNJ heritage scheme, but after years out in the elements, some of the B&LE heritage is showing through.


The SRNJ had a couple of old GE 44-toners and NYOW painted #105 is the one that is still around.

This is what happens when you park your locomotive in a bad neighborhood. #1801 is a rare GE U18B U-Boat

CMSL Tony doesn't have a monopoly on RDC's in South Jersey. SRNJ #7 used to belong to the NYS&W running a passenger service in Syracuse, NY. When that railroad's eccentric owner died the service was promptly shut down and the RDC's sold.

Former CN MLW M420 #3519 is up on the good kind of blocks, getting its front truck rebuilt.

Traction motor armature. might want to cover that.