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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

16-12-27 VIDEOS: SEPTA Mid-Winter Trip XVI

Since I got my go-pro it's become a habit for me to accompany the Mid-Winter photo post with a special video post and this year is no different.

Due to the ongoing PATCO refurbishment project, I was extra keen to get another video from the front seat. Unfortunately, while I was able to get an unrebuilt trainset, it had decided to rain again so the video is somewhat marred by raindrops on the railfan window. I did take the extra time to ride the train all the way to 15th/16th and Locust as most years I jump off at 8th and Market to proceed directly to Market East. Also, this year's commentary was provided by special guest, Fred G.

My next long format video comes from my GoPro being mounted on the rear of a SEPTA Rt 34 trolley as it runs from the Angora loop to the 33rd St Subway Surface station. Please excuse the GoPro popping off the window from time to time.

The next two videos were taken on the Fox Chase line and show a student engineer being instructed on how to deal with the new ACSES PTC system, now in service on SEPTA. Because the cab door was open on this Silverliner V I was able to document exactly how much this hunk of junk gets in the way of the engineer. As promoted by safety scolds a PTC system should only intervene if a train is going to enter an unsafe condition, however we can see that the braking curves are ridiculously conservative as the engineer is able to easily get back below it with what could be described as mild braking.

Moreover, the way the information is displayed makes the engineer very timid as he approaches the various restrictions. Finally, the system fails to take into account the existing safety margins that were already built into the speed restrictions, resulting in the margin for error being doubled. This is the reason SEPTA recently had to increase the scheduled runtime of its trains by 4-5 minutes.

Finally, here's a little MFL railfan window action with a run from 46th St to 8th and market.

Well that's all the video content from the 2016 MWT. Hope to see you all again next year!

16-12-27 PHOTOS: SEPTA Mid-Winter Trip XVI

Despite running for 16 years, the SEPTA Mid-Winter Trip is still capable of doing something new. This year the novelty came from a ride on the Route 34 Subway-Surface line to Angora (of wool fame), which had been neglected for so long since it is the only trolley route that doesn't connect with anything. The trolley bonanza would continue with a more typical Rt 10-Rt 15 combo that then ran seamlessly into a Broad Street Line express run to Fern Rock and Back. The afternoon featured a quick Fox Chase turn followed by a photo session at Temple University. A planned express run all the way to Newark, DE was scrapped in favor of two additional photo sessions at the 30th St Station garage and the Market Street elevated. Attendance was about 12 or so with different people joining and leaving throughout the day.

I know it's July, but I wanted to once again thank everyone for coming, I hope you had a good time and I hope to see your all again next year! You can find all the photos here, the long format videos will come later in a followup post.

The weather was kind of gross that morning, which seems to be a pretty common occurrence for MWT's, but it wasn't raining heavily enough to make us miserable or make photos impossible. As usual I started things off with an inbound express PATCO run to Center City. With unrebuilt cars getting fewer in number this might be the last year where I can take advantage of the railfan window. This year Vickers car #282 did the honors.

These wonderfully analogue destination signs will also be a thing of the past.

The Route 34 just sort of heads off into West Philadelphia south of Market and above the Rts 11 and 13 to Darby. There is a walking connection to the R3 Angora Regional Rail station, which I probably should have made use of before now and will definitely have to keep in mind for the future. Here we see SEPTA K-Cars #9028 and #9044 pulling into the station track on the Angora Loop.

Here we see #9028 ready to depart back to Centre City.

In the West Philly trolley tunnel under the University of Pennsylvania Campus, trolleys are always arriving every couple of minutes. However they are never the ones you need :-) Here is a Route 13 Yeadon, encountered while Waiting for a Route 10 at the 33rd St station.

SEPTA K-Car trolley action at the 33rd St station on the Subway part of the Subway-Surface system. Note the LED Christmas lights on the special SEPTA Holiday Trolley. This would be the first of three encounters with the Holiday Car that day.

K-Car #9108 eventually picked us up from 33rd St. and transported us to Girard Ave where we would transfer to a Rt 15.

Anything for a good photograph, eh? PCC II #2334 and K-Car #9105 at Girard Jct.

PCC II #2334 and K-car #9010 passing at Girard Jct.

Morning group shot of MWT XVI participants @ Girard Jct.

Friday, December 2, 2016

16-12-02 VIDEOS: North Central Races

So the video portion of my Chicago trip will include my morning round trip into Union Station via METRA's North Central Service. This commuter rail service was resurrected in 1996 on former Soo Line tracks then owned by the Wisconsin Central. In 2001 ownership passed to Canadian National with METRA operating as a guest using their own crews. A downside of METRA operated trains is that Metra's own crews will close off the front car with the railfan window outside of peak periods. This is one major reason I seek out opportunities to travel inbound towards Chicago during the rush.

I'll actually first want to begin with a video taken from the rear of my Capitol Limited train shortly after departing Washington, DC. I was able to record from Kensington to Germantown on the CSX Metropolitan Sub before rain covered the rear window and I completely lost light.

I started my trip at the O'Hare Transfer METRA station. While METRA is faster than a comparable CTA Blue Line trip, the service is much less frequent and requires a shuttle bus connection.

My inbound train was led by an 8500 series gallery cab car.

There are actually two morning express runs scheduled just a few minutes apart and I accidentally got on the first of the two when I had intended to ride the second. While the first train, #106, made an additional stop at River Grove, it turned out to be a much better ride. This is because #106 is scheduled to "race" inbound Milwaukee-West line train #2216 immediately after it rounds the North Central connection at Tower B-12. Despite our stop we not only managed to catch the MILW-West train, but also passed it heading into big junction at Western Ave!

Also note the unique *Y*/G Advance Approach Diverging signal indication that was installed on the line during a recent re-signaling project.

At Tower A-2 we were stopped to wait for crossing traffic on the UP-West line.

Just like a drag race the operator at Tower A-2 gave trains #106 and #2216 side-by-side Clear signal indications and we were off to the races again. This time my train stayed in the lead, but was ultimately stopped at Union Station while #2216 was allowed to go in ahead of us because my train #106 was early.

Unfortunately, the approach to the north side of Chicago Union Station has been overbuilt for a new urban park. Maybe cities should realize that watching trains is a form of recreation :-(

As expected, on the return the rear-facing cab car was closed and I pretty much had nothing to do. Getting off at the Rosemont, IL station I grabbed this shot of METRA cab car #8502 as it passed through CN JCT 19 interlocking.

Well that's everything I have for this video supplement. Next week it will be time for the 2016 SEPTA Mid-Winter Trip!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

16-12-01 PHOTOS: North Central Limited

So every year I try to make it out to Chicago and after a 2 year hiatus I would once again be patronizing the Capitol Limited in the process. Unfortunately I would be taking the train in the westbound direction during the month of November, which meant that I was pretty much out of light upon departure from Washington, DC. Further on, light travel closed the rear coach so I lost my other chance at train-based photography. However I was able to patronize the new First Class Lounge at Chicago Union Station and get some photos of the CUS yard complex from Roosevelt Ave while walking to Trader Joes.

The video content from the trip will come in a followup post and consists of a North Central Service express run inbound to Union Station from O'Hare. You can view the full set of photos here.

The engines for my Train 29 that day were Amtrak P42DC's #51 and #133, seen here sitting at the long platform with K Tower at the end.

On the opposite track was MARC MP36PN-3C #16.

As this was the height of the evening rush, a VRE gallery car trainset hauled by VRE MP36PH-3C #V65 made its way from Ivy City to the lower level of Union Station.

Out on the old B&O main line, between the new crossover at MONTROSE and the station stop at Rockville, we had a friendly race with a set of classic style WMATA equipment on the Red Line.

Due to the time of year and the crappy weather I lost light pretty quickly, but I did manage to snage these interesting photos of the Metropolitan Grove and Germantown MARC stations. Come on Germantown, install some LED lighting already!

Skipping ahead to Chicago, Amtrak P42DC's #76 and #67 were both at the Lumber St locomotive shoppes.

P42DC #133 at the end of its run in Chicago Union Station.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

16-11-27 PHOTOS: Thanksgiving at the Airport

One handicap of the Halethorpe Station is the presence of a track fence that somewhat mars the view of trains in the opposing direction. The low level West Baltimore MARC station lacks such a fence, but that station is located on a low speed section of track that makes video coverage bit less exciting. The clear solution to my problem was the Martin State Airport MARC station off I-95 north of the City. Not only is it equipped with low level with duckboard platforms serving all 4 tracks(!), but Amtrak trains pass the station at full speed. There is only limited MARC weekend service outside the daylight hours, but with unobstructed photo angles I figured that the Martin Airport station would be just as strong as a railfan magnet as the Halethorpe Station had been. It would also allow me to catch the second of the Holiday Extra Arrow sets about 30 minutes earlier in the day, which was important this late in the year.

Unfortunately, my prediction turned out to be wildly off the mark as not a single other railfan showed up throughout the 2 hours I was camped out at Martin airport. While things got a little boring from time to time, I did indeed get a number of great photos, although towards the end of the day I had found myself transported to Planet Golden Hour and, unlike director Michael Bay, even I can admit when there is too much of a good thing. End result was I caught both southbound Arrow Holiday Extras, one MARC holiday extra and one Amtrak Regional Extra. You can find the full set of photos here.

First on the scene was Amtrak Train 91, the southbound Silver Starve, pulled by ACS-86 #655. Fortunately I had already purchased my lunch at a nearby IKEA.

Amtrak Acela Express train #2254, with power car #2025, and another southbound AX with power car #2038, show off the ideal lighting available at Martin Airport at that time of year. 

Northbound lighting was not so good as seen here with a 10-car Train 96 pulled by ACS-86 #646.

A bit of cloud had drifted in frot of the sun when Amtrak Holiday Extra #1057 rolled by with NJT Arrow III #1392 in the lead.

 Wider angle shot of Weekend AX #2251 with power car #2003.

Unfortunately my luck did not hold out and MARC equipped Holiday Extra #1065 was powered by Amtrak ACS-86 #608 instead of a MARC HHP-8. Still, a 6 car single level train trailed by cab car #7756 was a nice sight in the era of split level coaches.

Golden Hour was in full swing as Holiday Extra train #1099 passed by with NJT Arrow III #1361 leading. Note the crowd of people in the vestibule cab. I also got a nice acknowledgement on the horn.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

16-11-13 PHOTOS: HOLMES for the Holidays

One of my more enjoyable Thanksgiving traditions involves heading out with Chuchubob om thanksgiving Wednesday to catch the smattering of extra trains and additional cars added to the usual NEC lineup in order to accommodate the increased holiday crowds. In past years we have tended to gravitate towards the Trenton area, photographing the NEC at such locations as Bristol, Levittown and Morrisville and then wandering by West Trenton to top up with some SEPTA and CSX action. This year Bob and I decided to stay a bit closer to home, hopping across Ye Olde Betsy Ross Bridge to the Holmesburg Jct SEPTA station and Amtrak interlocking. This also allowed us to get our quota of freight action wrapped up ahead of time with a quick stop by the Cove Road grade crossing just shy of CP-HATCH at the north end of Pavonia Yard. You can check out the full set of all these photos here.

Acting on one of Bob's tips, we managed to catch rare Blue CN C40-8W #2455 that was coupled ahead of NS C44-9W #9344 on Train 39G.

As we took pictures of 39G, the Pemberton Branch local freight arrived from the yard NS GP38-2's #5278 and #5271 providing the power. Here's a photo of the local power edging up next to NS standard cab SD70 #2559.

 The third track at Cove Rd is for the NJT RiverLINE light rail and with 15-20 minute headways we were on hand to catch #3514A heading southbound.

Three wide at Cove Road!

Moving on to Holmesburg Jct we caught an inbound SEPTA R7 Silverliner V trainset with #716 in the lead.

 Holmesburg Jct is still a junction in the form of HOLMES interlocking, a 4-track full crossover with a connection to a 5th industrial track and the Bussleton Branch. The old HOLMES tower is actually part of the SEPTA station building.

The first interesting sight was the northbound Train 86, hauled by ACS-86 #638, which was sporting an extra Horizon coach.

Next up was Train 51, the westbound Cardinal, running a couple hours late from its initial terminal and pulled by ACS-86 #608.

Of course there were hourly R7 trains in each direction running with extra cars. SL-IV #298 appeared on an eastbound example shown here passing under the HOLMES westbound signal bridge.

There were also hourly Acela runs such as this example bracketed by power cars #2010 and #2015.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

16-11-20 PHOTOS: Reading Line West

The former Conrail Reading Line runs from the west end of Allentown Yard to Wyomissing Jct, just west of Reading, PA. Until now it has been run as a traditional single direction Rule 251 ABS signaled railroad, but ever since the Harrisburg Line between Reading and Harrisburg was converted to bi-directional Rule 261 ~2000 there has been mounting pressure to eliminate the final bastions of 251 operation on one of the busier railroad trunk lines in the east. Prior to Thanksgiving weekend I took a road trip out to Reading country to join friend of the show Kevin Painter for a little informal trip to check out the outgoing signal locations on the eastern part of the Reading Line between Reading and Alburtis, PA. We also caught quite a number of passing NS freight trains running to and from the New York/New Jersey market. You can find the full set of photos here

The Reading Railroad was built to service the anthracite coal fields north of the city and deliver the goods down the river to Philadelphia. However as coal diminished in importance for household heating, Reading focused on other markets including its east-west corridor connecting New York with points west that bypassed the PRR/NYC duopoly in that market. Also, by the 1950's, dieselization meant that east-west through freights did not need to stop for servicing in the Reading terminal area, but the coal age layout was adding unnecessary delays to an increasingly important source of traffic. The solution was a new single track "low grade" line that linked the junction of the Reading Belt Line and Main Line (Belt Jct) north of Reading with the original East Penn line to Allentown at Blandon. Not only did the new track bypass the congested terminal, it did, as the name implies, decrease the ruling grade from 1.1% to 0.6%. The old route, now called the Hill Track, declined in importance and was ultimately ripped out in 1989.

The Low Grade line went along with a state of the art signaling scheme provided by General Railway Signal. Minor interlockings in the Reading area were put under the remote control of two towers, OLEY and VALLEY JCT. Of course both of those towers were eventually remote controlled themselves around 1990 and then most of the territory they controlled were re-signaled in the waning years of Conrail. However, the short stretch of Low Grade Line between CP-BELT and CP-BLANDON remained untouched until today. Here we see a clear signal indication for the Main track at CP-WEST LAUREL, which marks the end of a short siding between here and CP-BELT. The signals are GRS originals from the 1950's as is the poured concrete relay hut.

The signal was for an eastbound doublestack intermodal train that I caught at the Tuckerton Rd crossing within the limits of CP-LAUREL just about a mile east of CP-WEST LAUREL. That train was led by a trio of NS C44-9W's including #9276, #9612 and #8916.

CP-LAUREL is the home of the former Reading Temple Station, which is the once and future terminus of the Reading and Northern's Berks County passenger service. Today the station area hosts an R&N SW8 switcher as well as a number of former Reading RR coaches purchased from SEPTA including former Reading MU car #9103.. 

Soon after an Approach Limited signal popped up on the eastbound 330L signal, which was soon followed by a TOFC intermodal train hauled by NS C44-9W #9826, C44-10W #7654 and SD70ACe #1154.

You can really tell this interlocking is original 1950's equipment by looking at the concrete relay hut with above ground, cotton insulated cabling strung out to the remote locations. If you look at the signal charts the switches and signals are still numbered in accordance to the old interlocking machine OLEY tower.

Here we see NS SD60E #7006 passing the 330R signal with a westbound merchandise freight. 

Three back in the lashup was UP SD70M #3895.

The 330R signal immediately displayed an Approach indication, but nothing was forthcoming and I decided to move on. Note the Reading style sideways mounted bottom head used for restricting indications. Also, there exists a short 1 mile signal block between CP-LAUREL and CP-WEST LAUREL immediately after a long descending grade. This is one of those locations that keeps crews on their toes.

CP-BLANDON is the junction where the east end of the low grade line split off from the Hill Track. With coal region traffic pretty much dead by the 1980's Conrail developed a plan to re-organize the east-west traffic patterns for eastbound trains to use the Low Grade Line and westbounds the Hill Track. Of course this would force traffic to cross at both ends of the route as well as clearance improvements through the Reading yard complex so ultimately Conrail accepted the single track bottleneck on the Low Grade route and took the Hill Track out of service in 1983. Ironically, the route was temporarily returned to service in early 1984 when part of the Low Grade line fell into a quarry south of CP-WEST LAUREL, however by 1989 determined that the excess capacity was no longer needed and lifted the rails. Here we can see another pair of NS C44-9W's, #9528 and #9068, hauling an eastbound merchandise freight and if you look carefully you can still see where the Hill Track right of way diverged.