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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.