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Saturday, May 27, 2017

17-05-27 PHOTOS: Paw Paw Tunnel

The Paw Paw Tunnel is a 3,118-foot-long (950 m) canal tunnel on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in Western Maryland between Hancock and Cumberland.  Work started on the tunnel in 1836, although by the time the canal opened for service in 1850, the competing B&O railroad had been operating for over 8 years!  Still, railroad technology was still rudimentary and the railroad was only able to match the canal's rates by 1870.  The Canal continued in operation until 1924 at which point it was shut down and eventually preserved as a linear park between Washington, DC and Cumberland, MD.

Also included in this set are some nearby photos of modern day CSX operations on the former B&O main line.  You can see the full album here.

Access to the tunnel is from the east end where there is a parking lot and campground. The western portal is full of embellishment as this would be been an engineering marvel of its time.  There is a small put-in so that people can paddle small craft through the canal if they so desire.  An info board provides additional context about why the canal choose the tunnel route as opposed to following the bendy path of the river.  In terns of time and effort of construction, the idea probably backfired.

Detail of the keystone and inscription at the top of the western entry arch.

Eastbound interior view with flash and without.  The old towpath is what has made made this a natural trail conversion.  The adjacent Western Maryland RR trail project is stalled due to the need for engineering work to make the bridges and tunnels compatible with pedestrians and cyclists.

Approaching the eastern portal from the west.

Most of the tunnel is lined with brick.  The stone blocks are only at the ends for show and to support unstable rock.

Eastern portal is built like the western one.

You can see how trying to build a cut through the mountain was quickly proving to be unsustainable.

These large blocks of slate have been stabilized with tie bolts.

The opposite side of the cut. made of looser material, recently gave way and slid down into the canal, blocking it.

The eastern approach to the tunnel has three sets of locks to elevate boats to the level of the Potomac river on the other side of the bend.  This is lock number 66.

A boy scout troop had camped on an around Lock 62.  This shows the western gate structure that saw some concrete reinforcement before it was removed from service.

Across the Potomac River on the West Virginia side, one finds the CSX Cumberland sub.  ORLEANS ROAD interlocking was where the previously 4-track line allowed westbound trains to choose between the original, low grade, alignment that followed the river or the newer Magnolia Cutoff that literally cut off a number of river bends through a series of bridges and tunnels.  As freight locomotives became more capable the low grade route was abandoned and the line reduced to 2 tracks.  Here we see a Clear indication on track 2 for an eastbound train.

The Cumberland Sub between Hancock, WV and Cumberland, MD was part of an early B&O CTC project in the 1950's with ORLEANS ROAD included as the first interlocking west of the manned tower at HANCOCK.  The interlocking was re-signaled around 2012, but an adjacent property owner bought or was given the former eastbound B&O CPL bracket and it sits on his yard to this day.

Soon enough an eastbound merchandise train appeared with two CSX ES44AH's. #3136 and #719.

While exploring the old bracket signal I made a new friend! He was a bit shy however ;-)

Heading back to Baltimore I caught CSX AC4400 #271 on the Baltimore Belt Line exiting the Charles St tunnel.

Some BWI rail station action with Acela Express power car #2038 and MARC MP36PH-3C #23.

Southbound weekday MARC local with cab car #7845 meets northbound MARC express with MP36PH-3C #35 at the Amtrak/MARC BWI station around 4pm.

Finally, I made a pit stop in Salem, NJ to photograph Washington Union Terminal Company RS-1 #59.  The unit is in increasingly poor condition along with the rest of the former PRSL Salem Branch as the county tries to restore the line and attract new business to replace the departed Anchor Glass.

The old PRSL freight house still stands, but the yard has become completely overgrown.

Well that's it for this week.  Next time we have a special guest photo set from the Alaska Railroad.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

17-05-21 PHOTOS: Reading Line East

With the ongoing re-signaling project on the former Conrail Reading Line I have been making a point to document the old stuff before it is gone for good.  Last November I took a road trip to capture the western end of the line between CP-WEST LAUREL and CP-ALBURTIS.  Now it is time for the eastern end of the line comprising CP-ALBURTIS through CP-ALLEN and CP-HAM on the adjacent Lehigh Line for good measure. Located on the main east-west freight route out of the New York metro area there is no shortage of NS freight trains and the route is littered with so called railfan hotspots.

You can browse through all the photos taken on this trip here, but some of the less signal related highlights are below.

Allentown, PA was a huge hub for the Reading System and the associated Central RR of NJ.  Already a giant industrial center thanks to Bethlehem Steel and the nearby cement belt, Allentown marked the transfer point between the RDG and its subsidiary CNJ for traffic originating from the NY Metro area.  Both the CNJ and adjacent Lehigh Valley RR had large downtown passenger terminals on their own bypass tracks serving downtown Allentown.  After passenger operations collapsed the old stations were left stranded, but fortunately the old CNJ terminal has survived as a restaurant.

 CP-HAM is located on the former CNJ main line running north out of Allentown.  Back in the day the route between NYC and Scranton attracted new fewer than three rival railroads, the CNJ, Lehigh Valley and DL&W.  With the collapse of the coal based economy in the 1960's and 70's, Conrail reduced the operation to a single main line route.  The resulting Conrail Lehigh Line mostly used the the Lehigh Valley alignment (hence the name), but between Allentown and Lehighton, PA they switched over to the CNJ.  CP-HAM is the southern end of a controlled siding on the Lehigh Line as well as the western end of Allentown Yard.  The two headed searchlight signal is lit up due to the non-signaled yard track and displaying Approach to help flat switching movements.

Of course before the railroads there were canals.  The Lehigh Canal was one of many serving the coal region of PA.  At Easton the canal would transfer loads to the Morris Canal to NYC or the Delaware Canal to Trenton.

 NS has a fun habit of keeping its SD40-2 helper and switching sets in sibling pairs.  Here #6141 and #6140 flat switch at the west end of Allentown Yard, rounding the curve towards CP-HAM.  The units are set up for remote control operation, but were being run in the traditional fashion on this day.

Reading and Northern hopper car sporting a pretty nifty anthracite coal logo.  Previously popular for home heating, today anthracite is mostly used as a metallurgical source of carbon. 

Here a westbound manifest train works it way out of the yard and past the flat switching duo with C44-9W #9345 on the front.

Included in the consist was former Southern high hood GP38-2 #5019

 The full lashup consisted of C44-9W #9354 and 9609, ES44AC #8141, GP38-2 # 5019 and GP40-2 #3026. 

Here the train is crossing the famous CP-ALLEN truss bridge.  While typically a truss signifies a large span, in this case it was employed due to needing to allow clearance for canal traffic.  Today the former lock gate has been replaced by a concrete dam.

Some impressive graffiti  on a CSX box car crossing the Lehigh Canal.

Short video of the train crossing the Lehigh Canal with associated waterfall sounds.

So here was the crown jewel of my trip.  Conrail scale test car #80017.  The car is ex Pennsylvania Railroad PRR # 999953 and was built 1919!  Typically placed towards the end of a train this car is a known weight and is used around the system to calibrate weigh in motion and other scales. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

17-05-16 PHOTOS: New York Ave

If you are ever in Washington DC with a few minutes to spare before your train departs Union Station, consider taking the Red Line for an additional stop and spending your layover at the DC Metro New York Ave metro stop instead of the Union Station holding pens. Built in 2004 as an infill station between Union and Rhode Island Ave with some of the funding provided by nearby development interests, NY Ave offers unrestricted views of the Union Station trunk line between the J and K signal bridges of the terminal interlocking. With both revenue and deadhead trains from MARC, VRE and Amtrak in addition to the steady flow of WMATA trains, there is almost always something going on.

You can find the full set of photos here.

Thanks to the purge, the only electric locomotives being operated by Amtrak are of the ACS-86 variety, so that can get a bit monotonous, but LD trainsets can spice things up. Here #626 passes under the K Bridge en route to New York Penn.

#659 at the same location shoving a Regional trainset towards one of DC Union Station's stub end platforms.

As this was the weekday PM rush, WMATA trains were passing through every couple of minutes. One of these contained 3000 series class car Mr. 3000!

VRE train heading to one of the lower level tracks with MP36PH-3 #V66 and ex-Metra Pullman gallery car #V427.

Here we see a deadhead MARC trainset with bi-level K-Car #7857 and MP36PH-3C #22 passing an outbound Brunswick Line train with MP36PH-3C #33 and Bomber split level cab car #8056.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

17-04-20 PHOTOS: RBBX

In spring of 2017 the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus (reporting mark RBBX) packed up its tent for good. Attendance had been slowly declining for years, however the bottom fell out when the iconic circus elephant were retired due to pressure from PETA and other animal rights wingnuts. However RBBX's most enduring legacy was its fleet of performing heritage railcars organized into two touring productions, Red and Blue. While the railcars were never under threat from protest groups, the severe revenue shortfall made running two mile-long trains full of people and equipment unsustainable. Fortunately, fans were given several month's warning and thanks to the folks at Trains magazine, who published the schedule and route in advance, I was able to position myself in the Baltimore area to catch the Blue Unit train while it was berthed for a performance and later when it departed for Charleston, WV.

After the final performance I was fortunate to catch what was referred to as the "funeral train" wherein all cars not already sold and transferred would be combined into a single movement to be run down the East Coast to the RRBX compound in the Tampa area. To round out the photo set I have also included some pics of MARC and CSX operations in the Baltimore region. You can view the entire set of photos here.

We begin with a westbound MARC Camden Line train arriving at the Dorsey station from Baltimore with Bombardier split-level cab car #8048 in the lead. This is the first westbound train of the afternoon as the Camden line runs a peak only service in both directions.

Located off Maryland Rt. 100, the large park and ride facility makes the Dorsey Station a popular stop for both DC and Baltimore commuters.

Here MARC Mp36PH-3C #25 pushes the short split-level consist towards Washington DC, knocking down the Clear signal indication at DORSEY interlocking. The full crossover was installed in the early 90's to allow MARC trains to duck and weave around slower CSX freight trains on the Capitol Sub.

A few minutes later the "new" Dorsey Short Turn pulls into the track #2 platform from Washington, DC. A year or two ago, MARC was able to stretch its budget to include an extra early PM round trip originating in Washington, DC. To make everything work with their limited number of trainsets the round trip would have to turn at Dorsey, instead of running all the way to Baltimore. This isn't a huge deal as very few Camden Line riders continue beyond Dorsey. Today MARC MP36PH-3C #15 has the honors of leading the eastbound train.

This train consisted entirely of single level K-Cars with MARC #7762 leading the movement back west.

A little less than a month before the final performance on May 17th, the RBBX Blue Unit pulled into Baltimore for a week long engagement. The train was stabled at the typically vacant Mt. Claire Yard, which is located on the original B&O alignment that leads to the present site of the B&O museum and the Mt. Claire shoppes. The long string of heritage passenger cars was divided between two tracks. Performers traveling by road also had space in the yard to park their RVs.

At some point a shuttle bus arrived to ferry the performers to the Royal Farms arena in Downtown Baltimore. Before PETA threw a fit, the elephants and other equipment would parade down surface streets to reach the area from the rail-head.

I'm sure a website somewhere has a detailed history about all the RRBX cars, but I couldn't find it and it ultimately doesn't do you much good to hear me rattle through a list of dates and builders. The passenger cars served as dormitories for most of the performers and stage crew for the RRBX production. Previously all the animals would also ride the train, however the large cats were moved into trucks and, as I said, the elephants were retired.