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Saturday, June 25, 2011

NECR ARRA Photo Project Rail Arrives!

Almost two weeks to the day from the rail's rolling at the Steel Dynamics Inc. Columbia City, IN mill and had our special stickers applied, it was laid in front of the White River Jct., VT depot.  The project, which followed the production of the rail for the New England Central's ARRA High Speed Rail project from scrap metal pile through the entire process, including the welds to load 1,640-foot strands on the delivery train.  Rail that I followed through the entire process was serial number identified, followed through the mill and welding and then had the stickers applied for this project.

Rail Train #11 is seen rolling through the sweeping curve at Royalton, VT with Eaton's Sugar House visible in the distance.

A few weeks back, when the NECR Rail Train #9 arrived on the property, I pulled out charts that I had for what rail was being replaced and the NECR track chart to start figuring on crossings that would be cut and tried to map out which train would deliver rail that would land in front of the White River Jct. depot.  My math calculations (and I made a whole spreadsheet up to do double check this!) forecast that Rail Train #12 would end at or very close to the depot.  As the train moved quickly from Chicago to Toronto and Montreal, I recalculated and contacted Project Manager, Ron Bocash to see how we could land these particular rails at the WRJ depot if the train didn't quite make it, but my confidence remained high that we would be in good shape.

Rail Train #12 crosses the East Alburgh Trestle in Vermont as part of CN train M32421-21 on June 21.  Several cars of freight are seen ahead of the loaded rail train, but from the shore of Lake Champlain, I noted the stickers we applied and realized that they had survived unscathed.

On June 23, the Rail Laying Gang from Railworks, headed up by Foreman James and under the oversight of RailAmerica's Foreman Mike Goad and LB Foster Co.'s Jerry Logston, began laying rail at mile 24.5 in Sharon, VT.  The train is seen crossing the White River and the tell-tale bridge as to who this line once belonged to.  I planned this shot for some time to promote the rebirth of the Central Vermont and a bright burst helped illuminate the passage of the Rail Train #12.

As the train progressed toward White River Junction on June 24, I watched as it crossed the White River at West Hartford, VT and the NECR train crew of Chris Des Lauriers and Kevin Cullanine made a back-up move to make a straight lay (we'll detail why this is necessary in the book later this year).

Nearing the end of the day on June 24, Rail Train #12 is rounding the curve off the bridge in West Hartford near Mile 19 on the Roxbury Sub.  By this point, the number of strands remaining on the train and conversation with both LB Foster's Jerry Logston and RailAmerica's Mike Goad, indicated that we were certainly going to be very close to getting the project rail laid at the White River Jct. depot.

In a phone briefing with Jerry on Friday night, it appeared that everything and all the planning had paid off to this point.   Despite several days of rain and inclement weather, enthusiasm was high by the entire laying gang that we were going to be able to pull off making the White River Jct. depot.  Several plans were formulated and discussed and, in the end - it was all coming together as I had calculated.  On June 25, Jerry Logston communicates with Foreman Mike Goad (out of focus on the crow's nest just ahead of the threader cars) to adjust the rail guides.

With less than three-quarter miles remaining on the train, the project rail is laid in front of the White River Jct. depot!  A VERY special thanks to all of the personnel involved in getting the project to this point.  Thanks to: Charles Hunter and Ron Bocash of the NECR for giving me the green light to move forward with this monumental task; to Fred Warner and Doug-Rees Evans at Steel Dynamics, Inc. for bringing me in to document the process of rolling the rail for the NECR project; Jerry Logston, Greg Lippert and Jake Fuellhart of LB Foster, Co. for providing me with logistical and transportation information and data; CF&E for their cooperation in supplying a corporate image with a clean locomotive; a variety of NECR train crews who handled these trains and were very hospitable at every step of the way; the RailWorks gang responsible for the unloading of these rail trains (specific names are needed...) and many more individuals that have contributed data along the way to help track these trains, including Mike Collins.  The project is far from over and there will be many more aspects that will be documented, joining the several thousand photos already on hand.  The book that will be released late this year will comprehensively cover the entire rebirth of the former Central Vermont territory.

Watch for future updates...  Again - not all photography is represented in these reports as many different and unique views will be presented in book format.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Road to SDI-Columbia City, IN: Day 2


With an afternoon stop at LB Foster to meet with folks regarding the New England Central Railroad rail project, I figured on an O-Dark-Thirty venture from my parent's house west via Gallitzin and Pitcairn.  With no real timeline or objective enroute, I took my time and cruised out US Route 22 across the middle of my home state (Pennsylvania).  The journey allowed me to listen in on what was coming west with hopes of catching something out in the western part of the state.  I wasn't extremely motivated on the journey as the temp and dew point were so tight that it might as well have been complete fog cover.  I realized at this point that I don't miss the haze and air quality alerts that exist down here!  Heading straight for Gallitzin, I wanted to see if I could manage a shot at the long-dormant AR Tower.  On my arrival there, a C95 helper set of rebuilt SD50s-turned SD40E were awaiting their clearance out onto the main to tie on the rear of a train for a shove over Horseshoe curve.

Continuing west via Cresson, I observed all but two of the NS ex-Conrail SD80MACs heading west and assumed that they were heading for their haunt at South Fork, PA.  I noted the time and quickly pulled up the Amtrak Pennsylvanian schedule, did some math and determined I might be able to make South Fork before Amtrak did.  I pulled into town to realize that the SD80MAC consist was holding the main and awaiting their turn to cross over and then pull down the South Fork Secondary.  My guess at this point was that with Amtrak due through here within minutes, I would capture a shot of the 'meet' and then continue on.  The visibility and weather reminded me of being in Maine during the huge Quebec forest fires.  I would obviously have to make due as it is the only weather I'm going to get ;-)  The Amtrak 44/SD80MAC power move meet at South Fork was a success...

With the weather being somewhat of a non-motivational factor, I decided that I'd continue toward Pittsburgh and perhaps get an early meeting before continuing west for points in Ohio and Indiana on the way to Columbia City.  On the way, I did decide that I'd like to check out the Pitcairn, PA area since it has been since 1996 that I last visited.  Essentially - only the names and colors have changed!  Hearing a couple westbound trains in the picture didn't lend itself to at least halfway decent lighting.  The extremely filtered sunlight still favored the eastbound traffic despite being now around 1130-1200 hrs.  Finally hearing an eastbound approaching, I set up for a longer lens view to try and pull in some of the hillside homes that sit distantly to the multi-track NS Pittsburgh Line.  Soon the NS 36A train rolled into view with a nice consist of ES44DC 7719 and SD70M-2 2644 (amazingly out of all the consists I'd see - this set I would see later in the week!).  

I checked with LB Foster and figured on a 1330 arrival, thus necessitating a 1245 hr departure from Pitcairn. Just as I decided that it was time to leave, I heard the NS 20V call the Wing signal just west of Pitcairn.   OK - I have time for one more and thankfully I went for it, as it proved to be advantageous in two regards - a single NS C40-9W would allow more visibility of the train AND of course the big one is the former Pennsy position-light signals in front of the former Westinghouse Brake plant!  

With a straight drive over to the LB Foster headquarters (which by the way is in the same complex as the old Conrail Pittsburgh Division dispatch offices above the WLE Rook Yard!), I observed not only the WLE red/yellow GP35 2662 switching the yard, but an eastbound freight had arrived the yard with WLE 100 (the Ohio Centennial unit...), however the lighting was poor to shoot either and I passed on shots there.  Following my Foster visit, I looked at the map on my iPhone and essentially said - "where should I go now?"   With a few coin tosses, it was Brewster, Ohio bound, via US Route 30 and a short jaunt through the West Virginia panhandle, following the Ohio Central Railroad trackage.  Nothing materialized on the OHCR, however I did run across the RJ Corman / RailPower RP20BD GenSet 5400 at the RJ Corman Cleveland Line yard in Dover, OH.

Back on the road, my arrival in Brewster was greeted with more wrong-way lit and/or poorly lit WLE units.   Next coin toss lead me to Bucyrus, OH.  On my way to Bucyrus, I listened to several trains talking and as I rolled off the exit, I heard the NS 15V calling signals into town.  I headed for the Route 98 crossing by the large grain elevator there in anticipation of getting said 15V...however, Murphy beat me into Bucyrus and the NS 15V derailed as I awaited its arrival.  While not great shots of the derailing train - a quick drive down to a side street and an open field yielded a few shots of the aftermath - quite literally as the dust settled at 1730 hours.


With Bucyrus now blocked up quite nicely, where to next?  Easy choice - head north for Fostoria and hold out the last light of day there before cruising west to Columbia City, IN.  On the way to Fostoria I would traverse Carey, OH and swing in to catch a nice Plymouth 80-Tonner (?) working the National Lime & Stone Co. quarry with a cut of cars.  The STONECO lettered centercab would shove the cut of cars back for an awaiting CSXT crew to retrieve...


Then off to Fostoria!  Arrival in Fostoria found a bottleneck of traffic - at least three trains to go north and two south on the C&O, while NS had several in a holding pattern on its Fostoria District crossing of the CSXT Willard Subdivision.  With a steady stream of trains rolling, I decided to set up and just shoot whatever came my way - from whatever way it came - as the light began getting less with sunset creating that low dusk illumination.  Enjoy the following sequence:

A grain train heads east with the last rays of sunshine casting a glint on the entire BNSF consist.

An eastbound intermodal races westbound at the last light of day, crossing over the Columbus Subdivision.

A NS 172 train rolls across the CSXT Willard Subdivision at dusk.

Following this run, it was off for the remainder of the drive to Columbia City and some sleep before heading to the steel mill for the next full day!

The Road to SDI-Columbia City, IN: Day 1


With a recent photo job planned for RailAmerica, Steel Dynamics Inc. and LB Foster, I decided that I would drive from my home in White River Junction to Indiana with a planned stop in Pittsburgh at the LB Foster headquarters.  This would also allow ample opportunity to do some shooting of rail action along the way and give me a chance to stop in and see my parents outside of Hershey, PA.  Though a bit out of the way, I figured on a drive south from Whitehall, NY to Belden Hill Tunnel <IF> anything would be in the afternoon picture there.  Heading from home to Whitehall, I came across the Vermont Rail System ethanol train departing town with a mixed bag of leased power - the GMTX GP38-2 2189 leading GMRC GP40 304, GMTX GP40 3105 and LLPX 2334.  Having these trains as close neighbors, I let that one go and continued on toward Whitehall with the hope of running into the CP 252 train that would likely be southbound about the time I arrived.

No sooner had I ventured through Rutland and the VRS radio channel came to life with the CP 252 announcing their arrival at Whitehall Yard to make a setout.  That would work out perfectly - I would swing into the Cumberland Farms convenience store in Whitehall and pick up a favorite of mine - Diet Pepsi fountain soda - before proceeding on to land a shot or two of the 252.  High sun was prevalent as it was around 1030 hrs that I arrived there, so my options would be limited to something from above that would also allow me to use one of my bigger lenses and hopefully knock out some of the harsh overhead lighting.

My recollection of the lighting for the time of day led me to the Route 22 overhead bridge in Fort Ann, NY, where I would officially kick off the day's photography with the CP 252 being led by CP AC44CW 9813 and CITX SD40-2M 3100.

I would then continue on my trek for my ultimate goal of the Belden Hill Tunnel.  As I drove south I heard a few trains working at a variety of locations, including a welded rail train on the CPR at Saratoga Springs, NY with SOO SD60 6043.  Passing through Albany, I listened in on the D&H South End Dispatcher talking to a maintainer and telling him he had southbounds "stacked up" from Oneonta back to Albany.  Bonus!!  I heard the CP 252 (previous days!), CP 935, CP 937, CP 939 and a "Work Extra" all in the lineup to the foreman requesting time.  He was also told that there were two northbounds, a CP 934 and 931, with the latter being broken down at Afton.  As I exited I-87 just north of the tunnel, I heard the detector on the north side of Belden Hill and figured I had missed the first train, CP 252.  I headed around the hill to arrive JUST as the 252 emerged from the portal.  I decided that this one would be a watch and be happy that there are several more in the works - NS power and all ;-)  With the big lens, I shot into the portal to capture the CP 935 deep inside the bore.

I was interested in capturing the southbound CP 937 - the Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) empty hopper train - emerging from the bore with the searchlight signals and as much of the train as I could muster.  When I first looked at the view for this shot, there were a LOT of taller weeds obscuring the foreground.  Back to the truck and I broke out the 6' step ladder to gain the necessary height to get above the weeds.  As I set up, I listened as the rumbling of the empty hopper train grew louder and louder, then went silent as it dove into the north bore of the tunnel.  In a few short seconds the headlight became visible and then the trio of black and white locos emerged with a muffled GE whump-whump-whump.

I decided that the last train - the 939 - was worth giving up as I had texted with Brian Plant and learned that the CP 256-08 would likely be departing East Binghamton Yard at 1600 hours.  The hopper train photo was taken at 1525 hours...  As I headed to East Binghamton to check out the yard and see if the 256 was ready, I came across the yard crew working an intermodal train with a pair GP9u's 1545 and 1651.

A trip to the other end of the yard found the crew aboard the 256 conducting their brake test and readying to roll south.  The consist had been a pair of ICE blue-and-yellow units bracketing a CEFX SD40-2M in SD45 carbody.  Today's train would be departing with ICE SD40-2 6446, CEFX SD40-2M 3127 and the last ex-Canadian Pacific SD40-2 still in CP red paint on the ICE - 6214.  With the air test underway, a trip south toward New Milford, PA to grab fuel (no I didn't use a full tank to Binghamton, but started with only half a tank...) and make myself a sandwich before setting out to find the first location.  Again in texting with Brian Plant (who by now was on his way south also), the decision was made to head to the south end of the controlled siding and wait it out there.  From ground level the shot was rather fouled by high grass again - but atop the truck - well, you can see the results.

From New Milford, the chase was on...  We'd shoot south of New Milford at an overhead bridge, then proceed further south to Kingsley, PA, where a trip under the huge Lackawanna Railroad-built Martin's Creek Viaduct gave me a breath of relief as the sun would be perfect for this train crossing high overhead.  Driving up the dirt road to the top of the hill and the overlook, I hoped that I'd be in position in time to get this one here.  As I pulled in and exited my truck, the distinctive sound of EMDs roared in the valley and out onto the bridge the colorful consist emerged.

Making a quick turnaround - which on that narrow road and my Nissan truck - well, I made it and then headed for the overhead bridge at Hop Bottom that would thankfully allow just enough light to capture a fairly well lit image of the 256 passing mile 648 of the CPR Sunbury Subdivision.

From here it would be tight, but the possibility of getting Tunkhannock Viaduct at Nicholson, PA.  My first thought was the 'famed' cemetery shot, but I also wanted the "Lackawanna RR" in the shot - but would I make it??  Backup shot would be from the south end of the bridge and the pull-off/overlook from ground level.  On the drive there, the train had reported clear of a slow order around mile 647, potentially buying the time needed to get the cemetery shot.  My gut feeling usually wins out and this day - with the guidance of Mr. Plant (Jr.!) - I felt this would be the winner.  On arrival at the cemetery, I framed up a shot with a pair of US flags in the foreground, then bolted up the hill and looked at the Lackawanna RR inclusive shot.  Would I pull this one off???  I'd be happy with the flag shot, happier yet with the RR name on the bridge...

And alas - the bolt up the hill yielded the following photo...

With the day getting later and my desire to make my parents place before it got too late, I figured this was a SCORE and was pleased with my efforts of Day 1 on the journey to Indiana.  I explored a few more trains along the way, but didn't feel like shooting anything else with the end goal of Roma Pizza awaiting at my parent's place!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

NECR ARRA Photo Project Commences...

Having been in the planning stages for several months, on June 10 we were finally able to launch our intensive photo project that will cover a portion of welded rail from Steel Dynamics Inc. (SDI) Columbia City, IN mill's scrap metal blooming through rail rolling, cooling, straightening, welding, loading and then transporting.  After the transportation is complete, we'll follow the LB Foster and RailWorks crew as they lay this portion of rail and later the install and surfacing gangs doing their thing also.  At the end of the project, we will pose Amtrak and NECR trains/locomotives at the finished section and complete the Rolling Steel to Steel Wheels photo venture.

Enjoy a sampling of lower res and small images from the thousands that were amassed during the week-long mill visit. A very special thanks to Doug Rees-Evans and Fred Warner of SDI, as well as all of the managers and especially the employees who were brought in for extra shifts to get this train out in daylight!  Fabulous crew and dedicated workforce that leaves nothing less than quality as their calling card.

A single view of the rail rolling process... When complete this fall, a book will be published outlining the entire project and more so the production of the rail from scrap steel to the finished product, every step will be documented.

SDI Mill switcher GP7u 8202 - former PAL 8202 and 2003, as well as former ATSF 2003 and constructed as ATSF 2680 - pulls a cut of NECR-bound rail to the weld plant portion of the mill.

With the train nearly complete in loading, SDI's Doug Rees-Evans applies our special logos to all four lower 'corners' of the train's rail.

Close-up of the logos...

The loaded rail train is being inspected by on-site car inspectors from the Chicago Fort Wayne & Eastern Railroad - another RailAmerica property that actually begins the haul off the SDI property.

As we await the final touches to the rail train and tie-down application, the PR helicopter arrives and circles overhead with Fred Warner shooting video on their approach to retrieve me for the remainder of the shoot.

Then from the air, we watch as the SDI GP7u 8202 pulls the train to their yard to allow the CF&E locomotive to tie on and pull toward Chicago.

And finally, the CF&E 3882 - freshly washed and cleaned up by a fabulous crew from the CF&E - pulls the train toward Chicago off the SDI property.

If you see the logos and this particular train (enroute to Vermont on Canadian National via Chicago, Port Huron, MI, Sarnia and Toronto, Ontario, and Montreal, Quebec to the NECR at St. Albans, VT) please photograph the train in an identifiable location and drop me a line...we may be able to use your photos!

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