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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Ghost of a Different Color on the Modern D&H

While only a distant memory for me, the thought of the Amtrak Phase I paint re-emerging on a P42DC when the 40th Anniversary Commemorative retro paint conjured images of SDP40s and E8As in an era of a fledgling passenger carrier trying to make a go of it.  Even the thought of applying that scheme to a modern-day P42DC made me cringe.  Then on March 17, the unit appeared from the Beech Grove Shops in Indiana and I got my first glimpse of it in official Amtrak photos.  At that point, my thoughts were…to steal a line from Shania Twain, “that don’t impress me much”!   Within hours, the unit would be on a trip to Chicago and quickly turn my direction for a run on the Lake Shore Limited to Albany.

I watched half-heartedly the progress of the move and then received word that it would be making a weekend round trip to Montreal on the March 19, #69 and March 20, #68 Adirondack trains over the Canadian Pacific Railway’s former Delaware & Hudson trackage – now the Canadian Subdivision.  With a forecast for sunny skies and beautiful scenery to boot, I figured I would at least go out and photograph the unit for the historical aspect and the fact that it may not be back on this particular trackage for some time, perhaps ever. 

When Saturday morning rolled around, cloudy skies and snow squalls prevailed as I made my way to Whitehall, NY, the first real location on the D&H north end that lent a westward enough turn to get the unit in better light.  As I arrived north of Whitehall in Dresden, New York, I set up on a perch high above the Lake Champlain valley floor to await the train’s arrival on a causeway over a portion of Chaplain’s South Bay.  On an unrelated note, the South Bay is actually the upper end of the lake, as it flows north to the St. Lawrence Seaway in Canada.  I digress…  That said, the snow squalls and clouds were still prevalent with Amtrak 69-19 due in Whitehall – just to the south of me – at 1244 hours. 

I sighed and briefly felt a bit of defeat in this location as the New England weather forecast was once again as accurate as any forecast could be.  With about 10 minutes to train time, I called Amtrak “Julie” and discovered that the train was running some 15-20” behind.  This was to my benefit as areas of broken clouds were visible distantly, however timing would be crucial.  The twenty minutes passed and no word from Whitehall that it had arrived…  Another Julie call yielded that the train was running more than 30-40 minutes late now.  My thought immediately turned to a ‘stung’ passenger train – one that was likely behind the CP 931 freight train out of Saratoga or caught up to said train, thus hampering its efforts.  Finally as I heard the 69-19 approaching Whitehall, the dispatcher was conversing with the freight train that I had presumed was ahead of the Amtrak move, CP 931.  A track light had been left on a few miles behind both trains and the 931 was asked to check its train.  During that time period, the clouds remained steady at my location prompting me to change the camera and white balance settings to optimize the lighting conditions I was sure I was going to endure.  Then to my fortune, the CP North Dispatcher called the Amtrak 69 and told them they had to stop the train and inspect it as 931 had found no defects.  At about the same time, sunlight began peaking through the breaking clouds.  Still hit or miss, but now another delay was strengthening my chances of getting a sunny view of the train.  A short time later the 69 called an ‘all clear’ and reported back northbound.  Within minutes, a large ‘sucker hole’ had moved into position and I quickly changed my camera settings in anticipation of the arrival of the 69.  Immediately after changing the settings and peering through the viewfinder, the red nose of the unit appeared providing my first in-person view of this unit.  It popped – this scheme was kind of neat.  While not thinking too much about it at this point, it was off to the truck and the venture north to try and capture at least one more shot of the unit at Crown Point, NY, where it would turn nearly northwestwardly before trekking back north for Rouses Point, NY and ultimately Montreal.  

On a typical day, it would have been difficult to get ahead of this train, but this was not typical – flooding and snow melt/falling ice had placed numerous speed restrictions on the Canadian Sub, making this feasible not only on the northbound run, but the southbound 68 train for Sunday.  I would manage that one more shot at Crown Point before having to head back home and get ready for work and it would be THE shot that was decisively the one that made me realize that this scheme really works for the P42DCs.

While not many photos came of my Saturday chase, courtesy of a late northbound trek, I knew that Sunday was the better day, weather permitting, which would allow some stellar locations on the former D&H.  A test shot for roughly the same time of day would be made on Saturday afternoon with the southbound 68-19, using Amtrak P42DC 136 as my subject.  I knew this location would be one of my picks for Sunday...

Saturday night at work I began strategic planning for Sunday, formulating the locations that I would like to get and doing math with distances versus highway speeds and access to the railroad.  Freights are more readily photographed at numerous locations on the North End, but the slow orders would give me a real chance to get the locations that I really wanted.

The planning would include numerous locations that would provide images that screamed D&H locales.  Finishing work at 0700 hours, a my intention was to drive straight for Cantic, Quebec, and catch the unit in Quebec before grabbing shots in Rouses Point, where the train would stop for the one-hour US Customs stop.  Hopeful for only an hour stop (sometimes more depending on passenger counts), I originally anticipated shooting the arriving train on the Canadian National Railway’s Rouses Point Subdivision – for which it arrives from Montreal, then down to the station to grab some arrival shots.  From there my original intentions were to make time south and get the train at Port Henry next. 

On the way to Cantic, I was temporarily sidetracked at St. Albans, VT, where a rare early morning CN M32421-20 was arriving with a pair of SD70M-2s stole my attention briefly.  After getting a few shots at the entrance to the New England Central Railroad’s Italy Yard in St. Albans, it was back off toward Cantic.  Another distraction would come into play on my arrival at Rouse Point, NY.  With more than an hour to Amtrak time, the CP 252 was working on a motive power shuffle with empty ethanol train 667.  

A jaunt off the path to Cantic would seal the deal for not making a trek north of the border on this trip.  I arrived at the Hayford Road crossing to find out that it was more accurately “reflected” as Hayford Lake, as a clogged drainage system had formed a small lake where a corn field used to be.  This changed my plans once again, now setting up for a passing shot of the Amtrak train with the Canadian Pacific Railway host.  
A fuel stop – supplemented by price shock in northern New York for said fuel – was trailed by a trip to catch the arriving Amtrak P42DC 156 on the CN Rouses Point Subdivision.

Knowing that the crew has to hand throw the switch from the Rouses Point Sub onto the CP Canadian Subdivision, I drove a few blocks and awaited the arrival at the station.  

After pulling in AND heading the warnings from the US Customs officials not to photograph any of them, I awaited their boarding before taking a shot of the idling train. 

My plans were fortunately fluid enough to alter and hope for the best.  I could not pass up the reflection shot at Hayford “Lake” and decided that I would do this shot, instead of departing town, quickly grab a shot of the CP 252 and then head south with the intention of rolling to Port Henry to head it off.  I knew that Port Henry was a guarantee because the 68 would have to meet the 69 at Howards siding north of town and the station stop for the southbound 68 wasn't until 1409 hours.  What I hadn’t planned on was some additional slow orders being issued that would slow the train even more.  

Driving past the Plattsburgh exit the 68 still had a bit of distance to cover to the station and I did some new quick math to determine that I should be able to make it to Port Kent literally just ahead of it.  Sure enough, my arrival was trailed by three minutes of silence that would be broken by the rumble of the P42DC approaching along Lake Champlain.  A few clicks and the Phase I scheme had now grown on me to the point that I was ready to petition Amtrak to start painting all the P42DCs this way.

Following Port Kent, I headed out of town to track back to Interstate 87 south to run a few exits and make the trek into Westport before Port Henry beckoned.  The Westport Station was almost dead-on lighting and I threw that out with the intent of heading to one of my favorite D&H locations along Lake Champlain – albeit frozen – the shot would allow a view of the entire train and provide beautiful contrast to the unique locomotive.

One unplanned shot was probably one of the finer examples displaying the lure of Amtrak and the portrayal of speed as it clipped along on the Bulwagga Bay causeway at track speed.  It was here that I would pan the train just subtly to give the illusion of a high-speed run over trackage once plied by the famed Delaware & Hudson Alco PAs.  This image, coupled with the fact that one can see the red nose of the unit distantly for at least a mile or more, was enough for me to send my pitch to Amtrak to adopt this scheme as the standard for their P42 fleet.
From there, I decided that another great location that would be tell-tale Delaware & Hudson is the signal masts that protect the north end of the Ticonderoga Siding in Fort Ticonderoga Siding, although track speed vs. highway speed would make this a neck-and-neck run.  Approaching the signal location, the horns were already sounding at the Ticonderoga station stop a mile north from this location, which allowed setup for the approaching train, with visions of Adirondacks past while I stood on the hallowed D&H ground. 

I would have been happy finishing the chase here, but there were still locations that I couldn’t pass up – and – I still had an hour before having to be heading home.  Next up from the previous night’s plan was to be a shot at Lake Champlain’s South Bay, hopefully with ice fishermen in the foreground.  Sure enough, my arrival found that several fishermen were still braving the now watery ice conditions, providing an interesting forefront to the passing commemorative scheme.

The train would arrive in Whitehall about the same time I was passing the station – where I was going to just drive by for a shot south of town.  Instead, a stop and hop resulted in a decent image of the train rolling into the Whitehall Amshack and then it was off to my other planned shot passing the vacant signal mast adjacent to the Vermont Rail System-leased Tub Mountain Yard along the Canadian Pacific mainline.  As the train approached, the visibility of the red nose and this unit in particular became ever more evident from the distance as it closed in on me.  
This would be the moment that my thoughts shifted to the fact that Amtrak had really impressed me this weekend and this scheme is one that I would advocate as a new standard – not only for visibility, but for the simple fact that it truly was the image for which Amtrak was built on. 
The other Amtrak commemorative units planned will likely yield nice results, however my belief at this point is that none will measure up to the Phase I P42DC 156 and thankfully I was able to capture the images of this rare unit on the former D&H territory.

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