Saturday, December 14, 2013

Random Ramblings -- The Day I Ran a Conrail Train

Random Ramblings is a semi-regular feature mulling over an esoteric photo or two.
Conrail; Beesley's Point, N.J.; December 27, 1992
The holiday rush of 1992 was winding down, and I was beginning to get the urge to do some photography. The second day after Christmas, December 27, was bright and sunny and I headed over to Winslow Junction, N.J., to see what equipment the Southern Railway of New Jersey had sitting around.

At Winslow Junction there are three lines. The former Central Railroad of New Jersey is at ground level, making its way from Red Bank to Bridgeton. Two other lines, both former Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines, run perpendicular to the CNJ and parallel to each other on elevated routes a few hundred feet apart; both cross the CNJ on bridges. The southernmost bridge was being used by Conrail to access the coal-fired power plant in Beesley's Point near Ocean City. The northern bridge was (and still is) New Jersey Transit's line between Philadelphia and Atlantic City.

While photographing the dead power on the SRNJ, I heard a Conrail train blow for a nearby grade crossing. I quickly set up for an over-under shot of the train with SRNJ stuff beneath. I was surprised to see the trailing unit on the southbound coal train, however -- Conrail SD40-2 No. 6373, which had been painted in a commemorative scheme for the U.S. Cycling Federation Olympic Trials and National Championships held in Altoona, Penn., earlier that year (Altoona was home to Conrail's primary locomotive repair shop).

Knowing that the USCF unit would be leading the train back (and would look really good on the timber trestle near Petersburg, N.J., I decided to give chase. At the long storage track near Dorothy the crew dropped all the hopper cars and continued south with just the light engines. I kept the chase going, though, since I wanted to keep track of them for the return trip. At the last grade crossing before the power plant at Beesley's Point, however, the locomotives came to a stop and the conductor came over to me. "Give me a ride to Wawa," he said, "and we'll let you run the engines." Well, that was too good to turn down, so I took him to the nearby convenience store so he could get some coffee and food.

Back at the train, the crew told me about a dirt pullover along the tracks where I could leave my car. I met them there, and they promptly put me into the engineer's seat of the lead locomotive, SD40-2 No. 6461. I ran the two units into the power plant where the conductor jumped off to get some paperwork. While he was doing that, the engineer and I switched ends and switched locomotives -- I was now running the Conrail USCF unit! I ran it back to my car and got off, then the engineer changed ends again and ran back into the plant to get his conductor and the outbound train. After about an hour the train emerged from the plant (lead photo above) and the return chase was on.

I went directly to Petersburg and set up for the shot I wanted and nailed it (below). With teh sun rapidly setting into the December sky, I packed it in and headed home. Not only did I get to photograph the elusive USCF Conrail unit, though -- I got to run it.
Conrail; Petersburg, N.J.; December 27, 1992

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