Monday, October 31, 2016

The Last Providence & Worcester Passenger Train?

Providence & Worcester; Webster, Mass.; October 30, 2016
The Providence & Worcester, a regional railroad based out of Worcester, Mass., has maintained a small passenger car fleet for occasional excursions. Many of those trips have been sponsored by the Massachusetts Bay Railroad Enthusiasts, a group based in the Boston area. The railroad and group announced the "Two Rivers Steam Special," scheduled for October 29. The trip would run from Worcester to Groton, Conn., on P&W rails, get onto Amtrak's Northeast Corridor from Groton for the trip across the Thames and Connecticut Rivers (the two rivers in the trip's name) to a connection with the Valley Railroad at Old Saybrook, Conn. From there the P&W diesels would be taken off and a Valley Railroad steam locomotive would take the train up the Valley to Haddam, Conn. Once there, the whole trip would be done in reverse to get back to Worcester.

The October 29 trip sold out rapidly, and a second trip was added for October 30. But after the trips were scheduled the news broke that the P&W had been sold to shortline conglomerate Genesee & Wyoming Industries. Judging by GWI's other railroads, passenger operations are frowned upon. With a transfer date of November 1, it was apparent the October 29 trip could very well be the last P&W long-distance passenger trip (GWI has committed to running previously announced short Santa trains out of Woosocket for the holiday season).

Since I was in Connecticut for another event on Saturday the 29th, I decided to stick around and chase that last train on the 30th (along with my brother Bruce). Our first stop was at a causeway just north of the village of Webster, Mass. (above and below).
Providence & Worcester; Webster, Mass.; October 30, 2016
The train made a stop at Putnam, Conn., to pick up additional passengers. This gave us enough time to get ahead of the train just south of the stop at Attawaugan. The telephoto view showed the train emerging from the woods.
Providence & Worcester; Attawaugan, Conn.; October 30, 2016
From the same spot, the wide angle view showed just a hint of color on this late autumn day. P&W B40-8W No. 4005 had the honor of leading this day's train.
Providence & Worcester; Attawaugan, Conn.; October 30, 2016
Getting ahead of the train again, our next shot was from what is left of the freight depot in Plainfield, Conn. The structure has been removed, leaving only the foundation and floor.
Providence & Worcester; Plainfield, Conn.; October 30, 2016
P&W; Plainfield, Conn.

We knew the train had to go slow for the next few miles due to track conditions, so we were able to get ahead of it again just below Plainfield (left).

From here the train rolled through Jewett City and Norwich. We were unable to find any decent photo angles on this stretch, so we went further south and checked out some of the coves off the Thames River that the railroad crosses on causeways. We settled on Mill Cove just north of the Naval Submarine Base at Groton (below).
Providence & Worcester; Mill Cove, Groton, Conn.; October 30, 2016
Just below the submarine base (the railroad passes right through it) the train needed permission to get onto Amtrak's Northeast Corridor. Once there it would cross the Thames, pass the New London station, and cross Colt's Cove. We set up on the west end of the movable bridge over Shaw's Cove. A telephoto lens let us shoot the train as it snaked along the Thames just west of the New London station.
Providence & Worcester; New London, Conn.; October 30, 2016
A wide-angle view shows the train coming off the swing bridge.
Providence & Worcester; New London, Conn.; October 30, 2016
From New London the train would go to Old Saybrook, where the diesels were taken off the train. Here the train would get onto the Valley Railroad and the motive power would be the Valley's 2-8-2 No. 3025, lettered for the New Haven Railroad. No. 3025 is actually a fairly new locomotive, built in China in 1989 and imported to the U.S. We headed north up the Valley and waited for the train at the depot at Deep River, along the Connecticut River.
Valley Railroad; Deep River, Conn.; October 30, 2016
The passengers had been on the train since its 8:30 a.m. departure from Worcester, and it was now after 2:00 p.m. Finally, the passengers got a break when they were let off for a photo runby at Chester.
Valley Railroad; Chester, Conn.; October 30, 2016
It was obvious the locomotive crew was enjoying the runbys -- they really made No. 3025 work as it stormed past the assembled photo line. A second runby was performed.
Valley Railroad; Chester, Conn.; October 30, 2016
The second runby was just as good as the first, so the railroad personnel asked the crowd if they wanted a third runby! The response was an enthusiastic "Yes!!!!"
Valley Railroad; Chester, Conn.; October 30, 2016
The observation car rolled past the Chester depot. Sadly, it might be the last time this car -- and the rest of the passenger consist -- would be visiting a foreign railroad. 
Valley Railroad; Chester, Conn.; October 30, 2016
After the passengers reboarded, the train continued another few miles up the Valley to the end of the line. Our final look would be at the first grade crossing north of the runby location, watching No. 3025 accelerate the consist northward. Encroaching clouds and approaching rain would end our day; for those on board, there was still half the trip to go to get back to Worcester.
Valley Railroad; Chester, Conn.; October 30, 2016
It won't be long before we know if Genesee & Wyoming will continue the tradition of passenger trips on the Providence & Worcester; as stated above, GWI will honor previously scheduled short holiday trips out of Woonsocket later this year. But beyond that? Who knows... This trip may have very well been the last long-distance passenger train on the Providence & Worcester.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Chasing Union Pacific 844

Union Pacific 844; Blackwater, Mo.; October 17, 2016
It's been an unusual year -- the mainline steam locomotive I've chased the most has been Union Pacific's recently restored 4-8-4 No. 844. The funny thing is, a month before chasing the locomotive each time, I had no idea I'd even be seeing it. The railroad announced plans to run it after I had made arrangements for trips, and it was just coincidence that my trip and the locomotive coincided. I saw it a few times in Colorado in July as it ran back and forth in conjunction with the annual trip for the Denver Post's run to Cheyenne Frontier Days (all of which was covered in this post on my big western trip).

I was just getting on the road back from Colorado when I found out I'd need to make a trip to Kansas City in October, needing to be there on the 15th. It was quite a bit later I found out 844 would be traveling from Cheyenne to Memphis, making an overnight stop in Kansas City after it arrived. On the 15th! I had planned on leaving KC on the 16th, but the locomotive was going to continue east on the 17th to Jefferson City, Mo., so I added a day to my trip to work in an extra day of chasing.

I arrived in Kansas City on October 14, spending the night there. On the morning of the 15th I headed west to intercept the big Northern along with Otto Vondrak. Kevin Gilliam, who was shooting video for Trains magazine, and Mike Noonkester followed behind us. It had a servicing stop in Marysville, Kan., so I arrived at the small town of Winifred and waited. An old grain elevator made a nice backdrop as the locomotive came through on the gray day.
Union Pacific 844; Winifred, Kan.; October 15, 2016
The short train had a servicing and display stop just ahead at Frankfort, Kan., so we buzzed just a mile or so ahead out of town and caught it crossing the Black Vermillion River.
Union Pacific 844; Frankfort, Kan.; October 15, 2016
With its next servicing/display stop well over an hour away at Topeka, we thought we might have a chance to get ahead of it before the stop. The roads are laid out in a grid pattern -- and unfortunately the railroad runs diagonally through it all, giving it a much shorter route. Still, we got ahead of it at Emmett, Kan., but not by much.
Union Pacific 844; Emmett, Kan.; October 15, 2016
The train beat us into Topeka, but we wheeled into town for a quick shot of it as it stopped among the crowd at the large Union Pacific depot.
Union Pacific 844; Topeka, Kan.; October 15, 2016
The next servicing/display stop would be at Lawrence, Kan. Lawrence was the home of a noted rail photographer (and one of my early photographic heroes), the late Don Ball, Jr. He shot a lot of photos on the big curve near the station, and that curve has been unofficially dubbed "Don Ball Curve." Wanting a shot there, we headed into Lawrence and once again got the large crowd greeting the train as it arrived.
Union Pacific 844; Lawrence, Kan.; October 15, 2016
After the servicing stop, the train accelerated away, passing the large grain elevator that borders Don Ball Curve. From here we gave up the chase and headed into Kansas City for our evening appointment.
Union Pacific 844; Lawrence, Kan.; October 15, 2016
After spending Sunday, October 16, in Kansas City (perhaps more on that in a future post), it was time to chase 844 again as it ran to Jefferson City. It's first stop would be at Buckner. I was driving solo this time, with Kevin and Mike still chasing in their car. Since they had a navigator, I opted to follow them. The first point we picked was just west of the town of Buckner.
Union Pacific 844; Buckner, Mo.; October 17, 2016
The weather was much better on this day, with mostly sunny skies. Grain elevators are a part of the U.S. Heartland, so the next stop would be at one. Our next shot was in the small community of Levasy, Mo.
Union Pacific 844; Levasy, Mo.; October 17, 2016
The train rolled along the Missouri River, stopping at Lexington. We used that stop to find a perch overlooking the railroad and river at Waverly, Mo.
Union Pacific 844; Waverly, Mo.; October 17, 2016
Union Pacific 844; Blackwater, Mo.

The train's next stop was in the historic community of Blackwater, Mo. We wandered the dirt roads east of town and set up on an overhead bridge for a telephoto view of the train swinging through a curve (top photo of this post). Then came the wide-angle view looking down at the train from the same location.

The end of the run at Jefferson City was now on the horizon. Our last shot of the locomotive on the road would be just west of Jeff City at Marion.
Union Pacific 844; Marion, Mo.; October 17, 2016
At Jefferson City the train had to be put on its display track near the UP yard. As the train moved back and forth, engineer Ed Dickens (who just happens to be UP's Senior Manager of Historic Operations) was joined by his wife Nancy in the cab.
Nancy and Ed Dickens; Jefferson City, Mo.; October 17, 2016
Speaking of the cab, I had a chance to take a quick look inside during the Jeff City stop. The 844 is one tall locomotive, and it's probably the highest gangway I've ever had to hoist myself up.
Union Pacific 844; Jefferson City, Mo.; October 17, 2016
After dinner, a small group gathered in Jefferson City for a night shot of the big 4-8-4. For many, the chase would continue -- for some, all the way to Memphis. But for me, it was farewell (for now) and I continued to head east that night, wondering if 844 and I would have another chance encounter at some point.
Union Pacific 844; Jefferson City, Mo.; October 17, 2016

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Fall On the Former Pennsy

Norfolk Southern; Summerhill, Pa.; October 19, 2016
One of the best places to enjoy the colors of fall is western Pennsylvania, especially along the route of the former Pennsylvania Railroad. Now operated by Norfolk Southern, this scenic line climbs its way over the Allegheny Mountains, with landmarks such as Horseshoe Curve and the tunnels at Gallitzin along the way. But there is more to this line than the famous landmarks -- the route is lined with distinctive position light signals installed by the PRR. These signals are slowly being replaced, but make good lineside props. Our day starts in Summerhill, Pa., west of Altoona, where we see manned helper units pushing a stack train towards Pittsburgh (above).

Summerhill has a unique signal bridge with PRR position lights -- the signal heads for eastbound trains are on high posts to get them above a highway bridge so they can be seen by train crews. Once again we see manned helper units, this time on an eastbound train, passing under the distinctive signal bridge.
Norfolk Southern; Summerhill, Pa.; October 19, 2016
Moving to the other (east) side of Altoona, we pause at the small town of Fostoria. Here we find another interesting signal bridge -- a relatively modern bridge with older PRR signal heads mounted to it. We catch a westbound train slowing for the yard in Altoona passing under the signals.
Norfolk Southern; Fostoria, Pa.; October 19, 2016
It's been a strange fall -- the colors seem to be all over the place, with colorful leaves in some places, green in others. But even the leaves that have changed seem to lack a lot of vibrance. Continuing our tour east, we find mostly green colors in Huntingdon. The former Pennsylvania Railroad interlocking tower in town has been preserved and is used by the Chamber of Commerce. We catch a westbound train passing the classic structure.
Norfolk Southern; Huntingdon, Pa.; October 19, 2016
The sun is beginning to set behind the mountains as we get our last shot just east of Huntingdon at Mill Creek. Amtrak's Pennsylvanian splits the PRR signals as it heads west towards Altoona and Pittsburgh, with Philadelphia and Harrisburg behind it. There is some color on the mountains as the train rolls along the Juniata River. There's more to explore, but we're out of time.
Amtrak; Mill Creek, Pa.; October 19, 2016

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Great Western Trip -- Part Five

Denver Union Station, Denver, Colo.; July 23, 2016
In the first part of the trip we went from New Jersey to Kansas City and on to Crawford Hill in Nebraska. In the second part we went to South Dakota to chase steam and diesel, then headed into the Powder River Basin and Sherman Hill in Wyoming. In the third part we hit a variety of short lines in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona including Deseret Power, Navajo Mine, Apache, and Copper Basin. In the fourth part we hit New Mexico, including the Rail Runner commuter trains into Albuquerque and Amtrak's Southwest Chief. In this fifth and final part, we head into Denver before heading back to New Jersey.

The first day in Denver was Day 17 of the trip -- July 19, 2016. I was in town for the National Railway Historical Society convention, but the convention's first day was spent riding the Royal Gorge Scenic brunch train. With no photo opportunities available on that trip, I opted to do my own thing around Denver. The day was spent getting acquainted with the new commuter rail system between Union Station and the airport on the parts near the convention hotel, but in mid-afternoon I headed into the mountains to catch Amtrak's California Zephyr coming out of Moffat Tunnel. The shot I wanted was from an overlook reachable by driving the former roadbed of a long-abandoned railroad over Rollins Pass. I thought the shot was from the first switchback on the road, but after driving a long way in and encountering a road that was more and more rough, I turned around well short of my goal. As I drove back out, I discovered I had actually passed the overlook (only about a half-mile up the hill) and just didn't see it because I was concentrating on the road. I paused at the overlook and was rewarded with the Zephyr coming out of the tunnel.
Amtrak; Moffat Tunnel, Tolland, Colo.; July 19, 2016
Day 18 of the trip had the convention heading for a light rail tour of Denver's RTD system. Once again, with limited photo opportunities on the convention trip, I headed out onto the new heavy rail system, this time riding it end-to-end. At the airport I found a large platform from which to shoot trains as they emerged from the Westin Hotel and terminals.
Regional Transportation District; Denver International Airport, Denver, Colo.; July 20, 2016
The other end of the line is at Denver Union Station downtown. The airport line is the first heavy rail line to open, but two more were undergoing testing for opening later in 2016. The cars used are Silverliner V cars built by Hyundai Rotem similar to those operating in Philadelphia. Just as these photos were being taken, Philly's Silverliners were being taken out of service for a manufacturing defect; the Denver cars were apparently unaffected.
Regional Transportation District; Denver Union Station, Denver, Colo.; July 20, 2016
Day Three of the NRHS convention (and Day 19 of the trip) had the NRHS heading to the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden for an afternoon of activities and a night photography event. There was time in the morning, however, to get Union Pacific's freshly restored 4-8-4 steam locomotive, No. 844, as it traveled from Cheyenne, Wyo., to Denver to get ready to power an excursion in a couple of days. The big Northern was coming out of Cheyenne as it headed through Speer, Wyo., on its way south.
Union Pacific 844; Speer, Wyo.; July 21, 2016
Once the chase with 844 was done, it was time to head to the Colorado Railroad Museum. Denver & Rio Grande Western 2-8-0 No. 346 was powering a passenger train every half hour on the museum's narrow gauge loop.
Colorado Railroad Museum; Golden, Colo.; July 21, 2016
That evening, No. 346 was the star of the night photo session. Four different scenes using the Consolidation (and three additional scenes using other museum equipment) were shot during the event.
Colorado Railroad Museum; Golden, Colo.; July 21, 2016
Day 20 of the trip was unusual -- no photos were taken! I am on the board of the NRHS and the day was spent with meetings and the banquet that night. It was back to photos for Day 21, however. with the NRHS venturing to Leadville, Colo., to ride the Leadville, Colorado & Southern railroad. But first there was time to catch UP 844 as it powered the Denver Post's Cheyenne Frontier Days train out of Denver.
Union Pacific 844; Commerce City, Colo.; July 23, 2016
Back in Denver, the convention attendees boarded buses for the ride to Leadville. Once there, everyone got on the train for a ride on the former Denver & Rio Grande Western branch from Leadville to Climax, Colo. This line hits an elevation of over 11,000 feet, making it the highest standard gauge railroad in North America. A photo stop was held at French Gulch water tank at an elevation just shy of 11,000 feet.
Leadville, Colorado & Southern; French Gulch Tank, Climax, Colo.; July 23, 2016
An alternate angle at the photo stop location shows the water tank at French Gulch.
Leadville, Colorado & Southern; French Gulch Tank, Climax, Colo.; July 23, 2016
Once the buses had returned everyone to Denver, I headed out with Nick Hovey to photograph around Union Station at night. The train from the hotel to the station was packed -- the line is certainly well-used and the area around Union Station has a vibrant night life. We spent about an hour shooting around the station (including the top photo in this post) before heading back to the hotel near what was Stapleton Airport.
Regional Transportation District; Denver Union Station, Denver, Colo.; July 23, 2016
Day 22 of the trip would feature something unusual -- a chase of UP 844 by bus for the NRHS convention. But that trip didn't leave until noon, so I had one final morning in Denver to get some shots I wanted. First up was heading back to Union Station to get the westbound California Zephyr leaving town.
Amtrak; Denver, Colo.; July 24, 2016
From downtown I headed out towards Golden to get some light rail shots. The highlight was a train crossing the unusual basket-handle arch bridge over U.S. 6 at Lakewood.
Regional Transportation District; Lakewood, Colo.; July 24, 2016
Meanwhile, the Colorado Railroad Museum had its "big" engine operating, 2-8-2 No. 491, so it was back to Golden to get the Mikado making the loop around the museum grounds.
Colorado Railroad Museum; Golden, Colo.; July 24, 2016
Finally it was back into town for the bus chase with 844. I drove my own car as a support vehicle for the chase, while 50 NRHS attendees were on the deluxe motor coach. After shooting the train in the yard prior to departure, our convoy headed north (the bus, me in my car, and two other support cars) where we actually caught the train three times. Our final shot was of the train roaring through Ault, Colo., on its way back to Cheyenne.
Union Pacific 844; Ault, Colo.; July 24, 2016
Once the final shot was done, I broke away from the convention to start the long drive eastward. In some of the last sun of the day I caught a Union Pacific freight heading west out of Limon, Colo. From here it was a run to somewhere in Kansas where I stopped for the night (back to car camping after enjoying six nights in a real bed).
Union Pacific; Limon, Colo.; July 24, 2016
It was not much but driving for Day 23 of the trip, heading across Kansas and Missouri. The interstate goes near Granite City, Ill., and by late afternoon what had been mostly cloudy skies gave way to sunshine. The Port Harbor Railroad (operated by Respondek Rail) serves a port (obviously) near Granite City, and I have a few friends that work for the railroad. Knowing they usually run in the afternoon, I swung by and found friends (and brothers) Mark and Mike Mautner working the ground with Scott Nauert running the locomotive.
Port Harbor; Granite City, Ill.; July 25, 2016
They had a lot of work to do on the maze of track, providing some nice photo angles. But I had miles to knock off still, so after a couple of final shots I bid them farewell and continued east.
Port Harbor; Granite City, Ill.; July 25, 2016
That night I pulled into a rest area on the Indiana/Ohio border for some sleep. Day 24 was strictly a driving day (the third day of the trip where no photos were taken), arriving back in New Jersey in early evening. Finally the trip was done, with 9,827 miles on the odometer. But while I was on the trip, my boss set up a business meeting in Kansas City for two months hence. Head back west again? Sure!

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