Sunday Train Summary #3: Seasons Change

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Seasons Change….

The changing of the seasons from summer to fall is always an interesting and exciting time in the Northeast. Leaves turn various shades of yellow, red and orange just before they fall to the ground (I wonder if that’s why it’s called ‘fall?’), and everybody gears up for the cold winter to follow.

From a railfan’s perspective, train photographers far and wide devote themselves to getting the perfect ‘fall’ railroad shot. Contests are plenty and so are the contributions.

This fall is a time of change for the railroads too, especially if you’re railfanning the Sunbury Crescent. As we bid farewell to 2015 and prepare ourselves for 2016 there’s all kinds of rumors and thoughts about what’s in store for the New Year….

A new train, NS 924 (a work train) shoves MOW hoppers back into Taylor Yard on Saturday, October 31, 2015. In a few minutes the SD40-2s will cut off from this train and assist Train 36T which stalled on the climb to Penobscot due to an engine failure.

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Taken from the SUSQUEHANNOCK newsletter of the Central Pa. Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society (September 2015)

NS completes the purchase of the D&H….

The acquired lines connect with NS’ network at Sunbury, Pa. and Binghamton, N..Y., and they provide NS single-line routes from Chicago and the southeastern United States to Albany, N.Y. and NS’ intermodal terminals in Scranton, Pa. and Mehanicville, N.Y.. NS also gains an enhanced connection to its joint venture subsidiary Pan Am Southern, which serves New England markets.

Additionally, NS has acquired D&H’s car shop in Binghamton along with other facilities along the corridor. As part of the transaction, NS will retain and modify overhead trackage rights on the line between Schenectady, Crescent and Mechanicville, N.Y., as well as Saratoga Springs, NY.

NS has hired about 150 former D&H employees who have experience working in this corridor. Track crews from NS are scheduled to perform routine maintenance in the corridor and NS plans in 2016 to add new ties and resurface 40 miles of track and install 14 miles of new cured rail.

Their Track Geometry Car went up on Saturday morning, September 5 and now it’s time to dig in and get to work. So as the seasons continue to change, so does the railroad.

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This acquisition is a sign of NS’ confidence in the economic potential of northeastern Pennsylvania, New York’s Southern Tier and New England,” said John Friedmann, NS vice president of strategic planning. “Our commitment to enhancing the D&H South Line will preserve good-paying railroad jobs and generates excitement at NS about future economic growth in the region.” (NS press release 9-18-15)

New NS/D&H Dispatcher….

NS has placed a D&H Dispatcher desk in Harrisburg to dispatch the trains on the D&H trackage that they’ve purchased. No dispatcher trackage control changes have occurred with this acquisition at this time. NS at some point following a successful operational implementation of the D&H trackage is expected to combine dispatchers and re-establish the Buffao Line Dispatcher Desk and have that dispatcher control the Buffalo Line and the D&H line from Sunbury to Binghamton.

The Southern Tier Dispatcher and the Harrisburg East Dispatcher would no longer control trains on the Buffalo Line when this occurs. This would also allow for other changes to take place at the NS Harrisburg dispatching center. Any changes are not expected to occur until sometime in late 2016.

And if you’ve been listening to the scanner one of the first things you’ll notice is that most of the defect detectors now call out Norfolk Southern instead of D&H.

Another change over the airwaves is the NS use of Track Authorities as opposed to Track Warrants used by the CP. Although pretty much the same thing, it’s still a cultural difference.

One thing that I like is that unlike in the days of CP, on NS, crews are required to radio “call out” signals, speed restrictions and any other anomaly making tracking trains easier than ever.

New Mile Markers….

Somewhere around the beginning of October, NS track and maintenance forces began marking ties with blue paint in preparation for the placement of the new mile markers. From what I can see the new MMs will be in the same place as the old ones, but will obviously have a different numbering sequence…. I’m guessing they’ll be ascending from Harrisburg and/or Enola as opposed to the CP/D&H MMs which ascended from Montreal to CP Kase in Sunbury.

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Unit crude oil trains have been coming down the Sunbury….

Unit tank train 65X rolled through Northeast Pa…. Twice. The first one came down on October 19 at around 2 p.m. with 115 loaded tank cars and 3 spacers. The second one, which came down almost 2 weeks later on October 30 @ 3:20 p.m., was empty and had 98 tank cars and 1 Soo Line covered hopper as a spacer. Not sure if these trains will become a regular item on the Sunbury Crescent, we’ll just have to wait and see if that happens.

Train K81 with a long, unusual consist….

Another unusual train (unusual for its size and content anyway) was the K81 which came down from Binghamton on Monday, October 26 @ 12:30 with a heavy 89-car manifest (the first 30 cars were EMP containers) with a really mixed bag of freight cars including open coal hoppers, side dump ballast cars and an auto rack second from the end of the consist…. I’m still wondering what it was all about.

Monster train madness….

Norfolk Southern Train 11R (formerly Canadian Pacific 458) has grown to massive proportions. These trains now routinely exceed 9,000 feet as evidenced on Sunday, October 18, when a 9,600 ft. 152-car 11R made its way to Enola behind 4 big six axle NS locomotives.

On Wednesday, October 28 @ high noon came another anaconda, this time 145 cars, snaked its way down the line. These trains, which used to originate in Binghamton in the days of CP now extend all the way to East Deerfield, Massachusetts on the Pan Am Southern and feature pooled Pan Am Railways power. And unlike in the days of CP, these trains routinely run early mornings in darkness or late evenings making them difficult to catch anymore.

Also worthy of mention is the 124-car 37T that went up on Saturday, October 17. Unusually long for this train, especially if they had to set out for the Reading & Northern on Penobscot.

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A bad sign of winter….

Having been a trucker for more than 20 years I know all too well about the ravages of winter. On Sunday, October 18 @ 5 p.m. (a few hours after that monster 11R went down), and after a light snowfall, Train 14R started out of Taylor with 2 locos and 62 cars and stalled near Keyser Avenue in Scranton. The cause was the water left on the rails after the snow which made the rails slippery (from the grease from the flange greaser @ around M.P. 672.5).

The crew (trying to make it to Binghamton before outlawing) had to shove the train back into Taylor where it sat (on the Main line) until Tuesday morning (just before 07:00 a.m.) when a new crew finally showed up to run the train into Bingo-Town.

More unusual manifests….

Lots of MOW cars (specifically gondola cars of gray, orange, brown and black) have been routinely showing up on trains like 11R, 14R, 36T & 37T. And a rare high and wide move, Train 053, came up on Wednesday, October 17 behind a lone SD60E.

New K-Turns on the Sunbury….

Apparently K81 and K82 aren’t the only work trains that are roaming the rails of the Sunbury…. Down near Sunbury Trains K21 and K22 have been working the line up to around M.P. 721 for about the past 2 weeks or so.

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Foreign power invasions….

The leaves aren’t the only things giving people a spectacular display of color these days, so is the railroad! Take today, for example, when 36T with a CSX 868 leader and a CP widecab 3rd unit out met the 31T with a standard cab Dash-9, Operation Lifesaver #9252 and a rare Canadian National C40-8M. With all of the CN pooled power these days, it’s just a matter of time before CN’s Tier 4s will be coming through the area.

I said way back in the summer that (then) Train 458 was the train to watch and I always wondered why we weren’t seeing any PAR locos coming through town. Now that the D&H takeover is complete it’s back to business…. Railroad business…. Trains 458 and 459 are now 11R and 14R and both now feature pooled Pan Am power.

Union Pacific Motive Power Madness!!!! If one not familiar with railroading and the rail lines that serve the nation were to sit trackside in NEPA for a day, they wouldn’t know whose railroad they were watching.

Union Pacific power has become so frequent that it’s almost impossible to go a day without seeing something in Armour Yellow paint and today was no exception…. An extremely late running (4:30 p.m.) Train 37T went up and out of town behind 4 locos including Union Pacific SD70ACe #8809. Engine failure contributed to this trains very late passing and was the reason for the extra locos on this 30-something car, mostly empty train.

On Monday, October 12 a Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern SD40-2 showed up in the consist of Train 11R. 2 days later on Wednesday, October 14, Train 31T had an Insane Color Lash up with 6 locos (NS, ex-UP, BC Rail, CN, UP, CP). The following Tuesday on October 20another day of insane color lash-ups occurred when 31T came up with a CN unit and a Metro North P32AC-DM (New Haven painted) Heritage Unit #228.

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Cool cars And funky freights….

More Rack Attacks on 11R…. There’s been a surge in loaded auto rack traffic on trains like 36T and 11R such as the one on October 13…. I’ve commented before that I don’t know whether the economy is really improving or it’s the 2016 models coming to the showroom floors. Either way, it’s good sign that someone’s making money.

And Evergreen containers showed up in the well cars on 37T on October 20…. Maybe it’s not so spectacular, but it’s the first time that I’ve ever seen those particular containers come through the area.

Ferromex (FXE) boxcars have been showing up on trains like 11R. Makes sense seeing that 11R terminates in Linwood, NC, not far from it’s Kansas City Southern connection and also that KCS has direct access into Mexico through its Kansas City Southern de Mexico subsidiary.

Sunday Train Summary is a summary of all my week-to-week railfan activity….

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Author:Railfan AC

AC is a U.S. Air Force Veteran, a long haul trucker, a transportation enthusiast and a lifelong lover of trains. AC's mission is to travel America documenting American railroading in the 21st century while educating those who want to know about the importance the railroads play in our daily lives including, but not limited to, the movement of goods, services and more.

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