Sunday Train Summary #4: Seeing The Bigger Picture

Rockville-Bridge-Harrisburg-Pa-11-7-2015 (6)

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In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Obi-Wan Kenobi declares to a young Luke Skywalker, “Congratulations, you’ve taken your first step into a larger world.” And so have we…. That first step came on October 4, 2015 when we railfanned Binghamton, NY to Owego, NY.

Yesterday, on November 7, we took another step into that larger world when we railfanned Harrisburg, Pa., the third largest rail hub on the NS system behind Chicago and Atlanta. The three make an intermodal trifecta that NS calls the “Golden Triangle.”

In our journey into railroading I have my own little trifecta made up of Binghamton, Harrisburg and Allentown, Pa.. You could also throw Reading, Pa. and Bethlehem, Pa. into the mix, but then it wouldn’t be a trifecta, would it?

When railfanning, your local area it can start to seem like the whole world after a while. It’s then that we must remind ourselves that our local area is part of a much bigger picture…. The national picture.

As a trucker I’ve driven through and around Harrisburg hundreds of times and even used to pick up there going to the West Coast once a month right next to the Harrisburg Yard. But yesterday I had the first time opportunity of railfanning it which opened me up to that larger world.

There’s a culture about Harrisburg that you have to experience to understand. Train 11R, a train that I’ve seen a hundred times here in Scranton, takes on a new aura of character when seen rumbling down the Buffalo line to Enola.

Train 13R, which is the extension of 11R, had many of the same cars that I see at home along with a lot of different ones. One that caught my attention was a Finger Lakes (FGLK) boxcar, something I see quite often in my neck of the woods. Yesterday, that same FGLK boxcar is in the consist of Train 13R heading south into North Carolina. Maybe with wine from Canandaigua, New York. Years ago, I made that same run from Canandaigua to NC many times.

On the same railroad, further south in Dixie, even the rolling stock takes on a flavor that’s unique to the region. Go to Brosnan Yard in Macon, Ga. on any given day and you’ll see boxcars with the reporting marks of the Golden Triangle Railroad (GTRA), the Wheeling & Lake Erie (WE), the Caney, Fork & Western (CFWR), the First Coast Railroad of Fernandina Beach, Fl. (FCRD) and lots and lots of giant wood chip hoppers from all of the southern roads both past and present.

And I’m not even getting started yet!…

On the way home we took a road that I’ve read about many times over the years but had never been on before. Rte. 147 from Duncannon north to Sunbury which follows the Buffalo line.

I saw towns I’d only read about in railroad books and seen in the photos. Names like Halifax, Millersburg and Dalmatia suddenly came to life in stark reality. I saw the legendary street trackage of Sunbury and the (now) legendary CP Kase.

Getting back to Harrisburg the entire rail infrastructure finally made sense to me…. Just like it finally did in Binghamton back in October.

On September 5 and 7 we stepped into a larger world when we chased NKP 765 from Scranton, Pa. to Delaware Water Gap, Pa. and like the others, I got to see places I’d only seen in books and on videos. And just like the others, it all finally made sense to me.

Two weeks later, on September 18, we wrapped it all up and ended a 4-month documentary of the last days of CP/D&H on the Sunbury Sub. The next day a new era and documentary of the NS and the Crescent Corridor began.

As we approach the day when we railfan Allentown (and the surrounding area) I can only wonder what that journey will have in store. It will mark the end of our short term trifecta and mark the beginning of our journey of the national rail network of America…. And that’s when the real fun begins!

Mixed-up manifests….

In the days before the takeover, you could tell what symbol a train on the Sunbury was just by looking at it’s consist. Not anymore. Since the NS takeover of the line and the changing of the trains that utilize it, you’d be hard-pressed to guess a freight manifest just by looking at it anymore.

Containers that used to be a staple of Canadian Pacific 258 and 259 have shown up on 11R, 36T, 37T and even 30T!

WWUX, NW & NS covered hoppers (loaded with sand I’m guessing) which used to be a staple of ridge runners 12T and 13T are now showing up on river runners 11R and 30T.

Hooker Chemical (HOKX) tanks that used to be exclusive to the ridge runners are showed up on 14R which means they’re probably coming down on 11R.

Auto racks have shown up on K81 as well, covered hoppers loaded with highway salt from the American Salt Mines of Mount Morris, NY and ARMN mechanical reefers, both children of the late, great 458 and 13T (the salt) are now showing up on 30T.

And speaking of 30T, now auto racks, among other things, are also showing up on the Canadian southbounder and these trains are getting longer as well. In fact, if I hadn’t been tracking 30T on the radio on Thursday, November 6, I would have mistaken it for an 11R as it only had (3) freight cars that bore any resemblance to 30T’s usual makeup.

Incidentally, this train also had the same locomotive consist of its sister train 31T that came up on Sunday morning with the Canadian National C40-8M 4th unit out and the NS #9252 Operation Lifesaver unit 3rd out, now the leader.

And while on the subject of rarities, CSX locos and rolling stock have now become commonplace when months back you rarely, if ever, saw anything CSX.

Add it all up and it seems like everything’s changing on the railroad including the trains.

Musical manifests….

If you’ve been following this website and/or the timeline in it then you probably know that Train 11R (the former Canadian Pacific 458) used to be the straight line in this documentary. In fact, in the days of CP, I called 458 “The Old Reliable” because not only was it rare that I missed it, but I could almost set my watch by its passing through the area.

As a CP train, it normally left Binghamton, NY in the morning and made its way past my camera before 10:00 a.m.. On rare occasions it would show up between 10:00 and noon and only under extremely rare circumstances did it ever show up after high noon.

No more.

Now, extending to East Deerfield, Ma., the 11R (although still the most important train running the line IMO) is anything but reliable anymore and has become a hard train to catch…. In daylight at least. 14R which has always been a tough train to catch is still a tough train to catch.

Conversely, trains like 37T (formerly NS 12T/CP 932) and 30T and 31T (formerly CP 930 & 931) which used to be the elusive ones, often passing through during the dark of night, have now practically become staples of daylight running through the region with all routinely showing up as late as the afternoon.

Local power notes….

Back on the block….

If you haven’t been to Taylor Yard lately you might not know that the original K81/K82 power (NS #3480 & #3475) that arrived on the day of NS’ takeover of the line is back in Taylor. Just like in days of the CP/D&H, local power at Taylor seems to be bouncing back and forth between Taylor, Binghamton & Albany.

Foreign power invasions….

November 2: Canadian Pacific AC4400CW #9838 and SD60 #6222 on 31T

November 2: Union Pacific SD70ACe #8820 on 37T

November 2: Canadian Pacific AC4400CW #9812 on 36T

November 4: Canadian National’s Dash-8 40CW #2188 and ES44DC #2310 on 30T 


In other news….

A sign of the time….

There’s a shiny new “No Trespassing” sign looking upgrade toward the Linden Street overpass from M.P. 671. This is a popular railfanning and photo spot and with the placement of the sign goes a number of prime photographic angles. And although this location is not ruined as a photographing spot, it is now severely altered.

Backs in black….

For some unknown reason NS maintenance/signal crews have been spray painting the backs of their Searchlight signals black. On November 4, the signals @ the south end of Taylor Yard were indeed having their backs spray painted black. Personally, as much as I like the old US&S searchlights, I’d much rather see them investing in new Color Light signals instead.

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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