Sunday Train Summary #5: Connecting The Dots…. How It All Moves


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Early on in this documentary I had said that Norfolk Southern Train 11R (then running as Canadian Pacific 458 and its 14R counterpart) were the trains to pay the most attention to. Of course, to be fair, as I write this, 11R & 14R are only 2 of 8 regularly scheduled trains that travel the Sunbury Crescent between Binghamton, NY and Sunbury, Pa. each day. And conversely, each of these trains has their own unique profiles that makes them an important link not only in the NS system, but in America’s rail network.

K81 & K82: These are the local jobs that replaced the CP D-11, D-12 and D-14.

30T & 31T: Rouses Point, NY – Enola, Pa.: Canadian National trains that originate and terminate in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. These trains are easy to spot as their consist is mostly made up of CN boxcars and centerbeams. Pooled CN power is also very common on these trains and has been for more than a decade.

36T & 37T: Buffalo, NY – Allentown, Pa.: Before the takeover I used to call these “black & white trains” as their consist was made up largely of tank cars of various types and they tended to lack color. Since NS took over the D&H South Line, these trains have since gotten a lot more colorful!… And that includes the motive power!


We started this journey on the former Sunbury Subdivision and up until September 18, that’s what we focused on…. But in order to understand how the freight moves, you first have to understand that the Sunbury Crescent is one subdivision of many subdivisions in the NS Harrisburg Division.

The Harrisburg Division itself is one division out of (11) divisions which makes up the (3) regions of the entire NS system. And conversely, NS is one railroad (albeit a big ONE) out of hundreds that make up the North American rail infrastructure.

To keep things simple, I won’t throw districts into the mix…. At least not yet! But for now, here’s how the railroad looks at a glance.

Norfolk Southern Railway

    • 3 Regions
    • 11 Divisions
  • Numerous Subdivisions and Districts

Last week we broadened our horizons and explored Hagerstown, Md.. Hagerstown is the southernmost connecting point on the Harrisburg Division. From there on south it becomes the Virginia Division.

How does it all connect?…

Getting back to 11R…. In the days of CP it was a Binghamton, NY to Enola, Pa. manifest…. After the takeover, 11R extended its reach to East Deerfield, Ma. on the northern end essentially making 11R an East Deerfield, Ma. to Enola manifest train.

At Enola, 11R is reclassified. Cars may come off and cars may come on and the core of the 11R becomes a new train, Train 13R and proceeds to Linwood, NC in the Piedmont Division. When you look at it that way, it makes sense as to why NS changed the train i.d. from 12R to 14R so that southbound 11R becomes 13R at Enola and northbound 12R from Linwood becomes 14R at Enola.

The important thing to remember is that so far we’re only talking about one pair of trains (OK, technically two pairs), on only one railroad. But it gives you an example of how freight moves…. Multiply this scenario by, say, a couple of hundred (and maybe even a couple of thousand), and you begin to understand the national rail infrastructure and how it all works.

In last week’s summary, I singled out a Finger Lakes boxcar in the consist of 13R and touched on how it possibly related to 11R in its journey south. Other notable cars that I didn’t point were the Cargill Salt (CLSX) and centerbeam flatcars loaded with Canadian Lumber. Using these three as an example, here’s a more in depth look at how those cars could possibly move….

The Finger Lakes Railroad is a shortline in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York. One of the communities it serves is the town of Canandaigua. Back in the 90s (and this part is true), I made several pickups at the famous Canandaigua Wine Company there and ironically the loads always went to North Carolina. I point this out because it’s possible that those Finger Lakes boxcars that we see coming down on 11R are loaded with Canandaigua Wine.

The boxcars of wine would be pulled from the shipper by the Finger Lakes Railroad where they would be taken to the NS interchange at Himrod Junction. From there, the NS would take the boxcar south to Gang Mills Yard near Corning, NY on the NS Southern Tier.

On the same day CLSX covered hoppers loaded with highway salt would leave the American Salt Mines of Mount Morris, NY on the Rochester Southern where they would proceed to Caledonia where they could continue north to Rochester to be handed off to CSX or (since we’re dealing with NS here) swing west to LeRoy and then south to Silver Springs to be handed off to NS there.

From either location another local or maybe even a mainline freight like Train 36T would take the boxcar and/or hopper cars to Binghamton, NY where they would worked into Train 11R.

From there 11R would proceed to Enola where it would be reclassified and pickup those centerbeam flatcars of Canadian lumber that came off of Train 30T from Montreal, Canada. From there they would all become a part of 13R and proceed to Linwood Yard in North Carolina where 13R terminates.

Once there, the train would be broken up and the various chunks would either be added to other manifests or taken from there on an NS local to the final destination themselves or possibly to a shortline who makes the final delivery to the customer.

A Finger Lakes Railway boxcar heading south to Linwood, NC on Train 13R moving through Harrisurg, Pa..

Of course this scenario is only a theory, but it does accurately show how freight moves across the railroads and gets from point A to point B.

Another operation worthy of mention at this point is the assigning and movement of locomotives. To be sure, locomotives move all over the system (and even the country) but there is often a method to the madness.

Since Harrisburg is one of three NS hubs, it makes sense that power for trains would also originate and terminate there. Northbound locomotives on trains like 14R and 31T can often be seen coming back to Enola on returning trains. A good example of this can be seen on Sunday, June 14, 2015. The 2 Dash-9s that went up on 14R (then CP 459) @ 05:00 a.m. came back down on 11R (then CP 458) @ 12:45 p.m..

The manufacturing base of North America (and the world) is mindboggling and it takes a lot of coordinated movements to get all of the goods from here to there. Various parts come from all directions to an automobile assembly plant with the finished vehicles moving out in all directions…. This is just one example of thousands that take place everyday on the railroads of America and the world. As we progress forward in our journey we’ll branch out further and get more specific about the movement of freight and the various types of commodities hauled.

Vardo Yard in Hagerstown, Md. is where the Norfolk Southern Harrisburg Division officially ends and the Virginia Division begins. We’re looking south toward the signals  for trains exiting the yard and heading toward West Virginia.

In Other News:

Ask and you shall receive!…

Pinning a popular quote in this week’s case it’s a literal truth…. A week or so ago I talked about (OK, I ranted about) not getting any BNSF or KCS…. Fate did me not one, but 2 better!… I caught one of BNSF’s new Tier 4 GE ES44C4 diesels on Train 13R out of Harrisburg and yesterday I caught this….

A Southern Belle in Scranton, Pa.!

Yep, a dirty albeit stately flower from the “Show Me State” added a splash of color to the overcast of the day and the blackness of the Thoroughbreds. Kansas City Southern EMD SD70ACe #4051 and two NS GEs carried Train 37T to Binghamton, NY and probably onward to Buffalo too.

KCS diesels are extremely rare in NEPA and this makes for the first KCS locomotive I’ve shot digitally, the first that I’ve shot in at least a decade and the first Southern Belle that I’ve ever gotten!

Norfolk Southern “Tech Train” Analyzes The Sunbury Crescent….

After being hampered by a disabled Train 14R, Norfolk Southern “Geometry Cars#34 and #33 rolled up the Sunbury Crescent and through Scranton, Pa. @ around 2:40 p.m. on Tuesday, November 10, 2015.

In case you’re not familiar with it, these “Geometry trains” use many sensors to record a digital profile of the track within the car. The data collected is used for planning future maintenance and upgrades to the track.

This is at least the second time that this unique train has come up the line…. Another time was on Saturday, September 5 (the day that NKP 765 made its first excursion trip to Delaware Water Gap, Pa. and back) @ 06:30 in the morning.

And unlike in September, today the “G-Train” was actually analyzing the Sunbury trackage…. I say this because although I have no positive proof of it, I think that back in September the “G-Train” was just passing through NEPA on its way to Binghamton, NY to “scan” the line between there and Schenectady, NY. I base this theory on the fact that back in September, the car was not operating as it clearly is in the photo shown above.

The “Tech Train” made a return trip to Harrisburg and beyond on Saturday afternoon when it came back through town at about 2:35 p.m.. With far better lighting than I had the first two times I shot this unique train, you can see some of the details of it.

The Scranton intermodal terminal and supporting facilities is nearing completion.

Now that Scranton‘s Intermodal Transportation Center is just a few weeks away from opening, I though now would be a good time to look back at the whole thing progressed….

(Above) It’s early March 2015, and although snow covers most of the ground you can see from this bird’s eye view the early stages of construction as five Delaware-Lackawanna ALCOs round the curve of the Diamond Branch lead into Steamtown.

(Below) With weather much improved construction progresses in these (4) views taken in early September 2015. In the last picture, once again, the D-L takes an opportunity to photobomb us from the background!

Foreign Power Invasions:

November 10: Canadian Pacific ES44AC #8742

November 12: Minnesota, Dakota & Eastern SD40-2 #6200 (City of Huron)

November 13: Union Pacific SD70ACe #8459

November 14: Maine Central (PAR) SD40-2 #616

November 14: Kansas City Southern SD70ACe #4051 (Southern Belle)


Cool and funky freight cars:

A string of MOW ballast cars on Train 37T….

On Friday the 13th, Train 37T came clawing up the hill with a long cut of loaded MOW ballast cars up top. Most interesting to me was the various ex-Southern Railway cars in the mix. A railfan acquaintance has told me that extensive track work was being done on the Southern Tier, and if that’s true, then there’s a good chance that’s where these cars are headed to.

Sunday Train Summary is a summary of all my week-to-week railfan activity with an occasional commentary thrown in….

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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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