A deadhead move for profits sake

Just after dawn on a chilly January morning there is a train with no freight onboard and no billable cargo, travelling a couple of hundred miles so that its owner,  CSX Transportation, can make some money in the days to come. In the transportation industry, this is considered a ‘deadhead’ move, where a transportation vehicle (car, truck, train, airplane) travels a certain distance while empty, not making any profit, in order to reposition the vehicle in question to load freight and generate a manifest to earn money for the company.

In this scene from South Plainfield, New Jersey, we see CSX Transportation train Q128, with 3 month old General Electric ES44AC 957 in the lead, hustling eastbound on the Conrail Shared Assets portion of the NS Lehigh Line, shuttling empty intermodal cars to Port Newark, NJ, to load with over-the-road trailers and containers fresh off of one of the many overseas container ships docked in Elizabeth, NJ. Dedicated intermodal freight trains are big business for the railroads of the 21st century, and this now empty train will transform into a fully loaded, mile-long revenue generating monster in just a days time for CSX, and will certainly justify the empty ‘deadhead’ move necessary to keep the equipment where it is needed most.

Image recorded January 28, 2012

CSX train Q128 South Plainfield NJ Conrail Shared Assets Lehigh Line

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Sometimes a little luck goes a long way

Every photographer knows that proper lighting is essential to a good photo, but situations don’t always develop the way you want them to, expecially outdoors. This is where luck enters into the equation. The train shown here is the regular mid-afternoon Thursday edition of Conrail local freight WPSA-31, or SA-31 for short. The train is pretty predictable, entering the Southern Secondary at Red Bank, NJ, between 2:00 and 4:00pm for the run south to Lakewood. The power is also somewhat predictable, as the origination point, Browns Yard in Sayreville, NJ, only hosts 4 locomotives at a time (three 4-axle units, and one 6-axle unit), so you will see one of the three GP units on this train. Of course, what is not predictable is the weather.

SA-31 left Sayreville under dark, cloudy skies, and chances were slim that conditions would improve in the 90 minutes that it would take the crew to reach the location of this photo in Shrewsbury, NJ. Thankfully, as the weather front moved east, a bit of sun broke through every few minutes, followed by a large cloud, followed by some sun, followed by a cloud. Upon arrival trackside in Shrewsbury, I thought I would have a 50-50 chance of grabbing a sunny shot, so I appealed to the ‘weather gods’ for any assistance that could be provided.

At exactly 2:27pm, somehow, someway, the clouds parted and the low, late Autumn sun shone brightly upon Norfolk Southern 5281, still resplendent in her ‘Conrail Quality’ Dress Blue scheme. NS 5281 is one of the elder locomotives on the roster, originally built for the PennCentral railroad back in February of 1973. Was it fate that sent this veteran locomotive to this lightly used secondary today? Was it good planning on my part to be in the right place at the right time? Did the weather gods actually help?

I don’t know, all I have to say is that, sometimes, a little luck goes a long way…….

Image recorded on November 5, 2010.

Conrail Southern Secondary Shrewsbury NJ NS5281 Conrail Quality

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The end of the line, for now

With Conrail severing the former Central Railroad of NJ Southern Division mainline back in the late 1970s, and with rail customers switching to trucks, or not surviving the tough New Jersey marketplace, the present day Conrail Shared Assets Operations railroad decided that, with no future potential for rail-freight services, they would take the Toms River Industrial track, and the Southern Secondary out of service at MP65.9 by removing a section of rail in Lakehurst in June of 2009. The mainline extends south of this point to the sand pits in Woodmansie, NJ, and there was hope that the owner of the line south of Lakehurst would revive sand train service in 2006, and again in 2009, but those plans never materialized, and the line remains dormant. Unfortunately, in December of 2010, the end of the line would be moved further north to South Lakewood, NJ, and trains would be eliminated from Lakehurst altogether.

Here we see weekly local WPSA-31 sitting at the end of track marker, with a new crew onboard and getting ready to utilize the runaround track immediately behind the train. CSX 4423 has seen these rails before, starting life as Conrail 3338, built in June of 1978 by EMD. In a matter of minutes, the crew will position the locomotive on the opposite end of the train, and head north to Lakewood to drill the large lumber yard there; without the 4 to 10 carloads of inbound lumber every week, this line would have little chance of survival, so to the good people of Woodhaven Lumber, we say ‘thank you’.

Image recorded September 18, 2009.

Conrail Southern Secondary CSX 4423 exCNJ Lakehurst NJ

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