A Handsome Makeover

Railroads are famous for extending the life of their most reliable locomotive models, with engine shops performing rebuilds and upgrades to get thousands of additional miles from their investments. The most popular candidates are the EMD units of the late 20th century, some of whom are still working hard 40 and 50 years after they exited the assembly line. The massive Norfolk Southern facility in Altoona, Pa, known as the Juniata Back Shops, can handle any type of loco repair or overhaul that is needed. Many other railroads send their power to NS for work, due to the capabilities and resources of this location. In 2010, NS began a rebuild program for EMD SD60 locomotives, with 27 units completed as of this date. This program is an extensive overhaul, to include a new NS designed wide cab, replacing the standard ‘narrow’ cab that was originally incorporated.

NS 6905 began life as a conventional SD60, built for the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad as their #8040 in September of 1986. She went to work for Union Pacific as UP 5992 after the CNW merger, then soldiered on after being sold to rail lessor Helm Financial as HLCX 5992. NS purchased several units in 2009 from Helm, needing some dependable and fairly late-model locomotives to bolster their roster. The new wide cab is an attractive design, and nicely distinctive from the ‘generic’ lines of the hundreds of GE widecabs on the rails. In this scene, NS 6905 (now an SD60E) is seen slicing through the frigid New Jersey air, as she leads Atlanta, Ga to Secaucus, NJ intermodal train 212 eastbound on the Lehigh Line, climbing the small rise at MP 29. It’s nice to have a new face in town, and the NS forces have indeed given this old unit a handsome makeover!

Image recorded on February 17, 2013.

NS train 212 Lehigh Line Piscataway NJ

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Point and Shoot

We all want that perfectly lit, sunny shot with deep blue skies overhead, but sometimes one has to ‘throw caution to the wind’ and use their instincts for a non-perfect, but still interesting photo. The light in Piscataway, NJ, along the Conrail Shared Assets portion of the Lehigh Line is best for eastbounds in the morning, and many fantastic pictures have been captured here over the years. As such, this photographer tends to not bother with westbound trains with the sun behind them, choosing to conserve precious megapixels for better oppurtunities. However, on this day, a crazy idea danced around in my head…what if I turned & shot westbound NS train 11J as it headed towards me, ‘away’ from the sun in this location?? Nope, I thought, it will be a poor shot, and I’ll just push the delete button again and wonder why I did that. But…what if it works?

No way, it’s just a waste of time.

So, literally on impulse, I quickly spin the thumbwheel to adjust the exposure, turned, pointed & fired. ‘Click’ goes the shutter, and just like that it’s over; oh, my, what have I done? I know better than to do that, what was I thinking? This can’t be good, can it?

Here for your viewing pleasure is an up close & personal view of NS C40-8W 8389 leading the empty autoracks of train 11J, westbound on the Lehigh Line, MP29. Perfect? No, but quite interesting, and honestly much nicer than I had anticipated. Once in awhile you have to go with your gut, and just point and shoot.

Image recorded on October 18, 2012.

NS train 11J Lehigh Line Piscataway NJ

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A Long Day

I had it all planned very nicely; internet reports of a special High & Wide movement from Allentown, Pa to Manville, NJ, on the Norfolk Southern Lehigh Line main brought me to the tracks on a chilly Fall day, and I chose a spot where a nice wide-angle shot could be had. And then…the Rail Gods stepped in. Earlier in the day, westbound NS train 19G stalled on the approach to Pattenburg Tunnel in western NJ, and was delayed getting up and running again, which brought the crew to the end of their allowable hours (“outlawing”) in Bethlehem, Pa. At this point, eastbound intermodal train 22V was approaching Bethlehem, so they parked their train and jumped on 19G to continue their trip west. The crew from the High & Wide train was pulled and put on 22V to continue east, and the dispatcher remarked about the ‘special’ running the next day. Well, that’s great, I thought, and decided to head home; as fate would have it, I decided to check the message boards one last time, and saw that Allentown had found a crew, and the High & Wide was on the move! No problem, I’ll turn around & race back to my spot, and all will be well.

To make a long story short, I just plain ran out of light; the special did indeed get underway, but travels at restricted speed, and with the sun setting earlier in the day in November, the final image of this particular afternoon was the very late-running 22v, behind GE C40-9W’s 9751 and 9890, shown at sunset in Manville, NJ. Some days you’re lucky, some days you’re good, and sometimes a perfect plan turns into a very long day.

Image recorded on November 19, 2011.

NS train 22V Lehigh Line Manville NJ

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A mid-winters day dream

In the Northeast, in January, one never knows what Mother Nature has in store for you. Following the extremely harsh winters of 2010 and 2011, the 2012 season was quite mild with little snow, and few days below the freezing mark. It is perhaps too early to remark upon the winter of 2013, but so far it has been very favorable, with none of the snow and ice concerns that can turn travel into a nightmare. With the temperature hovering at 48 degrees Fahrenheit this day, and with the forecast of 58 degrees two days from now, it is safe to say the local community is enjoying January just fine, thank you very much.

With a very healthy 8-car train, this photo shows Conrail Shared Assets local SA-31 trundling her way through Shrewsbury, NJ, on the Southern Secondary, led by ex-Conrail GP38-2 8278, a June 1979 graduate of the EMD assembly line in LaGrange, Illinois. Now appearing on your local line as CSX 2812, she appears to have been recently ‘shopped’, with upgraded air-conditioning and sporting a new paint job as well. The crew arriving well before sunset this week gives the photographer an opportunity to capture this train in the fantastic ‘low’ winter light, with the sun angle in the sky not as high as it is in the summer months. Of course, timing is everything, and on this day the beautiful mid-winter weather and soft light lends itself to the railfans ‘dream’, where location & conditions come together to create a wonderful scene of rural railroading in the crowded and hectic environs of central New Jersey.

Image recorded on January 10, 2013.


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Dashing through the snow

The railroads have always been a reliable source of transportation in inclement weather, and this day in Sayreville, NJ, is no different. The coastal mid-atlantic region gets a good amount of snowfall every few years; large specialized railroad snowplows are not required, and sometimes the snow level tests the equipment at hand. The original plan on this day was to have the Conrail SnowJet vehicle (a truck with a surplus jet engine mounted) run ahead of Conrail Browns Yard local SA-2 to clear the crossings and switches for the crew. This truck can melt snow away very quickly with the force of the warm air from the very loud jet engine; the only problem being the apparatus & truck do not weigh nearly enough to work well in every situation. Due to the 12-14 inch snowfall the previous day, the CR SnowJet derailed more than once on the Bordentown Ave. grade crossing while attempting to lead the SA-2 westward out of the yard. It was then decided to let the locomotive go it alone, with much more favorable results.


Here, CSX 4431 (ex-Conrail 3356, blt 3/79) leads a short two car train west on the Gillespie Branch, dashing through the snow that conceals the rails on a frigid winter day. Between the weather & the long wait for the mow equipment to clear, it is no doubt that the crew is looking forward to a warm evening at home.

Image recorded on January 28, 2011.

DSC_2906CSX 4431ConrailSA2GillespieBranchSayrevilleNJ1282011

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