Sunset on the Southern

It is with great pleasure that I am able to share this photo with you. On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated the coastline of New Jersey, and severly damaged the NJ Transit system, with some of the worst destruction along the NJ Transit North Jersey Coast Line, nearly severing the line below Woodbridge, NJ. The Conrail Southern Secondary is the former Central RR of NJ Southern Division mainline, beginning at Red Bank, NJ, and currently terminating in South Lakewood, NJ, with only a few customers along the line. Because the NJT trackage was out of service between Woodbridge and Red Bank, and no way to get freight from Browns Yard in Sayreville to Red Bank, the Southern was effectively disconnected from the outside world after the storm. With a nearly super-human effort from the NJT maintenance-of-way forces, the Coast line was opened for limited service just 10 days later, and operations would slowly regain normalcy over the ensuing weeks. Fortunately, because it is several miles west of the coast, the Southern sustained very little damage, and would survive yet another threat from Mother Nature.

In a view at sunset, we find Conrail Shared Assets Operations weekly local SA-31, with CSX GP40-2 4429 (ex-Conrail 3346, blt 3/79) working her way through the Borough of Shrewsbury, as she does every Thursday afternoon. There is only 1 regular customer on this 23 mile line, along with 2 others that see infrequent service, so to see a train on these rails that date back to the late 1850’s is a nice sight, and to see a train on a line that has experienced greatly diminished business and two Hurricanes in the past 2 years, and is still in service, is a wonderful occasion. Helping to ‘Restore The Shore’, it is good to see the railroads once again playing an important role, this time bringing much needed building materials to central Jersey for the restoration process.

Image recorded on December 13, 2012.

 

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Welcome back, old friend

The weekend of November 10th, 2012, was a very special one, as the unmistakable sound of a steam whistle officially returned to Hunterdon County, NJ, after a 12 year hiatus. The Black River & Western Railroad threw a big “Welcome Back #60” party, and railfans (and fans in general) came out in the hundreds to celebrate the return of BRW 60 to active duty. Out of service since the year 2000, the hard working men & women of the BR&W completed the overhaul of the Alco 2-8-0 locomotive earlier this year, and several test runs in October proved that the steam program had indeed successfully completed its mission; plans could now be made for the triumphant event.

In this photo, which closely resembles a scene from the 1940’s on what was originally the South Branch of the Central RR of New Jersey, Sundays first excursion run finds the train heading south on the line, crossing the south branch of the Raritan River on the original CNJ truss bridge built over a century ago. During the CNJ days, both freight and passenger trains would interchange with the Pennsylvania RR at Flemington Jct., just 2 miles ahead. Freight does still move on the line, and passengers as well in the form of weekend excursion runs during the May-December operating season; it’s good to see a line first built in the 1860’s still viable these days, and it’s good to see a 1937 product of Schenectady, NY, returning to work, as Alco intended. Welcome back, old friend!

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Image recorded on November 11, 2012

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Paying tribute

In 2012, Norfolk Southern decided to paint twenty of their newest locomotives in special ‘Heritage’ schemes, commemorating the original railroads that now make up the NS system. This action has brought a welcome splash of color to the NS mainlines, due to the very plain black paint with white lettering on the current fleet. Unfortunately, the state of New Jersey has experienced few sightings of these special units to date, but I suppose that will only build anticipation in the railfan community in the coming months. The people’s opinion is unanimous; though incurring extra cost to design and paint these units, NS has created tremendous excitement and goodwill in the industry by recognizing and paying homage to the predecessor roads of years, and centuries, past.

The second Heritage unit to grace the rails of NJ (the Pennsylvania RR unit was the first) is seen entering the Conrail Shared Assets Operations Chemical Coast Secondary in Port Reading, NJ, on a warm & sunny July morning. Today’s NS ethanol train 68Q features the colors of the Central of Georgia RR on NS 8101 (GE ES44AC, blt 2/12), and it is one of the more beautiful locomotives in the Heritage group. Her stay would be short; the ethanol trains, on average, spend less than 48 hours in the area, and she would be on her way west the very next day. With a lot of the newer power in coal train service in the southeast US, the fans in NJ welcome the few special visits that come our way, as evident by about a dozen enthusiasts at this location alone, and several dozen other admirers along the NS mainline in northern NJ. Bravo, NS; thank you for paying tribute to your heritage, and may we all say “job well done”.

Image recorded July 24, 2012.

NS train 68Q Central of Georgia Heritage Unit Port Reading NJ

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An experienced leader

Some seasoned railfans lament that most new locomotives all look the same (“oh great, another friggin’ widecab”), and that the hobby is not as interesting as it once was. This was especially true (until the recently unveiled Heritage Units) along the mainlines of Norfolk Southern, whose ‘basic black’ paint scheme and numerous GE Dash 9 locos left little to get excited about. Once in awhile, though, one will experience some good luck and encounter something a bit out of the ordinary. It’s hard to plan good luck, although internet reports greatly assist; sometimes it just boils down to being in the right place at the right time.

On a beautiful Fall morning in central New Jersey, I make a withdrawal from the ‘luck bank’, and find an old dog leading the pack on NS train 69Q, ethanol empties just beginning their journey west for reload, as the crew transitions from the Conrail Shared Assets Chemical Coast Secondary to the Port Reading Secondary. NS 3337 was built for Conrail in June of 1977, when EMD SD40-2’s were the most common mainline power for all of America’s railroads. In the year 2011, these elder units are mostly used in local or yard service, or occasional mainline service for some of the smaller regional & shortline roads. To find an experienced leader on the point of a Class 1 road train on this day brought a smile to this photographers face, and thoughts of those ‘damn widecabs’ were nowhere to be found.

Image recorded on October 7, 2011.

NS train 69Q with ex-Conrail entering the Port Reading Secondary in Port Reading NJ

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In the beginning….

With the blessing of the Attalla, Alabama town council, the Etowah Historical Society has begun their ‘Junction Park’ project, and the first piece of equipment to be part of this new transportation museum is now on the property. Chesapeake & Ohio caboose 904145 was privately owned by a local family, who then donated it to the Hardin Center for Cultural Arts in nearby Gadsden for display, in memory of their teenage son who was killed in an accident in the early 1990’s. Arrangements were made to keep the hack in the area, and for it to be part of the new and still work-in-progress attraction at Junction Park. The former C&O caboose will be joined by a 1922 built Louisville & Nashville passenger car in the future, and possibly 2 historic streetcars that once plied the streets of Anniston, Alabama.

The Attalla/Gadsden area is steeped with railroad history, with rail lines dating back to the 1860’s, and still plays host to two railroads; class 1 road Norfolk Southern, and the shortline Alabama & Tennessee River, whose Gadsden to Guntersville freight line runs right behind the park. We send our good wishes to the hard working folks of the Etowah Historical Society for a speedy completion of this project, and also thank them for their work of preserving northern Alabama history for future generations to look back on and enjoy.

Image recorded on April 7, 2012, by Jimmy ‘Coach’ Stewart.

Former Chesapeake & Ohio caboose is part of Junction Park in Attalla Alabama

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