A very special guest

Well, where to begin? The train is not unusual, as there are daily ethanol trains arriving in the central New Jersey area; in fact, sometimes two per day for the refineries.  What ‘is’ special about this photo is the lead unit, Canadian National C40-8M 2444, one of only 55 built for CN, and one of only 84 ever constructed.  In 1990, General Electric was commissioned to build a ‘cold weather’ version of its popular C40-8 locomotive by 3 Canadian roads, and the ‘cowl body’ Dash 8 was born. Due to the extreme winter weather in the Canadian provinces, the full body locos were designed for performance and crew issues in the cold climates north of the border.  The other owners include BC Rail (26 units), and Quebec, North Shore & Labrador (3 units).  Canadian National units are not completely foreign to NJ, but they are few and far between, and to see one on the east coast is enough to bring one trackside.

In this scene, we find Port Reading Yard-based Conrail Shared Assets Operations crew PR-8, pulling the empties from the storage facility and travelling just a mile ahead for staging, to await a CSX road crew to board. Shortly, this train will become CSX symbol K635-28, and head up the CSX River Line towards Selkirk, NY, for points west.  CN 2444 (blt 12/92) and CSX 163 (AC44CW, blt 5/96)  will easily handle the 80 or so tank cars up alongside the Hudson River, and 2444 will have hopefully enjoyed her stay as a very special guest in the Garden State.

Image recorded March 28, 2013

Canadian National CSX on Conrail Chemical Coast Secondary in Port Reading NJ

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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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Midwestern visitors add color to the Chemical Coast

One never knows what power will bring the daily ethanol trains from the midwest to the shores of central New Jersey, and this day was one of those good days to be trackside. Adding a splash of color to the Conrail Shared Assets Chemical Coast Line are representatives from the Iowa, Chicago & Eastern, which is actually now part of the Canadian Pacific Railway as part of CP’s Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern subsidiary. IC&E and DM&E locos were never seen in this region before 2009, but since then, the handsome blue & yellow units make an appearance almost monthly in this area. Since the ethanol process involves corn, it makes sense that units from the railroads that serve the midwest will make their way eastward, assisting NS and CSX in moving the hundreds of trains to this region every year.

With NS C40-9W 9825 leading the train, we see ICE 6407, an SD40-2 originally built for the Missouri Pacific Railroad in April of 1980, and ICE 6411, an SD40-2 built for the Union Pacific Railroad in February of 1979. As with many of the DM&E and IC&E locomotives, the 6407 pays tribute to one of the cities & towns along the regional carriers route in the states of Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and South Dakota, in this case the ‘City of Clinton’, Iowa, seen under the road number on the side of the cab. These two units will not spend much time on the Jersey Shore, as it is normally ‘in one day, and out the next’ for the ethanol trains, but it was good to see a visit from some friendly out-of-town folks. Ya’ll come back, ya’ hear?!

Image recorded September 23, 2010

Conrail Chemical Coast Secondary Port Reading NJ NS train 68Q

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Still together after all these years

It’s hard to find two locomotives built for the Erie Lackawanna Railroad still in daily use, but it is a common occurence in central New Jersey. Although now de-rated to 3000 horsepower after being rebuilt to SD40-2 specs, these November, 1972 products of GM’s Electro Motive Division still retain their as-built carbodies, and will always be an ‘SD45-2’ to me. With newer road units hauling the freight out on the mainline, these older six-axle locomotives are perfect for the lower speed transfer runs for which they are utilized, mainly due to their tremendous tractive effort and power. There are presently 6 ex-El units lurking in central/northern NJ, operating out of the Oak Island terminal, and the daily Oak Island transfer to Port Reading Yard and Browns Yard will almost always have at least one of the SD45-2’s on the head-end, and as many as three! In the scene below, we see the daily OI-16 (frequently classified as JR-2 on Mondays) southbound on the Chemical Coast Secondary after working Pt. Reading Yard, with NS 1702 (ex-CR 6659, nee-EL 3674, blt 11/72) and CSX 8886 (ex-CR 6661,nee-EL 3676, blt 11/72) in the lead. The conductor gives a friendly wave to the flagman at MP18.5, after confirming by radio that it was safe to pass through the area, with local utility work being done trackside. In another 2 miles, the crew will enter the New Jersey Transit North Jersey Coast Line at CP WOOD for the short jump across the Raritan River; they will then access the Amboy Secondary at SA Tower and head 6 miles west to Browns Yard in Sayreville for the last set-off. These old girls are still together after all these years, and hopefully will be around for many years to come.

Image recorded on August 7, 2010.

Conrail train OI16 southbound on the Chemical Coast Secondary at Sewaren

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