Strates Carnival Train 9-6-18: NS 047 through Northern Virginia

Thursday, September 6th was another red letter day of railfanning for me in 2018. I knew the James E Strates Carnival was set to move from the Northeast to its first southern engagement for the fall season in Danville, VA. I had missed it in 2017 due to the train experiencing severe delays, and I estimated that it would come through my area on a Tuesday again. Imagine my surprise Thursday morning when I saw that the train was departing Harrisburg, PA, having begun its journey the previous night. Thankfully, I only had a morning shift (though to be perfectly honest, I would have cancelled all afternoon plans) and after a quick stop at home to grab lunch and my camera bag, I raced off to Front Royal, VA, to catch up with the train on Norfolk Southern’s H Line.

I arrived at the Fairgrounds Road crossing to find a pair of fellow railfans enjoying the usual afternoon parade; both were quite surprised to learn from me that the carnival train was fast approaching. Though I did drive up a mile or so to check out another spot on the railroad, I chose to to the Fairgrounds crossing, which offered a wide open view of the tracks. Hearing the scanner crackle to life, I walked a couple hundred feet up the road to stake out my shot, and waited. The thermometer was nudging 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but thankfully the humidity was low, so standing in the afternoon sun wasn’t entirely miserable. After perhaps 10 minutes of waiting, I finally set eyes on a train I’ve been trying to catch for years; headed by a lone SD70ACu, I began clicking away as the 45 car consist of the last show train in America passed in front of my viewfinder.

After returning to my car and performing a short victory dance, I high-tailed it to my next planned photo location of Delaplane, VA, on Norfolk Southern’s B-Line. I waited for a good 20 minutes, and eventually got nervous that I may have missed the train, so I got back on I-66. While driving east, I heard on the scanner that 047 would meet another train at the Gainesville siding. One of my former favorite railfanning spots, I set up shot at the mostly defunct grade crossing near the Cabellas. The lighting angle was awful, so I elected not to photograph the train. Instead, I let the camcorder roll and simply watched the procession trundle past. Much to my surprise, when the last car of the train cleared, I saw the head end of the other train already parked in the siding; I had expected the Strates train would have to wait for a bit before continuing east. I more than likely broke the speed limit as I raced eight railroad miles east to the curve at Powell Junction, on the southern edge of Manassas, VA, where a handful of other railfans were ready and waiting to take advantage of the excellent evening light at this location.

As the last few cars of the train passed, a pedestrian waiting to cross the tracks asked me “what’s the point of all this?” referring to us railfans incessantly snapping photographs of what, to her, appeared to be just another boring train. I explained to her that this was one of the rarest trains in the country, only passing through here once a year, carrying carnival rides. I also explained that we are simply nerds, which seemed like a more satisfying answer, if surprising to her.

Though I had snapped a picture of nearly every car on the train, I still wasn’t satisfied for the day, and opted to head south for one more runby of the train before heading home. I picked out a spot between Bealeton and Remington, VA, slightly elevated above track level in the hopes of getting a fresh angle on some of the cars. Unfortunately, the light was fading and neither my point-and-shoot camera nor my camcorder were up to the task of capturing crisp images of the train, which was now moving faster on the NS Washington district. Below are three images of the train from this spot, and below that is a link to my YouTube video from this day. As always, thank you for reading and watching!

New River Train 10-20-2018: Twenty-Nine Private Cars sailing through West Virginia

I’m currently sitting on a massive backlog of railfanning pixels to post, and I figured I’d start with the most recent batch and try to work backwards.

Earlier this year, Amtrak announced that they would no longer operate Charter or special trains, and placed additional restrictions on the movement of privately owned passenger cars, colloquially known as Private Varnish, or “PV’s.” This put the famed New River Train in jeopardy, until the state of West Virginia expressed to Amtrak officials their displeasure with the potential loss of multiple millions of dollars of tourist revenue that the excursion service brings in over the course of two weekends. On that basis, Amtrak agreed to run the train in 2018. In recent years, the train changed from using a mix of private cars and Amtrak coaches to using ALL private varnish, as Amtrak found they were running low on spare equipment. This meant that nearly thirty private cars would make their way from across the United States to gather in Huntington, WV, where the New River Train begins and ends its day-long round-trips to Hinton. However, Huntington is an “intermediate” stop for Amtrak, and the new rules regarding the movement of private cars state that such cars can only be added or removed from Amtrak trains at terminal stations. As a result, this year, most of the varnish gathered at Chicago Union Station, then traveled as a unit with three dedicated locomotives to Huntington, WV (aside from the first leg of the journey, where the consist was attached to the Hoosier State service, which terminates in Indiana). Once the consist arrived in Huntington, some minor switching was performed to arrange the cars in the desired order, as well as add a couple of private cars that reside in Huntington, along with one or two that arrived by freight train. Given the concern that this may be the last year the train operates after a 50 year history, I made my own way to West Virginia to photograph the popular excursion as it passed through the beautiful countryside and the famed New River Gorge.

I woke up late on Friday, so not much railfanning was accomplished on the way to my hotel room in Charleston, WV, but I did stop in Alderson to eat lunch and saw one coal train, which had mid-train helpers; both are things I rarely see in my home railfanning turf of Northern Virginia.

I woke up relatively early on Saturday to drive 45 minutes from Charleston to my first spot of the day at Barboursville, WV. The drive was nerve-wracking, as road construction put me further behind schedule than I would have liked. Still, I arrived with about ten minutes to spare, and although my still images didn’t turn out due to the cloudy weather, I shot a decent video of the train and got a horn salute from the engineer!

The highways do not follow the railroads very well in this area, and experienced railfans advise that chasing the New River Train is almost impossible. Because of this, my second photo spot (and last one of the Eastbound leg of the trip) was in Thurmond, WV; two hours from Barboursville, which required driving on some VERY narrow twisting and winding roads. I arrived with perhaps 30 minutes to spare, and a small group of railfans had already formed a photo line, which I joined. The train was traveling rather slowly through this area, which meant I was able to get a picture of ALMOST every car on the train. Apologies to the J. Pickney Henderson, I was waving to some passengers and came in late on the capture button.

While the other railfans departed to continue their chase, I chose to stay behind and photograph an incredibly common, but rare to me, scene: a coal train passing through Thurmond.

Although an R.J. Corman employee informed me that a cut of coal cars would be coming down the branch (seen in the lower right of the last photo), I got bored of waiting, and saw no movement on the branch as I drove away from Thurmond. After another hour of stressful West Virginia back-road driving, I arrived in Hinton just in time to see the locomotives coupling up to the other end of the train. This meant I got to view the “egg test.” A few years ago, the organizers of the NRT started placing an egg on the coupler of the last car; the challenge to the engineer is to couple up to the train of vintage passenger cars so gently that the egg does not break. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see if the egg survived the ordeal or not.

I briefly walked around the Railroad Days festival at Hinton, but I was too broke to sample any of the local foods or arts & crafts. So, I departed for yet more nerve-wracking West Virginia back-road driving to reach my final photo spot of the day at Hawks Nest, WV, where the National Park Service has an overlook of the railroad bridge across the gorge.

While awaiting the arrival of the now-westbound New River train, the rumble of an eastbound coal train echoed off the gorge from miles away. The downside was that the coal train went by on the bridge track, diminishing my hopes for capturing the entire NRT in one shot.

After the passing of the coal train, more waiting ensued. Tourists came and went, including a gaggle of high school girls taking their homecoming photos, and while I waited I briefly turned my camera towards the many birds flying above the gorge.

I’d like to say “I GUESS THAT’S WHY THEY CALL IT HAWKS NEST, HAHAHAHA” but… this is a vulture.

Finally, after nearly 90 minutes of waiting, a glimpse of headlights through the trees upriver alerted myself and the other railfans to the impending arrival of the New River Train.

Getting back to the interstate from Hawks Nest required one more hour of driving back-country roads, and the West Virginia interstates weren’t as well-laid-out as the ones in Virginia. I made it about 3 hours on the interstate before I gave in and took a nap before the final 2-hour push home. A stressful trip, but certainly worthwhile to see a beautiful collection of vintage passenger cars among gorge-ous scenery. While this was my first time seeing the New River Train, I am hopeful that it won’t be the last. A YouTube video is linked below, and as always, thank you for reading!

Railfanning 8-26-18: Amtrak Phase IV, PRLX Leasers, and Exports for Ukraine!


This day's railfanning begin with what I thought would be the highlight catch of the day: Amtrak's Phase IV Heritage Unit leading the Roanoke Regional north into D.C. I had attempted to photograph this engine the previous weekend at Alexandria, VA, but my shot was ruined by the arrival of another train on the near track, blocking my preferred angle at the last second. Thankfully I had a shot at redemption, as the locomotive has been based out of D.C. Union Station's Ivy City shops all week. My favorite part has to be the perfect stripe formed with the Phase IV lines matching up with the Amfleet coaches!

Though I wasn't expecting more trains anytime soon, I opted to park up near the Manassas station and relax for a while. However, the weather was a bit too hot to just sit in the car, and I was parked near some kind of military special event, meaning folks kept walking past my truck. I decided to give in and head home, but just as I crossed the tracks, my scanner crackled to life with the call of the 19.7 Defect Detector on the B-Line. At first I thought about catching the impending train at the wye south of the Manassas depot, but I decided to take a chance on photographing the train from the Route 28 bridge over the tracks to the west of the wye. My scanner wasn't functioning very well, so I couldn't make out the ID of the train. While I had hoped for an intermodal train led by an SD70ACe, I was still reasonably satisfied with the shots I got of manifest freight 35Q:

Satisfied with two trains, I went home. I got on the computer to edit and upload what pictures I had, and then I saw a heads-up that was exciting enough to make me leave the house again: a train of export locomotives had just left Hagerstown, MD, heading for Norfolk, VA. I've always wanted to catch exports, and with the potential closing of the GE plant in Erie, PA, my opportunities to do so are limited. I was back trackside quickly enough that I managed to see intermodal train 214 with an ex-BNSF PRLX leaser engine, still retaining its cream-n'-green paint, though lacking any BNSF markings.

I could hear the export special move, train ID 052, coming east on the B-Line. The train had already taken the siding to meet 214, and was able to hop up one more siding to meet train 12R.

After the passing of 12R, I returned to the popular spot of the Manassas Wye, which has the best evening lighting in the area, as any wise railfan will tell you. Sure enough, one had beaten me there, and another showed up shortly after me! We agreed on a spot for the photo line, and were pleasantly surprised by the passage of a low-boy trailer carrying one of the military tanks from the aforementioned special event.

Finally, the prize catch of the day arrived at the wye. Hauled by another boring Dash 9 (I look forward to the days when these become an endangered species, to see everyone scramble from ignoring them to getting their "last pics") a set of seven GE TE33ACs on flatcars make their way south from Erie, PA, to the port at Norfolk, VA, for shipment to Ukraine.

A YouTube video of today's trains is available below. As some of my video didn't turn out quite as well as I would like, I interspliced some still images with the video to see if that would improve things enough to make it all worth posting. Let me know what you think, and as always, thank you for reading!

Railfanning 5-13-18: Alto Tower

A pair of SD40E helper engines drift past Alto Tower in Altoona, PA, heading back up the mountain to assist another train down the slope.

My morning on May 13th was expected to be a tad bittersweet. As stated in my previous post, the plan for the day had been to chase the now-cancelled PRR E Unit excursion. I was already considering just heading back to Tyrone to perfect some of the angles I shot on my first day, but then I got some interesting news: privately owned Pennsylvania-railroad painted car "Colonial Crafts" (and it's new sibling, Boston and Maine "Salisbury Beach") were heading east on Amtrak's Pennsylvanian. I knew this would afford me a chance at redemption; a rare opportunity to photograph a PRR car in PRR territory! So, I parked in downtown Altoona and made my way to the bridge overlooking Alto Tower, one of the remaining PRR "Cabins" left along the Pittsburgh line.

I didn't have to wait long for a train to show up; a westbound oil train soon rolled through, heading back over the mountains for another load. As its FRED disappeared into the fog, an eastbound manifest headlight appeared like clockwork, slowly rolling off the foot of the slope, crossing over to the center track. It was about this time that the rain started back up, and HARD. After snapping an image of the SD70MAC leader, I retreated to the relative dry underneath the road overpass. I spent the next 45 minutes watching trains roll by, constantly checking my phone for updates on the slightly delayed Amtrak. Although being effectively stuck under the bridge wasn't ideal, it was still a great front-row seat to the action of the Pittsburgh Line:

Finally, about 40 minutes behind schedule, I got what was probably the highlight catch of the weekend:

ex-PRR "Colonial Crafts" passes by ex-PRR Alto Tower on ex-PRR rails in an ex-PRR town.

I shot no video during this time, thanks to the rain. Once I had this shot, I opted to return to Tyrone to continue working the angles I had photographed the previous day. But first, a magical moment: as I returned to my vehicle, I saw a local freight heading for the branch line that curves off to the left in the above pictures. While it trundled through town, both a westbound coal train and an eastbound intermodal appeared. I had no decent camera angle, so I opted to just watch as three trains passed in front of me simultaneously. Certainly a highlight of the trip!

Please be sure to check out my two other blogs from this trip: Tyrone Day 1, and Tyrone Day 2. As always, thanks for reading!

Railfanning 5-12-18: Tyrone, PA, Day 1

An unidentified intermodal train leans into the curve at Tyrone, PA

An unidentified intermodal train leans into the curve at Tyrone, PA

Over the second weekend of May 2018, I made a trip to the Altoona area of Pennsylvania. My initial plan was to photograph and chase the PRR E-Units on their final mainline excursion, but unfortunately that outing was cancelled due to new Amtrak policies that stated they would no longer charter trains. In spite of this, my hotel room was non-refundable, so I figured I'd go up anyway and enjoy the weekend photographing the usual traffic on Norfolk Southern's Pittsburgh Line, one of the busiest in the nation.

I had planned out a series of photo locations, with the first one being the small hamlet of Tyrone, PA. During my drive up on the interstate, I drove between two massive thunderstorm cells, one on each side of the highway. Upon arriving at the train station in Tyrone, I was greeted by a warning siren going off throughout the town. Concerning at first, but a bit of research showed that this siren was simply a "severe weather" warning due to the storms rolling over the mountains. The rain was on and off, but I still managed a series of photographs. The first train to roll through was manifest freight 11E. It arrived so quickly, I didn't even have time to set up my camcorder!

Hot on the heels of 11E was intermodal train 23M, which got slower and slower as it went by. If I understood the scanner chatter correctly, it was taking the third track to meet another train.

Behind 23M was train 60N, a steel slab unit train, known for needing many helper engines to get over the grade west of Altoona.

By this point, the weather had started deteriorating, and due to the storm clouds, my scanner range dropped considerably. This meant I was unable to identify most of the rest of the trains I saw over the course of the evening, though I of course continued to capture pixels.

Continuing the westbound parade, we had Amtrak's Pennsylvanian make its stop at the tiny Tyrone "station" area.

Another unidentified westbound intermodal

While it had rained a bit earlier in the afternoon, it wasn't until after Amtrak departed that the skies really opened up. As such, the next train was photographed from inside the small shelter on the platform.

The catch of the day turned out to be this Operation Lifesaver engine, leading yet another westbound intermodal train, which I was unable to identify.

Finally, the last three trains of the evening were eastbounds. The fading light didn't afford much in the way of close-up pictures, but distant shots turned out rather well I thought.

Last train before the light faded on a busy evening along Norfolk Southern's Pittsburgh Line.

A video of the Operation Lifesaver unit and one other train is linked below (unfortunately the videos of most of the other trains didn't turn out terribly well). Please stay tuned for Parts 1 & 2 from Day 2 of my Pennsylvania trip, and as always, thanks for reading!

Railfanning 6-16-18: NS Safety Train, 13R with the Reading Heritage Unit, and 203

Today was a red-letter day for railfanning in 2018! My original plan was to wake up early and take advantage of the Eastern sunlight for a few morning trains. Unfortunately, when my alarms went off at 6:30am, my desire to stay in bed and continue sleeping grossly overruled my desire to go railfanning. I eventually got out of bed at nearly 2pm, and assumed I had missed it all... until I saw online that the Norfolk Southern Safety Train was still in Hagerstown, MD, manifest freight 13R with the Reading heritage unit had only just left Hagerstown, and an empty coal train with the Wabash heritage unit was still sitting in the siding at Gainesville after parking there the previous night.

I made a hasty breakfast and took a quick shower (as I planned to meet a friend for dinner in the evening) and headed west on I-66, which the B-Line... roughly follows. I reasoned that I probably wouldn't be able to beat 13R to Front Royal or points further, so I opted to set up shot at Marshall, VA, about halfway down the B-Line, and one of the few spots where the afternoon sunlight is decent enough for eastbound trains. Indeed, I was right that I wouldn't beat the train to Front Royal, but shortly after Front Royal, 13R got stopped by issues with PTC, with 947 and even 203 stacking up behind it. This of course meant that the afternoon sun angle was a little too far west by the time the train arrived, running VERY slowly. However, I still managed some decent shots that I'm rather pleased with:

I barely had enough time to grab some water and change positions before 947 came roaring through, hot on the heels of 13R. The crew was very enthusiastic with the waves and with the horn.

I wasn't entirely pleased with my images of 947, so I decided I'd leapfrog the train to the curve at Powell Junction near Manassas, VA, which was guaranteed to provide me with some quality evening lighting. Unexpectedly, I also passed train 13R; I saw it from the highway snaking through the curves at Broad Run. I arrived at Powell Junction while the freight was calling the signal at Wellington, approximately six miles away. This gave me a bit of practice with the available light to make sure I'd capture something better of 947, but the images of 13R turned out quite well themselves!

947 was following 13R as closely as possible down the B-Line. As soon as the switch was clear at Powell, the dispatcher threw it to immediately give a high green to the safety special to pass 13R on Track 1.

Despite its higher priority, at no point on the B-Line did intermodal train 203 pass 947, even though the dispatching system's Auto-Router kept lining 947 into sidings (apparently this was because it was following 13R a little too closely). 203 had nothing too special for power or cargo, but it did have a very friendly engineer!

Not long after 203 had passed, I got a text from a friend that she was ready to meet me for dinner in Chantilly, which isn't far from Manassas. However, there was one more heritage unit in the area that needed photographing. NS train 741, an empty coal re-route, had been parked in the siding at Gainesville for nearly a day, with the Wabash engine second in the consist. I drove around back of the Cabelas near the siding, but the lighting was atrocious. So, I parked up and began walking over to the other side of the tracks, when I was stopped by yet another train! 228 was running later than usual, and roared through Gainesville. I wasn't prepared to photograph it at all, but I still tried for something a little bit artsy. Practice makes perfect!

Once 228 had passed, I walked to the spot overlooking the swamp on the opposite side of the tracks from the Cabelas, and found that the engines on 741 were just a BIT too far away and the angle just wasn't quite right. So, I did something incredibly stupid, which was to pull over on the I-66 on-ramp (the traffic was pretty light, in my defense!) to jump out, snap a picture, and jump back into the truck. Was this a poor choice? Yes. Do I still want to get a better shot of 1070, in motion and leading, when I can? Yes. Am I going to check it off my heritage unit list? VERY yes!

As always, video is linked below. Thanks for reading and enjoy the pictures!

RF&P 101 Finale 5-19-18: Final Excursions for the GP7

On Saturday, May 19th, 2018, I woke up even earlier than I do on work days to drive nearly 3 hours to Dillwyn, VA. Why? Because after 65 years of service, (33 with its original owner, and 32 with the Buckingham Branch RR) Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad GP7 #101 was slated for retirement. The engine was rebuilt by RF&P in the mid-1980s using the frame from sister engine #104, and was then leased to the Buckingham Branch Railroad. The engine has served both her leaser and the Old Dominion chapter of the NRHS quite well, hauling wood chips and passenger excursions for each respectively, but at long last, the BB has acquired sufficient power to replace the old geep, which will likely be placed on static display in the beginning of June. As a result, a final series of excursion runs on the 17-mile Dillwyn branch were scheduled, and despite the gray and wet weather, I made the trip to see the old engine run one more time.

The trip began reasonably enough; the train was only travelling at about 10mph, which made leapfrogging it from crossing to crossing very easy. Myself and about five other cars of railfans were having a great time. Then I got to my most anticipated shot of the day; a small trestle over a now-swollen creek, not far from the James River. I parked, walked in to the trestle, set up my shot and waited...
and waited...
and got eaten by mosquitoes, and waited...
and waited...
and threw stones in the swollen creek, and waited...
and waited...
and after about an hour, I reasoned that by this point, the train should have passed me in both directions. My cell phone battery was nearly dead (I had no reception to find out what had gone wrong) so I gave up and opted to return to the depot at Dillwyn, where I found the train had been sitting for a time. It turned out that the excursion encountered high water just a mile or so from my location, and reversed direction earlier than expected. Some of my still images hadn't turned out as I well as I would have liked, but I still chose not to chase the afternoon trip; a fairly wise decision, as I later learned that engine 101 experienced a malfunction, and a second diesel was added in front of it to complete the excursion run. 

Currently, I'm hoping to return to Dillwyn at the beginning of June for a second chance at photographs, and hopefully 101 will be in working order by then, ending its career on a high note! Pictures and video are shown below, and as always, thanks for reading!

Railfanning 5-19-18: NS 12R, Amtrak 20, 214 (with a UP trio!) and 203

After spending my morning chasing one of the final excursions for RF&P #101, I opted to take a leisurely drive home by stopping at various locations along the way to railfan Norfolk Southern's Washington District. My trip north on US 15 brought me close to the tracks beginning around Orange, VA, and I hopped off on some side roads to try and get a better shot. I had seen photographs from other railfans taken at railroad location Winston, where a group of signals govern the control point of the tracks splitting in two northward before reaching Culpeper, VA. I parked up and didn't have to wait long before train 12R came through:

Afterwards, I doubled-back 10 miles down the single-track line to another point where the tracks split in two, or merge into one for northbound traffic. The entire Washington to Atlanta mainline was double-tracked until the 1980s, when dispatchers and management found that they could make do with alternating 10-mile sections of single track and double track (fun fact: dispatchers were asked to give this technique a try by putting electrical tape over the tracks on their CTC boards. When it was determined that alternating single and double track would work, the tracks were physically removed both from the board and in real life). This way, trains could meet each other without either train having to come to a complete stop. This principle was demonstrated to me at Rapidan, where I watched Amtraks northbound Crescent, running quite late, rip through on Main 2, followed closely by intermodal train 214 on Main 1, which had been overtaken by the Amtrak and was now picking up speed again. I was hoping for a shot with both trains in the image, but thanks to the efficiency of 10-mile double-track, 214 did not have to wait at the stop signal at this interlocking point as I had hoped.

Usually, once I've bagged three trains on the Wash, I call it a day. The line only sees ~15 trains a day, most of which pass through at night. However, as I was driving home, now on US 29, I caught a glimpse of 214's tail through the trees, and my scanner (which I hadn't bothered to turn off yet) informed me that the train would be changing crews at Bristow. This would give me ample time to set up a second shot of the train at Gainesville. So, I did!

Once again, I was ready to head home at this point, but the scanner again informed me that perhaps I ought to wait; 214 would be meeting 203 just up the line. 203 is a favorite of mine, and I threw my cares out the window and parked up at the crossing at Wellington (where I typically film westbounds, rarely eastbounds) to see one more train for the day. Admittedly the consist of 203 wasn't terribly special, but it was still one more train in the books for the day:

A link to a YouTube video from today is provided below, and as always, thanks for reading!

03-30-18: Make VRE Interesting Again


Ever since the VRE roster became completely standardized with the final delivery of the Sumitomo/Nippon-Sharyo Gallery coaches, my interest in photographing commuter trains has heavily diminished. Seeing as they all look practically identical, I find them about as interesting as subways. Having mulled on this for a time, I decided to challenge myself to "Make VRE Interesting Again" by finding some artsy angles and taking some long exposures to jazz up my images. To facilitate this, I made the morning trains my target, both for the morning sun angle AND to take advantage of the darkness before the sunrise so the headlamps and trim lights on the cab cars (which face North, leading the trains for the AM rush) would stand out a bit more. 

I started out at Rolling Road station, just east of Burke, VA, as I hoped the shorter platform would give me less clutter in front of the lead coach. It kinda worked, kinda didn't. I also opted for long exposures, as short exposures wouldn't take in nearly enough light for the scene. The results aren't stellar, but good enough for me!

While I made a donut run in between the 6:08am and 6:48am trains, the natural light went from dark to the pre-sunset "blue hour," which still allowed for some shots accentuating the lights on the platform.

After the 6:48am train, I was expecting the southbound deadhead run to pass by well before the 7:08am train, however it actually *delayed* the 7:08am train, as it came down the same main as the Northbound trains, crossing over in front of the 7:08am train at the Burke crossovers just South of the Rolling Road station. Although I had planned to take bridge shot of the 7:08am train, I was now stuck, having waited for my shot of the southbound train, which didn't even turn out that well. Nevertheless, I made the best of a less-than-ideal situation and tried what I did on the 6:48am train, but with slightly better lighting.

Next, I walked up to the Rolling Road bridge from the station, which took about ten minutes. I really wanted a straight-on nose shot of the orange striped cab car leading the train towards DC. As you can see in the first picture of this blog, I captured one good shot with the blue engine still rounding the corner; a nice contrast to the silver Gallery coaches. In this shot, the whole train is gathering speed on the straightaway.

I also tried a trestle shot at Lake Accotink, but the clouds were uncooperative, so I'll have to try that one another time.

Thanks for reading, please enjoy the pictures!


Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum 11-12-17

My early morning on November 12th, 2017 was spent documenting Southern Railway #4501 as it departed Grand Junction, Tennessee, bound for Georgia. After the steam excursion left, I found myself in a quiet yard full of historic railroad equipment. I immediately set my sights on Tennessee Valley Railway Museum's fine collection of ex-Southern diesels, which includes SD40-2 #3170. This engine was restored to its Southern paint scheme by successor Norfolk Southern, and shortly was donated to TVRM after about a year of it running around the modern NS rail system. Rumor has it the engine needs a bit of mechanical work, but externally it is in gorgeous shape.

My stroll through the display yard was then interrupted by the arrival of TVRMs Missionary Ridge Local, the passenger service that hauls tourists 3 miles up the line to the East Chattanooga depot and Soule shop complex. I sprung the extra $20 for a cab ride, and was welcomed into another beautifully restored locomotive on the TVRM roster. Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia Railway GP38 #80 was recently purchased at auction from Norfolk Southern, and repainted into its original colors. 

The engineer was a delight, and so were the sights and sounds from the cab as we rolled over multiple bridges and through the Missionary Ridge tunnel. I declined the option to leave the cab to join the tour group inside the Soule shops, which I slightly regret as I could have seen Southern E8 #6914 under restoration. However, I did get a shot of a couple more ex-NS engines, including Southern #5000, the first GP38-2 bought by the railroad. 

After my cab ride, I spent a chunk of dollars in the gift shop, and aimed my camera at a few more interesting pieces of rolling stock in the yard. The crown jewel shot from the day was the upward-nose shot of Southern GP30 #2594. I had many books on railroads as a young child, and a similar picture of another Southern GP30 really captured my imagination back then, and perhaps helped spark the Southern as my favorite railroad. Admittedly, I had to climb a bit on the adjacent GP38-2 #5044 to get the right angle, but the results were worth it!

Once I had my shots, I reluctantly returned to my truck and set out for the 10 hour drive home. My Southern trip had been a considerable success, and as I drove out of the parking lot, I was already plotting my eventual return to this part of the country. There's plenty more railroading to see down here, and I brim with anticipation as I think about my next journey to Southern territory. Look ahead, look South!

Thanks for reading, please enjoy the pictures!

Summerville Steam Special 11-11-17: Southern 4501 in the Georgia Countryside

Veterans Day 2017 was another red-letter day for railfanning in my book: I finally checked another steam engine off my list. Southern Railway #4501 is 2-8-2 Mikado type engine, and was the first engine to pull excursion trains in the Southern Railways steam program that began in the late 1960s. When Norfolk Southern ended the steam program in 1994, engine 4501 returned to its home at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and operated for a couple more years until it reached the end of its FRA certification. Because the museum had two other perfectly functioning steam engines, overhauling 4501 was not a priority for well over a decade. However, in 2011, Norfolk Southern revived its steam excursion program, and sought the use of TVRM engine 630 as part of the lineup. Seeing the opportunity to run their larger steam engine, TVRM began work to restore 4501 in time to participate in the 21st Century Steam excursions, and the locomotive came back to life in late summer of 2014. The engine participated in the final year of Norfolk Southern's 21st Century Steam program (2015), and now lives a life of considerable leisure, hauling tourists on the 3-mile line within the museum grounds, and occasionally pulling longer excursions down the Chattanooga & Chickamauga Railway to Summerville, Georgia. Capturing one of these longer excursions was the main purpose of my trip to North Carolina and Tennessee in November of 2017.

From my hotel room across the river in Chattanooga, I could hear the mournful whistle of 4501 echoing across the valley. I knew that the train wasn't scheduled to leave until 9am, and these whistles I was hearing at 8am were merely the engine running from the shops at East Chattanooga to the boarding platform at Grand Junction, but I still raced through breakfast and hurried down to my first spot of the day: just outside the southern portal of the Missionary Ridge Tunnel, a pre-civil-war engineering marvel. I was joined by a handful of other railfans who had made similar multi-hour journeys to view this gorgeous steam locomotive in its natural habitat, and we were treated to an incredible show as the old Mikado blasted out of the tunnel.

Up until this point, my only experience with chasing steam excursions was with N&W 611, which runs the full 40mph permitted by Norfolk Southern for old equipment on their mainlines. As such, I raced ahead to my next spot on the southern edge of the Missionary Ridge. I waited for a few moments, and then became concerned that I had missed the train, and once again drove like a maniac to reach my third scheduled spot of the day in Rock Springs, Georgia... where I waited for well over half an hour for the train to show up. The line from Chattanooga to Summerville is fairly well maintained, but 4501 prefers to maintain a slower pace to give passengers a smoother ride.

Rock Springs is a popular photo spot thanks to the S curve ending next to an old abandoned house, and a grade crossing with two crossbucks instead of modern flashers and gates. This made a nice frame as the old engine roared through, with the whistle clipping the mic on my camcorder!

My game of leapfrog continued, and I landed at my fourth spot, south of Lafayette, Georgia. This location had a modern crossing system, complete with electronic bell; a sound which provided a stark contrast to the brass bell and steam whistle of the 4501. I was also able to pull off a zoom-shot of the engine approaching through a tree tunnel of sorts.

In the first picture, you can see an arm waving out of the cab of the engine. This is because some dingbat of a woman was standing IN THE GAUGE behind me to get her own shot. After the train had passed, she asked me about any good spots with tree tunnels and curves in the area. I had to reply that I didn't know, for two reasons: Firstly, because she was clearly an idiot for standing in the gauge and I didn't want to help her continue to be an idiot, and B: because I only had my spots for the day listed in my GPS as "Spot 1 South, Spot 2 South, Spot 3 South" and so on, and I had no idea what the next location actually looked like. However, it did turn out that my next spot had the two ingredients she was after: tree tunnel and a curve. And a crossing for some whistle action, to boot!

A couple of video-only locations later, I arrived in Summerville, GA, to a COMPLETE madhouse. There was some sort of Veterans Day festival centered around the arrival of the steam train, and I found myself trying to shoot video while surrounded by people who had zero respect for anyone with a camera. I could slightly sympathize as most of these people were....well, normies... not railfans, and therefore weren't familiar with concepts like the photo line. On top of that, the lighting was absolutely terrible while the engine was on the turntable. Given that I was hungry, and my truck was thirsty (and so was the steam engine, as it was taking on water from a fire hydrant when I left) I frequented the local Bojangles and gas station, then set up for my next shot at the bridge in Trion, GA. By this point in the day, the sun was almost directly overhead, and the lighting on either side of the bridge wasn't particularly good (note that the face of the engine is in shadow) so I took the opportunity to make a few roster shots of the historic passenger cars in the train.

I then, once again, overestimated the speed of the train, and found myself waiting in Chickamauga, Georgia with a fair bit of time to kill. I had thought my spot would be overrun with fellow photographers, but instead I only had two, both of whom made sure to stay out of my shot. The result is, I think, one of the best pictures I've ever taken:

After snagging this beauty, I made a couple of unscheduled stops; the first was a spot along Missionary Ridge that I had tried in the morning, but chickened out as I thought I had missed the train. The second was a crossing near the run-down industrial district of Chattanooga, where a nice open field provided a backlit shot of the engine nearing the end of its run.

Finally, I arrived back at the depot in Grand Junction, yet again a bit far ahead of the train. Thankfully, the depot is situated adjacent to a busy Norfolk Southern mainline, and I was treated to the passing of a couple of freights while waiting for 4501 to arrive. The engine spun its drivers a bit on the sharp grade at the east end of the depot, and immediately upon arriving, the museum's Tennessee, Alabama & Georgia Railroad GP38 went to work switching the passenger consist for the next day's steam special.

At this point, I was entirely out of camera batteries, my phone was almost dead, and I was unbelievably tired after 11 hours of train chasing. I stopped at a steakhouse on my way back to the hotel and had a very pleasant meal to cap off a wonderful day of railfanning.

The next morning, I had planned to actually visit the grounds of the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, but I arrived early for one more look at Southern 4501 before it departed for Summerville again. The TAG GP38 had clearly been busy with the coach consist, as the entire train was now Tuscan Red, rather than a mix of paint schemes. As much as I prefer a mis-matched consist on an excursion train, I was VERY tempted to chase the train through the rolling Georgia countryside again, but time would not permit it. So, I settled for a variety of close-ups on the engine, and a short video of the train departing Grand Junction.

As always, thank you for reading and enjoying the pictures and video!

Strasburg Railroad #89: 10-13-17

Strasburg 89 has its tender topped off for the days runs. The engine will use half a ton of coal on each 4.5 mile round trip from Strasburg to Paradise and return.

For the second weekend of October, I opted to treat myself to a mini-vacation. With school back in session, my teaching workload has increased, and I decided I could use a little break. So I headed up to Strasburg, PA to take the Hostling tour offered on Friday mornings during the warmer months of the year. I was hoping for number 90, or perhaps 475 one more time before it goes down for its FRA 1472-day overhaul. Instead, I was treated to number 89, which recently returned from its own overhaul, having last operated several years ago. While at first I wasn't entirely thrilled, I quickly warmed up to the cute little Canadian engine and found it to be very photogenic!

During our tour, the yard crews were busy arranging the day's freight delivery, as well as shuffling historic freight and passenger cars in preparation for the weekend runs. This meant we were treated to a couple runbys of 8618, an ex-NYC switch engine that is typically used to haul the freight on the Strasburg Railroad. I also had the good fortune of a brief cab ride while 89 pulled 90 out of the enginehouse! 90 had just had its fire lit in preparation for running trains over the weekend, while 89 would be taken out of service after today's trips for some minor maintenance. But for now, the little 2-6-0 was fired up, and we got to watch as the crew blew down the boiler, blew out the stack, and wiped the engine clean for a day of hauling tourists in the Amish countryside.

While I'm normally not all excited by *riding* trains (especially since I've ridden the Strasburg railroad many times before), buying a ticket on this days train gave me a bragging right: I have now ridden behind all four steam engines on the Strasburg roster! 90 when I was a little kid, 31 when I was in my teens, 475 last year, and now 89. A friend pointed out that I haven't ridden behind their live-steam Thomas the Tank Engine, and I hope to keep it this way, as I am not willing to brave the crowds of Day Out With Thomas for such a small accomplishment x)

Please enjoy the pictures, thanks for reading, and be sure to check out my next blog from the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, located just across the street from the Strasburg Railroad.