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!