East Coast Trip, 8/28/98 - 9/7/98

By Jerry Jordak

At the end of the summer of 1998, I took a 10-day trip to the East Coast, specificially Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey, to cover Amtrak and commuter passenger operations. The following is an account of my trip.

During the account, there are some questions that I had from the trip. If you can provide answers or want to give me any feedback, please e-mail me at jer@smellycat.com. Thanks!

Day 0: Friday, August 28

Into the wild blue yonder

Armed with plenty of clothes, my hiking boots, camera, 15 rolls of film, and a binder filled with maps, articles, and schedules (known as the "Book of Knowledge"), I flew out of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport to Bradley International Airport, north of Hartford, Conn. The flight was rather nice, being clear much of the way there. A real highlight for me was flying over the Hudson River valley just south of Albany--you could see the New York Thruway and the Conrail bridges side-by-side over the valley. The Conrail bridge had a train on it coming into Selkirk Yard. After arriving at the airport, I picked up my rental car (a 1998 Pontiac Sunfire four-door), and drove to Waterbury, where I stayed the night.

Welcome back to the East Coast

On the way to Waterbury, I remembered from my prior trip that Connecticut drivers have no fear. I was routinely passed by everyone else on the road. In downtown Hartford on I-84, the speed limit is 40, I was doing 50, and everyone else was doing at least 60. Welcome to East Coast, I thought. I think state of Connecticut purposely makes the speed limits artifically low, knowing that people will speed anyway. I mean, 40 MPH on an 8-lane interstate through a city--even Cleveland has a higher speed limit than that.... (Can anyone confirm or deny my theory?)

Day 1: Saturday, August 29

"I came this far for a stealth unit?"

I arose bright and early that morning. My focus for the day was to be the Metro-North Waterbury Branch between Devon and Waterbury through the Naugatuck River valley. Shuttle trains, powered by FL9 locomotives, operate push-pull fashion between Waterbury and Bridgeport, on the New Haven Line. State Route 8 parallels the line for most of the way and functions as the primary chase road for this line. The sun was shining brightly and the sky was clear.

(NOTE: For purposes of this report, "New Haven Line" will refer to the electrified part of the former New York, New Haven & Hartford main line between New York City and New Haven. "Shore Line" refers to the not-yet electrified part east of New Haven, going towards Providence and Boston. "Springfield Main" refers to the former NH main between New Haven, Hartford, and Springfield, Mass.)

I set up for my first shot of the day at Beacon Falls, almost underneath the Route 8 overpass. Since Metro-North operates their trains with the locomotive on the north end, this would be a going-away shot with light on the nose of the locomotive. After a few minutes, I hear the rumble of an engine as the train pulled away from Beacon Falls station. Picturing a beautiful ConnDOT "New Haven" FL9 on the rear of the train, I set up for the shot.

Just before the shutter clicked, the frame of my camera had a clean, but aesthetically-lacking Metro-North FL9 painted in their new gray and blue "stealth" paint scheme. After remembering seeing several pictures from this line of ConnDOT FL9s, I thought "I came this far for a stealth unit?" Oh well, time to get in the car and make chase....

I chased the train down Route 8 and cut across Route 110 to Stratford, and somehow found the station there. I wanted to get as many photos as I could on this trip of FL9s under the catenary, and on my first attempt, I succeeded. Since the train had an hour layover in Bridgeport, I decided to do some R&D on the New Haven Line. I started by going east towards Devon and Milford.

"Who is it?"

I remembered seeing a photo of a Waterbury-bound train coming off the Housatonic River bridge and making the turn onto the Waterbury Branch at Devon Junction. I found the junction on my maps and made my way over there. To my surprise, the tower at the junction was still standing! (I didn't know if there were any towers left between New York and Boston, save for the one at Groton I saw earlier this year.) There were a couple of trucks parked near the tower, so I summoned up my courage, walked up the steps, and knocked on the door.

A silly voice from inside called out "Who isssss it?"

I replied with "Someone from out of town." The door opened and I was greeted by a Metro-North maintainer. I explained what I was doing, and he was more than accomdating, letting me get photos of the inside of the tower and the tower board, which is still in place, even though the junction is now controlled by Metro-North dispatchers. I left the tower, drove around to the south side of the tracks, parking my car under I-95, and got photos of the northbound Waterbury train coming off the bridge and entering the branch. (No wonder the Connecticut Turnpike killed the New Haven.....it was built right next to the railroad!)

Take me out to the ballgame

I did not chase the northbound to Waterbury, but spent some more time around Stratford and Devon, checking out potential photo locations for the Monday rush hour and photographing a couple of trains. I headed up to Ansonia to catch the southbound, which I did at the Naugatuck River bridge just south of Bridge Street. The shot from the east side in the late morning is pretty good--I shot it side-on from the top of the flood wall along the river. After that, I headed to Bridgeport.

I was looking for locations to photograph trains on the Peck Movable bridge near the Bridgeport station, but I couldn't find a location where I could get enough height or feel safe leaving my car around, so I headed over to the Bridgeport station and photographed an Amtrak westbound and a set of Metro-North Cosmopolitan cars coming across the viaduct into the station. By that time, I had seen enough of the Bridgeport station, so I followed the main west (south geographically).

I found a large open area south of I-95, next to the HarborYard ballpark, where the tracks ran on a viaduct, so I shot an Amtrak westbound there. As I looked around, I saw that the tracks ran behind and above the outfield fence of the ballpark. Having a flashback from the opening scene of the Richard Pryor movie Brewster's Millions, I had an idea....

Somehow or other, I convinced the ticket-taker at the ballpark to let me stand on the concourse between the upper and lower levels of seats for about 10 minutes. He gave me the weirdest look as tried to tell him that I didn't want to stay for the game, but just to take a picture of a train. Soon, Amtrak's northbound Vermonter, with an AEM-7 on the point, slowly rolled behind the outfield fence, and I got several picutres of the train with the scoreboard, the outfield fence, and the baseball players warming up in the outfield. The light wasn't the angle that I wanted it, but it was better than nothing.....

"Yeah, baby!"

As I walked out into the parking lot and back to my buggy, I heard noises behind the outfield fence again. To my surprise, I found a Shore Line East trainset, consisting of a ConnDOT "New Haven" GP40H-2 and two cars, facing north (or east), idling behind the ballpark. I then realized that Shore Line East trainsets don't normally face this way, and that this train was going to be running on the Waterbury Branch the rest of the day.

In the words of Austin Powers: "Yeah, baby!" I was finally going to get to see New Haven-painted power on the branch, albeit a hood unit. I got back on Route 8, looking for a spot to shoot the northbound where the light would be decent, as it was around midday by this time. I settled on the bridge just north of the Seymour station. From the nearby highway bridge, I could get a decent side-on view and not show that there was no light on the nose. However, by the time the train got there, the clouds had started to roll in, so the nose light became less of an issue. There was an old factory next to the river that made a nice prop for the photo. After the train arrived and I got the shot, I headed north to scout for my next photo.

Back to the New Haven Line

I shot the next southbound north of Ansonia, running along the Naugatuck River by a dam. The photo spot was right off of Exit 20 on Route 8. Clouds hampered me there, along with my shot of the next northbound, at the Derby-Shelton station. While I really wanted to get the late afternoon train on the bridge at Ansonia, from the west side, it looked like the clouds would not cooperate, so I headed back to the New Haven Line and followed it all the way to New Haven, looking for photo locations. I found a few decent ones in Milford, including a really nice bridge shot in downtown Milford (more on that later). On my way to West Haven, I found a bridge over Route 162 with an old advertisement painted on it. The bridge was painted red and blue, with white slant lettering: "N.Y. or Boston....GO PENN CENTRAL!" For a PC fan like myself, that was really cool. Yeah, baby.

At New Haven, I took some photos from the top of the parking garage next to the station, but the clouds rolled in more, so I got back on the road and headed to Danbury, where I stayed the night. Fortunately, the Danbury Super 8 had an extra room open from a cancellation, or I might have been sleeping in my car....

Day 2: Sunday, August 30

"A Train-Bus?"

The original agenda of the day was to photograph the Metro-North Danbury Branch. This branch runs between Danbury and South Norwalk and operates in a similar fashion to the Waterbury Branch. In between trains, I planned to take in the Danbury Railway Museum. I got up early and after taking some photos of the trains laying over the weekend in Danbury, I began scouting the line south out of Danbury. (This line has some trains which run through to Grand Central Terminal during the week. On the weekend, they park them in Danbury, next to the museum.)

If you were to look up the word "treed-in" in the dictionary, it would say "See Danbury Branch." The line is not easy to photograph, and having the power on the north end doesn't help matter any. Nevertheless, I found a location south of the West Redding station in the woods where there was some decent light, and decided to set up there. A dead tree was in the middle of my shot, but with a light push I accidentally knocked it over, so the problem solved itself.

I was waiting and waiting, but no train had shown up. I realized that this was a branch line operation, but the train just seemed really late. Just then I heard something coming down the road, and there was a bus coming with the words "Train-Bus" on its destination board.

After driving back to the West Redding station, I found a note posted saying that the first two trains of the day would not be running, but would be replaced with a bus. Once I realized that I had nothing to do until 1:00, and the museum would not be open until noon, my next course of action was clear.

To South Norwalk we go....

I got on U.S. 7 and headed south to South Norwalk. Like the Waterbury Branch, the Danbury Branch has a road that roughly follows it, U.S. Route 7. Unlike the Waterbury Branch, U.S. 7 is a slow two-lane road with lots of slow speed limits (see Day 0 commentary) and traffic lights. It is not a chase road.

Upon arriving at South Norwalk, I found the drawbridge over the Norwalk River and set up on the U.S. 1 bridge downstream for some photos. I shot an Amtrak train and a set of Metro-North Cosmopolitan cars on the drawbridge. There is a conveniently-located marina next to the bridge, so you can easily fit boats into photos here.

I then wandered around downtown South Norwalk a little bit. There is a truss bridge which carries the New Haven Line over a busy intersection, and next to the bridge is an old tower, which is owned by a local museum. I got a shot of an Amtrak train on the bridge with shops and cars in the foreground. I thought it was kind of neat--I hope it turns out OK.

Next stop was the station at South Norwalk. I shot an eastbound set of Cosmo cars and a westbound Amtrak here. I really liked the westbound shot off the east end of the station platform: there are signals, the truss bridge, and lot of catenary that a telephoto lens pulls in and adds to the photo. You don't necessarily shoot the New Haven Line for it's scenic beauty, but for the infrastructure--poles, wires, signals, etc. It's sure different from the Conrail freights in my backyard.

Westward Ho

After South Norwalk, I spent the rest of the day making my way west on the New Haven Line. I photograhed trains at Rowayton, Darien (nice place--lots of photo angles), Riverside (had to shoot something under the remaining triangluar catenary), and Cos Cob. I spent the last few hours of the day at Cos Cob, photographing the interlocking tower at the west end of the moveable bridge, a westbound passing the former New Haven Cos Cob power plant, and several trains crossing the Cos Cob bridge from the marina on the northwest side of the bridge. (You have to love these marina owners who conveniently build their marinas right by these moveable bridges--the boats make great photo props.) By 6:30, the clouds had rolled in so it was time to call it a day. I checked into the Stamford Super 8 and called it a night.

Day 3: Monday, August 31

Manic Monday

Monday morning was cloudy, but I wanted photos of the Danbury-GCT trains with the FL9s under wires, so I set out anyway. First shots of the morning were taken from the west end of the Darien station platform. I got the first FL9-powered train with barely any light, but it got better as time went on. The second Danbury train I photographed east of the Darien station along Route 136. The final shot of the trains with FL9 power was done at the overhead bridge east of the Noroton Heights station, next to the EMS facility. I just sat on the grassy embankment on the west side of the bridge and shot away. The former New Haven station there can be easily fit into the shot. Of course, I also had plenty of opportunities to shoot Cosmopolitan cars, and I also caught Amtrak train #12, the Fast Mail, at Noroton Heights.

About this point, it was 8:30, and the sun came out. (Of course, all the FL9s were in Grand Central by this point.) I started to make my way east along the New Haven Line, stopping at good locations and waiting for either an Amtrak, or more likely, a set of Cosmopolitan MU cars to roll by. Hightlights were shots of MU cars at the east end of the moveable bridge at Westport and at Fairfield, a Waterbury Branch train heading westbound at Stratford with the same GP40H-2 power and train from Saturday, and Amtrak and MU set westbounds at the arch bridge in Milford.

Milford is a great spot on the New Haven Line. If you've never been there, the tracks cross an arch bridge over a creek right in downtown. On the highway to the south of the bridge is a stone bridge with a small lighthouse at the west end of the bridge. Also, the wall (guardrail) on the highway bridge is built with stones carved with people's names and dates on them, all in the 1600's. My guess is that these were original settlers of the town. (Anyone confirm or deny that?) The MU cars I shot with just the arch bridge in the picture, but the Amtrak train I got with the highway bridge wall, the lighthouse, and the arch bridge in the shot. It's a great shot. (If you've been there, you probably know what I mean.)

On the Shore Line

I spent the early afternoon doing R&D work on the Amtrak Shore Line between Branford and Westbrook. I had been to Old Saybrook and Westbrook earlier this year (see report), but I had never done anything west of Westbrook. I scouted out several locations and decided a game plan. Unfortunately, the electrification project is rather advanced in this area, so there were poles and catenary all over the place to deal with. I shot Amtrak #170 eastbound at the Guilford station at 1:10, and the westbound #171 about ten minutes later east of the Madison station. Also, I found an Amtrak ballast train working on the Branford Steam Railroad near Pine Orchard. (Can anyone tell me more about the BSR, who owns it, or if it's even called that anymore?)

After a couple hours of checking out photo sites, I set up on a highway bridge southeast of the Branford station and got ready for the afternoon Shore Line East commuter show to begin. And they did not disappoint. I shot eastbound train 3620 at Branford running along the water at 3:50, and also shot the same equipment running back to New Haven as train 3679 at the Guilford station at 4:44. Five minutes later, the next eastbound SLE train, 3634, arrived at the Guilford station. All of the Shore Line East trains were running with the usual GP40H-2 power in the ConnDOT "New Haven" paint scheme.

I worked my way east to Madison in time to shoot westbound Amtrak train #175 at 5:20, followed fifteen minutes later by a westbound SLE train deadheading back to New Haven. Five minutes after that, eastbound SLE train 3638 came into the Madison station. I then had enough time to hustle east to Clinton to photograph train 3640 passing the Chesborough-Ponds plant west of the station. (I rightly guessed that they manufactured soap there--the smell of soap was in the air.) The Amtrak ballast train I had seen earlier was parked in the siding there. Power was an Amtrak SW1500 with a former PRR caboose, but of course the train was parked next to a fenced-in enclosure so that I could not photograph the caboose at all.

Down on the marshes, up on the barn

At this point, I decided to work east to Westbrook and photograph the next SLE train crossing the marshes along U.S. Route 1. Minor problem--the sun had shifted to the north side of the tracks, and I was on the south side. So I found a road that led to a residential area north of the tracks along the marsh. Problem was, there was high vegetation along the edges of the marshes, and since carrying a sickle on a plane would probably get me arrested, I could not find a suitable place to photograph. So I drove down this other road and parked my car. There was a man standing by the road in front of his house there. As I got out, I heard his wife call from inside "You're back?".

No, he replied. "Then who's that?" she said, referring to my car. "I don't know who this is," the husband yelled back.

At this point, I jumped in with "I'm Jerry, and I'm just trying to find a place to photograph the trains crossing the marshes." I'm not quite sure why I said that, but it was the truth. To make a long story short, the husband said he had a barn next to his house with stairs and a deck on the back of it, and that I could take all the pictures I wanted. So I climbed up to the deck and I had a beautiful view of the tracks across the marshes. Yeah, baby!

I photographed three SLE trains there and came down. I talked with the wife briefly, and she was having her retirement party that night--she had worked at the soap factory in Clinton. I bid her congratulations, and since they were busy setting up for the party, I got out of there. By this time, the light was gone, so I checked into the Old Saybrook Super 8 and called it a night. (And I got to sleep less than 100 yards from the Shore Line.)

Day 4: Tuesday, September 1

Stupid truck!

I got up early the next morning and drove to New London. The game plan for the day was to spend all day on the Shore Line, most of it east of Old Saybrook. First thing to do was photograph Amtrak train #95 at the New London depot. There it is possible to get good light on a morning westbound. The problem on the Shore Line in the morning is that there is only one eastbound before noon--everything else is a westbound. I arrived at the New London depot, parked the buggy, and looked for a photo location. There was an Amtrak policeman at the grade crossing by the depot. "Great," I thought, figuring that with my luck, he wouldn't have anything to do this morning except chasing railfans. Fortunately, he didn't say anything to me as I crossed the tracks looking for a photo location, although this meant I had to stay off of Amtrak property to do it.

I set up in the lot of some kind of maritime-related company--I don't remember exactly what they did, but nobody there said anything to me as I waited for the train to arrive. The area around New London was full of construction workers and equipment-- the entire eastbound platform had men and machines on it, so I had to try to work them out of the shot. I heard the train coming, so I got my camera ready, and just as I did so, an Amtrak pickup truck pulls across the tracks and parks right in the middle of my shot! I had a few choice words for them, but managed to work around it and got several photos of the train pulling into the station. I then moved around and shot a couple of different angles of the train waiting and pulling out of the station. The slides weren't too bad, but would have been better without that stupid truck.....

"How did I miss this the first time?"

I then drove over to Niantic Bay. Somehow, I missed Niantic my first time to the Shore Line, and when I got there, I couldn't figure out how. You see photos from here all the time in books, and as I stood on the beach next to the Nan lift bridge, I understood why. This was one of those locations that defines the Shore Line--tracks running right along the beach and the waters of Niantic Bay. It was beautiful.

I waited on the beach until 10:15 AM, when the eastbound #12, the Fast Mail, came out of the woods and ran along the water. I simply kept taking photos as the train made its way along the bay.

The one that got away

Next, I looked at my maps for any other places where the tracks ran near water. I found a location in East Lyme that looked promising along Old Black Point Road. The spot was excellent--reeds growing along the bank, a sailboat docked along the edge of the water, and the tracks crossing the water on a fill and a girder bridge. I recognized the location from a photo in one of my books, so I figured this had to be a good place. I ditched the car and waited. After about a fifteen minute wait, along comes Amtrak #93 westbound. I had the shot framed--boat, train, reeds, bridge--and I hit the shutter button.


I had forgotten to advance the film! Shoot! I still got a shot of the train going along the fill to the west of the bridge, but it was not the shot I wanted. I left here and headed to the Niantic River drawbridge.

After securing permission to park my car in the Mijoy parking lot on the east side of the bridge, I walked under the tracks to the east end of the bridge. To the south I could see the Millstone Nuclear Power plant, which I understand may be closed down. I waited for about 45 minutes, and along came train 170. At 12:20 PM, I shot the train coming across the drawbridge. Nice bridge. Nice train. Nice location. How did I miss this the first time?

If at first you don't succeed....

Determined to get the shot I missed at East Lyme, I checked my schedule and saw that I had westbound #173 due in about 30 minutes. I stopped at an ice cream stand, got a footlong hot dog and a chocolate shake, and headed back to my spot. This time, I got the shot I wanted (I made sure that the film was advanced this time).

"Hey mister...."

I knew I had an eastbound train in less than a half hour, so I checked my maps for another possible photo spot, and found one along Jordan Cove, near Waterford, where the tracks run alongside and across the cove for a short distance. It looked promising, so I drove over there. Upon arriving to the area, I found a problem--there were homes between me and the road. I drove all around trying to find access to the water without trespassing in someone's yard, but no luck. I kept checking my watch, and got more anxious as train time got closer. Finally, I spotted a man in his backyard loading stuff into his van.

I walked down the driveway..... "Hey mister, can I take a picture of a train from your backyard?" I was waiting for a) laughter, b) verbal abuse, c) a huge dog to attack me, or d) all of the above. Instead, he said to go right ahead. This pretty much disproved for me the East Coast mentality stereotype......

A couple minutes later I heard a whistle in the distance, only to notice that I was out of film. I made a sprint back to the car, changed rolls, and came thundering back to the backyard just as the train appeared. Click, click, click.....got the shot. Whew!

Rocky Neck

I decided to head over to Rocky Neck State Park and get the famous Rocky Neck beach shot. After getting reamed for $8 at the gate to park (sure made for expensive slides), I climbed the bluff by the picnic pavillion and waited. Along came Amtrak #163, and I got the shot, albeit with a backhoe in the shot--stupid construction workers were literally all over the Shore Line!

I then went back to Niantic Bay to get the westbound drawbridge shot. I waited and waited, and kept thinking that I heard a train, but I never saw one. I finally got up to track level and saw an Amtrak westbound stopped on the far side of the bridge. Finally, over the radio I heard that there were signal problems there, so the dispatcher came on with "permission to proceed past the stop indication at Nan at restricted speed." I guess it was a good thing after all, as it would be much easier to shoot the train at 30 MPH instead of 90.... I got the shot, and headed back to Rocky Neck, where I photographed one of the New London-bound Shore Line East trains going through the cut west of the beach. By this point, the light was getting low, and it was time to move on.

I hate Connecticut troopers!

I had talked to Long Island resident and Conrail Technical Society president John Krattinger the previous day about coming to Long Island to shoot diesel trains, and we agreed to hook up the following night. I had not been able to reach him all day, so I decided to head west and I would hopefully touch base with him on the way.

I got on I-95, and after a slowdown for some construction, I found myself in another slowdown, but I couldn't see any construction around. I noticed that the traffic was not stop and go, but rather we were doing a steady 20 MPH. This baffled me. I then looked up ahead and saw what was going on, and for the life of me, I could not explain it:

Two Connecticut state police cars were driving side-by-side, blocking both lanes, lights flashing, at a steady 20 MPH. What the ---- were they doing? At first I though that it might be construction related, but there was no signs of construction in the area. Maybe this is a public service to annoy the driving public? As we creeped along, my blood began to boil. I was never going to make it to Long Island at this rate! Finally, I pulled out my maps and devised a plan. At the next exit, I got off, jumped onto U.S. Route 1, raced down to the next onramp, and got back on I-95. (If you know why these police cars were doing this, please tell me! Thanks!)

No sign of traffic backup here....actually, no sign of westbound traffic at all. I got in front of them! Horray! Off we go!

Fifteen minutes later, I'm stuck in another pack of traffic, behind another pair of state police cars, doing twenty miles per hour. By this point, I was irate! I can't remember a time in recent memory that I have been so torqued off! So, at the next exit, I got onto U.S. 1, raced down to the next exit, got back on I-95, and was home free....

Nightmare night

I kept stopping every few miles, trying to reach John, but no luck. At this point, I figured that I would make a run through the Bronx, head to Long Island, and see what happened. Now, remember that I'm a mostly-country boy from the Buckeye State, and the thought of driving through New York City in the dark was a little scary, to say the least. Maybe it's really no big deal, but at the time, I didn't know that!

So there I was, careening west on I-95, into New York state, past New Rochelle and the junction for Amtrak's Hell Gate Line, then past Pelham Bay and into the Bronx. I could see high-rise buildings (projects?) all around, and traffic was flying by me like crazy. About that point I found a radio station playing hymns, so I was singing "Amazing Grace" going over the East River on the Throgs Neck Bridge... Finally, by the grace of God, I made onto and off of the Long Island Expressway without getting lost (or killed by careening motorist), so I gave John a call and finally reached him.

To make a long story short, I learned a valuable lesson that night: lodging is not very plentiful on Long Island, nor is it cheap. John made a few calls for me and found a hotel that had a room left, so I crashed there for the night after spending an hour on the phone with John getting directions on the LIRR's Oyster Bay Branch.

Day 5: Wednesday, September 2

Freight engines in passenger service

I began the day at East Williston, New York, on the Long Island Railroad. I found a place to park my buggy and camped out waiting for the morning parade of inbound trains on the LIRR's Oyster Bay Branch. They did not disappoint. I shot about a half dozen trains at East Williston, with a plethora of power. Trains were led by FA powerpacks and MP15's, and usually pushed by GP38-2's. (For those of you not familiar with the Long Island Railroad, most of their diesel-powered passenger trains are operated with freight locomotives. It's really neat and slightly hillarious to me at the same time.)

After a couple hours there, I moved to one of the Long Island's hot spots: Mineola, where the Oyster Bay Branch joins the electrified main line into New York City. At the junction stands Nassau Tower, which appears to be manned, but I did not try to get a peek inside. What amazed me most about the Long Island is that it has grade crossings with streets, and yet the electric powered MU cars Metropolitan cars scream through them at track speed! I hate to see what car-train collisions look like around there....

Off to Joisey

By about 10:30 AM, the clouds rolled in, so I decided to go do some R&D work on New Jersey Transit's North Jersey Coast Line. This line comes off of the Northeast Corridor at Rahway and runs east, then south along the Jersey coast, going through places like Perth Amboy, South Amboy, Long Branch, and ending at Bay Head. Previously, the line was known as the New York & Long Branch, jointly owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Central Railroad of New Jersey, and was electrified from Rahway to South Amboy. Later, NJ Transit extended the electrification to its current terminus at Long Branch; trains from there to Bay Head are powered by diesel locomotives.

To get there, I had to drive through Brooklyn, cross the Verazanno Narrows Bridge (a pretty bridge, but expensive--$7.00 toll!) onto Staten Island, then take the Outerbridge Crossing to Perth Amboy.

Except for almost wrecking my car on one of those 90 degree-turn exit ramps off of U.S. 9 in South Amboy, I successfully scouted out the line from South Amboy to Bay Head. I got shots of southbound trains at Red Bank trestle, Monmouth Park, a northbound at the Belmar station, and got ready for the evening rush hour.

I shot two diesel-powered trains, one each way, at the Brielle Drawbridge over the Manasquan River, off of the Route 35 bridge. While waiting for the trains to show up, I noticed a sign on the bridge that said something like "No Bicycles, No Diving, No Loitering." I figured that since I wasn't doing any of those, but "railfanning," I would be OK.....

Next I caught a southbound coming into the yard at Long Branch, followed by a diesel-powered shuttle passing the soccer field at the Long Branch High School. A girl's soccer game had just completed before the train arrived, so I got a picture of the train passing the field with soccer players on it. Between that spot and the ballpark shot earlier in Bridgeport, I guess I was on quite a sports kick!

To finish the evening, I got a shot of a southbound south of the station in Belmar, and wrapped it up with a last-light shot of a northbound crossing a fill and bridge over a river between Spring Lake and Sea Girt. With that, I sought out lodging for the night, and found it at a "Budget Motel" along Route 35, I think in Ocean Township. Budget was a good word for the motel, but considering how much the previous night's room was, I didn't feel too bad about it, although calling the folks from the pay phone by the street as a thunderstorm approached because I couldn't call out on the room phone was interesting.....

One final word about that day: Near the motel was a "traffic circle" (if you're from the Midwest), also known in the east as a "rotary". That thing almost got me killed! It wasn't just a circle, but rather an oblong ellipse, with inside loops too. The major problem I found with it was how traffic yielded: In Ohio, if you are in the traffic circle, you have the right-of-way over people trying to enter the traffic circle from the road entering the circle. Not on this one: if you're on the inside, you had to yield to traffic entering the rotary. Of course, by habit I slowed down approaching the rotary, when I noticed the cars on the inside were waiting for me and I'm getting honked at behind me! Yikes! I'm convinced that new traffic and highway technologies and techniques all start on the East Coast and move west, but that they get improved and perfected by the time they reach the Midwest. Yet for some reason, they all fall apart by the time the move all the way to California.....

Day 6: Thursday, September 3

Under the wires along the Coast

I began the day determined to get photos of a train at the Little Silver and Red Bank stations. So those were the first two places I stopped. Both stations are really pretty in their architecture. I also got a going-away shot of northbound north of the Little Silver station. The dew was heavy that morning and my feet were soaked after that shot....

One comment about railfanning on NJ Transit: When the schedule says the train will arrive somewhere, you had better be there and ready for the shot. I was very impressed with how on-time all of NJ Transit's trains ran. There were several times I looked at the schedule and my watch, thinking the train should be here any second, only for a headlight to appear or a horn to sound within the next 30 seconds.

I next got a shot at Hazlet, which was OK but ended up being a fire drill shot. I was trying to find a place to ditch the car because the train was coming, but I was stuck behind a Jeep that wasn't moving. Eventually, I realized that the driver was waiting to pick someone up, so I had to get around the Jeep, drop the car next to a store, scramble over north of the station, and get the shot.

Next two photos were at Lawrence Harbor. I found a street (Woodland, I think it's called) that drops down to the edge of a large marsh. At the end of the street were conviently-placed piles of asphalt to stand on. The tracks run through the marsh, with the Morgan Drawbridge off in the distance, and the Garden State Parkway to the south. I shot two trains there within a minute of each other: a southbound train of Arrow MU cars, and a northbound train pushed by an ALP-44 electric.

After that, I spent some time in downtown South Amboy. I caught a southbound diesel-powered train west of the station coming out from under an overpass, a northbound set of Arrow MU cars at the station, and a southbound train pulled an ALP-44. Between trains, I imagined what it was like 25 years ago there, when Penn Central GG1's were exchanged with E7 and E8 passenger diesels at the end of the electrification.

Sweedish Meatballs in the ALPS

Next I headed for the Northeast Corridor--Amtrak's high-speed electrified main line between New York and Philadelphia. I started in Rahway at the new station there. (I have photos on my Penn Central web site of the demolition of the station there before the previous station there, or two stations ago.)

I photographed three trains at Rahway: an NJ Transit eastbound train powered by an ALP-44 electric, an Amtrak westbound powered by a similar-looking AEM-7 locomotive (known as toasters or Sweedish meatballs by railfans, since they were based on a Sweedish locomotive design), and a westbound set of NJ Transit Arrow MU cars. Afterwards, I stopped by Liberty Harley-Davidson next to the station to buy my father a T-shirt, and got back on the road.

From there, I drove past the Conrail yard and the station at Linden. I continued up the line to Elizabeth, to make sure I could find the station, then headed into Newark. I wanted to photograph the action around Penn Station, but first I had to find a place to leave the car.

Parking in Newark

I found a parking lot and drove in, and the attendant said I had to leave him my car keys. At first I questioned the sanity of leaving the keys to my car with my suitcase and everything else in it, but I decided that the only valuable thing that I had was my camera--and it was going with me--so I agreed and headed off to Newark Penn Station.

I made my way to platform on Track 2 and wandered down to end so I could see the massive Dock Drawbridge over the Passaic River, located next to the station. There were some Amtrak construction workers on the next platform, and they called over to me, wondering if I was taking pictures for the Commuter News. (Is there such a publication?) I replied no, they were just for me. They asked where I was from, and I told them Cleveland. They replied with, "Cleveland--where Drew Carey's from. He's great!" I guess it's better to be known for Drew than that silly burning river incident...

I shot a southbound Amtrak train coming off the drawbridge and into the station. I moved to the other end of the platform to get photos of the train and a NJ Transit train laying over on the next track. I managed to get photos of one northbound Amtrak and another southbound Amtrak. The last southbound I shot from the south end of the platform, framing the Gateway Center office tower into the background.

Visiting drawbridges

I realized that my first hour in the parking lot was soon up, so I headed back and retrieved my buggy and headed north through town. First I waited at the ex-Lackawanna Newark Drawbridge over the Passaic River and shot an eastbound crossing it. The local guy fishing in the river there wasn't quite sure why I had to get a train on the bridge before I took the picture. I assured him it was "because it looks better." Then again, after seeing the water in the Passaic River, I'm not so sure why he wanted to be fishing in it. He did manage to catch two crabs in his crab trap, though, so I guess I had to give him credit for that. He used chicken for crab bait.

Next I drove by the former Lackawanna Broad Street station, just west of the drawbridge. I managed to park the car on the side of the street and shoot from street level an ALP-powered train heading into the city. I tried to get turned around and heading east towards the Meadowlands, but the one-way streets around there made it difficult. (What is with one-way streets on the East Coast? They're everywhere!) Anyway, I ended getting back to right where I started, when I saw a Morristown & Erie Alco stopped at the station pulling three private passenger cars: one lettered New York Central, one lettered New Haven, and I didn't catch what was on the third one. He pulled out of the station and headed toward Gotham, so I bagged a couple shots of that. Anybody know what that was all about?

By this point, it was time to find the Portal Drawbridge on the Northeast Corridor out in the Meadowlands, and near it, the DB Drawbridge on the former Lackawanna. Both bridges are out in the Meadowlands and cross the Hackensack River. I managed to find both OK, so I stopped in the bridge tower at DB to ask if I could take pictures here. The tower operator had no objections, but told me the next train wouldn't be coming for an hour or so. With that, I figured I'd try to find the Seacacus Station and see what that place was all about.

Hoboken Terminal by mistake

Unfortunately, I took a wrong turn (yes, I took a wrong turn!) off of Route 1 and 9, and the next thing I knew, I was looking at the entrance of the Holland Tunnel. Well, I certainly didn't want to go that way, so I took a left turn, and before I knew it, I had found NJ Transit's Hoboken Terminal. It was originally built by the Lackawanna Railroad. I would stayed longer to take pictures, but I could not find a place to leave the car, so I decided to head back to the drawbridges, as it would be train time soon at DB.

So I found my way back onto Routes 1 and 9 so I could get back into the Meadowlands. However, I came to an interesting choice: do I take Routes 1 and 9 south, or Truck Routes 1 and 9 south? Seeing that I wasn't driving a truck, I chose the former. Bad move. I found myself on the Pulaski Skyway--a 1930's era elevated highway with 1990's era traffic. Seeing that this clearly wasn't the way I came, I took the first exit ramp. Now the exit ramps on that road are something else--if you've travelled it you know what I mean--you enter and exit the road from the hammer lane!

I wandered my way through the Meadowlands, looking for the way back to where I was. Along the way, I passed NJ Transit's Meadows Maintenance Center and Conrail's Kearny Intermodal Yard, and I realized how much history was there, as those used to be major freight yards on the Erie and the Pennsy (not sure which was which). Anyhow, I managed to find my way by accident to DB, where I photographed a westbound train crossing the drawbridge. Neat spot.

Let the show begin!

At this point, I headed back to Elizabeth to take in the evening rush hour on the Corridor. And what a show it was! I won't bore you with the details of what I shot--let's just say I shot everything. I finally stopped taking pictures--I was afraid they would start to all look the same! Photos of what the rush hour at Elizabeth looked like in the mid-1970's can be found here on my PC web site. I then moved to the station at Linden and took in the last of the rush hour before driving to Piscataway and spending the night with Tom Bodett at Motel 6.

Day 7: Friday, September 4

Taking the LONG way around

This day was supposed to crummy in the morning for weather. Of course, it wasn't that bad, so I got up late and after deciding that I did not want to go through the city again, I started out on I-287 clockwise around northern New Jersey.

I stopped at a couple places along the way where I crossed NJ Transit lines. I checked out the stations at Boonton and Morrisville. (Morrisville is a pretty town, but the traffic is nuts--too many one-way streets!) I also pulled off near Dover when I spotted what looked like an RDC off the freeway. I found a collection of equipment, including a Jersey Central Geep and RDC, an Erie E8, a Susquehana boxcar, and a Reading RS-3. Can anyone tell me whose equipment that is? They had some neat stuff! I got some quick photos and got back on the road.

Back to the Hudson

I guess I can't take a trip to the East Coast without visiting the Hudson Valley, and this one was no exception. I decided to fill in some gaps in my photos on the Metro-North Hudson Line. I stopped at Manitou, north of the Bear Mountain Bridge, and watched a southbound Metro-North train roll by. I had been listening for a while to the radio chatter, and it seemed that the P32DM on that train kept dying and needing its computer rebooted. (Must be running Windows....) Anyway, the train finally passed the station at Manitou...and I saw the conductor standing in the window of the cab cab, hands raised, and fingers crossed as they rolled by. I guess it serves them right for getting rid of their FL9's....

I then took a couple photos around Peekskill of a northbound crossing Annville Creek, and then spent a couple hours on top of Breakneck Ridge, photograhing trains from the top of the tunnels. Later I shot a northbound Amtrak turbo train at the cut north of New Hamburg, and I wrapped up the day with some shots at the Poughkepsie station. I also took a look at the abandoned Poughkeepsie Bridge. I could visualize a pair of New Haven U25B's rolling slowly across it with a general freight bound for Maybrook....... I then stayed the night in Danbury.

Day 8: Saturday, September 5

Danbury Branch

After being denied the first time by a bus, I set up again south of the West Redding station on the Danbury Branch for the first northbound train of the morning, and this time I was not denied....except that it had a stealth FL9 on the point. Oh well...

I then visited the Danbury Railway Museum. A very neat place, with lots of great equipment. I went on a ride around their yard behind their Alco RS-1, 0673, and I got to ride around their operating turntable. They even let me run the turntable for about a minute. Neat!

After I spent a couple hours at the museum, I photographed a northbound Danbury Branch train off of Route 53, just at the Danbury city limits. It was an OK shot for high noon sun. I then drove down to South Norwalk, where I watched the train pick up orders at Walk tower before its next run to Danbury. There wasn't much nose light there, but I fired off a couple shots anyway. I did get one neat photo with the train's FL9 on a bridge next to a microbrewery. There were tables out in front with people dining next to the street, and this big FL9 idling away above them. Artsy-craftsy, but I'll take it....

Once the train headed northward up the branch again, I photographed it in good light south of Cross St. in Norwalk, next to a Cablevision parking lot. The train comes out of a short tunnel there and crosses a deck girder bridge with lots of trees and some neat buildings in the background. That was probably the best photo I had on the Danbury Branch.

The last train I photographed on the branch was back at Danbury, near where the tracks parallel Taylor Avenue. It was a decent location, with the street and houses in the background, although the telephone poles could have gone. Some of the original electric catenary poles were still in through here, adding some location to the photo.

After this, I headed to the Hartford Super 8 for the night. Too bad there weren't any decent places to eat around there, so I ended up with a chicken sandwich from Burger King for dinner. At least I didn't have to resort to McDonald's....

Day 9: Sunday, September 6

Riding the Naugatuck

I woke up and drove back to Waterbury to ride the Naugatuck Railroad, which is the operating subsidiary of the Railroad Museum of New England. They operate 19.5 miles of the former New Haven Torrington Secondary Track between Waterbury and Torrington, although normal operations are usually just from Waterbury to Thomaston Dam, where the tracks cross the face of this flood control dam across the Naugatuck Valley.

Power for the train I was rode was their beautifully restored New Haven U25B, #2525. This locomotive was the last new locomotive delivered to the New Haven and is the only operating U25B in America. We left the boarding area on the north side of Waterbury (I think they call it Waterville?) and headed north. At Thomaston Dam, the train paused on the dam for a couple of minutes, then backed to Thomaston, where the locomotive cut off and ran around the train on the passing siding there. We then pulled into the restored Thomaston depot, where passengers could get off, take photos of the train, and buy a snack. After about 15 minutes, we got back on and rode back to the boarding site. It was an enjoyable ride, and the only train I actually rode on during my trip.

What's wrong with the U-Boat?

After my ride was over, I drove down to the overhead bridge over the Naugatuck's tracks south of the boarding platform and photographed the train coming south to make the run-around move for the next northbound trip. (Thankfully they don't operate their trains push-pull style!) After this I drove up to Chase Yard, north of the boarding area, where the Museum's equipment is kept. I heard on the radio some chatter about taking an oil sample from the U-Boat after it was shut down. At first I thought there was something wrong with the locomotive. The 2525 was brought into the yard and parked, and the Museum's restored New Haven RS-3, 529, was brought out. The 529 had been down for repairs since the previous October, but the repairs had been recently completed, so it was decided to operate the RS-3 for the rest of the day to see how it performed.

Photographing the Naugatuck

Well, I was liking this. At least I wouldn't have to show a solid box of slides of just a U-Boat.... They put the engine on the train and headed north for the 2:00 run. I mosied my way up to the top of Thomaston Dam, stopping in Thomaston to photograph the historic opera house and town hall. (Thomaston was named for Seth Thomas, the clock manufacturer.) The train arrived at the dam and I photographed it from up above. The light wasn't perfect, but acceptable. I then headed to Thomaston and waited for the train to come south, make its runaround move, and pull into the station. I photographed the train at the station, then headed south to Reynolds Bridge. At Reynolds Bridge is a beautiful scene with the train running through the woods alongside the Naugatuck River. It's a great spot, and the photo from there came out great too. To wrap up this run, I photographed the train coming across the bridge over the Naugatuck River north of Chase Yard. That bridge shot and Reynolds Bridge have been published many times before, so if you've read anything about the Naugatuck, you've probably seen them before.

Being a holiday weekend, a third run left Waterville at 4:00 PM. I photographed this one on the dam from below, making the runaround move at Thomaston, and at the station. While at the station, I was talking with some of the members of the crew, and they were all really great guys to chat with, very polite and informative. They also got a kick out of my shirt I was wearing that day, which has a map of the Penn Central's rail lines on it, and so they were doing a "you are here" thing on my shirt...

Riding the Naugatuck....again

Back at the boarding platform, I was going to take a few more photos in the last light of the day. Those plans were thwarted, however, when the engineer on the 529 asked me if I would like to ride along with them for as they put things away.

Would I? Of course! Yeah, baby!

So I got to watch the sunset riding around in the cab of a New Haven RS-3. I can't think of a better way to spend my last evening in Connecticut for the year.... I rode back to Chase Yard, and after chatting with the crew in the cab for a while more, I walked back to my car and called it a night. I really have to hand it to the people at the Museum. They have done a lot of hard work on that railroad, and it shows. The Museum and the Naugatuck Railroad is a real class outfit, and I would recommend anyone to visit it if you're in southern Connecticut, especially if you're a New Haven fan.

After stopping at the Waterbury station to watch the late-afternoon northbound roll into town with an FL9 on the point, I headed off to Enfield (near Windsor Locks), where I checked into the Enfield Super 8 and headed to Friendly's for dinner. The service was slow, but the gal who rang up my check had a nice smile, so I couldn't complain...

Day 10: Monday, September 7

A few last shots

I awoke to storms outside my window. The Northeast was getting a rather wet Labor Day this year. After they subsided, I headed out to shoot a couple of Amtrak trains along the Springfield main. The first train was southbound #471 passing the former New Haven station at Windsor Locks, followed by #412 crossing the huge bridge over the Connecticut River between Windsor Locks and Enfield, and the last shot I had was at Windsor Locks with the tracks running alongside the canal near the Dexter plant. After that, I dropped off my rental car and headed for the airport. Unfortunately, my flight was delayed 4 and a half hours because of bad weather, but at least I made it home in one piece....

Closing thoughts

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the East Coast. I got to see many places that I had never been to, along with some places that I'd rather not go back to. I was also very impressed with the people that I met while on my trip. Everyone I met, including Amtrak, Metro-North, and NJ Transit employees, were very polite, informative, and just nice people who were willing to help a misplaced Buckeye railfan get some better photos, and I really appreciate that. I hope to return to the East Coast again sometime. I want to cover more of NJ Transit's routes, photograph more of the MBTA around Boston, and eventually photograph SEPTA operations around Philadelphia. So this hopefully will not be my last trip to cover passenger operations of the East Coast....



A big THANK YOU to the following individuals who helped me with my trip:

Locomotive photos linked here are from Jason DeCesare's Grand Central web site. Other sites linked here are for your information, and are not mine.