Southern New England Trip, 2/23/98 - 3/2/98

By Jerry Jordak

During late February 1998, I was sent by my employer at the time to a class in Billerica, Massachusetts for training in Eastman Software's OPEN/image imaging software. While I was up there, I took an extra few days to do some railfanning around Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. What follows is a condensed version of my trip:

Friday, February 27, 1998

Even though the class was northwest of Boston, my flight for the class was into Providence, RI, seeing that it was several hundred dollars cheaper. Come Friday afternoon, I had to return to Providence to drop off my coworker who was taking the class with me, as he would have rather gone home to his family than chase trains around New England.

After leaving class and dropping him off at the airport (and making a wrong turn, ending up on I-195 in downtown Providence and trying to get back to I-95 south), I headed back into town to see what I could shoot at the Providence Amtrak station. Unfortunately, the tracks are mostly covered at the station, and what was shootable had shadows forming, so I headed north on I-95 along the Shore Line (the Amtrak, former New Haven, line from New York City to Boston) to see what I could find.

I happened by accident onto the town of Hebronville, MA, located about MP 194 on the Shore Line. There were supposed to be a couple of Amtrak trains and a couple of MBTA commuter runs from Providence going through in the next hour or two, so I found a nice location with a set of signals and an old factory/mill building in the shot. (One of my goals on this trip was to shoot some "New England mills look.")

I ended up getting two MBTA and two Amtrak trains before the light went away. I had forgotten how fast trains run on the Shore Line. I about wet my pants when the first one went by. Those F40PHs that Amtrak uses on that line might be old, but they still can move! The MBTA trains had one of the T's new GP40MC locomotives, which are rebuilt ex-CN GP40-2W units with HEP power and flared radiators added. After the light was gone, I drove across Massachusetts to West Springfield, where I crashed at the Super 8 motel there on U.S. 5.

Saturday, February 28, 1998

The next morning, I woke up and drove to Palmer, MA, where the New England Central (former Central Vermont) crosses Conrail's Boston Line. Now Palmer (or as they say up there, "Paamer") isn't the most scenic place in the state, but it is one of the most exciting, and that's where I started off the day. (Think about it: when a railfan comes to Cleveland for the first time, where is the first place they want to go? Yep, Berea Tower. Same idea here.)

Conrail was a little slow to start off. Two eastbounds went through in the first hour, followed by a light pair of SD80MACs, or "Big MACs", to switch the Palmer yard. Then it died for an hour or two. I ended up chasing the New England Central's southbound train. I shot it passing an old semaphore south of the first crossing south of the yard. I got it a couple more times before losing it somewhere in Connecticut. One amazing note about the chase: After the second time I shot it, I was following an older couple in a minivan who was waiting at the crossing for the train and had seen me take a picture of it. They were doing a little under the speed limit, and while I wasn't tailing them or flashing my lights or anything that some &^#%$*^#s would do, I think they sensed my urgency in catching this train, and they actually pulled to the side of the road to let me go by. That was really nice of them!

Speaking of really nice people, Massachusetts has some of the friendliest railfans that I've ever met. Two guys at Palmer took me along the Boston Line east of town to show me some good shots, and also took me to Tucker's Hobby Supply in Warren, MA. This is a hobby shop in the first floor of a house. It used to be a hardware store, but the owner converted it to a hobby shop because it was more profitable. The store has everything imaginable, but it is also very small. Merchandise is literally stacked to the ceiling in some areas, and the store gets uncomfortable with more than 10-12 people in it, including staff. I ended up buying a copy of the Penn Central Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment book by Jim Kinkaid. I needed something to read on the flight home! On the way out, the owner of the store, Bob Buck, gave me directions to some good shots along the Boston Line between Springfield and Pittsfield.

Back at Palmer, I just missed the southbound Vermonter, but I did catch the northbound one. Conrail also lit things up some more, sending through BOSE and LASE, along with some others. LASE had a solid set of C30-7As, which has become synonomous with the Boston Line.

Another two guys I met at Palmer were Bill Leazer and Paul Millett. Both of these gentlemen were also very helpful with finding my way around. Bill showed me some good photo angles around the Palmer diamonds, and Paul brought his "extras" photo album and gave me some shots around the area for reference. one of these days I'll send him some extras from around Cleveland.

After 4:00 PM, I went east to Warren, PA, to get a shot of the Boston Line past a mill and waterfall (very "New England-like"). Unfortunately, the light went to pot, and the only train to go through was the Lake Shore Limited, the wrong way. I made my way back to Palmer as the sun set, watched the westbound Lake Shore blow through, and called it a night.

Sunday, March 1, 1998

I arose that morning to clouds, drizzle, and fog. Unfortunately, it never got better all day long, and the Boston Line was dead to boot. I started the day at West Springfield yard, where I shot three eastbounds, including TV-6, coming into the yard. That was about the most action I was to see all day.

While at West Springfield I ran into another local railfan, Robert Stein, who ended up giving me a guided tour of the Boston Line from there all the way out the Chester. (Didn't I say that Massachusetts railfans are friendly?) He is also the only railfan I've ever met who chased trains in a Lexus and would fly down a muddy road into a shot!

At Chester, I shot an eastbound near the abandonded coaling tower and roundhouse there that were once used to care for the Boston & Albany helper engines that were stationed there to push westbounds over the mountains. After the eastbound went through, Mr. Stein headed back east, and I continued west along the Boston Line. Following Bob Buck's instructions, I found a bridge over the Boston Line near the summit of the Berkshires on Summit Bridge Road near Washington. The tracks go through a deep rock cut which is so narrow that ice buildup on the walls of the cut used to interfere with train movements, so now the railroad has what look like large electric heating blankets on the walls of the cut to keep ice from forming. Alas, the weather was terrible during my wait at the top, and worse, no trains came, so I finally gave up and headed west to see if there was life in Pittsfield.

I get to Pittsfield, and I was sitting in my car near the junction of where the B&M line from North Adams joined the Boston Line (Adams Junction, maybe?). As I was sitting in my car debating what to do next, a guy on a bicycle pulls up. I have no idea what this guy wants, so I cautiously rolled down my window.

"If you're looking for a good place to watch trains, I can show you one."

Turns out that this guy, Dave Hover, is a local railfan. So I put his bike in the trunk of my rental car (very carefully!) and drive over to his house on the other side of town. He lives on a street which overlooks downtown, the Amtrak station, and the Boston Line very nicely. While dropping off his bike, I got to see his basement, home of the Northern Berkshire Model Railroad Club. Unfortunately, Murphy was with us, as the trains seemed to always derail, so, since the eastbound Lake Shore Limited was on its way, we headed back into town, where I got a shot of him between the station and CP 150. I'm guessing that it was the only decent shot of the day. After that, I dropped off Dave back at his house, stopped at Wal-Mart to get a new camera battery, since it looked like mine was starting to get low (!), and made my way towards Groton, CT.

I took US 20 back to West Springfield, then south on I-91 to Hartford, followed by CT Routes 2 and 11 to Route 85 to New London, where I took I-95 over the Thames River to Groton. A few things I noticed during the trip:

Monday, March 2, 1998

I began the day in Plainfield, CT, an operating base of the Providence & Worchester. It was so foggy that morning you could hardly see 200 feet. Nevertheless, I did what I could, which to begin with was waiting an hour and a half while the crew of NR-2 switched cars for their trip south to Groton. I set up at a grade crossing at Roode Road, about three miles out of Plainfield, where there was an Agway. I heard the train get his Form D, so I figured in 8-10 minutes he'd been there.

Wrong. About 2-3 minutes later I hear a horn, and the train, led by a U23B, flew by about about 40 MPH. At that point I realized that it could be a long day, but I got in the car and made chase. At Jewett City, I saw a grade crossing with its flashers on as the road crossed over the tracks, but since it was so &^%#$*&@# foggy, I couldn't see if I just missed him or was ahead of him. What I didn't know about was the tunnel near there that has a close clearance, so the crews have to walk the train through the tunnel.

Hoping for the best, I got to Norwich and set up for a southbound shot near one of the many old factory buildings in town. About 15 minutes later, NR-2 showed up, moving much slower this time as the train made its way though town. I got another shot of him running along the river on the south side of town, and another crossing a causeway over a cove, which looks on the map to be Mill Cove (it was just north of the Sub Base).

In Groton, NR-2 was switching cars for a while, so I did some exploration. I found the tower where the P&W joins the Shore Line, and I also got a shot of a westbound Amtrak train crossing the Thames River bridge. By this time, the P&W job was ready to go east on the Shore Line to do some switching on the Old Main. I wasn't paying enough attention and thought he was going to head west, so I was set up for a shot crossing the Thames River, until I realized he was going to go the other way! What followed was a "fire drill" shot involving me finding a parking lot, leaving the car in front of a dumpster, sprinting up onto a highway bridge, and still having enough time to get an overhead shot of the P&W train with the tower in the background.After that I went out to the state park at Bluff Point, where the Shore Line crosses a river on a nice causeway (except for the catenary poles!). The park is across the river from the Groton-New London airport. I shot one Amtrak train on the causeway, and missed another because I was a dork and not paying attention.

By this time, the sun was out. The P&W train was heading to New London to work the New England Central yard, so I flew over the river and somehow found where the tracks into the NECR yard was, and so I shot him coming across the causeway north of the New London passenger station. I also took some photos of the station, although I found out the hard way that the station is really a morning shot, as the side with the tracks was in shadow.

Next up was to head west, as the P&W train was going to head towards Old Saybrook. I hoped to get a shot of him at Niantic, but I missed the road I wanted, and as I was getting turned around, chug chug, there he went. So I headed to Old Saybrook, where the NR-2 had met the train out of New Haven (symbol, anybody?). They were exchanging cars and switching some local industry there.

Old Saybrook has some nice photo angles. Between an old tower (could use restoration), the station, and a signal bridge, I was able to get several pictures of the P&W jobs working, along with a westbound Amtrak train. And it was still sunny! Unreal after the way the morning started.

I headed west around Westbrook then to set up for what I was really hoping to shoot: Shore Line East trains. Sure, they might be just commuter trains, but anything running in the 1990's with a New Haven paint scheme gets my attention, even if they run GP40-2H's that look like "GP45s". I got two different shots of SLE trains off the Route 166 bridge, just east of the Westfield SLE station, and I finished the roll at Old Saybrook as the light went away.

The Old Saybrook freight station has been renovated into a restaurant called Pizzaworks, which was recommended to me, so I went there for dinner. Their slogan is "Best Pizza on the Shoreline", although I would like it better if they said "Shore Line" instead. :-) Anyway, I got to sit upstairs by their model railroad and watch a New Haven Geep pull around Athearn passenger cars. The pizza was really good, but the second glass of Coke I got had a fly in it. To make a long story short, the pizza was on the house, so my dinner cost me a total of $1.60! I'd still go back, though. The atmosphere is worth it. I definitely need to do Shore Line East next time in the summer, though, as they run trains until 8:00 at night, so what I saw barely scratched the surface for a normal day, although I did watch one more run pull out of the station as I left.

Anyway, I got back in the car, pointed it east, and drove up I-95 to Sharon, MA. Since there was nothing else good on the radio, I was listening to oldies, and actually singing Elvis as I flew through Rhode Island....

Tuesday, March 3, 1998

For my last day, I took in some MBTA (or "the T", as the locals say) commuter rail action. I started at Readville, MA, with a guided tour by Ed St. George, a local railfan. Readville is a busy place. I was told that trains run sometimes as often as every 6 minutes. It's true! If you like passenger trains, especially purple ones, take in a rush hour at Readville.

Later in the day I got shots of trains at the Route 128 station, Canton Junction, and Canton Viaduct (I had to, it's a New Haven trademark!). I was going to wrap up the day at Attleboro, MA, with some Amtrak and T trains. I got some shots with the station and the tower there, and headed back to Providence to turn in my rental car and catch my plane

However, I still had some time to kill, so I went looking for the P&W's operating base in Providence. On the way I found a local working State Line Scrap, so I followed him back to the headquarters, getting a few shots, and shot him a couple times working the yard. After that, I had to get going, so I turned in my rental car, with a lot more miles and mud than it started with, caught my flight back to Cleveland, and bid farewell to New England....until the next time.....

I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, and I would like to go back again soon. I would be remiss, though, if I didn't give a large dose of credit and a hearty thanks to John Swift, a Cleveland railfan and native New Englander, who gave me lots of valuable information, schedules, maps, etc., that without, I would have had no clue where I was going or what I was taking pictures of. Also, there were several people on the Internet who supplied me with information, even things as simple as which way the Shore Line East trains faced! My thanks to all of you for contributing to my success on this trip.

Jerry W. Jordak --