Hot Spot: Palmer, Massachusetts, October 17, 2013

Trains Converge on Palmer; 2 Hours of Non-stop Action.

New England Central
At 2:02 pm, New England Central GP38 3855 works CSX’s Palmer yard. Canon EOS 7D photo.

In the 1980s, Trains Magazine occasionally ran articles that featured ‘hot spots’ illustrated by sequences of photos showing different trains passing the same place over the course of hours.

These always caught my attention. While the individual images ranged from pedestrian to interpretive, the collective effect produced an understanding of how a busy spot worked.

Trains tend to arrive in clusters. Hours may pass where nothing goes by except a track car, then trains arrive from every direction. The astute photographer has learned when to make the most of these situations.

Palmer, Massachusetts can be a busy place, if you’re there at the right time. CSX’s east-west former Boston & Albany mainline crosses New England Central’s (NECR) former Central Vermont line at grade. An interchange track connects the two routes and serves as connection to the former B&A Ware River Branch operated by Massachusetts Central.

Afternoon tends to be busy. Among the moves through Palmer are Amtrak’s Vermonters that use CSX’s line between Springfield and Palmer, and NECR’s line north of Palmer toward Vermont. There isn’t a direct connection to allow an eastward train on the CSX route to directly access the NECR’s line.

To compensate for this, Amtrak’s trains must use CSX’s controlled siding to access the interchange track, and this to reach the NECR. This requires trains to reverse direction. As a result, Amtrak trains either have locomotives on each end or run with a push-pull cab control car.

On the afternoon of October 17, 2013, the interchange track proved one of the busiest lines in Palmer and was used by a succession of NECR, Mass-Central, and Amtrak trains.

Complicating matters was Amtrak 57 (southward Vermonter) which was running more than an hour behind its scheduled time, and so met its northward counterpart at Palmer. New England Central was also busy with no less than three trains working around Palmer about the same time.

I’ve put the following photos in sequence with the approximate times of exposure. I stress ‘approximate’, since my digital camera’s clocks not only didn’t agree on the minutes passed the hour, but were set for different time zones as a function of recent travel.

It was a nice bright day too. Patrons at Palmer’s ever popular Steaming Tender restaurant (located in the restored former Palmer Union Station) were entertained with a succession of trains passing on both sides of the building.

A southbound New England Central local approaches the Palmer diamond at 2:33 pm. Canon EOS 7D photo.
A southbound New England Central local approaches the Palmer diamond at 2:33 pm. Canon EOS 7D photo.
At 2:49 pm Mass Central's freight from South Barre looks to work the interchange track to reach the CSX yard. Canon EOS 7D photo.
At 2:49 pm Mass Central’s freight from South Barre looks to work the interchange track to reach the CSX yard. Canon EOS 7D photo.
New England Central 3809 has gone across the diamond to collect southbound train 611 and is now returning with the train and looking to re-cross CSX . Canon EOS 7D photo.
New England Central 3809 has gone across the diamond to collect southbound train 611 and is now returning with the train and looking to re-cross CSX . Canon EOS 7D photo.
Having dropped its interchange and collected its cars from CSX's yard, Mass-Central 960 returns west on the interchange track at 3:23 pm. Canon EOS 7D photo.
Having dropped its interchange and collected its cars from CSX’s yard, Mass-Central 960 returns west on the interchange track at 3:23 pm. A New England Central local with engine 3855 can be seen in the distance working the yard. Canon EOS 7D photo.
Photographer Paul Goewey focuses on Mass-Central as the train reverses over the interchange. Lumix LX3 photo.
Photographer Paul Goewey focuses on Mass-Central as the train passes over the interchange. Lumix LX3 photo.
Paul inspects his results.
Paul inspects his results.
At 3:37pm Amtrak 56, the northward Vermonter crosses the Palmer diamond and enters the controlled siding at CSX's CP83. Canon EOS 7D photo.
At 3:37pm Amtrak 56, the northward Vermonter crosses the Palmer diamond and enters the controlled siding at CSX’s CP83. Its locomotive, P42 153 is shoving at the back. The Steaming Tender is in the old station building on the left. Canon EOS 7D photo.
Amtrak and New England Central.
With Amtrak 56 tucked in on the controlled siding, New England Central’s local passes on the interchange track at 3:40 pm. Lumix LX3 photo.
Amtrak 56 has pulled forward onto the interchange and then reversed back again to make room for its southward counterpart to access the switch that connects the interchange track with CSX's controlled siding. Lumix LX3 photo.
Amtrak 56 has pulled forward onto the interchange and then reversed back again to make room for its southward counterpart to access the switch that connects the interchange track with CSX’s controlled siding. Lumix LX3 photo.
Amtrak's southward (left) and northward (right) Vemonters are nose to nose at Palmer. Lumix LX3 photo.
Amtrak’s southward (left) and northward (right) Vemonters are nose to nose at Palmer. Lumix LX3 photo.
At 408pm, both Vermonters depart Palmer. The train on the left leading with P42 number 153 is heading north to St Albans, Vermont, while on the right the southward train will exit CSX's controlled siding and head west toward Springfield before continuing south to New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC. Lumix LX3 photo.
At 408pm, both Vermonters depart Palmer. The train on the left, leading with P42 number 153, is heading north to St Albans, Vermont, while on the right the southward train will exit CSX’s controlled siding and head west toward Springfield before continuing south to New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC. Lumix LX3 photo.

Not bad for one afternoon! Yet, not a CSX train in sight. These days much of CSX’s business passes Palmer in darkness.

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