The other day, I was on Main Street in Palmer, Massachusetts near the Day and Night Diner (where I’d just finished breakfast), when I saw an eastward CSX intermodal train approaching the Palmer diamond.
In the lead was a 4700-series SD70MAC. Since in recent times, CSX’s safety-cab General Electric locomotives have dominated the scene on the old Boston & Albany route, I was keen to make a photo of this comparatively unusual leader.
Now, I’d been away for a while, so for all I knew, the 4700s had been leading every day for the last month. Or, it may have been the first time over the line since I was here last. Hard to know, but why take a chance. Plus it was as good as excuse as I needed for a time-honored chase up the Quaboag River Valley.
But would I make it? Intermodal trains can be nimble and tend to have a high horsepower per ton rating. There’s a speed restriction across the diamond, and I thought, if I moved quickly, I might be able to zip east toward Warren for a photograph.
First I had to navigate three traffic lights in Palmer. The first two I made without problems, but the third stabbed me. Soon, I was heading out of town on Route 20, but reasons beyond my understanding, the car in front of me dawdled.
I was even with the locomotives and gaining quickly by the time I’d reached ‘Electric Light Hill’ (where the right of way of the projected Grand Trunk line to Providence was graded to cross the B&A—a point so known for the nearby electric substation opposite the tracks).
At this point, the engineer should have opened the throttle to ‘run-8’ and been charging for the grade up the valley. By rights, I would have lost the race at that stage, unless I was willing to ignore the posted limit.
As it turned out, there was no need to consider such transgression of highway safety. The eastward train had begun to slow down. I surmised that it might be stopping at CP79 for a meet with a westbound.
Kudos to the dispatcher in Selkirk! It was a very tight meet. At the field near CP79 (where the long controlled siding that began at CP83 ends), I spotted a westward train and caught a photo of it from across the freshly greened fields. Yet, my primary subject never had to stop.
This meet gave me the extra couple of minutes I needed to reach Warren with ample time to park, adjust and set my camera and compose my images.
It’s a chase I’ve done many times over the last three decades. It helps to know the railroad. All was quiet in Warren that day, save for the roar of the train.
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