Tag Archives: #Coal train

Conrail Heritage Unit on the Move!

We were at the right place at the right time.

As Norfolk Southern’s unit coal train 632 rolled through Sunbury, Pa., on the former Pennsylvania Railroad Northern Central route, Kris and I chased along on the parallel Rt 147.

On the way north we’d spotted several open locations right off the road. By the time we reached the south side of Sunbury, we were already a couple of minutes ahead of the train, so we pulled off the road near mile post 260.

While I was surprised to catch a coal train on the move, and delighted to have stumbled into NS’s one-of-a-kind Conrail heritage unit No. 8098, I didn’t realise how infrequently Clearfield-originated coal trains are these days.

At milepost 260, I aimed to make some representative photos of the locomotive in nice light. At our next location about 17 miles further down the line, I hoped to make the most of the sweeping curve that Kris and I spotted on our drive northward earlier in the day.

We timed the exercise well and had time to make nice sequences at both locations. Special thanks to Dan Cupper for operational details on the coal train!

Norfolk Southern’s Royalton Branch

This is a follow up to Thursday’s post. After photographing coal empties on the Port Road at Washington Boro, PA, I followed the train by traveling compass northwest on highway 441.

Norfolk Southern’s Royalton Branch is a former Pennsylvania Railroad line, once electrified, that allows an alternated routing through the Harrisburg area for freights using the Port Road.

Beyond Marietta railroad routes divide, with one line crossing the Susquehanna River via the Shocks Mills bridge to reach Enola Yard. The Royalton Branch runs toward Harrisburg on the east bank of the river.

I’m just learning this territory, so as of now, I’m not completely fluent as the modern names for the junctions and timetable directions of the tracks. However, I know that trains have a choice of routings, so last week I took a chance that the coal empties would run via the Royalton Branch. Previously, I’d scoped out a location near Middletown not far from the famous Three Mile Island.

Fortune favored me, and I arrived with ample time to set up and change lenses. Instead of my 70-200mm Z-series zoom, I was traveling with my 1980s-era Nikkor f2.8 180mm ED fixed focal length manual focus telephoto, which attaches to my Z-series mirrorless cameras using an adaptor.

This is a traditional piece of glass and offers a classic quality, especially when used wide open (f2.8). However, its tricky to set the focus while trying to expose manually.

I made a series of photos with my Nikon Z6 and 180mm and a frame with my Lumix LX7.

NS coal empties at Royalton, PA. Exposed with a Nikon Z6 with Nikkor f2.8 180mm ED fixed telephoto.
NS coal empties at Royalton, PA. Exposed with a Nikon Z6 with Nikkor f2.8 180mm ED fixed telephoto.
Lumix LX7 photo at milepost 11 in Royalton, PA.

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NS Coal Empties on the Port Road Branch

Over the course of recent weeks, Kris and I have explored locations on the Norfolk Southern’s Port Road Branch. This is a portion of former Pennsylvania Railroad that follows the Susquehanna River between the Harrisburg area and a connection with the Northeast Corridor at Perryville, Maryland.

PRR electrified the route in the 1930s, and it handled electrically powered freights until the Conrail era. The old electric catenary supports are evidence of this by-gone era. It has been more than 40 years since electric operations ended on this portion of the former Conrail system.

Daylight freight moves on the Port Road seem to be relatively rare, owing to an Amtrak daytime curfew on the Northeast Corridor route.

Last week, I left Lancaster very early and made my way to Columbia, PA where I picked up the Norfolk Southern Port Road line. In the morning glow, I found that home signal was lit ‘clear’ for a train movement toward Harrisburg. Expecting a train, I proceeded against it on the parallel highway to Washington Boro, PA, where I scoped a suitable location near a local park.

I waited for a few minutes, and soon heard the approaching freight.

I set up with my Nikon Z6 with 24-70mm lens and exposed this sequence of an NS empty coal train rolling up river.

Since the train wasn’t moving more than about 25 mph, I followed it along the adjacent highway. Stay tuned for more!

Former Pennsylvania Railroad electrified line at Columbia, PA. A high dew point made it difficult to keep the front element of my lens from misting over.
In many places the road, the railroad and the Susquehanna River run adjacent to one another. The classic catenary supports visually identify the line as the former Pennsylvania Railroad.
After just a short wait, this Norfolk Southern empty coal train came into view at Washington Boro, PA.
Soft morning light on the coal train made for a classic view.
This wideangle photo is at the same location in Washington Boro.
Trailing view at Washington Boro, PA.
View of the hoppers from Washington Boro Park rolling along from the opposite side of Highway 441.

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Strawberry Ridge Coal Train at Tyrone

Twenty two years ago, photographer Mike Gardner and I made a project of photographing Norfolk Southern coal trains that served the Strawberry Ridge power plant in central Pennsylvania.

On this day, we followed a loaded train from Gallitzin toward Northumberland. It was misty and heavily overcast.

At Tyrone, the train diverged from the Main Line onto the former Pennsylvania Railroad Bald Eagle Branch, a line maintained in part by short line Nitany and Bald Eagle.

Mike and I set up on Washington Street in Tyrone, where the Bald Eagle branch came right up the middle of the street.

I made this photograph on Ilford HP using a Nikon N90S with Tokina 400mm lens. My goal was to accentuate the unusual trackage with a big train.

This would be a neat place to feature on a model railroad.

Bald Eagle Branch at Tyrone, PA, March 2001. Ilford HP5 with Nikon N90S and 400mm lens.

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Coal Hoppers at Horseshoe Curve

In this November 2021 view at the World Famous Horse Shoe Curve west of Altoona, Pennsylvania, I pictured in classic fashion, a westward hopper train (empty coal train) climbing the Main Line toward Gallitzin.

Eighty-one years ago, we might have seen an equivalent scene with a pair of PRR L1s Mikados. Where Norfolk Southern has hundreds of GE Dash 9s, PRR had more than 500 2-8-2s.

I wonder what will be leading freights on the Curve in 2102?

Exposed digitally using a Nikon Z6 with 24-70mm lens.

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Coal Train at Cassandra

Standing at the Railfan’s Overlook at Cassandra, Pennsylvania we could hear a heavy eastward train climbing the West Slope on Norfolk Southern’s former Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line.

Kris and I had arrived at this famous photo location on our drive east from Illinois last month. It was Kris’s first time at Cassandra, and my first visit here in more than a decade.

Finally after several minutes a headlight appeared on the long tangent looking west toward Johnstown. A slow-moving loaded unit coal train was clawing up grade towards us.

As the train approached and passed us, I made this series of photos using my Nikon Z6 mirrorless digital camera fitted with a Z-series f2.8 70-200mm zoom lens. A pair of NS SD70ACUs were working at the back of the train.

Looking east at Cassandra as the helpers shove at the back of the eastward loaded coal train.

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Drama on Donner!

In March 1991, I exposed this view of a Southern Pacific coal train ascending Donner Pass.

Working with my Nikon F3T and Nikkor f4.0 200mm lens, I focused on the loaded hoppers of the coal train as diesel exhaust poured forth from tunnel 8 on Donner Pass.

SP’s SNTA-C (Skyline Mine to Trona-coal) had been routed over Donner Pass via Track 1. This was the historic 1860s alignment that involved a difficult sinuous climb around the north face of Mount Judah.

Backlighting aided capturing this contrasty scene, that I preserved on Kodachrome 25 color slide film.

In 1993, SP lifted Track 1 over Donner Pass (between Shed 47 and Norden), opting to route all traffic on its newer alignment on Track 2 via Tunnel 41.

I’ll be featuring SP and Donner Pass in my September 2021 Trains Magazine column that looks back at Southern Pacific 25 years after its merger with Union Pacific.

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Classic Chrome Color COrrection—Coal Train at Galena, Illinois.

On August 13, 1994, I traveled with Mike Danneman to the Mississippi River. At East Dubuque, Illinois we caught up with a Chicago Central & Pacific coal train working eastbound on the old Illinois Central.

Mike was familiar with the territory and after making a few photos on the joint Burlington Northern-CC&P line, we drove to Galena to catch the train working up grade out of the Mississippi Valley.

The weather was less than ideal; a ‘heavy’ summer’ afternoon—hot humid and overcast.

Working with my Nikon F3T and f4 200mm lens, I made this view of the train crawling by the old Illinois Central station.

As previously described on Tracking the Light, Kodachrome 25 slide film had a cyan to red color bias (cyan when fresh, red when aged).

To correct for the cyan tint and adjust contrast, I imported the scan into Adobe Lightroom for a few nominal corrections. Below are scaled Jpgs from both the uncorrected and corrected files.

Unadjusted scan, scaled for internet.
Scan after modification with Adobe Lightroom and scaled for internet.
Lightroom work window showing adjustment sliders at right.

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