Tag Archives: SD80MAC

On this Day in 1996—Conrail SD80MACs Work the Boston & Albany

On the afternoon of October 25, 1996, my brother Sean and I had hiked to the established overlook west of milepost 123 near Middlefield, Massachusetts.

The roar of EMD 20-Cylinder 710 diesels announced the passage of a westward freight with two of the relatively new Conrail SD80MACs.

I exposed this view using my Nikon F3T.

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Conrail Classic Chrome—SD80MACs at the Twin Ledges.

This photo appeared in Pacific RailNews/RailNews not long after I exposed it on Kodachrome 25 in October 1996. [Click on Tracking the Light for the full vertical image.]

The Twin Ledges is a classic photo location a mile or so west of the old Boston & Albany Middlefield Station in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts.

Conrail’s SD80MACs were an unusual modern locomotive because they were powered by a 20-cylinder variation of EMD’s 710 diesel,  rated at 5,000 hp. They arrived only a few years before Conrail was bought and divided by CSX and Norfolk Southern.

Although their operation on the old B&A was short-lived, they were oft photographed (by me anyway).

Classic Kodachrome: a vertical telephoto view of Conrail SD80MACs leading symbol freight ML482 at the Twin Ledges in October 1996.

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Conrail SD80MACs on the Boston & Albany, October 11, 1996.

Looking Back 17 Years.

Conrail SD80MACs
Exposed on Kodachrome 25 color slide film using a Nikon F3T with 28mm Nikkor lens.

This was a favorite location of mine on the old Boston & Albany west end. The curve and cutting were built as part of a line relocation in 1912 aimed at reducing curvature and easing the westward climb toward the summit at Washington, Massachusetts.

There are several commanding views from the south side of the rock cutting near milepost 129, west of Chester, Massachusetts. My friend Bob Buck had showed me these locations back in the early 1980s, and I’ve made annual pilgrimages ever since.

Conrail was still going strong in 1996, although the forces were already in play that would see the line divided between CSX and Norfolk Southern. In less than three years time, this route would become part of the CSX network, and has remained so to the present day.

Conrail’s SD80MAC were new locomotives and several pairs were routinely assigned to the B&A grades east of New York’s Selkirk yard.

What makes this image work for me is that the foliage has just begun to turn and has that rusty look. Also, the train is descending on the old westward main track, which allows for a better angle.

After Conrail reworked the B&A route in the mid-1980s, bi-directional signaling on this section allowed them to operate trains in either direction on either track on signal indication. The result is that moves such as this don’t require unusual attention on the part of either dispatchers or train crews.

This photo appeared in my article on Conrail’s SD80MACs that was published in RailNews magazine about 1997.

Exposed on Kodachrome 25 color slide film using a Nikon F3T with 28mm Nikkor lens.

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Conrail SD80MACs Near Middlefield, Massachusetts.

Twenty Cylinder Monsters Roar West on July 19, 1997.

General Motors SD80MACs
On July 19, 1997, a pair of Conrail SD80MACs is roaring westward (but progressing at crawl) on the 1.67 percent climb just passed Milepost 130 near the old Middlefield Station location. It is here that the 1912 line relocation rejoined the original 1840s Western Rail Road alignment. (seen disappearing into the trees immediately to the left of the SD80MACs) Exposed on Fujichrome with a Nikon N90s and Nikon 80-200mm zoom lens.

Between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s, I made many trips to the old Boston & Albany ‘West End.’ I often focused on the east slope of Washington Hill, where the combination of scenery, ruling grade and traffic patterns was especially conducive to my photography.

In 1995, Conrail ordered a small fleet of SD80MAC diesels from General Motors’ Electro-Motive Division. These were Conrail’s first AC traction locomotives and specially painted in a new white and light blue livery. (Later also applied to a small order of SD70MACs).

They were also the only modern GM diesel locomotives delivered domestically with the 20 cylinder 710 engine.

From early 1996 until CSX assumed operation, pairs of SD80MACs were common on the old B&A route. I made a concerted effort to make images of these machines. I exposed this color slide in the summer of 1997 when the locomotives were still relatively new.

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