The old Boston New York Airline Railroad was a 54-mile line that connected Willimantic and New Haven, Connecticut.
This was built decades before the first aeroplane made its first flight. In theory it offered a direct route between its namesake points, but in practice it wasn’t really all that straight and itself never reached Boston or New York.
It did however, serve as part of a through route for New York & New England’s premier Boston-New York Express, which in its heyday in the 1880s-1890s was famous for its use of passenger cars that were painted gloss-white.
It was known as the ‘White Train’ or to residents along the line that saw it pass in the night as the ‘Ghost Train.’
Today the old Airline is a hiking trail. I made this photo west of Willimantic.
Maybe there’s a true ghost train that passes on windless winter nights?
In recent months, New England Central’s operations have been altered. This has benefits for photography. Since the times trains tend to run have changed, different locations have opened up for photographic possibilities.
For many years, New England Central operated a southward freight from Palmer, Massachusetts in the early morning (typically as job 608), this worked into Connecticut (to Willimantic and beyond) and returned in the afternoon or early evening.
Now, on many days, the railroad runs a turn from Willimantic to Palmer (often as job 610), that goes on duty at Willimantic in the morning, runs northward to Palmer, and returns. From my experience the return times vary considerably.
Once I was aware of this change, I began thinking about various places to make photographs based on afternoon lighting angles. Last week, I heard 610 working south from Palmer. I was in luck as a pair of vintage GP38s in the railroad’s original scheme (the locomotives were painted by Conrail in preparation for New England Central’s February 1995 start up).
Track speeds south of Palmer make following a train easy enough. My first location was Stafford Springs, where I’ve often exposed photographs of New England Central. From there I followed southward.
My final location of the day was at the Connecticut Eagleville Preserve, where the line passes an old Mill dam (I’m not well versed on the specific history of this dam, but the arrangement is common enough in New England, where in the 19th century water powered local industries. For more information on the park and area see: http://www.willimanticriver.org/recreation/pg_park_eagleville-preserve.html).
Afternoon sun favors this location, and I made the most of the light, waterfall and autumn foliage as well as the GP38s.
One of the benefits of my visits to Monson, Massachusetts, is being within ear-shot of the former Central Vermont Railway, now operated by New England Central (NECR). Yesterday morning (January 10, 2013), I awoke to the sounds of a southward freight clawing its way up Stateline Hill (so-named because it crests near the Massachusetts-Connecticut state line). NECR freights take their time ascending the grade and on a clear day I can hear them climbing from about the time they depart the Palmer Yard. As a kid I’d count the crossings: CV’s GP9s whistling a sequence of mournful blasts for each one. Yesterday morning I dithered for a few minutes. Should I go after this train? Or, should I keep my nose to grindstone, writing? Clear skies forced the answer: GO!
My hesitation caused me to miss the opportunity for a photograph in Stafford Springs, Connecticut. This was blessing in disguise, since I’ve often caught the train here and then broke off the chase before getting deeper into Connecticut. Having missed Stafford Springs, I pursued further south, and caught the train four times at various points between Stafford and Willimantic. This a relatively easy chase, as Route 32 runs roughly parallel to the line.
Three elements made yesterday’s chase a satisfying exercise:
1) The train was operating at a suitable time of the morning for southward daylight photography (lately, NECR’s trains seem to have headed south either way too early or too late in the day for my photographic preferences—I’ve been photographing this line for more than 30 years, first chasing it with my Dad in the early 1980s, so I can be unusually choosy).
2) It was a ‘clear blue dome’—sunny, bright, and cloudless, always a great time to make morning photographs.
3) As it turned out, one of New England Central’s yellow and blue GP38s was leading. As I’ve mentioned previously, while this was once NECR’s standard locomotive, in recent years the type has become comparatively scarce on NECR, with many of the locomotives working the line wearing paint of former operators (Conrail, Union Pacific, Florida East Coast, and others).
I was also eager for a clear day to test some recently acquired equipment, especially my new Canon 40mm Pancake Lens, which arrived on Monday. I’ll make this lens the detailed topic of future posts.
After abandoning NECR at Willimantic, I made a few photographs of the town, which still has some wonderful old mill buildings, then continued south to New London where I focused on Amtrak for a while.
Since New England Central is among properties recently acquired by Genesee & Wyoming, I’m anticipating change and wondering when I’ll photograph the first orange & black locomotives
See my recent published book North American Locomotives for more information on New England Central’s and Genesee & Wyoming locomotives.