Sunday, November 25, 2012

Today's Train of Thought- Fall Classics, Nov 25th, 2012

Today's Train of Thought takes us to Pennsylvania's northern tier and gives us a glimpse of some old war horses doing what they were built for some 40 years after their manufacturer shut down.

The Western New York & Pennsylvania got its start in 2001 on a dormant former Conrail (nee- Erie) line between Meadville, Pa and Hornell, NY. Even before the 1999 takeover of Conrail by Norfolk Southern and CSX, the line had been taken out of service by Conrail.

After some legal wrangling, the line was re-opened by the Western New York & Pennsylvania railroad in 2003. In addition to attempting to generate traffic along the 190-mile Meadville line, the WNY&P also reached an agreement with the Norfolk Southern to use the line as a shortcut between the coal fields of Southwestern Pennsylvania and a number of power plants in the Northeast, bypassing the Buffalo area altogether.

By early 2007, the WNY&P had expanded further with the lease of a portion of the former Conrail Buffalo line from Norfolk Southern between Machias and Driftwood, PA. The former Pennsylvania railroad line used to run all the way between Buffalo and Harrisburgh, PA- the WNY&P leases about 90 miles which includes 5 miles of 2.6% grade at Keating Summit, PA.

Besides hauling water, pipe and frac sand for increased drilling in the Marcellus Shale along Pennsylvania's northern tier, the WNY&P got an unexpected revenue boost in 2009 when their portion of the Buffalo line was used for the filming of a number of scenes from Tony Scott's Unstoppable.

Here, photographer Aaron J Border caught burly 6-axle ALCO C630M #630 heading southbound with train DFT [the Driftwood Turn- NANESB!] at Sinnemahoning, PA on October 20th, 2009, framed by some trees changing color at WNY&P's southern end of the Buffalo line.

The WNY&P locomotive fleet is exclusively ALCO or Montreal Locomotive Works- an anomaly in these days. The steep grades around Keating Summit, PA justify the presence of the vintage 3000 HP beasts- management of the Arkansas and Missouri in northwestern Arkansas has also cited the steep grades on their former Frisco line through the Ozarks as the reason why they maintain an all-ALCO fleet. In fact, the #630 is still painted in Arkansas & Missouri colors- the locomotive started out life as Canadian Pacific #4500. The trailing unit is still wearing the colors of Quebec-Cartier mining.

While the WNY&P has experienced a number of setbacks since then- Norfolk Southern's overhead traffic has virtually dried up and a steep decline in the price of natural gas has cut back in drilling activities along the Marcellus Shale- the line still handles commodities like steel, aggregates, wax and cheese on both the Buffalo and Meadville lines.

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