Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tropical Storm Irene Aftermath Iron Horse Roundup September 6, 2011

Pan Am ballast train in Greenfield, MA en route to washout at Charlemont, MA on Aug 30th- photo Billy Wehmeyer
Hurricane Irene struck the Berkshires on Aug 28th and there was sizable washouts on Pan Am's former Boston & Maine Fitchburg Division between Ayer, MA and Mechanichsville, NY along the Deerfield River between North Adams and Shelburne, MA. With slow orders in effect for a number of locations, crews were able to get the line reopened by the evening of August 31.

Canadian Pacific's former Delaware & Hudson mainline between Albany NY and Binghamton NY suffered a number of washouts, forcing some trains to be rerouted via CSX's (suddenly ironically named) Water Level route west of Schenectady, NY all the way to Syracuse where they were redirected to Binghampton on the New York Susquehana & Western's Northern Division.

The Canadian Pacific line between Saratoga Springs and the Canadian border at Rouses Point, NY (and on to Montreal from there) suffered minimal flooding and obstruction and for the most part remained open. Besides through freight from CP Rail, the line also hosts Amtrak's Adirondack New York City to Montreal service.

After work was completed on a damaged section of track in Central Bridge, NY, Canadian Pacific resumed operations on the D&H Bridge Line between Albany and Binghaton NY on September 1.

CSX's Selkirk NY to Buffalo Water Level route was flooded, but reopened after a few days while the line along the West shore of the Hudson River experienced a number of floods, washouts and landslides. Crews reportedly had managed to get the line reopened by the early morning hours of August 30th. A CSX service bulletin dated September 3 reports that MOW and signalmen have been working to restore tracks, crossing signals and roadbed throughout affected areas in Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Maryland.

The New England Central's former Central Vermont Railway line still remains closed between White River Jct and Essex Jct, VT. Curiously, Amtrak's Vermonter service wasn't affected because passengers for north of Springfield, MA would be served by bus due to ongoing track upgrades along the New England Central since June. The NECR between Essex Jct and the Canadian National interchange in Swanton, VT to the north remains open as well as the line to the south between White River Jct and New London, CT.

Although no timetable for reopening the line between White River Jct and Essex Jct has been announced, a service bulletin dated September 2nd announced a detour train was scheduled to deliver cars to the Canadian National on September 9th.

Washout on the Vermont Railway line in Sunderland between Rutland and North Bennington, VT. Photo- Tim Stockwell
Undoubtedly the hardest hit railroad was the Vermont Railway system, with all of their lines radiating out of Rutland, VT flooded or washed out at some point along the way. The former Delaware & Hudson line between the Canadian Pacific interchange at Whitehall NY and Rutland was the first to re-open, with Amtrak's Ethan Allen resuming service on September 1. The line north between Rutland and Burlington was reopened on Aug 31, with a fuel train to Burlington, VT being the first train through.

However, things were different to the east and south of Rutland. The line south to Bennington, VT and on to the Pan-Am interchange in Hoosick Falls, NY was hit by several washouts. The Green Mountain line between Rutland and Bellows Falls, VT was much worse off and will likely take several weeks to repair.
Vermont's state-owned rail lines have been heavily damaged by Tropical Storm Irene.

An inspection found that five of the state's railroad bridges have major structural damage and need major repairs before they can re-open to freight traffic.

The middle piers of one bridge on the Connecticut River line in Hartford was moved more than 6 feet by rushing floodwaters. Yesterday, a crane was sent to stabilize that bridge, and allow work crews to install temporary shoring.

The Green Mountain line and the Vermont Rail South line rail beds have also seen a number of washouts, culvert failures and erosion of the rail bed.

Freight traffic is still running between Burlington and Rutland, and the Ethan Allen Amtrak line resumed service on Saturday.

Vermont Rail Systems estimates it will be three to four weeks before freight begins moving again on the Green Mountain rail line.
It appears that the Vermont Railway has put a priority on getting the Green Mountain route open so that Canadian Pacific bridge traffic to the New England Central and Providence & Worcester can resume as well as providing a viable detour route while the New England Central line north of White River Jct. is being repaired.

Crews from Vermont Railway and contractor RJ Corman were reportedly dumping ballast and rip-rap along washed away sections of track between Rockingham, VT and Wallingford, VT using hi-rail equipped dump trucks. Structural engineers are also attempting to shore up bridges that were compromised by the flash floods.

The Washington County (a subsidiary of the Vermont Railway) line between Newport, VT and White River Jct is intact, but WACR/VTR power is 'marooned' in from the rest of the system in Bellows Falls or White River Jct. For the time being, the WACR is borrowing a B39-8 from the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic to serve customers on the line. Until the New England Central line reopens and engineers shore up the damaged bridges around White River Juntion, the only interchange is with the MM&A at Newport, VT where the line heads northwest to Farnham, Quebec.
Green Mountain Railway Alco RS-1 shoving on rear of empty ethanol tank train past Bartonsville covered bridge, April 2011.
While not part of the Vermont Railway System, the photogenic Bartonsville covered bridge (above) adjacent to Vermont Route 103 and the Green Mountain Railway was popular with railway enthusiasts and tourists. Perhaps the most iconic image of the damage Irene had wrought on the Green Mountain state, the covered bridge was captured on video being washed away by the raging torrent of the Williams River by a local resident.

Location of Bartonsville covered bridge after Irene- Both photos from Kevin Burkholder
While the bridge was insured by the village of Bartonsville for $1 million, the polity only covered the wooden structure but not the abutments which will need further repair. A fund for replacing the bridge has been set up on the Rockingham-Bellows Falls town website.

The New York, Susquehanna & Western experienced some flood damage to their right-of-way in northern New Jersey between their Little Ferry, NJ hub and Port Jervis, NY. However, there was no damage reported to the Southern Tier line between Binghampton NY and Port Jervis and their Northern Division between Binghamton and Syracuse, NY also managed to survive intact. The Susquehanna was able to resume operations on their Sparta Jct NJ-Little Ferry, NJ line by September 1.

In the Catskills, the Catskill Mountain Railway is expected to resume operations out of Mount Tremper, operating excusrions on a modified route beginning September 10. Meanwhile, just to the north, a notice on the Delaware & Ulster website announced that the railway was shut down until further notice due to flash flooding from Irene.

Over in rural Washington County NY, the 33-mile Batten Kill railroad suffered some flooding from its namesake river and fallen trees along the right of way, but suffered no washouts or damage to its bridges. While the line remained open after Tropical storm Irene passed, interchange with the Pan Am Railway at Eagle Bridge, NY was limited due to flood damage from the swollen Deerfield River that railway suffered on the line between North Adams, MA and Shelburne, MA.

Despite the damage inflicted to railroads to the immediate north and west, Canaan, CT-based Housatonic Railroad experienced minimal disruptions on their line through Westernmost Massachusetts and Connecticut from Tropical storm Irene.

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