I know it's national autism month and I should be full of insightful stories. And maybe I am. If you want to find out, come see me in Wallingford this Thursday at 6. Meanwhile, today's blog is devoted to trains . . . No one knows why so many Aspergian love trains, but there it is . . .
If you want to run a train west from Boston to Albany, there are two routes. The southern route is the oldest, being built in the 1840s. That line was the Boston & Albany, then the B&M, then Conrail. Now, it's CSX.
The line is all in good condition, with modern heavy welded rail. Welded rail means that there are no joints, so the trains roll silently and smoothly. Here's a CSX freight climbing the grade at Middlefield, MA:
Everything about the CSX mainline in this area is nice. The track is new and well maintained. The ballast is good, and it's properly graded. It's smooth and fast.
You can see they're running modern AC traction locomotives, three of them, and they're pulling 100 cars up the grade at a good clip. You might also notice they're climbing (going west) in the eastbound lane. That's because (when this was taken) there was another westbound train broken down a few miles back, blocking the westbound track.
The current CSX main line was laid out about 1910. It runs close to the original line, which dates from 1843. The original line was distinguished by it's stonework. The line runs on beautiful stone embankment through the Middlefield cut, and the line crossed the Westfield River on a series of stone arch bridges. Here's one:
These bridges stand today much as they did 165 years ago. They've withstood trains, floods, and weather. The amazing thing is that they are made of 100% cut stone. There's no metal framing, no mortar, and no cement. They are held together by their own mass, shaped by the stonecutters.
Here's a summertime view of the underside of one of the other bridges on this section of line:
The washout that's visible in the lower left corner dates from the 1880s, when a mill dam burst and caused extensive flooding in this section of river. Luckily, it was very rural and there was no loss of life. Two of these massive stone structures, though, were actually washed out and this one suffered damage.
The northern route is a little less state of the art. It's interesting, though, because it goes through the Hoosac Tunnel. The tunnel takes the Springfield Terminal line from Rowe to North Adams through 5 miles of mountain. In this photo you can see two intrepid rail fans gazing into the entrance to the tunnel. You can see a haze that's a combination of diesel exhaust fumes and steam wafting from the tunnel entrance
As you can see, even in April, it's still winter in the Berkshires. The Hoosac tunnel was an engineering marvel back in its day (1877) for a number of reasons, one being that it was the first time nitroglycerin was used in large scale construction instead of blasting powder. There's a cemetery about 1/2 a mile down the tracks for all the nameless workers who died building the tunnel.
The line crosses the Deerfield River right before the tunnel. Here's a shot of the underside of the bridge:
The steel is all wet and rusty, and covered in a slime made from moss, algae, and dripped lubricating oil. Needless to say, I did not venture out onto it. The green water below is about 36 degrees, and moving fast. The next shot shows the main and passing tracks just east of the bridge and tunnel portal:
In the first photo, you saw the nice modern CSX lines. The ST line is quite a bit more run down. In this show, you can see wavy rail, and rotted ties. Some of the track up there is quite old. This section, for example, dates from 1934. You can read the makers mark on the side of the rail. It's actually a testament to the quality of the steel that it's this clean after 74 years outside:
This shot shows the old way of joining rail, with bolts and plates. You can see a few bolts are missing, and the rail has separated enough that there's a flat spot where the two pieces join. Those joints are what made the traditional clakity-clack sound of a train.