Friday, August 17, 2012

An Amtrak Vermonter at Palmer, Massachusetts on August 1, 2012


Of all the en route moves Amtrak makes, the reverse move by the Vermonter in each direction daily at Palmer, MA (called the Palmer Shuffle) is maybe the most interesting.   Combining or breaking up of sections a train (e.g., of the Builder at Spokane or of the Lake Shore at Albany/Renssellaer) is old hat, as is adding or subtracting cars at stations.  But the reverse move of the Vermonter at Palmer is unique as the train changes railroads between CSX and the New England Central Railroad (NECR).  On the day of the photos the southbound and northbound trains ran with cab cars.  At times they have run with engines at both ends which increases the operating costs.

Routing the Vermonter through Palmer is a detour from the more direct Connecticut River Valley Line that carried the previous train on the route, the Montrealer which, because of track deterioration, Amtrak bused in 1987 north of Springfield.  The state-subsidised Vermonter could not be a bus thus the 11-track mile longer Palmer detour and reverse move was created.  Money exists to upgrade the valley route.

Palmer hosts the east/west main of the CSX (the westbound Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited passed through 11 minutes before the Southbound Vermonter arrived) and the north/south NECR main which the Vermonter uses to the north.  Three-locomotive short-line Massachusetts Central Railroad (MCER) starts here and runs 24 miles northeast to South Barre, MA.  Both MCER and NECR interchange with CSX east of the depot along the CSX.  Both have yards in town.   All three NCER diesels were in town for my camera.  The Palmer Depot is a restaurant and no trains stop there.  The parking lot is a train watcher hang out.

Southbound From Vermont Via NECR To Springfield, MA and Points South Via CSX

In this a Google Satellite shot the southbound train enters at Point 3 on the NECR and follows the yellow dots past Point 2 as shown in the next three pictures.  The reason for the reverse move is that there is no west leg of a wye between Points 1 and 3.

Below, the engine (AMTK 104, P42DC) is about parallel with the depot and the end of the train is around the curve out of view and still on the NECR mainline at Point 3.  The engine passed Point 3 at 2:12 p.m.

The engine is about at Point 2.  A crew member is on the ground to throw a track switch.  The crew has to throw up to three switches, sometimes twice to return them to their normal position.  The dispatcher throws the switch for the CSX mainline.

The train is past Point 2 and the cab car 9641's head and ditch lights have been turned on.
The train is leaving Palmer by crossing over to the CSX main with the cab car leading (about at Point 1).  The depot is at the left.  Some of the train watchers can be seen.  The reversing move took about 10 minutes longer than if the train could have used the non-existent west leg of the wye.

The train will head west to Springfield before it turns south to New Haven and beyond.

The Interlude between Northbound and Southbound Trains 

Massachusetts Central Railroad's highly rebuilt GP20 made a switching move past the depot into their yard leaving the yard switch reversed which the SB Vermonter crew has to correct.

Northbound Vermonter Reverses from CSX to NECR 

The NB Vermonter crossed the diamond on the CSX main at 3:40 p.m. with cab car 9639 leading.
The power (AMTK P42DC #15) has pushed the train past Point 2 and a crew member is throwing the switch for the NECR main.  The CSX main is the right track.

The train has now reversed with 15 leading past the depot. 

15 is now around the curve at about Point 3 with the cab car concluding the train. This reverse move took 14 minutes longer than if the train had a west wye leg to use.  And the action is over.


A NECR crew waited about 45 minutes to make a switching move out of the northwest end of their yard that required they cross the diamond with CSX.  Once the northbound Vermonter cleared the interlocking the CSX dispatcher gave them the signal.

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