Saturday, May 30, 2009

Transport: Ten Years After Conrail

The only former Conrail locomotive seen in Worcester, Massachusetts ten years after the Conrail break-up was CSX DASH8-40CW #7340, once Conrail #6148, on 30-May-2009

WARE, MASSACHUSETTS - Ten years ago on Monday, Conrail ceased to exist as we knew it. The once government-owned company created in 1976 to run a series of bankrupt railroads in the eastern, especially northeastern, United States, profitable since 1981 and privatized in 1987, was split up between its two main competitors in the east, CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern.

Living in Boston at the time, Conrail was my local railroad, so while I had done little railfanning in Massachusetts at the time, I decided I needed to head out to see the last weekend of Conrail. While 1 June fell on a Tuesday in 1999, many fewer trains would run on Sunday and Memorial Day, so I picked 29 May 1999 as my first and last day-long Conrail experience. On the advice of other local railfans, I headed out to Worcester, Massachusetts and took in the action.

On the last weekend of Conrail, a SD80MAC led the Framingham, Massachusetts to Selkirk, New York train through Worcester, Massachusetts on 29 May 1999

I wasn't disappointed, with a nice parade of trains, a variety of locomotives from B23-7's to SD80MAC's, and quite a few railfans out for the experience. The day went so well that I decided to return to Worcester regularly to document any changes that new owner CSX would implement. Amongst other times, I returned three months later, six months year, one year later, two years later, and five years later, always on a Saturday to try to make any comparisons more meaningful. It seemed my duty, therefore, to show up again ten years later to again survey the changes.

Taken between any two of my visits, the changes in operating practice generally seemed rather subtle (except, perhaps, for the invasion of new CSX AC6000CW locomotives in 2001). Taken over the course of ten years, the changes seemed dramatic. Except for a few run-through units, all the locomotives in 1999 were in Conrail blue. In 2009, all the units were in a CSX paint scheme, and only one, a DASH8-40CW pictured above, was of Conrail heritage. In 1999, there were three eastbound intermodal (piggyback or container) trains noted passing through Worcester in daylight hours. In 2009, there was just one. Guilford (now Pan Am Railways) no longer ran an interchange train into East Worcester Yard; all interchange was taking place at Ayer. The overall freight train count was 16 in 1999 and just six in 2009.

Physically, except for a few old blue signs, it was hard to tell that the line had ever been Conrail and not always CSX (to say nothing of the Boston & Albany and the companies that came between it and Conrail). Operationally, the Conrail Boston Line dispatcher had become the CSX NA Dispatcher and a new call-in radio channel was in use, even if the dispatcher was still in Selkirk, New York. All of the train symbols had changed immediately after the merger and had been modified over the decade.

One of the few physical signs of the Boston Line's Conrail heritage still visible in Worcester, Massachusetts on 30 May 2009 were the white-on-blue signs marking "CP 45", a major junction in Worcester, 45 miles from Boston

Passenger service had changed over the ten years as well, with the "Bay State" Amtrak trains to New York via Springfield discontinued, Amtrak "Lake Shore Limited" schedule changes, the MBTA expanding its weekend round trips to Worcester from Boston, the re-opening of Union Station and the closing of the small former Amtrak station, and the coming of intercity buses to Union Station as an intermodal terminal.

It's the ability to make these kind of comparisons that justify my note-taking while railfanning. I have the notes to prove that a lot has changed in the past decade in Worcester, Massachusetts since the end of Conrail.

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