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The Thames River is Dry

P&W K667 backs ethanol empties into the NECR in New London

Change – something that’s for the better.  Despite the fact that I instinctively abhor change, I do honestly believe in that in the end it is a good thing.  But I’m not here to talk about my personal philosophy - but rather how change relates to the railroading world, and specifically recording railroad history.  Railroads are a dynamic beast – not only are they literally moving down the rails, but both the landscape they travel through and what they’re transporting is also constantly changing.  This post is about the latter – what is going on with what the trains themselves are carrying, and one commodity in particular, namely ethanol.

If you’re a regular reader, you’re aware that the Providence & Worcester, in conjunction with the New England Central, Vermont Rail and Canadian Pacific have been moving unit trains of ethanol from the Midwest to the Port of Providence, RI for a customer (Motiva Enterprises – a subsidiary of Shell Oil).  I’m going to give a bit of background, just because, then I’ll get into my thoughts, and of course some photos.

The first loaded ethanol train, on the NECR in Stafford Springs, CT

Derailed cars from the first ethanol move in South Windham, CT

The original routing here in southern New England for these trains was the NECR would hand the train over to the P&W at Willimantic, CT, where they’d take it east to Plainfield, CT, then north to Worcester, MA and finally southeast to Providence, RI.  Well, unfortunately there was a derailment on the first ethanol move over the recently reactivated P&W Willimantic Branch, prompting the FRA to classify the track as “Excepted,” effectively eliminating movement of unit hazmat trains (Federal regulations prohibit more than 5 hazmat cars per train on Excepted track – there are other restrictions too – see here for the full text of 49 C.F.R. § 213.4).

So in the light of the FRA’s essential ban on ethanol moves over the Willi, the trains were instead brought by the NECR 30 miles to the south in New London, where they were then handed off to the P&W.  The P&W then had two choices – either run them back up the east bank of the Thames River, where they’d continue on their usual route north of Plainfield, or the second option of running them directly to Providence, utilizing the P&W’s overhead trackage rights on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

NECR train 608 handling ethanol at Waterford, CT

But each of those two options had its drawbacks.  Obviously, the run up the P&W’s Norwich Branch along the Thames added about 25 miles to the trip, as well as at least one extra crew to handle the moves.  The more direct route over Amtrak was considerably shorter, but in order for the P&W to run over Amtrak, they also incurred a per car, per mile surcharge (a bit more than $1 per car per mile) to use their tracks.  The economics seemed to favor the longer route, and practice seemed to reflect that.  Most of the moves to and from New London made their way up and down the Norwich Branch between Plainfield and Groton, CT, with only a handful of weekend and nighttime moves occurring over Amtrak – and incurring the extra money to Amtrak.

While all the ethanol was flowing along both sides of the Thames River, the P&W was hard at work rebuilding the Willimantic Branch – obviously the preferred route.  Prior to the derailment that sparked the FRA ban,  to open the branch back up for service the P&W did some minor upgrades – mostly filling in washouts, bridge inspections, and some tie replacement along the 15 mile or so out of service section.  With that done, the railroad moved the regular interchange point with the NECR to Willimantic, no longer running traffic to New London.

P&W K667's empty ethanol past the USS Nautilus in Groton, CT

With the regular interchange – which typically can include some quite heavy loads from steel billets to road salt – now hammering across old 90 pounds per yard rail, it seemed to take its toll, and apparently resulting in the ethanol derailment in South Windham.  As an aside, only the last half dozen or so cars of the 80 car train derailed – the rest of the train made it to Providence successfully.  But because of the derailment, the P&W then set on a project to replace all of the 90 lb rail with new (as in really new from the steel mill, and not reused) and considerably heavier 115lb/yd rail, along with replacing more ties, ballast and tamping.  During this time they’d work between runs of train NR-4X, which only ran as an as-needed extra, shuttling cars between Plainfield and Willimantic.  But towards the end, they opted to take the branch out of service to perform a blitz and finish the last few miles of track work prior to an FRA inspection.

Well, now that the rail has been replaced, ties upgraded, ballast dropped and tamped the FRA did their inspection, and has given their blessing, lifting the Excepted status for the Willimantic Branch.  Sure, it’s still got some 10 MPH slow orders, but it’s up to par for hazmat shipments as far as the FRA is concerned.  What that means is that now all movements are being made between Willimantic and Plainfield, and ethanol – in addition to the regular interchange traffic – is no longer moving down to New London.  Change.

P&W handling empty ethanol in Ledyard, CT

Which brings me to the point of my post – if you’re a photographer, shoot what you consider to be the “everyday” whenever you can.  Some day – usually in a short enough of a time-frame - it will change, and be gone for the foreseeable future.  And when it’s gone, you’ll be kicking yourself for not getting the shots you wanted.  And there’s a reason why I only said photographer, and not rail photographer.  Because the crux of the story applies to any subject you photograph – be it nature, landscapes, or even our families and children.  Things change faster than we’d like to believe, and if you’d like to have more than just your memories, get a picture.  As the cliche goes – take a picture, it lasts longer.  Yes, I’ve covered this before in a few posts showing other things that have changed over time (click here or here for a couple examples).

As far as the ethanol trains along the Thames, I can honestly say I’ve shot the hell out of these moves – from both sides of the river, as well as a few shots while on the trains themselves.  I had to have taken literally thousands of frames (and even a few of the last frames of Kodachrome I had in the freezer) of these ethanol moves.  Sure, there’s a few spots where I wish I got around to shooting at, but on the whole, I’m happy with my coverage of the various ethanol trains running in Southeastern Connecticut.

To wrap things up, here’s a few more shots I’ve picked out from the past year or so – back when the Thames wasn’t dry (dry as in, no alcohol).

Later in the afternoon, NR-2X with 40 loads of ethanol, skirts along the Thames River & Mill Cove in Ledyard, CT
Later in the afternoon, NR-2X with 40 loads of ethanol, skirts along the Thames River & Mill Cove in Ledyard, CT
REF#:18-20100426-420204365-_MG_9713.jpg
Taken withCanon EOS 50D
Date Taken2010:04:26 15:14:32
Aperturef/8.0
Exposure Time 0.002 s (1/500)
Focal Length (mm)77.00 (77/1)
ISO800
View in the gallery
Later in the afternoon, NR-2X with 40 loads of ethanol, skirts along the Thames River & Mill Cove in Ledyard, CT

Ethanol rolling over Shaw's Cove
Ethanol rolling over Shaw's Cove
REF#:16-20101112-420204365-_MG_0821.jpg
Taken withCanon EOS 50D
Date Taken2010:11:12 11:49:29
Aperturef/8.0
Exposure Time 0.001 s (1/800)
Focal Length (mm)87.00 (87/1)
ISO200
View in the gallery
Ethanol rolling over Shaw's Cove

PW train K667 (empty ethanol) skirts along the Thames River in Ledyard
PW train K667 (empty ethanol) skirts along the Thames River in Ledyard
REF#:10-20101207-420204365-_MG_2183.jpg
Taken withCanon EOS 50D
Date Taken2010:12:07 13:26:34
Aperturef/9.0
Exposure Time 0.001 s (1/800)
Focal Length (mm)70.00 (70/1)
ISO400
View in the gallery
PW train K667 (empty ethanol) skirts along the Thames River in Ledyard

PW NR2 shoves empty ethanol tanks into the NECR New London yard as a US Coast Guard rigid hull inflatable heads north in the Thames
PW NR2 shoves empty ethanol tanks into the NECR New London yard as a US Coast Guard rigid hull inflatable heads north in the Thames
REF#:22-20110608-420204365-_MG_3635.jpg
Taken withCanon EOS 50D
Date Taken2011:06:08 11:52:36
Aperturef/9.0
Exposure Time 0.003 s (1/400)
Focal Length (mm)280.00 (280/1)
ISO200
View in the gallery
PW NR2 shoves empty ethanol tanks into the NECR New London yard as a US Coast Guard rigid hull inflatable heads north in the Thames

NECR NERWNE (608) heading south along the Thames River in Montville with PW power and loaded ethanol
NECR NERWNE (608) heading south along the Thames River in Montville with PW power and loaded ethanol
REF#:04-20101102-1320706060-_MG_0299.jpg
Taken withCanon EOS 40D
Date Taken2010:11:02 07:59:34
Aperturef/6.3
Exposure Time 0.003 s (1/320)
Focal Length (mm)18.00 (18/1)
ISO800
View in the gallery
NECR NERWNE (608) heading south along the Thames River in Montville with PW power and loaded ethanol

Providence & Worcester empty unit ethanol train K667 pulls across the Shaw's Cove swing bridge in New London (7/26/10)
Providence & Worcester empty unit ethanol train K667 pulls across the Shaw's Cove swing bridge in New London (7/26/10)
REF#:20100726-34-_MG_8657.jpg
Taken withCanon EOS 50D
Date Taken2010:07:26 13:10:21
Aperturef/8.0
Exposure Time 0.002 s (1/640)
Focal Length (mm)107.00 (107/1)
ISO200
View in the gallery
Providence & Worcester empty unit ethanol train K667 pulls across the Shaw's Cove swing bridge in New London (7/26/10)

Ethanol tanks on PW NR2 roll north past Stoddard Cove
Ethanol tanks on PW NR2 roll north past Stoddard Cove
REF#:15-20101122-1320706060-_MG_1191.jpg
Taken withCanon EOS 40D
Date Taken2010:11:22 14:02:00
Aperturef/14.0
Exposure Time 0.001 s (1/1250)
Focal Length (mm)18.00 (18/1)
ISO100
View in the gallery
Ethanol tanks on PW NR2 roll north past Stoddard Cove

PW train K666 crosses the Thames River
PW train K666 crosses the Thames River
REF#:09-20100819-420204365-_MG_2341.jpg
Taken withCanon EOS 50D
Date Taken2010:08:19 13:48:53
Aperturef/9.0
Exposure Time 0.002 s (1/500)
Focal Length (mm)77.00 (77/1)
ISO200
View in the gallery
PW train K666 crosses the Thames River

NECR empty ethanol extra heads north along Norwich Harbor
NECR empty ethanol extra heads north along Norwich Harbor
REF#:10-20100911-1320706060-_MG_7856.jpg
Taken withCanon EOS 40D
Date Taken2010:09:11 12:19:57
Aperturef/9.0
Exposure Time 0.003 s (1/400)
Focal Length (mm)24.00 (24/1)
ISO200
View in the gallery
NECR empty ethanol extra heads north along Norwich Harbor

The view from the deck of the USS Nautilus of PW train K666 rolling north along the Thames River and Goss Cove in Groton
The view from the deck of the USS Nautilus of PW train K666 rolling north along the Thames River and Goss Cove in Groton
REF#:16-20100819-1320706060-_MG_6595.jpg
Taken withCanon EOS 40D
Date Taken2010:08:19 13:57:41
Aperturef/9.0
Exposure Time 0.003 s (1/400)
Focal Length (mm)18.00 (18/1)
ISO200
View in the gallery
The view from the deck of the USS Nautilus of PW train K666 rolling north along the Thames River and Goss Cove in Groton

PW NR2/Ethanol extra pulls west along the Thames River
PW NR2/Ethanol extra pulls west along the Thames River
REF#:07-20101001-420204365-_MG_6618.jpg
Taken withCanon EOS 50D
Date Taken2010:10:01 15:48:08
Aperturef/5.6
Exposure Time 0.003 s (1/400)
Focal Length (mm)82.00 (82/1)
ISO400
View in the gallery
PW NR2/Ethanol extra pulls west along the Thames River

A look down the entire train of PW K666 as they head north through the US Navy Sub Base in Groton, CT
A look down the entire train of PW K666 as they head north through the US Navy Sub Base in Groton, CT
REF#:21-20100819-420204365-_MG_2399.jpg
Taken withCanon EOS 50D
Date Taken2010:08:19 14:02:36
Aperturef/8.0
Exposure Time 0.002 s (1/500)
Focal Length (mm)200.00 (200/1)
ISO200
View in the gallery
A look down the entire train of PW K666 as they head north through the US Navy Sub Base in Groton, CT

PW NR2 southbound with ethanol empties in Fairview yard
PW NR2 southbound with ethanol empties in Fairview yard
REF#:11-20110608-420204365-_MG_3535.jpg
Taken withCanon EOS 50D
Date Taken2011:06:08 10:08:25
Aperturef/9.0
Exposure Time 0.003 s (1/400)
Focal Length (mm)170.00 (170/1)
ISO200
View in the gallery
PW NR2 southbound with ethanol empties in Fairview yard

Please feel free to leave comments below, or drop me an email if you’d rather comment privately.  And of course, if I got anything wrong in my “backgrounder” portion, please let me know.  I never have a problem making corrections if they’re warranted.

Thanks for reading and looking!
Tom

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