Friday, December 28, 2007

St. Albans

While talking with my friend Paul a few days ago, he commented that St. Albans, WV looks to be full of gloomy weather, signals, and coal trains, based on the past photos I've sent him from the area. That theme is continued this year (with the addition of Amtrak), although it will probably be the last time I'll see many of the old C&O cantilever signals. New masts, some with heads, already line the ROW. That being the case, I concentrated my photographic efforts of this visit on capturing them one last time. Their replacement may come as a blessing in disguise for my photography, though. Maybe I'll finally discover some new shots around here.

Traffic has been quite heavy. There were seven trains in the two hours I was out this morning, and the flow has remained steady throughout the rest of the day. The Coal River Sub (which joins the mainline here) has been extraordinarily busy, with the majority of traffic going west. There's still a good bit of eastbound coal, but most of it seems to be coming from mines further west of here, although a few loaded trains still come off the Coal River line heading east. The westbound drags off the Coal River Sub include the regular AEP trains to their John Amos plant, just a few miles west of St. Albans. Most of the others are system hoppers, probably heading to the Ohio River transloader at Kenova, or Canada, via Toledo, OH and the Great Lakes.

This is a shot I've been eyeing for quite some time, although I had originally envisioned a sunny, frontlit photo on a summer morning. The right combination of weather and trains didn't materialize in August, so I finally decided to try a night photo of the westbound Cardinal arriving at the Charleston station. The view is looking downriver from the University of Charleston's campus.

This nearly-perfect December sunrise occurred during a brief lull in traffic. Two trains ran just before the sky got light, and four more followed a little later.

Here's the first of those four, a westbound drag coming off the Coal River Sub.

Just west of town, the ex-C&O main begins climbing out of the Kanawha River valley for an overland shortcut to the Ohio Valley at Huntington. The grade is called Scary Hill, and sometimes required pushers in the steam era for particularly heavy westbound drags, but at 0.3%, I really don't think it's that scary.

Between St. Albans and Scary Hill, there's a long tangent, which US 35 crosses on an overpass. While chasing the previous train, I noticed the smoggy, layered hills and the tangle of wires, both of which attracted my interest. When another westbound drag showed up, I decided to try this shot.

Since Christmas fell on a Tuesday this year, Amtrak came through on the following morning. Knowing that CSX shutdown for the holiday, I was expecting this Cardinal to be right on time. It actually showed up a few minutes early. Dad joined me for this photo, before taking me out to breakfast at Shoney's.

Whenever I've been here for a holiday in the past, it's usually taken all of the following day for the post-shutdown traffic to trickle into town. Not so this year. AEP empties from the John Amos plant closely followed Amtrak, and by mid-morning traffic had more or less returned to normal.

The first train of this morning was a loaded AEP drag coming off the Coal River Sub. It's seen here climbing Scary Hill.

This going-away shot is taken from the same location, and shows the switch on the short branchline leading up to the John Amos generating station, where a rotary dumper empties an average of two unit trains every day to feed the energy needs of the Kanawha valley.

Back in St. Albans, a loaded train heads east on the main.

Immediately following the eastbound, a loaded train with a single AC6000 came off the river, crossed over to no. 1 main, and headed west.

That westbound drag met an eastbound empty train on Scary Hill, which is seen here passing the signal in front of the abandoned yard office, as it heads onto the wye and out Coal River.