A busy diamond crossing in a quintessential New England town
Published: July 6, 2006
Palmer, Mass., is one of two New England hot spots profiled in Kalmbach's Guide to North American Railroad Hot Spots by TRAINS Senior Editor J. David Ingles. Read below:
A westbound CSX freight approaches the diamond at Palmer, Mass., in February of 2000.
Photo by James B. Winters
Grade-level crossing of CSX's single-track Boston Subdivision (former Conrail main line between Boston and Albany), and regional New England Central's single-track Palmer Subdivision (former Central Vermont main line from St. Albans, Vt., to New London, Conn.). Short line Massachusetts Central also operates out of Palmer.
Palmer is Milepost 83.2 on CSX's east-west line from Boston, and MP 64.8 on NECR's route north from New London.
CSX's Boston Subdivision is the busiest freight line in New England. About half of CSX's traffic is intermodal; the balance is general merchandise, plus about four autorack trains.
New England Central trains tend to operate at night or early morning. Motive power based at NECR's Palmer yard handles local customers, turn jobs from Palmer north to Brattleboro and Palmer south to New London, plus interchange with CSX at CSX's Palmer yard.
Massachusetts Central, a 25-mile short line that operates an intermodal terminal, also interchanges with CSX at Palmer.
Amtrak's Washington-St. Albans Vermonter passes through Palmer in early afternoon in both directions, using CSX west of Palmer and NECR north of Palmer. The track configuration requires a reverse move for the Vermonter, so the train typically operates with a locomotive at each end or a single locomotive and a cab-control car.
Amtrak also operates the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited over CSX.
Typical motive power
CSX: GE AC6000CWs, AC4400CWs and C40-8Ws predominate, although any six-axle power in Conrail or CSX paint may head CSX trains. Foreign power rarely leads owing to the Boston Sub's cab signal system.
NECR: EMD GP38s and GP40s dominate, with a handful of GP38-2s, SD40s and SD40-2s.
Mass Central: First-generation EMD GP9s and an NW5
Amtrak: GE P42s
Peak operating hours
Spread throughout the day. CSX typically runs an eastbound fleet in the mornings. NECR and Mass Central often make morning runs to CSX's Palmer Yard.
Early afternoons are best for Amtrak, with both Vermonters and Lake Shores scheduled through Springfield between noon and 4 p.m.
Approximate daily train frequency
CSX: About 20 freights, plus 4 Amtrak
NECR: A pair of through freights, plus local service
Mass Central: As needed
CSX: 160.800 (AAR 46), 161.070 (AAR 64)
NECR: 161.415 (AAR 87)
Mass Central: 160.470 (AAR 24)
The former Boston & Albany station (now an antique shop) sits at the CSX-NECR diamond; NECR's yard is to the south, CSX's yard is to the east.
The CSX detector at Wilbraham (MP 91.5) provides radio warning of eastbounds; approach-lit signals at Control Point 83, just a few yards east of the CSX-NECR diamond, show when westbound trains on CSX are imminent.
Nearby points of interest
The Amtrak station in Springfield, 15 miles west of Palmer, sees about 15 passenger trains daily. The station sits near the junction of CSX, Amtrak's New Haven-Springfield line, and Guilford's ex-Boston & Maine Conn River Line north. Short line Connecticut Southern handles freight duty on the Amtrak line, with a pair of daily interchange moves to CSX's West Springfield yard. Guilford makes one daily interchange move. The station is on Lyman Street, reached via local streets from exits off I-291 or 91.
Contributor: Bill Stephens