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A unique threesome

Did Friday the 13th do in two Amtrak electrics as well as the D&H PA’s?

CTR-A0609_1975
Amtrak GG1 meets an E60 in 1980, two years after the author’s ride behind one of each, plus a Conrail E44.
Robert S. McGonigal
As the murky fall afternoon began to lengthen, the Silver Meteor I was riding across northern New Jersey began to slow down. Then just east of Rahway, nowhere near a scheduled stop, we coasted to a halt along Amtrak’s six-track main line.

The year was 1978, and the date was Friday, October 13. I was en route to Richmond, Va., to ride a Chessie Steam Special up the James River valley and on to Huntington, W.Va. My wife, Carol, was aboard the Broadway Limited’s Washington section from Chicago, as I had been scheduled to be. I’d changed my itinerary at the last minute, though, to first fly to Boston, when I learned that Friday would be the last day of revenue service in the U.S. for the Delaware & Hudson Alco PA’s.

The four PA’s had been leased briefly to Boston commuter operator MBTA, but they had just been sold, and were bound for Mexico. It was hardly my first encounter with the storied Alcos—I’d seen, photographed, and ridden behind them on the D&H—but I wanted to say good-bye. And I never gave a thought to it being Friday, the 13th, until now, researching this story.

I rode a commuter train behind a PA from Framingham, Mass., into South Station, and intended to shoot some pictures, then fly to Richmond. But I decided to skip flying and instead ticketed myself on Amtrak for my first ride on the Northeast Corridor from top to bottom. I boarded the 7:40 a.m. Colonial for Washington, intending to connect there with the Silver Meteor to Richmond.

Somewhere in Connecticut, though, I’d had another, better idea: Why ride this Amfleet equipment all the way to D.C. when I could change at New York to the Meteor, a “real” train with a real dining car? Moreover, I would board the Meteor’s coaches at their point of origin instead of fighting for a seat in Washington. So into Penn Station I went to re-ticket.

Which is what had put me on the Silver Meteor when it unceremoniously rolled to a stop near Rahway. Zoooom. Whooosh. The evening rush hour was beginning, and lowly M.U.’s and occasional Amtrak trains were flying by us. I sauntered up to the vestibule; maybe I could snag a photo or two. There, Dutch door open, was another railfan, with a radio scanner. Our nearly new E60CP electric had died, he told me, and a GG1 was being sent out from New York to rescue us. After about a hour’s delay, we were back under way. Then, at Baltimore, as we departed for the last 40 electrified miles behind our unusual GG1/E60 tandem (with only the G working, of course), we stalled.

Back into Baltimore Penn Station we crept, and a Conrail E44 freight electric parked nearby was activated and moved to our front end. Standard practice then was to keep a protection engine at Baltimore in case a train needed help on the grades there, or to be pulled out of the nearby tunnels.

It was dark now, but off we went, again, this time with three electrics, each of a different type, up front. There was one further problem, at Washington Union Station, when it came time to take off the electrics and put on the diesels. The crews couldn’t get the brakes to release on the three motors at the same time. A trusty ball-peen hammer finally did the trick, and the motors cut away and two SDP40F’s backed on. I and my new vestibule friend, who was also bound for the Chessie trip, hustled back down the platform onto our coach just in time to board and hear the crew on the radio say, “Rear end 87, do you see some air?” “I think so, oh yes, I hear it now. Highball 87!”

It was quite late when I slipped into our Richmond motel room and awakened Carol with my story of the unique electric trio. And since the next day was Saturday, the 14th, the two-day Chessie steam trip, and then our return to Chicago on Amtrak’s Cardinal, went off without a hitch.


First published in Summer 2003 Classic Trains magazine.

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Before Penn Central

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