Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Five Tips to Scout a New City

Suppose you plan to go to a city you've never been to, and you're wondering what railfan opportunities might be there. How do you find out? In my job I travel now and then, to places I've been before as well as new places. I'm always on the lookout for railfan opportunities in the evenings and I've developed some techniques I want to share with you. Let's suppose I'm going to, oh, Slate Hill, NY. I've never been there but suppose I have to go to, oh, Balchem Industrial Products. What do I do?

In short, I:

  1. Map it out
  2. Google, straight-up
  3. Find passenger service
  4. Do an image search
  5. Hit the usual suspects

In detail:

1. Map It Out

The first step is to have a look at a map! Start with where you're going to be working and/or staying. Balchem is at 2007 NY-284, Slate Hill, NY. A quick Google Map search shows this:
Hey, a rail spur! Cool. Let's follow that back and see where it goes.

It ends up in Middletown, NY.

Try dropping to Street View at a crossing to see what railroad it is. What you want to do is look for the box controlling the grade crossing signals and try to read the sticker on it.

In this case it didn't help.

Just a DOT crossing number. However the use of crossbucks instead of lights is a hint that it is a low traffic line. I kept dropping the Street View guy at each crossing until I hit the jackpot at Main Street.

The sign on the station says "Middletown and New Jersey Railway". Now it's on to...

2. Google, Straight-Up

A quick google unearths the Middletown and New Jersey LLC web page. The web page says they have reporting marks MNJ, they have 3 locomotives and 43 miles of track, and they interchange with Norfolk Southern in Middletown (!) and Campbell Hall, NY, and with NYSW [New York, Susquehanna and Western] at Warwick, NY.

I could have just googled "Middletown New York Railroad" and found the same thing, but by doing a map search / Street View I get a feel for the area.

3. Find Passenger Service

You can search Amtrak or VIA Rail (depending on country, of course) to determine if there are any passenger trains in the vicinity. I zoomed out a bit on the Google Map and looked in Amtrak's station list for New York state, but there was nothing there that matched. I then looked at Amtrak's Northeast train routes and saw that they didn't come close to Middletown.

So... maybe no passenger service. But... one last search for "New York Passenger Trains" turned up Metro-North Railroad. Hmmm, north, maybe.. check out the map. It turns out that Middletown is on the Jervis Line. A lot of clicking around leads to this schedule for NJ Transit. It looks like there are over a dozen trains a weekday each way! Very cool!

If nothing else, one could watch New Jersey transit trains all evening...

4. Image Search

Another way to check out a location is to do an image search. Try Googling "Middletown NY trains" and then click on the Image tab.

I saw a lot of images of an old three-story train station. It turns out this is a former Ontario and Western station, damaged by fire but apparently under consideration for renovation in 2013. You can see it on Street View.

5. The Usual Suspects

Finally I will visit and RRPictureArchives to see if there are any railway photos taken in the area.

A quick search on RP shows 4 photos for the Middletown and New Jersey Railroad with a colourful blue and yellow GP9. Norfolk Southern and other local shortlines also show up, revealing more railfan possibilities.

Sadly this photo confirms there are no trains on the Slate Hill line any more.

RRPA is a bit slow but you can zoom right in on a particular location using their location search. They have a lot of photos in Middletown.


What have we found? We know:
  • Slate Hill has no active railroad, but nearby Middletown does
  • Middletown is served by a shortline and by Norfolk Southern
  • Middletown has frequent NJ Transit service
  • There's a great old train station in Middletown
That sounds like lots of things to investigate in the evenings after work!

Bonus: Trackside Guide (Canada only)

We Canadians have a great resource in the Canadian Trackside Guide. When going to a new location, I always check out the CTG. The second chapter lists all industrial locomotives so I can scout those out. The third chapter lists all railway equipment on display. Near the back are lists of railway subdivisions so one can scout locations that way, too. It's just a gem.

1 comment:

Jack Fuller said...

This tool is helpful - highlights rail lines, and includes posted photos of the area.