Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Attention Secaucus!

ALP-46 4654 at Secaucus High Level with an NJT service from New York.
GP40 4105 leads a service into Secaucus low level from
Hoboken terminal. These locomotives are among the
oldest of the New Jersey Transit fleet.
One of my 'railway friends' called me up earlier in the week asking where was best to see and ride trains on a visit to New York. My answer was very quick 'New Jersey Transit! and you want to go to Secaucus Junction.'
I can't pretend I am the most knowledgeable source on American railways, but for my short trip to NY in 2011 I had a few things which I really wanted to see, and Secaucus fitted the bill perfectly.

What is so good about Secaucus Junction?
A Bombadier double-deck cab car leads a Hoboken train
into Secaucus
As the name suggests- this station forms a junction (though there is no physical connection between the lines) of two railways which meet roughly at right angles, one passing over the other. On the lower level is New Jersey Transit's 'Main Line' and 'Bergan County Line' which both carry diesel hauled traffic on a number of New Jersey Transit routes from Hoboken Terminal (just across the Hudson from Manhattan, while on the high level is Amtrak's North East Corridor- the busiest passenger railway in the USA carrying regular Amtrak express trains between Boston and Washington as well as New Jersey Transit's (NJT) commuter services from New York Penn Station.

4119, an F40PH (my personal favorite North American class)
leads a train into Hoboken. NJT is one of a number of
commuter operations which use these locos which once
worked right across the USA for Amtrak.
Secaucus opened as recently as 2003 to act as a transfer point between the two NJT routes. The journey time from New York Penn is roughly 15 minutes with services up to every 10 minutes at busy times.

What can you expect to see?
On the lower level you can expect to see any trains from the NJT diesel fleet (as well Metro-North diesel services which are run under contract in New Jersey by NJT). These trains are typically made up of a diesel locomotive on the western end (leading out of Hoboken) with a series of single or double deck coaches and a cab car on the rear to enable push/pull operation.
P42LAC locomotives are the most common on diesel
services for NJT. 4018 approaches Secaucus.
The most common locomotives are the single cab Alsthom P42LAC's delivered between 2005 and 2006.
Older locomotives are also used with numerous varieties of GP40 locomotives (the earliest dating from 1965) and F40PH's working the routes from Hoboken for both NJT and Metro-North. Secaucus lower level is not electrified.

ALP46 4601, the second Traxx loco for the US, pushes
a train out towards Jersey from Secaucus. 
On the higher level is the electrified North East Corridor. Here you will see all of NJT's trains out of New York Penn Station. Sadly the older electric locomotives on this route have now retired and all hauled services are in the hands of Bombadier ALP46 locomotives (Traxx locos to anyone who knows Europe!). 
Other NJT services are worked by EMU's.
A set of 'Arrow III' EMU vehicles departs Secaucus heading
 into New Jersey. These cars dating from 1978 operate NJT's
non-loco hauled trains.
Amtrak's fastest and most prestigious trains- the Acela Express pass through Secaucus- these sets with a top speed of 150mph consist of a power car either end of trailers in a fixed formation. Other North East Regional services are loco hauled with either ageing Swedish built AEM 7 locomotives, or the far newer (but unreliable) HHP-8 locos (which look a little like a double ended Acela powercar). Both of the latter will be replaced starting from late 2013 with new Siemens 'Amtrak City Sprinter' (ACS-64) locomotives.
Most Amtrak trains are hauled with the classic Amfleet (or 'Amtube' referring to their shape) coaches, while a smaller number of trains work in push pull with Amfleet coaches and a former 'metroliner' cab car.

The HHP-8 locomotives have been troublesome for Amtrak
since their deliver and look set to have a somewhat short
career on the North East Corridor. 659 leads a train of
Amfleet coaches away from New York.
Other notes and points of interest:
All trains on the upper level are Electric as the lines go straight into Penn station which is barred to diesel locos. You will not even see Amtraks P42AC-DM locos (fitted with pick up shoes) at Secaucus- these work only on the 'Empire Corridor' out towards Albany- see my post here for details on these services.
Amtrak services do not stop at Secaucus.
When travelling do take note that at off-peak times coaches tend to get locked out of use... if you stand at the end of the platform when the train pulls in you may still have to run to the other end of the train!
In contrast the Swedish built AEM-7 locos have proved
reliable workhorses.  In the twilight of it's career 904 pushes
an Amtrak service towards New York Penn.
Photographically the location has reasonable views in most directions- the upper level platforms are largely covered, but you can shoot from each end in the open. Views from the lower level looking back towards Hoboken are particularly good- and the locos are on this end of the train.
There is sadly not anywhere where you can successfully view trains on both the upper and lower levels- one has to take your pick and just accept that you will miss some things! I would recommend spending some time on both parts of the station- but there is a barrier line between them!
I had no difficulty or trouble standing on the platforms and taking photographs and judging from the quantity on the internet 'railfanning' should not be a problem. However as ever do not stray from public areas of the station, act suspiciously and be courteous and cooperative to staff should they approach you.
On a final note- this report is based on my trip to Secaucus in 2011 and I can therefore not guarantee that it is still up to date. Since it was written NJT have introduced bi-modal ALP-45DP (a bi-modal diesel/electric Traxx variation)- it is not known what impact these have had on the older diesel classes though I do not believe their delivery was intended to replace them.
The cream of the Amtrak fleet is the Acela Express.
Powercar 2012 leads a train from Washington to Boston
non-stop through Secaucus high level.

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