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  • Niantic River Movable Bridge

    Text and photography by Leo King

    LEFT: Known on the railroad as Nan, the Niantic River movable bridge at Niantic, Connecticut, was built in 1907 by the King Bridge Company of Cleveland, Ohio. BELOW: When fishing boat Milay 747 leaves its dock, Nan opens to let it through. On March 4, 1997, the steel hulled boat is en route to the Thames River and Groton for barnacle removal.
    RailNews - March 1998 - Page 44 RailNews - March 1998 - Page 45

    Nan is quiet in winter but wide-awake in summer.

    A movable bridge can be a busy place sometimes. I should know-I was on AmtTak's New England Division train director and interlocking operator extra list until fall 1997.

    For several weeks earlier in the year I had worked a "hold-down," running a job at Niantic River movable bridge at Niantic, Connecticut, while a co-worker, Jim Terwilliger, was out ill. On the railroad, the bridge is referred to simply as Nan.

    The King Bridge Company of Cleveland. Ohio, built Nan in 1907. It was designed by William Scherzer in 1897, a professional engineer who was one of the most successful bridge designers of all time. Nan spans the small mouth of Niantic River that opens directly into Niantic Bay, which leads to Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. It lies between the village of Niantic in the town of East Lyme (population about 16,000) and Waterford (18,000). Several commercial fishing boats from both shores, including the Blackhawk, Sunbeam Express, and MiJoy 747, take weekend and vacationing fishermen out to do deep sea angling.

    Among the biggest boats is the steel-hulled MiJoy, which owner Mary Schiller says, "is 80 feet long. has a 24-foot beam, and a draft of five-and-a-half feet.

    "We get cod in April," she explained, "flounder in May, and bluefish and striped bass the rest of the year."

    Nan is also barely 500 feet south of the new Connecticut Route 156 highway lift bridge that is equally divided into two rising spans about 30 feet above the water. Sunbeam and the other big boats, and, of course, the ever-present summer sailboats with their tall masts, require openings at both bridges.

    ABOVE: On February 26, 1997, Train 95-0ld Dominion-catches the glint of sunrise as it passes Nan. BELOW: A work extra, led by MP15 No. 531, rolls eastward on track 2.
    RailNews - March 1998 - Page 46

    At Nan, in summer, it is really simple: Got a train? Close the deck 10 minutes before the train is due (Questions: Is the train on time? Is there another train on the other track due at about the same time, or within 10 minutes of train "A's" passage? Where's the Providence & Worcester? Any work extras or track cars coming?)

    After the train passes, open the bridge. Commercial vessels, according to Coast Guard regulation, can't be stuck for more than 10 minutes. Private boats cannot be delayed for more than 20 minutes. On last winter's timetable, Amtrak operated an average of 22 scheduled daily trains in each direction, between New Haven and New London, including four scheduled Shore Line East (ConnDOT) commuter trains and four SLE deadheads, plus the weekday P&W turns. Intercity trains between New Haven and Boston average seven in each direction weekdays. When the electrification project is completed in 1999 and the American Flyer high-speed trains begin running, that nwnber is expected to increase gradually but dramatically.

    First Trick

    For two days in February 1997, I took pictures of the first trick operations, mostly east and west trains moving over that part of the Shore Line, which is part of the main stem between New Haven and Boston. It was quiet that time of year-the 90-year-old bridge only had to open a few times to let boats pass through. In fact, on one day-for its entire 24 hours-there were no openings. A few fishing boats were able to scoot under the deck, which is only about eight or nine feet above the water at mean high tide.

    That day's weather was pretty good-lots of sunshine, about 28F, but a tad breezy. It had been a mild winter. There was no snow on the ground, and the little we had that season only stayed around for a day or two.

    ABOVE: The work extra's concrete bridge decking will eventually be installed over the Pawcatuck River. BELOW: Fast Mail No. 12 with eight cars, including three materials handling cars, passes Nan eastward.
    RailNews - March 1998 - Page 47

    The workday began in earnest when No. 95, the Old Dominion. passed by with six cars on its way to Newport News, Virginia. Johnny Hobson was at the 271's throttle (it was an F40PH) and passed Nan at track speed of 55 mph, some three minutes ahead of schedule at 7:31 a.m. Conductor Jimmy Hughes was in charge of the train, which would arrive in New Haven about 45 minutes later. The train, crew, and some passengers had left Boston at 5:40 a.m. and made a few stops, most notably at Providence, PVD, Rhode Island's capital.

    At New Haven, NHV, the crew would leave the train in charge of a fresh crew, and an AEM7 electric motor would take the flyer to New York's Pennsylvania Station and on to our nation's capital.

    The electric locomotive came from Motor Stor age-which is also where the diesel went-the storage facility for all elecl11cs and diesels. No. 95 would arrive in Penn Station, NYP, at 9:55 a.m. and, after another crew change, be on its way to Union Station in Washington, WAS. There, yet another crew would take over; a diesel would again be tacked on; and the train would arrive in Newport News, Virginia, NPN, on time at 5 :57 p.m.

    On the previous day, Shore Line dispatcher Walter Brown had a rather quiet morning: A work extra, led by MP15 units 531 and 536, rolled eastward on track 2, hauling 10 loaded flatcars of concrete bridge decking. In a brief radio conversation, Conductor Chip Healey said it would eventually be installed over the Pawcatuck River. "The last two cars are going to Mystic," he added.

    The daily Fast Mail breezed by Nan at 9:56 a.m., three minutes off the mark, with F40PH units 286 and 283, four coaches, a cafe, and three materials handling cars en route to Boston, where they would arrive at 12:10 p.m.

    BELOW: En route from Richmond to Boston, No. 84, the Virginian, travels past Nan at 3:16 p.m., on time, on February 26, 1997.
    RailNews - March 1998 - Page 48

    Brown held the work extra at Groton while No. 12, the Mail, ran around it on track I. The work train would follow No. 12 because track work had made track 2 impassable east of Groton.

    Healey and engineer Joe McMahon eventually dropped the first eight cars at Westerly Yard, then ran around the two remaining cars and came westward back to Mystic, dropping them at Mystic Yard's one us able track. Operator Jerry Guiguere gave them oral permission to pass a stop signal (with the dispatcher's permission), and they continued westward into the interlocking. Once they cleared the hand-operated yard lead switch, Healy bent the iron, put the short train in the yard, then lined and locked for the main waiting for 171's passage. After that, it was back to New Haven and Motor Storage.

    Main Line dispatcher Fred Creighton, who controls the territory east of Groton as far as Atwells Interlocking in Providence, had his hands full with out-of-service track on track 4 between Groton and Palmer's Cove; track 2 between Mystic and High Street Interlocking in Westerly, Rhode Island; and "foul time" in various locations on track 1. (Foul time occurs when a track foreman or a conductor-flagman obstructs a track, for example, when a crane's boom swings over adjacent mainline tracks.)

    Conductor flagman Bruce Zira was fouling track 2 between mileposts 130 and 132, and foreman Andy Cadieux had track 4 out of service for rail replacement.

    The Northeast Conidor was being rebuilt, again, as the corridor improvement project geared up for the 1997 summer construction season. Major work done included installing new passing sidings at Clinton and Pine Orchard in Connecticut, rehabilitating Canton Viaduct in Canton, Massachusetts, and Tin Bridge on the Rhode Island-Massachusetts border. Significant concrete tie installation had been completed, but there was spot work needed at various locations between Boston and New Haven.

    During summer, the last 2,000 of the total 329,806 concrete ties were installed. Four miles of continuous welded rail were needed to complete the 150-mile lay out, and concrete ties replaced wooden ties underneath several of the 13 hand-operated No. 10 switches. More than 10 curves over 127 miles required straightening or modifying. Some 1,500 catenary foundations and 500 poles were installed.

    Best of all, the American Flyer trainset project moved from design to construction. The first prototype is expected to be delivered in February 1999, with revenue trains delivered beginning in September 1999.

    For more than a month, track foreman Chris Nelson and his crew, along with a crane, had been plucking old telephone poles out of the ground along the right-of-way between Shaw's Cove and Nan on the track 2 side, the track nearest the water and the shoreline.

    Daily No. 171, the Mayflower, and units 192 (a GP40H) and 288 (an F40PH) zipped by on time with Joe Terio at the helm and Leo O'Donnell and his crew collecting the tickets. By then the temperature had risen to 35 degrees, and the breeze was much stiffer.

    No. 93, the Virginian, rolled westward en route to Richmond at 10:57 a.m. (No. 99 on Fridays and Sundays to Newport News, and 193, the Potomac, on Saturdays to Washington) with unit 26 and six cars.

    ABOVE: Providence & Worcester's NR-2 (Norwich and return) journeys over Nan on its way to Old Saybrook, Connecticut BELOW: On a foggy February 27, NR-2 moves carefully through the Niantic gloom.
    RailNews - March 1998 - Page 49

    All three trains operate on the same schedule as far as Washington. By 11:44 a.m., it was time for P&W's NR-2 (Norwich and retuen) to come along. Our dispatcher had said the P&W freight would be our next westward train on track 1, and Ralph Marsh, the bridge tender at Shaw's Cove, flagged the train to me as it was passing over his deck.

    I put in the signal (as I had for the other trains) for units 2210 and 2211-both U23Bs-three loads; two empties; and the 2011 (GP38) and 2007 (GP38-2). Conductor S. BuckJess and engineer E. Richard were taking the 2210 and 2211 westward to Old Saybrook where they would meet up with NH-I from New Haven and leave the power with them to take back to Cedar Hill and Belle Dock. It was that time of year when the granite quarry at Pine Orchard (m.p. 82.9) would begin operations again, loading hopper after hopper of crushed rock for ballast and other uses for both regional railroads and other customers.

    Later, NR-2 would return with just the 2011 and 2007 with one load and four empties. The next stop would be the New England Central connection in New London (the former Central Vermont), then briefly back onto the Amtrak main to Groton where it would make a left turn on the west wye track and head home to Norwich.

    The rest of the day's trains passed by in almost monotonous fashion-172 on its way to Boston with units 192 and 288 from the earlier 171, and westward trains 173 and 163.

    Operating in the Fog

    There's an old phrase around these parts: "If you don't like the weather in New England, wait a minute."

    That surely was true on the following day. Our sunny yesterday had given way to gloom, and all along the southem New England coast, we were socked in with fog and drizzle. The ceiling was zero, and the fog was getting thicker. It was 43F at 7 a.m.

    ABOVE: With the dispatcher's blessing, crane operator John Hayner takes American Crane G-59014 past the westward home board in the stop position on track No. 2. ABOVE: Operator Hayner and trackman Dick Mallett use the crane to wrestle scrap rail and telephone poles. Anchored in sand for two decades, the poles were set 100 feet apart, or 52 to the mile. BELOW: This permit allows written authority to move trains or equipment when there is a signal failure or track work.
    RailNews - March 1998 - Page 50 RailNews - March 1998 - Page 51

    Train 95 came and went on time, this time with unit 203 at 7:31 a.m., and 45 minutes later track department foremen Terry Graham and Bill Speer came west on their track patrol. with a Form D track permit in their Hi-Rail pickup truck AA-26938. Walter Brown was again dispatching, and I copied Form D A203. which he dictated.

    "Circle line 2, operate in west direction on number two track between milepost one-two-zero-point-two and View."

    Graham and Speer got on track 2 at Miner's Lane, which the movement permit referred to in its milepost designation, then patrolled westward at 30 mph (a track car's speed limit while on the rails) or less, looking for any anomalies such as broken rails, debris on the iron, or loose joints. There are few loose joints in the continuously welded, 140-lb. rail, but sometimes one is found at a hand-operated switch.

    Graham and Speer and the track car crept out of the fog at Nan at 8:15. With my dispatcher's permission, I issued what we refer to as Rule 241, oral permission to a train or track car to pass a stop signal.

    "Foreman T. Graham to the operator at Nan, over."

    "Nan answering, over."

    "Nan. T-C A-A-2-6-9-3-8 is stopped at your home board. Request a Rule 241, over."

    "Roger. Track Car A-A-2-6-9-3-8, pass stop signal on number two track and proceed west to number two track, over."

    Graham repeated the instruction and would be on the bridge within a minute or so. He had some company mail for the tower, so I went down to get it and hand up some outgoing mail to Bills Payable in Boston for bottled water and a fuel oil delivery we had received yesterday. They were west and clear four minutes later, enveloped by the gray mist.

    They continued on to the 80-mile-an-hour crossovers at View, received an additional Line 2 so they could continue to Old Saybrook, and then cleared up for 171. Eventually, they made their way to Mill River Interlocking in New Haven where they got off the tracks for the day at the Belle Dock lead.

    Shortly after they went by Nan, track department foreman Chris Nelson offered up. Once again, he want ed to bring out his 840 h.p. American Crane G-590 14 onto track 2 to pick up telephone poles and load them onto a flat car or half-dozen gons-and sometimes three gons and a flat at the same time. This general housekeeping was also preparing the right-of-way for catenary supports. But, after all, a crane isn't a locomotive.

    Dispatcher Brown issued Form D A204 after I had applied my panel blocking devices east and west for track 2 on my "model board." This controller machine allows signals to be cleared or set to stop; opens all four split rail derails; unlocks the bridge; and, from a separate control station, opens the lift bridge.

    Of the five movable bridges between Boston and New Haven, it is the smallest, some 65 feet over the main span, and 292 feet overall, including three approach decks, two on the east end and another west.

    "Circle line four. No. 2 track out of service," the permit read, "between Nan and Shaw's Cove, in charge of foreman Nelson."

    Nelson said that his three-person "gang," as working groups are called out on the high iron, were "using a clamshell bucket to pick up old phone poles, rails, and junk. We're working on the track 2 side, but we need foul time on track I so we can reach over and get the junk over there, and for the boom's movment as well"

    Crane operator John Hayner remarked that some of the poles "felt like they were in concrete," referring to those that had been anchored in sand for decades. The poles were set 100 feet apart, or 52 to a mile. He and trackman Dick Mallett were doing the grunt labor.

    ABOVE: Nan's span lifts to make way for traffic below. BELOW: March snow provides a backdrop for units 203 and 271, hauling 10 cars on No. 171.
    RailNews - March 1998 - Page 52

    Nelson said they would continue working for at least another month, performing such housekeeping chores all the way to View Interlocking, a distance of nearly 17 route miles. Then they would go back to Shaw's Cove and work eastward.

    All the trains were moving on track 1. There was enough time between trains so one would not be held at either Shaw's Cove or View to wait for another to clear the single track layout while Chris owned track 2.

    No. 171 flew out of the fog and was gone in an instant. So did each train that followed, all day. Even the relatively slow P&W freight NR-2 appeared like a ghost-first a headlight stabbing the grayness, then a barely imperceptible locomotive. Even then, the NR-2 was only a few feet away, but the fog was so thick there was still gray, gray mist between the freight train and me. On that day, it car ried seven loads and three empties, including three "dangerous" cars, tanks placarded as containing potentially hazardous chemicals. Two of the cars were loaded, PROX 98602 and CITX 24046, but another, CITX 34190, was empty. All were U.N.-coded as 1075-propane gas.

    The rest of the day was routine; the trains came and went on time. But these quiet days were coming to an end. Soon, the fishing and pleasure boats would be going to and fro as the weather warmed. Tracks would be taken out of service for repairs; bridge work would be done; more concrete ties would be inserted; and switch replacements would be needed at the hand-operated sites. It looked as if it would be an incredible summer...around the clock.

    ABOVE: During an early March 1997 macro snowstorm, unit 414-guiding No. 12-slows as it approaches Nan.
    RailNews - March 1998 - Page 53

    A Macro Snowstorm

    But March 4 brought another bit of winter. It wasn't unusual that it was snowing-what was unusual was that it was snowing in the daytime, I was working, and I had my camera with me. The view out of the rear window at Nan, which is to say the east end of the cab in (also a tower-the terminology is your choice) farthest from the entryway-revealed trees coated with snow and ice. This was a spring-like macro snowstorm, and a mousy one, at that. lt shifted mostly out to sea, veering off at the last minute. Forecasters had expected between two and five inches to be dumped on us the preceding night.

    My drive. between 5:30 a.m. and 6:45 a.m from my home in Cranston, Rhode Island, to my job at Niantic was over clean roads, prepared for the day's commuters. To be honest, I thought winter was virtually over. Why, just a few days before, we had had a near 60F day.

    No. 95 with F40PH 291 and six cars, conductor J. Hughes and Johnny Hobson at the throttle again, whizzed by through the snowfall, on time at 7:33 a.m., en route to Virginia.

    The Motor Vessel MiJoy 747 left town for about a week and went over to the Thames River and Groton to get its barnacles scrubbed off. It's an annual chore.

    Meanwhile, Chip Healy's westbound work extra-with two MP15s, the 531 pulling seven loads and one empty and the 534 bringing up the rear and in tow-went west. It had picked up some of track foreman Chris Nelson's loaded gons at the Millstone nuclear power plant spur, just around the bend east of Nan and a scant mile away. The extra was en route through the snow to Pine Orchard to get a train of loaded "stone cars," and then travel a few miles yet farther west to Cedar Hill Yard. Engineer Chuck DeAngelis eventually tied up both switchers in Motor Storage at New Haven.

    By 171's time, with John Sweeney in charge and Joe Terio lashing the 6,000 horses between the 203 and 271 to haul lO cars, the snow was falling a bit heavier.

    Gary Hobson brought No. 12 eastward through the snow, with unit 414 on the point, and passed Nan at exactly 10 a.m., about seven minutes late.

    Chris Nelson had track 2 out of service again, poking in the snow for more telephone poles. By now he was well past Nan and would later tie up for the day at Lyman-Blackhall (m.p. 107.8), a former industrial spur now used solely for M of W equipment, near Conn at m.p. 107. Conn, known to boaters as Old Lyme Draw, is the biggest movable bridge on the Shore Line, spanning the Connecticut River between Old Lyme and Old Saybrook.

    The snow continued falling until about one o'clock, then quit rather quickly. By 2:45 p.m., when my relief, Normand Morin, came in, most of it had melted. So much for winter...and the quiet Nan.

    Leo King brings 10 years of Amtrak employment experience to his writing and currently works as Amtrak Train Director/Interlocking Operator, New England Division, South Bay Tower, Boston. He is intrigued by railroading's "never-ending story."

    Article Details

    • Original Author Leo King
    • Source RailNews
    • Publication Date March 1998

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