PAS: Hoosac Fix Delay Spurs New IM/Auto Detour

With Hoosac Tunnel Repairs Now Expected to Run Through March, NS Moves to Unlock Intermodal/Autorack Logjam with New Whitehall NY - Millers Falls MA Detour on CP/VRS/NECR.


Binghamton NY, 29 February – After several comically optimistic predictions, PAS/NS has announced that the Hoosac Tunnel will not reopen until mid-March at the earliest. While carload traffic immediately found a reliable detour via Vermont Rail System (VRS), intermodal and auto traffic has been jamming up on both sides of the tunnel. PAS has finally arranged a robust detour able to carry this traffic until the PAS mainline reopens. So that interested readers can contextualize this new report – exclusive to ANRP – we are including the previously published HOOSAC UPDATES from 12.Feb and 17.Feb.

Intermodal/Auto detour

The first Pan Am Southern (PAS) intermodal/automotive detour move since the failure of a previous CSX reroute scheme, departed Buffalo NY on Fri.28.Feb designated NS 27W-29, bound for Davisville RI. It made Binghamton NY early on 29.Feb before tying down. At Schenectady, it will detour north on Canadian Pacific’s (CP) Canadian Subdivision, renamed CP 961, and rejoin the PAS mainline at Miller’s Falls. Norfolk Southern (NS) GP38-2s 5663, 5609, 5667, 5666, and 5623 are at the head of more than 65 loaded autoracks to be handed off to the Providence & Worcester (P&W) at Gardner MA for delivery to Davisville, and returning with empties.

The new detour runs over CP, VRS, and New England Central (NECR). Routing through Whitehall (rather than Hoosick Jct.) will speed up the catch-up phase by precluding the HJ locomotive runaround move needed to swap ends; running around the intermodal train’s length would disrupt highway traffic. On the east end of the detour, running on NECR to Millers Falls, avoids the PAR Greenfield, MA, Main St. tunnel.

Schenectady NY – Millers Falls MA

NS detoured east/northbound IM/auto trains will operate as follows :
1. Departing Schenectady NY operating as CP 961 with NS crew, will ride CP’s Canadian Subdivision to CP’s Saratoga Springs NY yard;

2. Continuing as CP961, now with a CP crew, will continue north on CP Canadian Subdivision to Whitehall NY (VRS interchange);

3. Identification TBD (but likely resuming the NS originating designation) and now with a PAS crew with a VRS pilot, VRS will run the train from Whitehall to Bellows Falls VT, over the Clarendon & Pittsfield Mainline, and the GMRC Bellows Falls Subdivision, to join the New England Central in Bellows Falls;

4. NECR will finish the move as 22K, still with the PAS crew but now with a NECR pilot) from Bellows Falls to Millers Falls MA on the NECR Palmer Subdivision to reconnect with Pan Am Southern’s Freight Main Line.
NOTE: 27W, 22K or otherwise designated; NS may alter a train’s designations for the sake of identifying it as a detour train.
{VRS System map; annotated by ANRP}

Preparation meets opportunity

The new detour’s viability owes much to last year’s major tie and rail replacement project by VRS and VTrans, in preparation for increased traffic this Spring due to planned detours around the Middlebury Tunnel project.

The Hoosick Jct. NY – Bellows Falls VT detour via VRS, carrying Pan Am 11R/16R Mechanicville NY – East Deerfield MA traffic (through Greenfield MA), had been employed since 12.Feb, the day after the tunnel’s collapse ( See below: ANRP HOOSAC TUNNEL UPDATE 17.Feb.2020 ). On 23.Feb, NS quietly began adding haulage traffic to this detour route, destined for P&W and Ayer {NS Update}. While 11R/16R trains are typically manifested between East Deerfield and Binghamton NY, the detour trains are also picking up CSXT traffic at Rotterdam Jct. NY. They have not pulled autorack or intermodal traffic, due to inadequate clearance through the Main St. tunnel in Greenfield MA.

Greenfield MA

Main St. railroad tunnel was built in 1847, and has a vertical clearance of 16ft, 5in.

Reality sets in

The new detour is the response to news that the Hoosac Tunnel would remain out of service through at least mid-March, Patriot Corridor partners NS and PAS began planning an alternative move between Mechanicville, NY and Ayer MA. Intermodal and auto traffic had been embargoed since the collapse. {NS Hoosac Tunnel Service Disruption Update 27.Feb.2020}

Stagnant intermodal and automotive traffic was developing into a logjam. One long-wandering 22K found itself in Croxton NJ ( from Chicago via Buffalo NY – Binghamton – Harrisburg PA) on 27.Feb. The unloaded containers were trucked directly to southern New England delivery points, or to Ayer for reloading on PAR northbound trains. At least three stalled eastbound 22K trains (one each in Binghamton NY, Buffalo, and Cleveland OH) were awaiting an opening.

With a huge backlog of this traffic stored on both sides of the closed tunnel, the initial phases of this route will carry existing loads only. Most new-originating intermodal/auto traffic will remain embargoed by NS for the time being. Davisville-destined traffic embargo was lifted on 21 February. Even with these latest detour moves, NS will keep the gates closed until the backlog is worked down. If the tunnel closure continues past the 9 March date, the gates may be reopened for traffic originating in Chicago and Ayer.

Big trains coming?

Rules governing the detour do not mention any train length restriction. However, tight radiuses between Rutland and Bellows Falls mandates that six-axle locomotives must be steering-truck models, although a VRS notice issued 06.Feb allows the use of the steering-truck six-axles systemwide, except for a few non-mainline stretches unrelated to the detour {Internal railroad communique}.