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Brush fires at West Portal

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It was just another final railfanning day in the Allentown area, the sun was out and the weather was warm, it would make for some nice pictures. What Chris and Vince didn't know as they spent their day at CP West Portal would be the interesting problems that can be caused by poorly maintained engines.

It was another fine sunny day in the Allentown area, CP west portal is the start of a 1% grade for eastbound trains which crests at Pattenburg tunnel 2 miles to the east. Most trains do not have a problem with the grade but it does slow them down somewhat, here is TV 100X led by one of Conrails many SD50's in 6723, the train blasts through west portal at 945 AM and holds the main line.

Following right behind TV100 is this PICC, the train is led by Conrail 5611 which is a SD60I. The I is different from the M because it has an isolated cab which is isolated from the frame and making it a quieter ride. The train is heading from Pittsburgh and will turn and head down the Chemical coast secondary at Port Reading Jct.

With a head train and the 1 % grade the PICC is making a run at the hill towards the tunnel. The train has three engines 2 of which are NS, it should have no problem after conquering the hill because it is mostly down hill from there.

Arriving next at West Portal is this special, the train is OIIH, meaning it is coming from Oak Island and is heading to the Indiana Harbor belt, the train will make a stop at Allentown yard to pick up a transformer and will become ALIH. The train is led by Conrail SD50 6791 and has 2 VRE cars that are heading west, the train got a red signal and is holding on the main.

With the OIIH in the foreground and on the main another eastbound makes a run at the hill. This eastbound is SEAL heading towards Selkirk which is Conrails huge yard outside of Albany. The SEAL is led by a SD60M and C40-8W and is taking the controlled siding.

The next train approaching West Portal is this local led by 2 GP 38's, the train is approaching the switch to the siding. The switch is heated all year round so that it will throw and won't freeze up, the dispatcher controls it as the whole line is CTC.

The train is WPAL-10 which is the local that works out of Allentown and head's down the line switching the industries on it. The power for the train is usually 2 or 3 of Conrails beat and rusted of fleet of Gp38's, the engines have been poorly maintained and are definitely not the pride of the railroad. The 7890 was built for the Penn Central as their 7890 in 1969 and then passed onto Conrail.

Here is a photo of the 7890 and mate passing the signal gantries at the controlled switch. A look at the engine just shows how much rust and grime was allowed to accumulate on the locomotive. If you look very closely at the the gantry you might see some sparks, they have come out of the locomotives and would lead to what happened next.

As soon as the train passed and it was going very slow because of the engine problems smoke started to rise from the brush next to the tracks. The spring had been very dry and the engines were emitting sparks from their exhaust stacks and it caused brush fires along the whole Lehigh line. The brush fires were reported at Asbury, Clinton, and West Portal. With in minutes of the smoke rising up there was a whole fire crew on the scene, they were local firefighters and not sent by Conrail.

Here is a wider view of the area, the signals and the control box are at the switch for the controlled siding. It was really an amazing scene as the local fire fighters battled with the many small fires that had been caused by the train. The Lehigh line in the area had to be shut down due to smoke which would not enable the engineers to see the signals.

Here is the final view of the real heroes doing what they do best, that is eliminating problems. Two of the heroes go about their duties fighting the fires along the line just as they go about saving peoples living in the tragedies that have come up lately. Note the old Jeep truck that is used as their fire truck.

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