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The Philadelphia Chapter of the

National Railway Historical Society

Established in 1936


Railfan Pictures of the Week - 02/24/2008

Amtrak Keystone Corridor Lancaster PA February 13 2008


A word and photo essay by Nate "Panhead" Murry


Double-pantograph orders on Amtrak AEM7 powered trains due to an overnight ice storm.



A combination of very cold temperatures and substantial precipitation brought a wintry mess to the Lancaster, PA area on the morning of February 13, 2008. What started as snow on the evening of the 12th gradually turned into ice, sleet and rain during the overnight hours of the 12th into the 13th. By the time I left for work at 8:00 AM, the roads were just wet, but there was a light to moderate ice accumulation on most of the surrounding structures, including the Amtrak Keystone Corridor catenary. This fact was not lost on me, so despite a busy workday ahead, I took a field trip to the Amtrak's Lancaster station in hopes of catching a heavy electric railfan's prize catch: live action double pantograph orders on Amtrak AEM7s.

I arrived at Lancaster station about 8:15AM or so, aiming to catch the daily meet of Keystone trains 607 (westbound, 8:28AM) and 642 (eastbound, 8:32AM). It was pouring rain, icy, cold and plain miserable, (thank goodness for water-proof jackets). A close-up exam of the catenary revealed little ice buildup, though I wasn't really surprised since the air temperature was warming slowly and several trains had already gone through that morning. I have also noted Amtrak's newfound "wisdom" of running front-pan up all the time on most of their electric equipment these days and frankly I wasn't even sure if they still ran double-pan orders, even in icy conditions. With all these apparent factors against me, I figured my chances of shooting a double-pan order weren't good. That's when I noticed 2 crews of Amtrak workers, one each on the eastbound and westbound platforms. I also noticed that one member of each crew carried a long yellow pole equipped with a hook on the end. I then got very excited when the two crews started yelling back and forth about locomotive numbers and positioning themselves just about where the engines park on station stops. My anticipation mounted!!!

It was cold, raining torrentially and very icy on the platform. Only the passenger walkways were treated with ice melt. Any adventurous railfans would have to deal with ice covered surfaces elsewhere on the platform.
Westbound train 607 showed up first, #948 pushing, with both pans raised high!! The Amtrak work crew must have assumed the train would be pulled, as they were positioned at the far end of the platform. They hurried to the other end to check #948's front pan. I was so excited I didn't even catch what they were doing. I was busy shooting #948. The prize was mine!!
Eastbound train 642 showed up as 607 was leaving. Note that you can actually see 607 in the background fog to the left of the picture. The eastbound Amtrak crew was in position this time, and it was me who had to hurry from the wrong end of the platform through a throng of boarding passengers to get into position. Both the Am-crew and I nearly killed ourselves try to reach pushing engine #905. The platform was covered with solid ice as you can see. One of the Amtrak crewmen fell pretty hard, and I had to hold on to the catenary pole while shooting. My hockey skates might have been a better choice of footwear…a helmet might have been nice too. As a side note, the unit stank like burning electrical equipment. I can't describe the acrid electrical smell; you just know it when you smell it.
This isn't a very good shot because I fogged my lens up some trying to wipe off the rain while spinning around on sheer ice while trying to catch an accelerating AEM7…all the while hanging on for dear life to the nearest catenary pole. Yikes!! As train 642 pulled out, the crew was still studying the pans, as I was trying to do. I don't think the crew was too pleased to have me there as I heard some grumbling amongst the group. Of course there were plenty of other things to grumble about that day; I was there for fun while these guys had to go out in this sloppy mess and do this for every electric train that went through all day.
Eastbound train 644 was next, pulled by #943. This one wreaked of electrical cooking worse then than #905 and the crews spent a long time on its front pan. They pulled it off and smacked it back against the catenary wire several times while studying its condition. Note the tip of the yellow pole above the pan in the shot. After my shenanigans at the other end of the platform, the workers weren't in any mood to talk to me, and I wasn't asking a lot of questions about what they were seeing. They did tell me that all electric Keystone trains would be running double-pan until lunch time at least. I believe it went longer, since it never really got that warm.
They spent so long on the front pan I had time to scurry up the steps and get some roof shots from the elevator enclave window. Pardon the droplets!!
Westbound train 641 would be the last catch of the day, with unit #944 pushing. This front pan must have been better then #943's as it didn't get manhandled by the long yellow pole the guy is carrying.
Train 641 had pulled out past me when she screeched to a halt. I sometimes leave my camera bag on one of the platform benches while I gallivant around. This time Tommy (a Lancaster / Harrisburg station attendant) and 641's conductor noticed my bag sitting on the bench and stopped the train to make sure it in fact belonged to me instead of an absent-minded passenger. During the short confusion, I got some great still, posed shots!! While not on purpose, I don't believe I have ever stopped an Amtrak train before!!


It never got that warm on the 13th, and I have a hunch they ran double-pan into the evening. I would have wanted some shots at speed, but this was certainly a great day's catch. I'm not sure how many more ice storms I'll be able to run around in try to catch both pans raised!!

All pictures and text February 13 2008 Copyright © 2008 Nate "Panhead" Murry

Photographs for personal use only. All rights reserved by original owner of image. Reproduction or redistribution in any form without express written permission is prohibited.

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Last Updated February 24, 2008

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