A trio of six-axle EMDs kick up snow as they fly south through the town of Spencer, NY on a cold winter day. Despite a short train of 15 cars these locos fought hard over the steep grades on this former Lehigh Valley line, and the roar of 645s or the scream of dynamic breaks accompanied every shot. The Ithaca Railroad has been on my bucket list for a while, both in its present WATCO incarnation and its former NS one. I was fortunate to catch a clear, snowy Martin Luther King Jr. Day on which to shoot this unique operation. The train is about to cross under West Tioga Street and the former junction with the Lehigh Valley's Elmira & Cortland Branch.
===== Operations =====
On this day we chased the train starting with a run south to Sayre. The train left the Ithaca yard at around 9:30AM, arriving in Sayre at around 11:45AM. Once in Sayre the cut of 15 cars was dropped, and the power was run down to run around the train. We left the train in Sayre to complete its switching while we checked out some other local railroads. The train returned north to Ithaca and we later caught up with it around 4:30PM as it switched the salt mine north of Ithaca. We finally left them as they headed south back to Ithaca around 5:00 PM.
===== History =====
The Ithaca Central Railroad is a barely-year-old operation over NS's former LV trackage in the Ithaca area. The line runs along the east shore of Cayuga Lake south to Ithaca and then on to Sayre, PA, where it interchanges with NS and the Ithaca Railway. The line is currently on lease from NS who received it upon the breakup of Conrail. While a power plant operated on the line until recently, the remaining major customer is the Cargill Salt Mine in Lansing, NY. The Ithaca Central Railroad is owned by Watco Transportation Services, and all three locomotives operating on the line are Watco leasers.
The line itself is consists of the original main line of the Lehigh Valley Railroad between Sayre and Ithaca, as well as a branchline north of Ithaca along Cayuga Lake. The line begins in Sayre, PA which was formerly the location of the Lehigh Valley's largest shops and their interchange with the Erie and Lackawanna Railroads. From there the line proceeds north to Van Etten, NY. The LV originally continued north-east from Van Etten to Ithaca, and from there on to Geneva. However upon completion of their mainline through to Buffalo, there was desire for a route that bypassed the steep grades in and out of Ithaca. At Van Etten the LV split, with the Buffalo Division or 'freight main' continuing north-west towards Geneva while the Ithaca Branch, now the 'passenger main' continued north-east towards Ithaca. The Van Etten/Spencer area also saw an intersection with the LV's Elmira & Cortland branch as it worked its way from Elmira north towards Utica. At Ithaca the railroad split again, with the passenger main continuing up the west side of Cayuga Lake and the Auburn & Ithaca Division continuing up the right.
The modern day Ithaca Central runs on the former Buffalo Division from Sayre to Van Etten, on the former Ithaca Branch from Van Etten to Ithaca, and from there on the former Auburn & Ithaca division up the lakeshore to Lansing. This represents the only substantial portion of former Lehigh Valley trackage still operational in New York State.
===== Consist =====
WAMX 4248 SD40M-2, Ex ILSX 1315, Ex CITX 2799, Ex CEFX, Ex UP 4749 SD40M-2, Ex UP 64 SD45M, Ex UP 8 SD45, Nee UP3608 SD45
WAMX 4241 SD40M-2, Ex NREX 2713, Ex UP, Ex SP 8637 SD40M-2, Nee KCS 628 SD40
WAMX 4247 SD40M-2, Ex ILSX 1314, Ex CITX 2796, Ex CEFX, Ex UP 2796, Nee SP 9079 SD45