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West Portal
PAGE ONE
Welcome to one of the best railfan spots of the northeast US. For photography, camping or just plain hanging out the west portal is great.
Located a thousand feet or so east of the summit, the west portal lies in the heart of a tremendous rock cut. The massive concrete portal is reachable on foot or by a rough muddy road. There are many different angles to shoot the action here as well as a classic signal set to use as props. This is one of my favorite spots.
Seen from the edge of the portal, right from the spot where the savvy railfan can set up a great campsite, one is often treated to nose to nose meet action. Eastbound trains often pause, stretched over the summit, while they have tail helpers cut off. This offers the chance that a nearby westbound may pass before the eastbound starts up and enters the bore. The giant red, rock cut, as you can see makes for dramatic meet shots. In these images we see nose to nose meets before and after the CSX acquisition of their portion of Conrail.
I know several CSX maintenance people and signal maintainers. On more than one occasion with their help I have been able to safely get photographs that would otherwise be irresponsible. Two of which were these shots from inside Sand Patch Tunnel. With a maintainer at my side and the close track out of service I got these eastbounds. The Chessie shot is one of my favorite.
One of the advantages of camping trackside is the opportunity for interesting NIGHT photography. I have taken a lot of night shots at the west portal, because the light can make wild effects, and the signals, rocks and tunnel make unique props in the light. Here are a few of my favorite night shots.
Shot from berm west of the tunnel, a westbound is waiting for the helpers on the other end of the tunnel to drop off. Meanwhile the signals glint off of the last cars of an eastbound with its blinking "FRED" as it rolls through the tunnel. If you look close, the eastbounder's headlight can be seen lighting up the inside of the bore.
On another night, a freight is holding the eastbound main as a second train overtakes it on the other track.
A little while later, the same train is still waiting to head east, as another train passes. This time it is a westbound roaring out of the bore. One of the bulbs on the number 1 main signal has burned out, but the beams cutting through the fog are still dramatic. Summer and fall often finds the cut at the west portal heavy with fog.
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