Why the Central Vermont?

by Jack Wright

Why would anyone be interested in a railroad whose primary traffic is a single northbound and south bound freight each day? A railroad that sees the passage of its passenger service during the hours of darkness? A railroad whose fast track speeds make train watching difficult. A railroad that for the most part avoids the population centers . A railroad that only recently introduced second generation power to its roster.

Probably the best way to describe one's affliction to this railroad is to look at some of the images that come to mind when thinking about it. Things like early morning fog and seagulls while waiting at the Alburgh trestle over Lake Champlain. Idling CN power lash-ups and the operating turntable at St. Albans. The sound of six GP-9's barking up the grade and crossing the Georgia high bridge. The frantic bleating of air horns as the fast moving trains break the tranquillity of pastoral Vermont villages. Six diesels switching track side feedmills and lumber yards at the small towns along the route. Old depots and wood boxcars at various places along the right-of-way. A pusher on a southbound train battling the laws of physics all the way to Roxbury. Changing crews and switching trains at White River Junction and Brattleboro. Racing along the banks and causeways of the Connecticut River in southern Vermont on joint trackage with the B&M. The tunnel under downtown Bellows Falls that looks too small to fit a train.

Small villages in central Massachusetts. The diamond and facilities at Palmer, the line south through Monson and State Line Hill. Well to do small towns in Connecticut, low wooden trestles and submarines in New London.

While short by the standards of most railroads, the Central Vermont packs a lot of scenery between Canada and the Atlantic Ocean. It is small enough to comprehend, yet big enough that it provides surprises. It exhibits enough of its Canadian National parentage to make it recognizable as part of the family, yet it has enough independence to make it different. Its right of way is some of the most well maintained in the Northeast. It has always held its own against the bigger railroads for its slice of a very competitive market. At times when other railroads seem to be chasing their customers away, the CV is trying innovative new approaches to increase its traffic base.

While the CV roster may lack a variety of diesels, its good maintenance policies provide the road with excellent first generation motive power. Where else can you find thirty year old locomotives high balling 100+ car freights? While GP 9's currently form the backbone of the fleet, three distinct variations of this model along with a variety of color schemes make for a lot of variety. Add to these a several similar looking GP-18's and chop nosed GP-9's. Recently, second generation power has arrived with a number of GP-38's lettered for both the GT and CV. With the recent sale of some of the GP-9's to the St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad it is likely GP-38's will someday replace the GP-9's. For the present time, however, one can still hear the distinctive "bark" of the first generation geeps.

In the recent past, we have witnessed the disposition of the last Alco S-4, the fleet of RS-11's and the SW-1200's. While sadly missed by this writer, the Alco's age and unreliability made them impractical for the CVs down to business approach. Many of these veterans have been purchased by shortlines. The Alco S-4 went to an online feedmill, while three of the RS-11's went to connecting Lamoille Valley RR, so all is not gone.

While not a part of the Central Vermont roster, CN units are frequently used. Recently these have been wide cab GP-40's but any 4-axle power belonging to the CN could be found on the CV over the past 40 years or so. Tenant AMTRAK provides more variety with their F-40's on the north and southbound "Montrealers". Power from siblings DW&P and GT are also common on the Central Vermont.

The Central Vermont has some thing for everyone. For the professional railroader it is a model of efficiency. For the historian, the CV is rich in history and it's early days were entangled with a lot of other New England railroads.

Modelers will find the CV to be an inspiration. The railroad ran steam up into the late 1950's, so steam alongside diesel power is perfectly acceptable. The CV has owned an interesting variety of rolling stock that could be the subject of many a modeling article.

Many old buildings and freight cars still exist so accurate dimensions can still be taken. Finally, for the railfan the CV offers New England railroading in a grand tradition. While a challenge to chase, the CV offers endless photo possibilities. It's aggressive marketing may even provide far more trains in the future.

Equally unique is sibling Grand Trunk (New England) that this society will also represent. While it is beyond the scope of this article to cover this line, it also has much to offer and its recent sale to the St. Lawrence & Atlantic adds another dimension to this Society. The CVRHS's future will be one of growth as more people realize what a great railroad the Central Vermont is.

From the Ambassador, Volume One, Number One, Spring, 1990

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