Railfanning Allentown and Bethlehem
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*Current as of September 24, 2009*

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History
To examine the history of railroading in South Bethlehem is to examine the industrial development of a nation.

William Penn, for whom Pennsylvania is named, originally organized a purchase of the area including what is now called Bethlehem in the late 1600's from local natives of the Delaware Tribes who originally inhabited the area, though they gradually pulled their settlements north--sometimes with violent unrest--as European immigrants colonized the area. The Lehigh River, at that time called the West Branch of the Delaware, had a fertile lower valley and helped form a natural transportation route to the north and west.

Canals were built early in the 1820's along the Delaware and Lehigh Rivers to open the area to trade, and Allentown became a center for the manufacture of silk and silk garments. Other light industry followed and the community thrived. The area of South Bethlehem began to be a manufacturing center around 1845 with the discovery of significant zinc ores nearby.  By the 1860's, the smelting complex here was producing metallic zinc on a large scale, the first such manufacturing in the nation. The combination of low-grade transportation routes and heavy industry that first led to the construction of the Lehigh Canal also attracted interest from the new-fangled "Rail Road" companies. The first such investment occurred in the mid 1850’s with the sale of land south of the Lehigh River to Asa Packer, who founded the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company, and later was a primary founder of Lehigh University. June 4, 1855 witnessed the first passage of a locomotive through South Bethlehem, and the LV was open for business. LV competed effectively with the less-efficient canal, and the canal's owner, Lehigh Canal & Navigation Co., was forced to build a railway just to stay in business. This railway was built on the north side of the Lehigh River and bore the name of the canal company: LC&N.

The discovery of iron ore nearby along with the opening of the railroad catapulted Bethlehem into a period of rapid expansion, and as the century continued, Bethlehem eclipsed Allentown in industrial might. Several companies started iron mills. As immigrants arrived to work the mills, the town grew, and other railroads were founded to provide transportation, including the North Pennsylvania Railroad, which built north into Bethlehem from Quakertown and Philadelphia. In 1861, ground was broken for the first blast furnace. The first iron was smelted from a mixture of brown hematite from the Saucon Valley and magnetite from Morris County, N. J. By the middle of the 1860’s this was accompanied by a forge and rolling mill for sheet iron. The first rail was rolled for the LV in the fall of 1863.

By 1871, the LC&N railway was in financial trouble and was sold to the Central Railroad of New Jersey and organized as a wholly owned subsidiary, the “Central Railroad of Pennsylvania.” The Reading Railroad Company saw the prosperity of the Bethlehem area and bought the North Pennsylvania Railroad to gain access from Philadelphia in the south, and the Lehigh & New England built down from the north into North Bethlehem and Allentown.

The only company to make a successful transition from large-scale iron production to steel production in the 1880’s was the Bethlehem Iron Company. As the market changed and steel became more and more important, Bethlehem Iron Company bought other local mills that were struggling. Through affiliations and mergers, in 1899 the company was renamed Bethlehem Steel Corporation and came to own more than 250 acres of land in South Bethlehem.

As the company grew, it came to realize it would be more cost-effective to own its own industrial railroad for the 24-hour operation of switching the steel mill. The company purchased several roads and established the Philadelphia, Bethlehem & New England name as the railway for the plant. PB&NE would interchange with Reading and Lehigh Valley for raw materials and finished products. Bethlehem Steel products were ubiquitous in America and around the world: bridges, battleships, skyscrapers, automobiles, trucks, cranes, locomotives: all of these products contained elements that began at Bethlehem. One source estimates that 80% of the buildings in Manhattan contain steel forged and rolled at Bethlehem. Bethlehem Steel came to signify the ingenuity, the opportunity, the might and power of the United States. Immediately following World War II, Bethlehem Steel was a primary producer of steel to rebuild Europe after the devastation. However, after an early boom, the northeastern railroad financial picture darkened. The U.S. Federal Government spent billions on new interstate freeways and subsidized the production of oil, allowing the rise of the personal automobile and of trucking companies. Railroads began to have financial difficulties, worsened by the decline of anthracite coal traffic between Scranton/Wilkes Barre and the New York Metropolitan Area. Traffic fell as the 1950’s wore on and by 1970, the problem was becoming a crisis.

By this point, L&NE was bankrupt and abandoned. CNJ, LV, and Reading were all bankrupt, despite continued demand for steel products from Bethlehem. CNJ ceded its Pennsylvania operations to LV in the early 1970’s to cut costs, and LV consolidated main lines and abandoned the CNJ main line between Bethlehem and Easton. But the slide continued; the federal government was forced to intervene and in 1976 created Conrail, which decided to rebuild the physical plant of the LV mainline and use the former CNJ yard in Allentown as a base for area operations.

Through the 1980’s, Bethlehem Steel Corporation faced declining business due to international competition and an aging industrial infrastructure at the Bethlehem Plant. By the 1990’s, the company decided to close its operations in its namesake Bethlehem, focusing instead on a new ‘mini-mill’ at Sparrows Point, MD, and other more modern mills in the Midwest. By the end of the 1990’s the mill was a ghost of its former self, a haunting remnant of the former importance of the Saucon and Lehigh Valley’s crucial importance to the nation. In 1999, Conrail itself was split between CSX and NS, with NS inheriting all operations in the Allentown/Bethlehem area. The turn of the century, however, has brought rising fuel costs and economic growth, leading to the birth of a resurgence of the importance of rail transportation in the United States. NS has adjusted area investments accordingly.

Today, NS and the City of Bethlehem have partnered to attract business to the former steel complex, and it has become a growing transload and intermodal center. Most of the sprawling plant has been torn down, though the primary blast-furnace structure remains along the mainline amidst talk of a museum that will preserve the history of the area. The mainline remains busy with freight traffic, some of which terminates in Bethlehem and most of which continues to the New York area through New Jersey.

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The Tour
To start with, railroad property is private. Local police, as well as NS police, keep an eye on railroad property throughout Pennsylvania. NS police are known to deal firmly with railfans. None of this text is intended to encourage or justify trespassing of any sort.

It is somewhat of a necesity to carry a scanner. Although at times during the day there is enough traffic to justify sitting trackside without one, it is always beneficial to have one so you can listen in on the action. The frequencies for the area are:

160.245 Allentown Hump
160.800 NS Lehigh Line - Allentown to points west (compass north)
160.860 NS Allentown Yard
160.980 NS Allentown Yard
161.070 NS Lehigh Line - Allentown to points east
161.070 NS Reading Line - Governed by the Lehigh Line Dispatcher

The NS Lehigh Line Dispatcher governs all movements in this area, exlcuding shifting within the yard. This is controlled by the Allentown Hump. Every train must talk to dispatcher before departing the yard. Generally the crew and dispatcher will exchange information on the train including engine numbers, loads and empties, tonnage, length, and marker number.

This guide will cover railroad operations in the Allentown and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania areas. My interpretation of this area is between and including CP-Burn on the NS Reading Line, CP-87 on the NS Lehigh Line, and CP-Ham on the NS Lehigh Line.
Bethlehem Map These interlockings form somewhat of a triangle around Allentown Yard. If you are unfamiliar with the area, I suggest looking at the timetables and train lists that I have linked above. They will be beneficial in understanding the layout of the area and the trains that operate here. Our tour will start at the furthest point east, CP-87, and we will work our way west, incorporating photo locations, operations, and maybe even a bit of history. In the map at left, CP-87 is located just out of the picture. The signal is for track two only and is not publicly accessible. CP-87 is the eastern boundary of the River Yard. In the photo below, the track names and numbers are as follows:
from left to right, the layoff, main one, main two, and river tracks one through five. The layoff is almost exclusively used to store Portland-bound coal trains until a local, H78, can take the entire train to the power plant. You will occasionally find manifest freights parked here waiting for a crew as well as the eastbound trash train, 64J, and work trains. It is also home to any inbound freights that Allentown cannot handle. They will sit until the yard can take them. The River Yard is used for interchange with Lehigh Valley Rail Management (LVRB), formerly the PBNE, and with Canadian Pacific. Below is a list of trains that work the River Yard. NS H74

Symbol
Days
Time
Notes
20R
Sunday
Night
 
22V
Monday
Afternoon
Drops intermodal traffic for BethIntermodal (LVRB)
22V
Tuesday-Sunday
Morning
Drops intermodal traffic for BethIntermodal (LVRB) and picks up CP traffic from 38T (CP) for New Jersey.
25V
Monday-Friday
Night
Picks up intermodal traffic from BethIntermodal (LVRB) for Harrisburg and points west. Drops intermodal traffic for 39T (CP) and points north on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights.
25R
Saturday-Sunday
Night
Picks up intermodal traffic from Bethintermodal (LVRB) for Harrisburg and points west.
261
Daily
Evening
Originates in the River Yard. Receives train from LVRB.
262
Daily
Morning
Terminates in the River Yard. Interchanges entire train with LVRB.
38T
Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday
Night
Drops intermodal traffic for 24V to pickup for New Jersey.
39T
Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday
Night
Picks up intermodal traffic from 25V/25R for points north.
HA13
Monday-Friday
Afternoon
Interchanges general freight traffic with LVRB.
H71
Monday-Friday
Night
Interchanges general freight traffic with LVRB.

There are many different angles available in the area around CP-88 and CP-Bethlehem to photograph trains from. One fairly popular location that yields a nice backdrop with the old steel mill in the background and mountains beyond that is looking east from the New/Fahy Street Bridge. Below are three examples of various shots available.
NS 33K
PBNE 19
NS 69Q
The shot looking west from this bridge is plagued with power lines and telephone poles, making for an extremely cluttered shot. Also, there is no sidewalk on that side of the bridge making for a dangerous shot. There is a metered parking lot located directly underneath the bridge as well a few other parking lots in the vicinity. You can also get photos from these parking lots at track level looking east with the steel mill in the background as well as looking west with the CP-Bethlehem signal as a prop of sorts.
NS 213
NS 212
Before moving west to CP-88 there is a piece of information that photographers will find useful regarding the Bethlehem area. The double track between CP-Bethlehem and CP-Richards on the NS Lehigh Line is operated under NORAC Rule 251, meaning that each track is signalled for movement in only one direction. Thus track one is signalled for westbound movement only and track two is signalled for eastbound movement only. If a train is going to operate on the opposite main, it must always receive a Form-D from the dispatcher giving it permission to do so.

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The CP-88 interlocking is the western boundary of the River Yard and is only on track two. There is a private railroad crossing mainly used by crew vans to assist trains working the River Yard, the layoff, and the storage tracks. For railfans, there is a decent amount of area for parking trackside. On weekends it is almost rare not to find at least one person there with as many as ten or more at any given time. Both of these are right at the CP-88 signal which can alert you to eastbound movements. The signal is constantly lit, as opposed to how some of the other signals in the area are approach lit, meaning they only light up when there is a train in the block. The view from track level is nothing spectacular for photographs but if you are looking to sit back and enjoy the trains, then Bethlehem Map
this is one of the better places in the area as you can get close without be bothered. Below is a view looking east with the CP-88 signal as well as a view looking west with the CP-Bethlehem interlocking and Hill-to-Hill Bridge (PA 378) in the background.
NS 262
NS 052
The Hill-to-Hill bridge provides a decent vantage point for photography. As a side note, there are side walks on both sides of the bridge. Parking, on the other hand, is a bit more difficult. There is a Perkins nearby that you can park and walk. Other than this it is rather difficult to park relatively close to the bridge. There is generally some parking available on Brighton Street coming off of the bridge, but this is limited. Looking east at the CP-Bethlehem and CP-88 interlockings, the shot is once again plagued with power lines and poles, but affords a nice view of the crossovers. Looking west towards the Reading Line gives you the options of a telephoto or a downward view of the railroad.
TC RG306
NS 213
NS i62
Before we cross the Lehigh River to the Allentown side we're going to head for the single track on the Reading Line and CP-Bethlehem. In the above photo of roadrailer 261, the field to the left of the train can yield a nice wide angle shot of eastbounds in the morning and westbounds in the afternoon. This is the site of the former Lehigh Valley Calypso Yard. For westbounds, the CP-Bethlehem signal can be used as a prop and somewhat of a location ID. This signal is always lit. If you move farther west along the single track, the middle picture below portrays one of the views you could get of early morning eastbounds. The tracks to the right in the photo are, from left to right, FABS 3 and 4. The road curves away from the tracks here and goes into a correctional facility. A little farther west is the 91 signal along with the milepost 91 dragging equipment detector. Beyond this is CP-Burn and the entrance to the west end of Allentown Yard, where our tour will finish up.
NS 078
NS 212
NS 509
We will now move back east just a little ways to within the CP-Bethlehem interlocking. There are countless angles that you can choose to shoot between the eastbound signal and the Hill-to-Hill (PA 378) bridge. Working from west to east, there is the track-level view of eastbounds coming off the single track. Next, there is the view of eastbound coming across the road crossing. From almost the same location this view of westbounds passing under the Hill-to-Hill bridge is available. Unfortunately, even if the sun we're out you'd be hard pressed to get a well lit shot of a westbound at this location due to the large hill behind the photographer.
NS I4V
NS 28A
NS 211
Other views that are available from the vicinity of the road crossing include a shot looking east with the steel mill and CP-88 signal in the background. There is also a shot for westbounds entering Allentown under the Hill-to-Hill bridge. This view is best in the afternoon. There is also a good morning shot of eastbounds crossing the Lehigh River from Allentown. It is a bit tricky to get this shot without having any shadows on the nose but it is manageable.
NS 18G
NS HA90
NS 68Q

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In order to follow the tracks across the Lehigh River towards CP-JU and Allentown Yard, we are going back up on the Hill-to-Hill bridge. There are three nice mid-morning photo ops from the bridge, both of which are for eastbounds leaving Allentown. The first is a wider angle shot that is best done in the summer or fall when the trees are in full bloom. The second is more of a downward looking head on shot that allows the photographer to get the milepost on the side of the bridge in the shot. This gives the photo more of a location identifier. The third photo is from the north side of the river, looking west towards CP-JU. This shot generally only works when the CP power is heading for the Freemansburg Industrial Track or H75 is heading up the Cement Secondary.
NS HA13
NS 24Z
NS 38T
In order to get trackside on the north side of the river from Bethlehem, take the Fahy/New Street bridge and make a left at the traffic light. This will put you on Lehigh Street. Go down to the stop sign and make another left. You will cross the Freemansburg Industrial Track. Generally, on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday the CP power will be sitting here under the Hill-to-Hill bridge. Unfortunately, when the sun is out, this location is incredibly back lit and the shot is hard to get. It is almost best to wait until the sun goes down to shoot a time exposure of the power or hope for a cloudy day to get a decent roster shot. To get the side shot of the railroad bridge, cross the Freemansburg I.T. and make a right. This will bring you under the Hill-to-Hill bridge and to the beginning of the canal bike path, which parallels Allentown Yard from one end to the other.
NS 38T
NS HA13
CP-JU is the next stop as we continue our trip west. To get there, instead of making a left at the stop sign on Lehigh Street, go straight through the intersection. You will pass a few housing developments and come to a small shopping center on your left which
includes the county courthouse and a sign for Albarell Electric Inc. You should see the tracks. This is CP-JU. The signals for this interlocking are approach lit, meaning they come on only when a train is in the block. The road to Albarell is public but the dirt around the road is NS property so I would advise you to keep to the road. The first photo below is looking east towards the Freemansburg I.T. and CP-Bethlehem. The second photo is looking west towards Allentown Yard. There are three tracks at this point. The track closest to the photographer is Old Main 4, where NS likes to park road power until their next assignment. About three times per 24-hour period a change crew CP-JU Map
will come down and take some or all of the engines back to the west end of the yard. This is a good location to get roster and detail shots of whatever engines might be in Allentown at the time, although this location is generally backlit. The middle track is the yard lead to the receiving yard. The track farthest away from the camera is the single main between CP-Bethlehem and CP-Allen.
NS H75
NS 19G and 24Z

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On the last leg of our tour we will see Allentown Yard. To get to the yard from CP-JU you will want to get back on Lehigh Street. Take this west until you come to 13th Avenue. Make a right. Go to the top of the hill and make a left on to Market Street. From Market Street you will make your fourth left on to Central Boulevard. If you hit a traffic light then you have gone too far. Central Boulevard will turn into River Drive and will take you along the yard. The actual hump is located next to CP-Canal. The only shots available here are looking west because the hump blocks any decent shot of trains below it. The hump power is normally an SD40-2 and RPU6 mother/slug set. Allentown Yard West End
During Conrail it was an SD38 and MT6 set. Occasionally you will see other locomotives on the hump if the mother and slug are out of service or out of town.
NS 33K and H70
NS 6185
If you continue west on River Drive it will take you up above the classification yard where you can look down and see everything. To get to the west end of the yard, continue on River Drive. There is an area where you can pull off outside of the NS "No Trespassing" sign to snap a few photos but I would not suggest sitting at the west end.
NS Allentown Yard
NS 3805
Our third to last stop on the tour is CP-Ham, which is named for it's proximity to Hamiliton Street. This serves as the northern boundary of Allentown Yard. To get there from the yard, follow River Drive past the west end of the yard. This will turn into Carlisle Street. Take this down the hill and make a left on to Walnut Street. If you hit the traffic light then you have gone too far. Walnut Street will bring you down to a grade crossing within the interlocking. There is parking available although I would not advise waiting for a train here unless you know something is coming as there are only a few trains per day on the upper portion of the Lehigh Line. Below are the vantage points looking north, railroad west, first and east second.
NS 24Z
NS M2T
If you cross the tracks and follow the road along the canal it will bring you to the west end of CP-Allen. There is a picnic area with an excellent view of the bridge across the Lehigh River. The bridge shot is good for eastbound morning arrivals into Allentown. Unfortunately there is not anything scheduled to arrive at that time but a late 36Q or 16T could give you the opportunity for this shot. Also, the dispatcher could route a train through the yard instead of over the single track on the other side of the river. There is a shot for westbounds leaving the yard as well with the CP-Allen signal, which is always lit. If the signal displays anything other than red over red then the dispatcher has a train lined into the yard. This shot is best in the afternoon before the sun switches to the other side of the tracks.
NS 36Q
NS 35A
The final stop on our journey is CP-Burn which is named for the crossing with Auburn Street within the interlocking. This is where the tracks split to either go into Allentown Yard or bypass the yard and come out at CP-Bethlehem. To get there from CP-Allen, take the canal road back out to CP-Ham. Cross the tracks and make a left on to Albert Street. Circle up and at the traffic light make a right. Cross the river and stay left. You will cross an abandoned secondary and come to another traffic light. Make a left on to Basin Street. You will cross the R.J. Corman tracks and pass under the NS main. At the traffic light, make a right, and welcome to CP-Burn. I suggest crossing the tracks and parking on the left. It is not advisable to sit here for long periods of time. CP-Burn used to be a place for all the local railfans to hang out but they have since been kicked out. Unfortunately, now it is a place you go to grab a few shots when you know something is coming and then leave. Trains leaving Allentown will generally pull up to the signal and wait for their conductor to be brought ahead by a crew van, also known as a jitney. They will then call the Lehigh Line Dispatcher for railroad west. Below are two possible angles from the crossing.
NS 11J
NS 19G
This concludes the NS Allentown and Bethlehem railfan guide. If you have any questions, comments, or corrections regarding this guide, please email me. Thank you for viewing this guide and please enjoy the rest of the site.

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