Railroads & Locomotives Hot Spots Train Watching — Short line: Connecticut Southern Railroad

Train Watching — Short line: Connecticut Southern Railroad

By Scott A. Hartley | February 28, 2024

A mixed locomotive fleet and historic scenery make this railroad a solid photo expedition

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Two orange and yellow diesel locomotives pull a freight train across a stone arch bridge.
A Connecticut Southern train rolls across Amtrak’s 1867 Farmington River stone arch bridge near Windsor. The bridge is a good photo location and is accessible from a nearby boat launch. Scott A. Hartley

Connecticut Southern Railroad was created by short line holding company RailTex in 1996, assuming Conrail’s freight operations over 55 miles of Amtrak’s Springfield Line between Springfield, Mass., and North Haven, Conn., as well as branches the new railroad purchased from Conrail. Four years later, RailTex was purchased by RailAmerica, which in turn was acquired by Genesee & Wyoming in 2012. G&W now includes Connecticut Southern in its worldwide portfolio of 122 railroads.

Train Watching location icon: compass LOCATION: CSOR is based in a two-track locomotive shop and office building in the railroad’s Hartford Yard.

Map of Connecticut Southern Railroad

 TYPICAL DAY:  Much of CSOR’s freight action on Amtrak runs at night because of heavy daytime Amtrak and CTrail passenger frequencies. Connecticut Southern serves as the link between CSX’s former Conrail Berkshire Subdivision (the onetime Boston & Albany) and CSX’s isolated operations in the New Haven area.

Five nights a week, train CSO-1 makes a West Springfield-Cedar Hill Yard (North Haven) round trip over Amtrak, ferrying all CSX traffic between the two terminals, using CSX trackage to access each yard. A reliable daytime road freight is Monday-Friday CSO-4, which runs north from Hartford Yard in mid-morning to West Springfield, returning south in the early afternoon. Both road freights must back in and out of CSX’s West Springfield Yard, because of the configuration of the Amtrak/CSX connection in Springfield. Weekday local CSO-3 handles Hartford switching and crosses the Connecticut River to serve customers in East Hartford and South Windsor, as well as interchanging with short line Central New England at Sullivan Avenue in the latter town.

Two Hartford-based night trains are CSO-2, which serves customers on Amtrak between Hartford and North Haven, and CSO-5, which handles freight at Enfield as well as the branch to Bradley International Airport. CSOR has a brisk business hauling construction and demolition debris out of a facility in the south end of Hartford near Brainard Airport. That service can be handled by any of the Hartford locals, making use of side-of-street running by the famous Colt Building blue dome along Van Dyke Avenue. Connecticut Southern trains periodically will make a run to Middletown, using Providence & Worcester’s line that follows the Connecticut River. More often, P&W crews deliver CSOR cars to a runaround track along I-91 in Hartford.

Freight train with three diesel locomotives crossing a bridge.
Providence & Worcester GE “Super 7” No. 2215 leads Connecticut Southern train CSO-4 across Amtrak’s Connecticut River bridge at Enfield, Conn. Scott A. Hartley

Train Watching icon best views: camera BEST VIEWS:  Favorite local photo sites include Amtrak’s 1867 Farmington River stone arch bridge just north of the Windsor passenger station and the Amtrak bridge over the Connecticut River at Enfield. The brick Windsor station, built in 1870, is restored and is occupied by the Windsor Art Center.

Red, white, and blue high-nose diesel locomotive pulling a train of covered hoppers.
Still wearing the colors of RailAmerica, Connecticut Southern high-nose GP38 No. 2038 switches on the railroad’s East Windsor Secondary at South Windsor, Conn. The ex- Southern unit cannot lead on Amtrak, so usually is found on branches. Scott A. Hartley

Train Watching icon why visit: question mark WHY VISIT:  Connecticut Southern provides a chance to see a Genesee & Wyoming short line operating branch and lengthy mainline trains with a wide variety of motive power wearing several paint schemes. Although Genesee & Wyoming regularly swaps power among its properties, freight trains operating on Amtrak are required to be led by locomotives equipped with the passenger carrier’s cab signal and ACSES positive train control systems. Units from G&W sister railroad Providence & Worcester are frequent visitors to CSOR as they are Amtrak-compliant.

Train Watching icon don't miss: exclamation point DON’T MISS:  Amtrak’s Springfield Line hosts the railroad’s own passenger trains, including the Vermonter, as well as CTrail commuter trains powered by P40s and GP40-3Hs, combining to make total of 26 weekday passenger trains north of Hartford, with eight more on the south end. A weekly Berkshire & Eastern (former Pan Am Southern) freight between Springfield and Berlin usually runs at night. Part of the 2022 sale of Pan Am Railways to CSX resulted in this new Genesee & Wyoming railroad taking over PAS, and changes are already occurring. These trains are led by B&E’s former Pan Am GE B40-8s, which have had PAR markings painted out. Amtrak dispatchers capably keep all these trains moving on a route that still has two lengthy sections of single track.

Train Watching icon nearby: map pin NEARBY:   Connecticut has numerous railroad and trolley museums, several offering train operations. The Amtrak line passes the Basketball Hall of Fame at Springfield, the sport’s birthplace. Hartford offers the Mark Twain House and adjacent Harriet Beecher Stowe House. The Windsor Locks Canal Trail is a seasonal state park, running along the west bank of Connecticut River from Windsor Locks 4.5 miles north to Suffield, passing under Amtrak’s Connecticut River bridge along the way.

Grey diesel locomotive leads freight train past an old station building.
Ohio Central B39-8 No. 8530 leads Connecticut Southern train CS0-4 at Windsor Locks on Jan. 15, 2024. Ohio Central is one of 122 Genesee & Wyoming railroads, and locomotives are swapped between properties. No. 8530 is one of 100 B39-8s built by GE in 1987-1988 for its LMX leasing unit. Scott A. Hartley

Locomotives assigned to the Connecticut Southern Railroad
Railroad & No.Previous railroadModel
Connecticut Southern No. 2011Louisville & NashvilleGP38-2
Connecticut Southern No. 2038Southern RailwayGP38
New England Central No. 2048Gulf, Mobile & OhioGP38-2
Providence & Worcester No. 2215Western Pacific“Super 7” B23-S7
Connecticut Southern No. 3398Union PacificSD40-2
Connecticut Southern No. 3399Union PacificSD40-2
Connecticut Southern No. 3771Union PacificSD40-2
New England Central No. 3855Gulf, Mobile & OhioGP38
Connecticut Southern No. 3901LMXB39-8
Ohio Central No. 8530LMXB39-8
A red and yellow diesel locomotive and a orange and yellow unit pulling a freight train.
Connecticut Southern SD40-2 No. 3771 leads train CSO-4 on CSX’s Berkshire Subdivision through Union Station at Springfield, Mass. Connecticut Southern trains use this onetime Boston & Albany main line to access CSX’s West Springfield yard. Scott A. Hartley
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