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Railfan Extra Board - August 2010

Former Maine Central GP7 573 arrives at North Conway, New Hampshire with the "Valley Train," while two FP9's cool their heels on the siding. While billing itself as a tourist operation, Conway Scenic Railroad operates many interesting pieces of vintage equipment along former Boston & Maine and Maine Central branchlines.

Former Maine Central GP7 573 arrives at North Conway, New Hampshire with the "Valley Train," while two FP9's cool their heels on the siding. While billing itself as a tourist operation, Conway Scenic Railroad operates many interesting pieces of vintage equipment along former Boston & Maine and Maine Central branchlines.

Changing of the guard in the White Mountains

By Otto M. Vondrak/Photos by the Author

Seeking units with dynamic braking to tackle the tough grades through Crawford Notch, Conway Scenic arranged to trade Pan Am Railways its two FP9's for slightly newer Geeps, seen here at North Conway, NH.
Seeking units with dynamic braking to tackle the tough grades through Crawford Notch, Conway Scenic arranged to trade Pan Am Railways its two FP9's for slightly newer Geeps, seen here at the North Conway roundhouse in May 2010.

The Conway Scenic Railroad is one of the veteran operations of the tourist railroad industry. Tracing its origins back to 1974, the new railroad set up camp at the end of Boston & Maine's North Conway Branch. A unique and ornate Victorian station served as headquarters, and shop crews found a home in the four-stall wooden roundhouse, equipped with an air-powered turntable. Located in the heart of the White Mountains region of New Hampshire, the railroad's steam excursions were a perfect fit for the quaint resort town catering to year-round vacationers. Steam was the mainstay of the line for many years, but the need for back-up power and engines to handle expanded operations led to a constantly evolving fleet of vintage diesels.

A former Portland Terminal Alco S-4 was the primary back-up for steam until former Maine Central GP7 573 arrived on the property in 1996. No ordinary Geep, this engine was preferred by MEC's president to haul its business train, and led the last excursion through Crawford Notch shortly before the line's closure in 1984. After serving its first season in Guilford gray, the unit was repainted into a more appropriate MEC passenger scheme with Conway Scenic lettering. The 573 became the regular power for the shorter "Valley Trains" to Conway and Bartlett, with the operation of steam reserved for specific dates and special events.

Railfan Extra Board

In 1995, the historic and scenic former Maine Central route through Crawford Notch was reopened for excursions. Two former Canadian National FP9's were acquired from VIA in 1995 to haul the longer "Notch Train" up to Fabyans. Decorated in a classy rendition of CN's 1950s passenger scheme, the "Sisters" 6505 and 6516 were the primary Notch Train power until the need for a unit equipped with dynamic brakes led to the acquisition of a former Louisville & Nashville U23-B in 2006. The U-boat suffered a broken crankshaft in 2007, and the Sisters resumed their Notch Train assignment through 2009.

In 2010, Conway Scenic negotiated a trade with Pan Am Railways (successor to Guilford and the B&M and MEC) that would swap the Sisters for two later-model EMD's equipped with dynamics. The 6505 left in May and former Norfolk & Western high-hood GP35 216 took its place. This was quickly followed by former MEC GP38 252, which had the distinction of leading the last freight through Crawford Notch in 1983. Once 252 was accepted, 6516 departed in July to become part of Pan Am's business train fleet. Both 216 and 252 arrived wearing a classy rendition of Maine Central's old "Harvest Gold" paint scheme, appropriate to units of this era.

In May 2010, the old PT Alco had been sold to Downeast Scenic Railroad, where it will enjoy a new life hauling tourists along the old MEC Calais Branch. While some fans bemoaned the loss of the vintage diesels, others were equally excited about the arrival of the two new Geeps. Operating a successful tourist train attraction can be quite a challenge these days. While we may be witnessing the changing of the guard in the White Mountains, fans everywhere can be assured that the trains will indeed keep rolling for years to come.

 
 

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