Derailments and wrecks have always been a messy problem for railroads. As trains became heavier and faster, accidents became more difficult to clean up. A blocked railroad makes no money for its owner, so clearing the line as quickly as possible is very important. Technological improvements came over the years as steam power gave way to diesel, and specialized trains gave way to rubber-tired cranes and hi-rail trucks. Many larger railroads have found it to be more cost-effective to retire their own wreck response trains and use contractors to deal with derailments, but New England’s Pan Am Railways continues to use not one, but two wreck trains on a regular basis. In fact, these two trains might be the last dedicated wreck trains in regular operation on a major American railroad today.
Pan Am Railways traces its roots back to June 1981 when financier Timothy Mellon acquired Maine Central (and its subsidiary Portland Terminal), forming the basis of Guilford Transportation Industries. Boston & Maine was acquired two years later, joining two systems that had shared common management for generations. Delaware & Hudson was the final piece of the puzzle, added in 1984, forming a transportation system that stretched from Montreal to Philadelphia, and from Mattawamkeag, Maine, to Buffalo, N.Y. Labor disputes led Guilford to cast off D&H in 1988, selling it to Canadian Pacific in 1991. In March 2006, Guilford Rail System was rebranded as Pan Am Railways (PAR).
The Waterville-based wreck train is at Livermore Falls, Maine, on January 19, 2021. In late 2020, the train was dispatched to Dixfield to clean up a wreck on the Rumford Branch but it didn’t go home until the following month. Justin Franz photo
Currently, Pan Am maintains two wreck response trains; one is based in Waterville, Maine, and the other in East Deerfield, Mass.
The two wreck sets that Pan Am maintains are a rolling railroad museum. The set based at the old Maine Central (MEC) shops in Waterville is anchored by 200-ton Brownhoist crane 3365, which was originally Boston & Maine M3365, built as a steam crane in 1929 and converted to diesel in 1956. The crane is paired with former B&M idler car 524, which carries blocking for the crane and was rebuilt by B&M from a 33500-series 42-foot flatcar. This car also includes storage for blocking, extra truck assemblies, and a spreader bar for the crane.
The next car in this set is former MEC 60-foot boxcar 546. The car was earlier rebuilt by MEC for wreck service and contains rigging as well as tools. Following is former B&M heavyweight sleeper 309, originally built as Pullman parlor car 1163. Boston & Maine rebuilt it into a baggage car in 1950 as 3294 and renumbered it in 1954 to 3309. It was retired from revenue service in 1959, reassigned to work train service, and renumbered to 309. This car currently is used as storage for tools as well as rigging, and contains a workshop area to repair equipment…