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Monday, June 20, 2011

11-06-20 PHOTOS: Capitol Finish

Well what took a little under a week to complete in real life has taken well over 2 months to hash out in post production with over 2000 photos that made the cut and a few hundred more than didn't, not including all the BS city pics my second unit director took in Seattle and Chicago. Well we have finally reached the final leg in my trip that involved a relativity routine run on Amtrak's Train #30 Capitol Limited. Again, due to a missed connection with the Empire Builder we were traveling a day later than anticipated, but thanks to some creative booking we managed to retain our sleeper.

I was hoping above hope that I would be able to get one final photo survey of the B&O CPL signals on the Magnolia Cutoff which had been under threat of resignaling since the previous November, however as you will see I missed the cutover by about a week or two :-( However I was able to get some good pics of the Chicago Line between Porter and South Bend, a stretch I normally can't photograph due to breakfast and catastrophic backlighting on the westbound Train 29. I was also able to have the braised short ribs for dinner, a dish that sold out even before the Salmon on the Empire Builder and when I got it I could see why.

Anyway, you can tune in for this last set of photos here and for all of those that have kept up with this epic journey I thank you for your attention.

We begin while I was still enjoying my short ribs with this short of a couple of CN SD38's working the hump yard at Kirk Yard just east of the Indiana Harbor Steel Mill.

I had chosen to eat dinner early in order to get pictures of the remaining Michigan Central style small target searchlight signals between CP-497 and CP-483. Here is one such set at the MP 495 automatics with a TOFC train in the background.

Oh dear, it looks like our passenger train had caused another freight backup :-( Another COFC at the 493 automatic.

The westbound searchlight signals at CP-491 have been fitted with large backings due to the effects of sun glare.

NS SD60 with a short train at about MP 490.

Here is one of the several places where the Chicago South Shore and South Bend runs parallel with the Chicago Line.

Here we see the brand new CP-485 that NS constructed to replace a hand operated switch into the east end of Burns Harbour Yard.

CP-482, aka Porter, is where the Amtrak Michigan Line, CSX Pere Marquette route and the former Conrail Porter Branch all join. Previously this was a diamond crossing with the NY Central Lake Shore and Michigan Southern line with the NY Central subsidiary Michigan Central main line, but the MC was eventually routed into Chicago along the LS&MS resulting in both sides of the diamond being retained, but the diamond itself being removed. In this pic the former C&O line is foreground right, the MI Line in the far right and the Porter Branch off to the left.

Here we see a pair of CP and FURX SD40s heading west at CP-466.

This looks familliar. BNSF SD70MAC #8559 sitting on the siding just west of LaPorte.

The currently disused, but well preserved station in LaPorte.

The diamond crossing in LaPorte with a CSS&SB freight branch.

There's not a lot to see out the window in Indiana, unless you like wheat and soy.

Sun setting over the CSS&SB.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

11-06-19 PHOTOS: Chicago Holdover

One advantage of traveling Amtrak and connecting through Chicago is that if your first LD train is 6 hours late they'll put you up in a hotel to catch the next day's train. Now of course often sleeping accommodations aren't guaranteed, but if you have spare AGR points and make a fully refundable backup reservation for the next day and then manage to find the one customer service person that can swap your missed cash paid reservation for the AGR reservation, you can keep traveling in style for the entire route ;-)

With accommodations and out of the way one is free to spend their extra day exploring Chicago's wonderful railfan scene (and I guess its world class architecture and cultural attractions). First and foremost amoung these is the world famous Roosevelt Ave Overpass which provides an unfettered view of Chicago Union Station's support yards and approach tracks. Even on a weekend one doesn't have to wait long for an Amtrak or Metra train to trundle by, not to mention the show of whatever happens to be sitting in the yard at the time.

Along the same walking route is the Metra LaSalle Street Station, which was the former New York Central and Rock Island terminal. However today it is a shadow of its former self housing just a handful of Rock Island District trains, which drop to a mere trickle on the weekend, leaving just an empty expanse of tracks and canopies.

You can see all the photos from these two locations by clicking here.

After waking up after a short night at the Airport Hilton we caught a Blue Line train back into the loop where I was sure to take a seat in 2200-series car #2304. Shooting through two windows in a dim, overcast morning resulted in mostly disappointing photos, but I did get this shot of fellow 2200 series car #2286.

To reach Union Station from the Blue Line one gets off at Clinton then walks the remainder of the distance. Here we see a 2200 series equipped train departing back outbound while an all 2600 series train continues inbound.

After dropping off our bags my friend and I headed into the surviving portion of the historic part of Union Station, which, which pretty, is rather poorly integrated with the nearby functional parts of the station.

Outside view along the interior of the colonnade. 

Getting to the Roosevelt Ave overpass from Union Station is a breeze. You simply walks down Canal St past the old US Customs House and then turn left past the Southgate Market. Even better is that in recent years that mall has added a parking structure that allows for photographing the heart of the terminal approach interlocking between the demolished Taylor Street overpass and the current Roosevelt Ave overpass. Using this new vantage point here is a side-on view of the southbound signal gantry for what is now known as CP-ROOSEVELT.

The approach interlocking to Union Station consists of 6 main tracks and 4 concurrent ladder tracks, G and H facing and V and W trailing. All the core connections involve double slip switches such as this stack where the 4 ladders cross the 4 inner tracks. Also note the plethora of pneumatic point machines :-)

Gallery Cab Car #8589 on point leading a commuter train inbound to Union Station.

With MP36PH-3S #404 pushing from behind.

Amtrak P42DC #22 running lite between CUS and the Lumber St engine facility.

Here we see the Roosevelt Ave overpass with a few tarped gallery cars on a storage track in front of it. I assume they were involved in some sort of accident or fire and are awaiting the insurance settlement. 

View of the V-Ladder showing off the non-interlocked approach tracks to the METRA storage yard on the western side of the facility.

Good view of CUS operations looking through CP-ROOSEVELT. On the left we see the same METRA train we caught headed inbound now running dead to the yard. On the right we see the lite Amtrak #22 running into the covered part of the station. With te Amtrak yards to the east and the METRA yards to the west, non-revenue moves will stick to their respective sides to keep the main track clear. Likewise METRA trains tend to dock at the west part of the station and Amtrak trains the east.

Also poking about that day on switching duties was the legitimately Phase IV pointed Amtrak P32-8WH. The P38 fleet often finds itself doing switcher work due to it being equipped with crew steps and grab irons fore and aft.

METRA #404 also passed close by returning to the yard.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

11-06-18 PHOTOS: Minnesota

After a day in Washington state, then a night in Idaho, then a day in Montana, then a night in North Dakota it is time for the final day of travel on the eastbound Empire Builder as we travel from Fargo, ND to Chicago, although this set of photos will basically cover the BNSF Staples Sub (page 69 here) between Fargo and Minneapolis-St. Paul as a extra coach for local traffic was attached at Midway Station ad due to the weeks of cancellations was kept closed for the rest of the trip due to lack of demand.

While this part of the trip doesn't have any epic mountains or extreme flooding, it did offer up a lot of BNSF freight action, even if the weather went from nice and sunny to absolute downpour over the course of the day. If you are interested in the Northstar Commuter Rail line that will also be covered in the approach to the Twin Cities.

You can see the complete set by clicking this link here.

We begin leaving the large BNSF yard in Fargo, ND at WATTS Interlocking. Either due to our presence or congestion in the yard there was a huge backup of freight traffic waiting out on the main. First up was an empty coal train on its way back to the Powder River basin with SD70MAC #8838 among others.

After him was a mixed freight with BN SD70MAC #8596 and BNSF GP39M #2877 lined up with an Approach Medium for a diverging move at EAST DILLWORTH.

Behind him was another train with C44-9W #65X and BN SD70MAC #9471.

 And behind him was a unit ethanol train with another BN SC70MAC #9438.

Along this part of the line there were a number of surviving wooden overpasses.

At the MP 216 automatics I spotted a hi-rail big rig with an MoW train.

After the Richards Spur we entered the first of two long sections of single direction ABS territory just before the diamond crossing at Detroit Lakes.

Unfortunately this section of ABS had been resignaled in anticipation of a future CTC conversion. Here we see the Mp 203 automatics and if you look carefully you can see the crossing of the Square Butte HVDC line in the background.

Almost a 4-of-a-kind as we encounter BNSF SD70MAC #9919 pushing on the rear of an empty unit coal train.

Friday, June 17, 2011

11-06-17 PHOTOS: Montana Flood Plains

Here is part 4 of my 2011 Empire Builder transcontinental Amtrak trip. The Winter of 2011 saw an unprecedented amount of snow fall upon the mountain west which resulted in the June flooding that nearly cancelled my train. Well one upside to all this water was that the normally parched and brown Montana grasslands were actually green in late June, which I was informed makes things look a lot nicer. Also there was a good deal of standing floodwaters around the right of way which further served to spice up the scene.

Nevertheless I was still forced to alter the break point between these and the Glacier park pictures in order to shift some "interesting" content over into this second set which documents the BNSF Milk River and Glasgow subdivisions (pages 51 and 22 in the employee timetable). Therefore the photos will start at the station stop at Shelby, MT, which occurred right after lunch on that day, then skip ahead to Havre, MT where I decided to head back to the rear of the train as the rainy conditions were letting up. After that there is another break for the wine tasting event before I went back to the back all the way to the North Dakota border. After passing Wolf Point the freight traffic density increased dramatically to the point where we lost about another half an hour waiting in sidings for multiple freight trains to pass us. This wasn't a case of lazy dispatching as every siding we passed had freights pulled over and the dispatcher simply ran out of options.

Anyway you can browse this set of photos by clicking this link here or if you are interested in the full set of photos all across Montana view this gallery here.

We begin this portion of the trip at Shelby, Montana where due to congestion on #1 Main Track our train had to pull around on #2MT to SHELBY EAST and then back into the station platform. Here we see a pretty brisk business of locals entraining and detraining.

Shelby was a crew change point and here we see the engineers handing off to each other with the Clear signal displayed on SHELBY EAST home signal in the background. 

East of Shelby is what appeared to be a new section of 2MT, which turned out to be fortunate as it allowed us to pass a major traffic jam of freight trains stacked nose to tail waiting for our passage. Here we see BNSF C44-9W #5449 with some CN units behind waiting for the jam to clear. 

Behind that was a coal train with another BNSF C44-9W #4751 in the lead. 

After crossing over back to #2 track we were set to wrong rail again at the Inverness crossover taking a Diverging Approach Medium to avoid what appeared to be a double stack intermodal.

After lunch I returned to the rear of the train in time to catch CN SD75 # 5672 and C44-9W #2645 at Burham with BNSF SD70MAC #9412 bringing up the rear.

At Pacific Junction, just west of Havre, the former GN Branch to Helena, MT splits from the Hi-Line. This also marks the division point between the Hi-Line and Milk River subdivisions and the mileposts change from the 900's to the 400s (not sure why that is). The former Helena line has been cut part way through with the northern portion now referred to as the Big Sandy Sub. Pacific Junction marks the first appearance of searchlight signals on my trip and also is the western end of some classic signaling.

Classic signaling also implies those pole lines I love so much.

Entering the station in Havre, MT we passed a freight train pulling into the yard, which contained BN SW1000 switcher #3625 far back in the consist

Havre is a major railroad town on the Hi-Line sporting both a freight yard and large locomotive servicing facility. For the Empire Builder it is a servicing stop where the cars are topped off with fresh water and additional supplies loaded onto the dining car. Here we see the passengers milling about on the platform during the extended stop which also gives people a chance to smoke. 

On display at the station is Great Northern S-2 Class 4-8-4 steam locomotive #2584. 

The station building also provided office space for local BNSF operations. 

The stop at Havre also gave me the first good look at the power on my train that day. Amtrak P42DC #136 was on point with #4 behind

11-06-17 PHOTOS: Glacier Park

Of course on the Empire Builder going over the Cascade Range is just the warmup act for the real show which involves crossing the continental divide while skirting the southern edge of Glacier National Park. The eastbound Empire Builder travels in darkness between Wenatchee, WA, combining with the Portland section at Spokane around midnight, and then continues across Idaho reaching western Montana at dawn. Now while

I woke up just in time to catch our train exiting the 7 mile long Flathead Tunnel I was horrified to discover that a private done car had been hitching a ride behind the Portland section which now threatened to almost completely block the view out of the back of the train. Nevertheless it was time to eat breakfast and photos out the back or otherwise would have to wait. Therefore we begin our journey today at WHitefish, MT which was a resort town made popular by the Great Northern Railway as a means to draw passenger traffic to its far northern transcontinental route. Whitefish is also the site of a fairly large rail yard and marks the western end of what is today the BNSF Hi-Line Subdivision (page 34 here). Unlike the Hi Lines back east, the GN Hi-Line isn't elevated, but is instead the "highest" east-west main line in the continental United states, located only about 30 miles from the Canadian border.

I highly encourage everyone to view the full set of pictures from this set here because there are a lot of great pics that I simply could not fit in this little web tour.

We begin at Whitefish yard where I am greeted by a pair of BN GP39M rebuilds. In the 1980's the BN and ATSF both sent a large number of their early second generation EMD diesel power through a rebuild program that upgraded the original 567 engines with 645 power assemblies resulting in a uniform 2300hp output. The M in GP39M stands for Morrison-Knudsen, which later became Motive-Power Industries based in Boise. Anyway here we see BN #2825, a former GP30 and 2892, a former GP35. These are some of the last active GP30's and 35's in powered non-heritage service.

Whitefish is still the hub of the Glacier Park area tourist scene with all manner resorts and other attractions despite there being two other stations which are technically closer to the Park's boundaries. Here we see the crowds milling about the train while it makes an extended smoking stop as well as the ornate Great Northern station. Incidentally, the first Train 7 that was heading eastbound since the first round of flooding closed the route had just made its stop here about 30 minutes previously running about 12 hours late. Of course it has the Phase II heritage unit on point so I'm sure the passengers were appeased. 

Whitefish can sort of be considered the Altoona of the Great Northern, acting as the spiritual home of the former railroad and its traditions. This is best represented by the bronze statue of the Great Northern mountain goat, although the name is a bit misleading as the species is neither a mountain nor a goat. That odd looking contraption in the background is a preserved example of the fleet of GN built buses that shuttles passengers to and from their final resort destinations. 

Also on display at Whitefish is a rare EMD NW3 road switcher concept. The class was basically an NW2 switcher with Blomburg B trucks and a steam heat generator for passenger service under an extended hood. Only 7 were built for the Great Northern, but despite the small fleet size one remains in service today as an industrial switcher in Morrisville, PA.

The done car marring the back of our train was the Bella Vista owned by Rail Ventures. Rail ventures is a charter outfit that rents private cars to groups and includes overnight accommodations and food service. Interestingly enough almost an entire sleeping car was taken up by another tour group taking an around the country Amtrak trip lead by some militant English governess type.

Now just when I thought my one shot at getting some amazing pics of the GN route and Glacier park had been dashed, our train stopped just a few hundred feet outside the Whitefish station and proceeded to set out the Bella Vista onto the Whitefish station track. Apparently the charter was to visit Glacier Park, not see the vast expanse of plain and Big Sky east of it. Well, I sure wasn't going to complain. However I will complain about the 20-30 minutes the setout procedure added to the trip. After a full smoke stop at Whitefish station proper the crew might have at least prepared the Bella Vista for separation by disconnecting the HEP and other ancillary fittings. Amtrak needs to be careful about letting their private car business impact their actual passenger carrying business. Here we see two of the crew restoring the hand through switch to the station track. Not the length of the backup move that needed to be made.

 As we got back under way we passed a trio of C44-9W's, BNSF #'s 4985 and 4595 along with ATSF #683, waiting at the head of a train in Whitefish Yard.

The Hi-Line sub officially starts at EAST WHITEFISH interlocking and it wasn't long before we passed a westbound TOFC train on the long section of 2 Main Tracks that began at Whitefish.

The highball didn't last very long as we were held for a few minutes where the two main tracks shrunk back to one at CONKELLY interlocking for another westbound train to pass. This train was lead by 4 units, including another Warbonnet and SD70MAC #9486.

This section of single track was brought to us by a section of high rock cliffs and a viaduct over the Flathead River.

The next station stop as at Belton, although I think Amtrak calls it Glacier Park. Like I said there are several stations closer to the park, but Whitefish gets most of the tourist traffic. Also note the station improvements probably funded through the recent stimulus.

Someone has a sense of humor as east of Belton we found a short local freight train with a BN caboose and twin SD40-2s #1690 and #1961 waiting for us to pass at the west end of the Belton siding.

This single track section is brought to us by a series of tunnels in the deep Java creek valley.

The two main track start up again at NYACK where we find a pair of light C44-9W's including BNSF #4736.

Just past RED EAGLE we pass a fully loaded coal train heading west with a pair of helpers on the end including another C44-9W (notice a pattern here), #5011.

Well we're back in the single track at PAYOLA, but this section wasn't always single track like the other two, but was instead converted due to a tunnel clearance project. Here we pick up our first hint of re-signaling where some classic GN masts face replacement by a new Darth Vadar mast which will also change the use of *Y* Approach Medium to Y/Y Approach Medium. I believe this is in anticipation of some sort of two main track extension at PINNACLE.

Waiting for us to clear up at PINNACLE was another loaded coal train with no fewer than THREE Warbonnet C44-9W's including #635 and 700 seen here.