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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

12-06-13a PHOTOS: Donner Pass

Well any semblance of a high speed corridor is out the window as the geography of the United States re-asserts itself and Amtrak Train #6, the California Zephyr, begins its climb up and over the famous Donner Pass. While most people know this route for the ill-fated settler party that it is named after, in the 150 years that followed the pass became a major transportation corridor hosting both Interstate 80 and the first transcontinental railroad route built by the Central Pacific and latter folded into the Southern Pacific.

Today the line is part of Union Pacific as their Roseville Subdivision (page 32 here) and for much of the western slope between Roseville and Colfax operates as two roughly parallel single track lines as the Southern Pacific decided to carve a brand new route instead of spend the money to widen the single track tunnels on the first route. My eastbound train was routed via the older tunneled line so that was a bit of a plus. Also two large portions of the line between Colfax and the Summit section and Truckee and Reno are both operated under single direction ABS rules instead of CTC rules which is also a plus if you like authenticity.

This photo set is a big one and it is bristling with scenery that I won't be able to display here. Also are a bunch of "B Unit" photos taken out the side window that I am waiting on a friend to finish processing and I'm probably going to have to post them separately. This set of photos is where the color correction problems really get bad as the bright daylight prompted me to try to dial down the brightness level of the photos and combined with the blue tinted white balance resulted in some pictures that looked like they were being shot day for night. Attempts to fix this using automatic means were not as successful as I would have liked and after this set I would start using more manual color adjustments to get rid of the blue tint. Anyway, you can see the complete set of around 500 photos here.

So let's begin shall we with what else but a tunnel. Running eastbound on Track #2 we exit a tunnel at milepost 117. In case you haven't noticed, because this line was started from San Francisco its mileposts get higher as you go eastbound instead of the more common trope of increasing as you go westbound. I'm sure the tunnels have some sort of designation or numbering system as was the style on western mountain roads, but only a few of them were marked so in mast cases I just left the labels generic.


The split main tracks come together for a short stretch in the town of New Castle, CA where there is room for a small trailing point crossover with a speed of 10mph. One side effect of western railroads' use of route signaling is a plethora of horribly slow turnout speeds because in the east they would require the use of inconvenient three headed signals.


 Just before the line splits again at MP 121 we have one of the route's few double track tunnels.


 The Amtrak Auburn station is located on track 2 of the split main line and is the current terminal for the Capitol Corridor service. A grand total of one round trip serves the station so don't miss your train as the Zephyr doesn't stop here either.


The lines re-join long enough for another interlocking at BOWMAN which marks the end of CTC on track #2 only. Signal on track #1 is displayed for a train that I would not be able to see.


At MP 133 we have a series of three tunnels in a row, and yes if you look closely you can see the portal of the third tunnel just visible through the second one. Technically the third "tunnel" is a flyover for track #1, which we already flew over once before before the photo set started prompting a bit of British style running.


The first stop after Roseville is Colfax, CA, which also contains a small MoW yard. This is the western end of single direction ABS operation which is evidenced by the hand throw crossover east of the station.


Here we see the Long Ravine bride over Interstate 80.


Soon after we pass our first cliffhanging track complete with a tall overhang style slide fence. Track #1 was over in a tunnel with track #2 being moved along the cliff edge as part of a clearance project.




In the western ABS section some of the signals had been upgraded with Southern Pacific style targets.


While others remained searchlights. Note the decidedly non-sheet metal relay hut.


One of the major passenger pleasing events of the run over the pass was the spectacular American River gorge which both tracks were able to hug.



Some UP MoW workers at Milepost 160. While this part of the line was still using ABS the pole line had been replaced which meant the classic searchlights were using coded track circuits and power was supplied either by utilities or in this case, solar power.


Keep in mind that my train is heading over a major mountain grade and here at TBS FULDA a balloon track was installed to allow helpers to get cut off on the fly and return light to their helper base. Here is the west end of the balloon with a fairly robust point heating system installed.


East end of the balloon track complete with a hand throw crossover. Not sure why these don't need a point heater.


SWITCH 9 interlocking is where the CTC starts for the run over the Sierra Nevada summit itself. The switch from two ABS tracks to one CTC track is located under the I-80 overpass. These so called Covered Interlockings are a bit of a trademark on the Donner Pass route as the pass itself sees an incredible amount of snow (remember the rotary plow at Roseville yard?) and instead of trying to get by with traditional point heating systems the Southern Pacific just put all of its interlockings under cover.


The tunnels on this part of the line were almost certainly cut by Chinese forced labourers in the 1860's.


View of the Donner Pass approach out the side window.


 Like any epic main line mountain crossing this one is also equipped with traditional signal bridges.


There are snow sheds on this line as well. As you would expect the SP made use of them to cover their interlockings. Here we see SHED 10, combination snow shed and interlocking.


Westbound home signal gantry to SHED 10.


 I80 heading through the Donner Pass.


Finally, after almost 100 miles I finally pass a train. Here UP SD70M's 5024 and 4006 at at the head of a welded rail train dropping rail.



So WEST NORDEN interlocking is interesting as it is where the original 1860 route over the pass summit splits from the "big hole" route that was added in 1925 when Tunnel 41 was bored through the Summit. In after the UP/SP merger the old summit route was abandoned with all traffic routed through the 2 mile long Tunnel 41. WEST NORDEN is also just about the location of the Sierra Nevada summit on the railroad as Tunnel 41 is on the downslope to Reno.

Anyway before the 1860's route over the pass was ripped out the Southern pacific built another massive covered interlocking complex at WEST NORDEN that contained a crossover and junction between the two summit routes. While the old route is gone, the bellmouths at the WEST NODRDEN complex still remain.


Railroad passing under an active number of Ski Lifts just before entering Tunnel 41.


 Eastern portal of Tunnel 41 showing the actual Mountain Summit complete with ski slopes. 


Donner Lake. Looks wonderful at this time of year. Shame that crossing the pass does not occur during a meal service on Amtrak because during the winter they could include some gag items on the menu.


SHED 47 interlocking restores the line to two tracks.


To drop the elevation required to get to Truckee, after heading through a tunnel, the line carries out a several mile lone horseshoe switchback. Here we see a two track searchlit signal gantry at MP 200 looking east toward the apex of the horseshoe curve.


After crossing the Sierra Nevada summit we finally arrive at the Truckee station. This is where the California-centric volunteer train host got off.


Southern Pacific caboose attacked to a slot train in the Truckee Yard.


Leaving Truckee the line reverts back to single direction ABS with an added bonus of using British style running so we are not actually wrong railing between there and Reno. Here we see a cool road bridge over the Truckee River.


I finally pass another freight train with another pair of SD70M's leading a string of empty intermodal flats on their way back to Oakland to pick up more cheap crap from China to load up that WalMart truck in the background on I80.


 The use of British style running allows for the use of this rather minimalist signal gantry that has both signals placed to the right of the track it governs, but wind up directly in back of each other like a single track CTC line.


Fly Fishermen in the Truckee River.


These main lines eventually split as well resulting in the use of searchlight masts. Note the slide fence.


This stretch of the Truckee River contained a pair of small hydroelectric projects that used diversion dams and long wooden box flumes to deliver the water to the turbines.


More traditional split signal gantry as we approach Reno.


Westbound train of autoracks with UP AC4400CW #6515 as we approach Reno.


The Reno ReTRACK project buried two miles of main line track through downtown Reno. The former at grade main line was notorious for snarling downtown traffic. Here we see the western half of the new trench.


Passengers de-training at RENO. With the stop at Sacramento cut a bit short, this was the first major smoke stop of the trip and nearly everyone got off the train to stretch. This was also a popular stop for the day trip crowd as Reno is at the upper limit of acceptable length of an Amtrak ride for most people.


Our lead engine P42 #165 hanging out at Reno.


Inside of the new Reno Station.


Departing the trench eastbound with a view of downtown Reno.


UP ES44AC #5271 sitting at the western end of Sparks Yard.


Here is the Sparks Yard Office which also used to include an Amtrak station. While only 5 minutes from Reno this was used as a stop for crew change purposes. Closed as a station in 2006 as crew changes were moved to the new Reno station and UP didn't like Amtrak passengers driving around its freight yard.


 Two more ES44AC's, #5286 and #5277, sitting just east of the Sparks yard office.


UP SD40N #1562 performing some flat switching duties in Sparks Yard.


At VISTA interlocking we leave the Roseville Sub and enter the Nevada sub. This isn't just some mark on a sheet of paper, but a huge shift in the nature of the railroad. West of here the line is essentially a two track main line familiar to anyone living between the Northeast and Chicago. East of here the Overland Route revolves into the Single Track with Passing Siding model that pervades rural North American railroads. For the next thousand miles between here and Denver its single track with pole lines and passing siding the whole way. 


That's it for now. Next week tune in for our trip across the Nevada Desert.

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