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.
Like all good ABS lines this one had its share of hand operated trailing point crossovers like this one at Perham.
After getting back on the CTC at WADENA the weather turned cloudy and rainy as we approached Staples, MN with a pair of SD70MACs including BNSF #8961 waiting in the yard there.
In addition to being the namesake of the Subdivision Staples also hosts an Amtrak station with a brick platform and former GN building.
The interlocking at Staples also provided our first taste of searchlight signals for the day.
South of Staples the line went to a single track format with passing sidings. Here we see a line of MoW vehicles at Randall, just north of the east end of the siding.
Waiting on the Darling siding was BNSF C44-9W #4494 along with Warbonet ATSF unit #754.
On the Little Falls siding was BN GP39-2 #2710 running lite along with another BNSF Geep.
BN Caboose #12501 in the Little Falls yard.
Along with an MoW party at the Little Falls station.
Just east of the former GN station building was a new searchlight equipped cantilever mast.
And our first crossing of the Mississippi River at MP105.41. It's not so impressive as it will be later on.
At Big Lake we enter the section of the route that was recently rebuilt for the Northstar Commuter Rail service. Here we see the Big Lake station with waiting trainset.
The new maintenance facility is also located at Big Lake.
C44-10W #7528 and friends on the second main track waiting for us to clear the single track section.
Probably to avoid various delay in block requirements most of the commuter stations are sandwiched by absolute controlled points like here at Elk River.
Here we see the Northstar Anoka station.
Coon Rapids station with fancy pants ADA overpass.
Just past the Northstar Fridley Station we enter the western limits of the large BNSF Northtown classification yard at Interstate interlocking. When I passed there was a pair of C44-9W's waiting on one of the yard leads with BNSF 4022 and ATSF Warbonnet #697.
All those green signals westbound on track #1 were for this freight train pulling out of the yard at INTERSTATE with, you guessed it, more C44-9W's including #4858 and 1096.
Northtown yard ladder track with SD40-2 #1716.
A little classic GN signaling lives on in the form of the 4-track signal gantry at UNIVERSITY. The westbound gantry has had been replaced of course.
University interlocking marks the south end of Northtown yard and the junction between the St Paul and Wayzata Subs.
Cutting in between the twin cities we find the maintenance base and storage facility for Northstar Rail, the excursion service that operates those Hiawatha dome and observation cars as well as Milwaukee Road 261.
Just as we pulled into Amtrak's Midway Station iit began to downpour so I had to run for some sort of shelter to be able to take pictures of the MILW excursion equipment that was parked there. Our train was about 6 hours late at this point, but this was a major stop with lots of local traffic bound for Chicago. In addition to getting supplies on-loaded for the final segment the Minnesota Commercial Railroad delivered a single Superliner coach for local traffic to Chicago.
Of course the Hiawatha greenhouse observation car was a real crowd favorite.
At the other end of the platform I could finally get a good shot of our equipment, P42DC #136 and #4.
Due to the closed coach sitting on the back I was sort of out of action survey wise, but I could still take a few pictures from the side window such as lock and dam #5 on the Mississippi River...now much much wider than it was when we had crossed it earlier up in Little Falls (we crossed back over south of the twin cities on te MILW branded lift bridge)
We crossed the great river for the third time at LaCrosse, WI.
LaCrosse station as seen from the dining car enjoying a third bonus dinner due to the lateness of our train.
I wasn't missing much as the former MILW line, later sold to the SOO and finally to Canadian Pacific, had implemented the absolutely worse non-Metro North style signaling setup in the country with single 4-stack heads using multiple lit lamps for "complex" aspect types such as this Diverging Clear seen here.
Making another single ended pull-in move at New Lisbon we were passed for the FOURTH time by a westbound Empire Builder. There would be perhaps only 1 or 2 more EBs before service was suspended once again due to flooding in Minot, ND. This train 7 is being led by P42 #141.
Railfan at the Columbus, WI station stop enjoying both Builders while he can.
As the sun set on Wisconsin I encountered some small town entertainment.
Final shot of the way taken after the sun at set at the Amtrak Milwaukee station. There was a trainset of private cars owned by CWMW (whomever they are).
Well technically that's it for the Empire Builder, but stay tuned for two bonus segments that cover my layover in Chicago and the following day's trip back east via Amtrak's Capitol Limited.