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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

14-06-18a PHOTOS: Donner Pass Take 2

Well it's not often one gets a second bite at the apple. Back when I originally took the California Zephyr I was not fully aware of the color balance issues that both my new Cannon IS30 and my friend's Cannon DSLR presented. Our 2011 trip was largely cloudy where the problems are not as evident and I had only purchased my new camera about 6 months before. The resulting set of photos was heavily blue shifted and worse, in a misguided effort to compensate for bright sunlight I turned down the brightness a little which made many of the shots look as if I were trying to shoot day for night. I fixed the problems as much as I could in post, but I figured I was just going to have to let it go as a learning experience.

Well thanks to my 2014 trip I got a chance to set right what once went wrong and thanks to the trick of using the "flash" white balance setting I was able to show the California landscape for the parched, brown hellhole it is. This set of photos runs from Milepost 113 on the UP Roseville Sub all the way until just before Reno. It is a testament to the clockwork nature of the dining car that I managed to get back to my post at the rear of the train just on mile before where I managed to do so in 2012. You can find the full set of the take 2 photos right here.

Between Roseville and Colfax the route operates as a split main line as the original alighment was improved upon to eliminate curves and grades, but not entirely replaced. That is why many of the initial photos will show just a single track. Here we are on track two with everything all dead and lifeless from the California drought, but adjacent to the track is a small aqueduct brining water down to a farm or residential community. Can someone say "unsustainable"?

Emerging from the short two-track tunnel at Newcastle.

One of the many times this line will cross over or under Interstate 80 just west of Auburn, CA, which has a station for a single Capitol Corridor round trip.

Crossing over to track #1 at BOWMAN means I get to take pictures on a whole new track segment thanks to the split main configuration. Here the main tracks cross over each other and I got to take a picture from an alternate point of view with some local kids to add some flavor.

While a crossover is provided for Amtrak trains eastbound on track #1 to platform on track #2 at Colfax, a Union Pacific Autorack train was in the way with ES44AC #5284 on point. 

This forced our train to platform using the grade crossing and then run against the current of traffic on the 30 mile section of single direction ABS track between Colfax and SWITCH 9. Just one of several small delays that set out train back about 45 minutes en-route to Reno.

Unfortunately UP is in the process of ripping out the aforementioned classic ABS signaling with the western end of the section having the new masts already up and cut in for ABS operation.

Crossing I80 on a different viaduct I was afforded a good view of the older Track #2 bridge.

Track #1 hits back to back tunnels as it proceeds east from I80. Track #2 was given a new daylight alignment as part of a clearance project.

Pretty S-curve as we climb higher into the Sierra Nevadas. 

View along the American River gouge. 

 Running reverse means getting to see the approach lit searchlight ABS signals all lit up. All the running on track #1 made this second trip almost like running on a different route.

the track off to the right is a baloon track to turn helpers on westbound trains running that have just helped . Helpers cut off on the fly then run around on the loop track before crossing over via the hand throw switch that is provided.

Disused snow shed at Milepost 172.

New signal bridges are equipped to allow a second track to eliminate the single track bottleneck between SWITCH 9 and SHED 10. Downside is that UP is replacing three searchlight signal bridges with two modern ones, reducing capacity.

View of the western approach to the Donner Pass. One wonders why the settlers who got stuck and resorted to cannibalism didn't just spend the money and take the train. It's the stingy man that pays the most.

Classic searchlight signal bridge for westbound movements at SHED 10.

All the interlockings on this part of the line are covered either by snow sheds or highway overpasses. This kept the point mechanisms free from the feet and feet of snow that used to blanket the Donner Pass before the climate changed.

Here at WEST NORDEN the line used to split with one main track continuing on to the original 1860's alignment over the summit and the other continuing on to Tunnel 41, AKA the "Big Hole", which is 10,325 feet long and opened with the completion of the second main track in 1925. In the mid-1990's track #1 over the original alignment was ripped out due to decreasing traffic and increasing train efficiency. You can see how the two routes compare here.

I don't know what a train with a solid set of BNSF power is doing out on the Donner pass, but one was there waiting for us to pass through the single track Tunnel 41 with C44-10W #7800 on point.

Tunnel 41 with a new intermediate signal that replaced the one that previously stood just inside westbound portal. The old alignment wrapped around just above where the Tunnel 41 portal emerges.

SHED 47 interlocking and show shed with new signals.

The blue water of Donner Lake.

Two single tunnels, side by side. One is marked as 1868, the other 1924.

The old searchlight signals on the Donner Pass horseshoe curve turned and out of service.

They were replaced by a smaller number of new signals.

One reason the PRR's horseshoe curve gets so much press is that it offers clear and unobstructed views across it. This is the best I could get on the Donner curve.

Southern Pacific cabin car #1268 at the Truckee Amtrak station.

Dedicated snow clearance trainsets sit idle at the Truckee MoW yard. There were two sets, each with a Jordan spreader on the end and a pair of GP38-2's in the middle. #572 is another of the supposedly 7 "Snow Service" units, equipped with ice breakers and the rotating snow wipers (you can make out #605 in the background). On this trip I managed to photograph at least 5 of the 7 listed on several online rosters (572, 580, 585, 600, 602, and 604-05), but I also got 569, which is not listed so I don't know how many there actually are.

On the west down the east flow we followed the Truckee river down into the Great Basin. Here again you can see the different ages of the two main tracks.

This section of the Roseville Sub is also run under single direction ABS, but for whatever reason the tracks are arranged left handed which result in these rather interesting signal gantries. As with the rest of the line this segment is also being re-signaled.

Heading into more split main line territory.

Back when long hoods and steam trains ruled the roost, signal masts still had to be placed to the right of the track they governed, even if the tracks were running left handed.

Small dam on the Truckee River. The structure in the background is a wooden box flume for a hydroelectric project.

Another pair of bridges. The truss on the left dates from the first decade of the 20th century.

Well this certainly didn't bode Train 6 just west of Reno was passed by the westbound Train 5 operating nearly EIGHT HOURS LATE due to bad weather and track work east of Denver. Of course when a tornado knocks down trees all over the line there isn't much one can do. At this point my train was still less than an hour late, but there is a reason I no longer try to make same-day cross country connections. Power on Train 5 was P42DC #197 and #89.

Another view of Train 5. While Train 6 runs with its sleepers on the rear, Train 5 appears to leave the coaches back there. Not sure why that is.

Tune in next time for my second trip across the Nevada desert.

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