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Thursday, May 12, 2016

16-05-12 PHOTOS: Donner Summit

Last two times I have traveled through Reno, NV I used Amtrak's California Zephyr. This time I was going via I-80's, which provided a slightly different perspective on the whole journey including the opportunity to stop off at the pass itself for a little sightseeing. Later I was able to spend a few minutes at the west end of the Sparks, NV yard catching some UP action. I should also mention that before leaving the safe confines of sea level, I made a quick stop off in Sacramento to check out their light rail system.

You can review the entire set of photos here.

My swing by the Royal Oaks RT Station was actually motivated by the desire to get lunch from an authentic street-side taco stand on Arden Way. While they stood in line I crossed the street to snag a headway's worth of RT photos. First to arrive was a westbound two unit Blue Line train of CAF SRV-1's #208 and #238.

Next to arrive was an eastbound Blue Line train led by Siemens U2A #134. The U2A vehicles resemble the later SD100 LRVs, but are mechanically the same as the earlier U2's.

Driving up I-80 certainly provides a different perspective of the Southern Pacific's overland route.

The Donner Pass is where the Southern Pacific's "Overland Route" crosses the Sierra-Nevada mountains at an elevation of 7135 feet. Here we see the western portal of Tunnel #6 on the original Donner Pass alignment that was abandoned by Union Pacific in 1996 after their SP merger in favor of the Track 2 alignment through the mile long Tunnel 41 located to the south. Note the remaining snowpack from the somewhat average winter snows. The previous winter of 2014-15 actually left the Sierra-Nevada mountains with zero snowpack. 

This alignment was actually part of the original Central Pacific transcontinental line starting from San Francisco and eventually meeting the Union Pacific in Promontory, UT. Unlike the generally flat UP route across the plains, this impressive feet of mountain railroad had to be cut and blasted by the hands of Chinese immigrants. 

Because this is California the walls of a highway abutment had been covered in street art.

Beware falling rocks!

In this video I walk across the Sierra-Nevada drainage divide. Water to the east is flowing into the Great Basin via Tunnel 6, while water to the west is flowing into the Pacific Ocean.

East of Tunnel 6 are Tunnels 7 and 8. Each were protected by snow sheds due to the extreme snowfall the pass typically sees (or typically saw, thanks to climate change). About once a decade snow on the pass can reach such an extreme that Union Pacific's fleet of rotary snow plows have to be called out to deal with it.

Before I-80, US 40 traversed the summit on a somewhat more austere alignment including this concrete arch bridge.

East of Tunnel 8 the snowshed continues on until the alignment disappears from sight. It is not surprising that UP would want to rid themselves of the maintenance headache, but since the Donner Pass route was single tracked congestion had remained a problem.

View of the historic Donner Lake from the Donner Pass viewing area off Old US 40.

Before Donald Trump the Chinese were the go to people for building walls. The upper and lower retaining walls pictured here were assembled by hand and continue to stand strong nearly 150 years later.

Heading down the east slope I caught a train descending the grade past Truckee. In the middle were a pair of DPU helpers, AC4400 #5277 and ES44AC #8144.

At Sparks interlocking I caught UP road SD70M #4657 flat switching the yard.

Shortly thereafter an eastbound manifest BNSF train with ES44C4 #6611 leading rolled through.

Partway through the consist were four Amtrak Material Handling Cars! These had been previously banned from head end service after a couple of derailments, but as you can see that was likely a pretext to stop Amtra from competing in the express freight market.

A little while later, a pair of SD70M's,#5116 and #5099 showed up to do more flat switching.

Here's a little video montage of the Sparks Yard action.

Well that's it for today. Next time we'll get nautical with a visit to the NS Savannah.

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