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Friday, June 17, 2016

16-06-17a PHOTOS: Plan Brazos

In late May and June, 2016, Texas was subjected to a record setting amount of rainfall that caused the Brazos river, just west of Houston, to rise to a level of 53'. While the flooding snarled rail traffic in the area for the typical reasons like downed trees and washouts, at the former Southern Pacific Glidden Sub bridge over the Brazos River, just east of the railroad town of Rosenburg, a far more serious defect developed about 10 days prior to my. The support pier between the easternmost truss and the approach trestle was undermined by water scour and dropped down about 4 feet, rendering the bridge impassible.

Now at first I was worried that the bridge's extended outage would result in a trip ruining bustitution. However, I should have had more faith in Amtrak because when Plan A isn't available, it's time for Plan B! That's right, instead of a ruined trip I was treated to that that wonderful Amtrak event, a rare mileage detour. Instead of rolling into Houston on the Glidden Sub as I had the year before, my train would be rerouted at the famous Tower 17 south on the BNSF Galveston Sub to the town of Alvin, before then heading north on the BNSF Mykawa Sub to T&NO Jct where the line would change into the UP Houston West Best Sub that would then deliver us to Tower 26 where we would then make a backup move into the Houston Amtrak station.

You can find all the photos from this incredibly rare train movement here. Just goes to show that riding Amtrak can really turn delays into lemonade juicy railfan stories.

Movements from the eastbound Glidden Sub to the southbound Galveston Sub are not typically needed so the only direct connection available at TOWER 17 interlocking is west to north. This, and having to travel over BNSF, prompted Union Pacific to detour its freight off the Sunset Route at Flatonia, TX. On the other hand, long backup movements are just a regular part of doing business on LD Amtrak trains. Here we see a Diverging Clear signal displayed westbound at TOWER 17 for a route onto the northbound BNSF Galveston Sub.

TOWER 17 was the site of Texas's last active classic interlocking tower. The tower was closed about 10 years ago, but it and its Taylor Model 2 interlocking machine were preserved in a local railfan park.

Passing the diamond in the other direction. The multiple relay huts is due to the joint ownership and maintenance of the interlocking and its diamond crossing.

These KCS ES44AC's #4680 and #4859 distracted me sufficiently so that I missed out on more photos of TOWER 17. However, in its stead I managed to capture the local BNSF crew base.

KCS SD70ACe #4027 was providing tail end power as the unit train of covered hoppers waited in the siding for us to pass by.

Despite the 1980's vintage ATSF signaling being in relatively good knick, a replacement programme was under way because I guess anything with moving parts is bad.

Sometimes it seems that all of Texas is a highway construction zone. Here some sort of ramp or frontage road is bring added to Interstate 69.

This southbound unit grain train had passed over the diamond at TOWER 17 ahead of us, but we had the last laugh as we passed it on the Manvel siding (even limited to the freight train speed of 50mph). Unlike the popular belief, freight dispatchers do a pretty good job of routing Amtrak trains through freight traffic. Engines are BNSF ES44C4 #6803 and SD70ACe #8598.

What I assume is some sort of old feed mill in Alvin.

Because of Houston's notoriously bad air quality, genset style switchers are typically assigned here by the big Class 1 railroads. Here we see a pair of National Railway Equipment 3GS21B-DE's, #1245 and #1287, shifting cars near Alvin.

Crossing the twin bridges on the 10mph Alvin wye. This movement changes our direction of travel from southbound to northbound. 

On the Hastings siding my train passed a BNSF mixed freight with 4 units on the front end including BNSF ES44C4 #7089, BNSF C44-10W #7836 and BNSF SD40-2 #1977.

On the Hastings industrial track a unit train of covered hoppers was parked with BNSF C44-9W's #5130 and #4305 leading.

While moving through the Mykawa Yard we passed a train of mostly tank cars led by BNSF ES44C4 #4282 and C44-9W #5934.

This yard was also equipped with a sequential pair of 3GS21B-DE's, #1239 and #1240. If you look carefully you can spot former ATSF caboose #791

Not sure if this was a detour or a normal foreign rail movement, but a unit covered hopper train with Union Pacific AC4400's #6509 and #7169 was sitting on the Mykawa yard main track forcing us to jump around on the controlled siding.

Huffing and puffing on the yard lead were another pair of BNSF 3GS21B-DE's, #1285 and #1246, assisted by C44-10W #7459.

The configuration of T&NO Junction is enough to make any grade crossing safety advocate shit themselves. BTW, the diamond is for the same UP Glidden Sub that we had been traveling on previously. Under normal operations the Sunset Limited turns off onto the Houston Terminal Sub that takes it downtown to the station. T&NO Jct is also the division point between BNSF and UP ownership with most UP traffic turning north from the Glidden Sub and into the HB&T Yard.

A duo of UP SD70M's, #4936 and #4329, sit facing the exit onto the Glidden Sub. These SD70's were part of the same, giant 1000 unit order, but changing emissions regulations forced different cooling solutions. The train behind them was a mixed consist containing a bunch of tank cars containing...OH FUCK THAT NOISE!!.

Passing through the HB&T yard one can confirm a BNSF presence by another 3GS21B-DE genset, paired with a proper yard power, BN painted GP39-2 #2911.

Looking back along HB&T yard with the tail end of the Union Pacific freight sticking out into the NEW SOUTH YARD interlocking.

In fact Union Pacific trains were stacked up nose to tail for what I can only assume was due to the bridge related congestion. If they were waiting for my train to clear the BNSF Mywaka Sub I do not know. The second train was being hauled by UP AC4400 #7157 and ES44AC #7759.

Because we were literally crawling towards Houston at this point, I made the decision to call it quits and head back to the dining car for a quick lunch in order to be ready to go again by the time the train reached the downtown station. Still, I was able to snap some Houston skyline photos from the dining car.


Make sure you tune in next week for a special Sunset Limited Video Episode.

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