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Thursday, June 16, 2016

16-06-16b PHOTOS: West Texas Intermediates

I've mentioned before that Orange, CA is closer to El Paso than Orange, TX. On the Sunset Limited one doesn't to sleep in Texas and then wakes up, still in Texas. Texas takes a full 24 hours to cross and all while that space has to filled with something, in practice a good half of it it is filled with essentially nothing. West Texas is simply mile after mile of scrubland, dotted with mesas, that has been fenced off and organized into "ranches" where the primary economic activity appears to be maintaining fences, shooting things and prepping for the end times. Aside from never having to drive to a shooting range, the best thing the region has to offer is a 75mph speed limit on two lane roads.

Since this year my Train 2 was running to the normal schedule instead of two hours ahead, I had 2 hours less daylight to photograph the UP Valentine Sub and by the time we reached Alpine, TX it was time to pack it in. Nevertheless, I was still able to get enough content for a reasonable photo set, but if you want to appreciate the full John Ford-esque beauty (or starkness) you can see the full set of pictures here.

We start shortly outside of El Paso where the tracks are lined by miles of nut tree (I assume almonds, but they could have also been pecans or something else) groves. Nuts are very water intensive, so what better place than a desert to plant them! Despite regional water shortages, last year when I passed through the groves had actually been flooded similar to a rice paddy. And people wonder why the Big River is so easy to cross these days.

The line is punctuated by frequent small bridges over dry river beds that can quickly become raging torrents during during rain events. When it isn't raining the bridges are used by off road vehicles to cross the tracks. This area, east of Tornillo, was one of the few not fenced in as a ranch so it was attracting quite a bit of public land use.

 This strange structure at McNary is what I have to believe is an illegal immigrant detector, making use of various sensors to detect if anyone is hitching a ride on the train.

The western part of the line actually runs quite a distance from the parallel US 90 or I-10, further increasing the sense of isolation.

Sun position was becoming a problem as we passed UP SD70M #5105 and another UP SD70ACe in the Sierra Blanca siding. 

UP ES44AC #8087 sits all by itself on a dump siding in Sierra Blanca.

After diverging over the 50mph high speed turnout at Sierra Blanca, we crossed under Interstate 10 and continued on past Southern Pacific vintage signals before meeting a stored string of seemingly new TOFC containers on the Hot Wells siding.

We also passed a couple of MoW bugs stored on the Hot Wells team track.

Ranch houses like this give of a very colonial vibe, and I mean colonial in the 19th century African Boer sense. 

Doublestack well cars stored in the Lobo siding with more f$^#ing unsustainable nut trees!

Well here is a rare bird. This un-rebuilt UP AC6000 is attached to a more conventional GE unit and leading up a long string of empty TOFC cars. This sort of under-utilization compared with less reliability is why most of the 1990's 6000hp beasts were downgraded to 4400hp.

The only town of any size between El Paso and Alpine was Marfa.

The sun was becoming such a problem that I was forced to skip surveying several swaths of track. However, a timely intervention by some clouds provided both a reprieve and an opportunity.

Paisano Jct is where the South Orient Railroad branches off the Sunset Route for a run to the border and the Presidio–Ojinaga International Rail Bridge. The bridge has been out of service since it was damaged by fire in 2008, but there are plans to repair it.

Prior to Alpine, the line passes through a set of hills that mark the beginning of a curvier part of the route.

Compared with the surrounding scrubland, Alpine has a lot going for it.

Amtrak P42DC's #77 and #182 get a new engineer at Alpine.

The fairly new station platform only covers part of the train. The part the cars that don't fit must use the highway grade crossing and the ballast.

And on that Sunset it's time to call it a day. Next time we wake up in the completely different environment of East Texas where the scrub is replaced by grass and the cool dry air is replaced by SUFFOCATING HUMIDITY!

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