January 7th was the first clear morning in three weeks here in central Iowa. Nearly all of Simpson's Christmas break had gone by without a decent train chasing day. Susan and I left the acreage fairly early and headed south along the UP's "Spine" line. As we approached Melcher, we caught up with a southbound manifest. I got ahead of it and stopped at a grade crossing for a pre-dawn shot at 7:24. The train had two CN units leading, 2638 and 5707. The train passed us, with the Melcher detector reporting 312 axles and a speed of 21 mph.
We went on to Chariton and looked around for a few minutes. The BNSF has closed a couple of grade crossings, one near the machine works and another out at the east end of town. At 8:40 I heard the Osceola detector count 448 axles on Main 2, so I knew we had at least one eastbound coming. Amtrak's "Julie" said that No. 6 was around three hours down. We started east along Hwy. 34 toward Albia. At 9:20, we heard dispatcher KRS talking about some westbounds over by Ottumwa, so I decided that we would go out to Maxon and just wait for traffic.
Just as we were getting to Albia, the track inspector notified KRS that he had found a pull-apart "in the plant" on Main 2 at Halpin, and a 10 mph slow order was issued at MP 309.7-309.8. An eastbound, BNSF 5846, got the slow order and a warrant at Russell at 9:30.
Our first train at Maxon, at 9:43, was a set of empty UCEX hoppers with BNSF 8811 and Transportacion Ferroviaria Mexicana 1622 on the point. The detector east of Maxon had warned us of its approach with a reading of 532 axles. They were followed closely by BN 9610 and BNSF 9433, and a 488 axle PSTX empty with a friendly conductor (you seem to get more honks and waves when you have a girl along...). I wonder how many miles are on those early MAC's now?
At 10:10 an empty with somewhat unusual power for a coal train came through Maxon, BNSF 7801 and 7325 with 125 brand-new (build date of 12-05) TVAX hoppers. This might have been their first trip west?
Our first eastbound came up Albia Hill at 10:23. It had "different" horns and an unusual exhaust note as it worked up the grade, apparently a characteristic of the new low-emission units. BNSF 5846, a new GE loco, was leading with well-faded BNSF 9960 following elephant-style. They had DEEX tubs with an axle count of 448, very likely the train we'd heard earlier at Osceola.
There was a break in the action for about an hour at this point, during which we heard Amtrak set up to cross over to Main 1 at Chariton around 11:20. At 11:24 a distributed power load arrived with BNSF 5768, another relatively new GE leading a PNJX load, and BNSF 9762 bringing up the rear. The Maxon detector reported 532 axles and "four tee three" degrees. We'd started out with a temperature of 28, so it was warming nicely under the clear sky today.
The seventh train of the morning, another DP coal load, arrived at 11:52. On the head end were BNSF 9838 and 4174, and on the rear of a new-ish (August 2005) set of 122 BNSF hoppers was BN 9633. By now, I figured Amtrak must be getting close. While Susan monitored the radio and did some stitching, I waited near the rails. At 12:10 the Zephyr's headlights showed on Main 1. Leading the train today were AMTK 55 and 49. They had two reefers on the rear and the detector counted 52 axles today.
We drove back to Chariton and took a break for some lunch and shopping. On the way back north toward home, we found a northbound in the Williamson siding with UP 9373 and CSX 8120 on the point. From the oil slick, it looked like 9373 had suffered some major malfunction.