I'd been wanting to catch some of the last days of activity on the CP in Iowa, so Jan and I left for Ottumwa at about 9:00 Saturday. The temperature was only four degrees, but forecast to climb throughout the day. We'd called 800-USA-RAIL to check on Amtrak, and they were running about 45 minutes late, so we went first to Osceola to see the CZ. Construction has begun on the south side of the BNSF mains for new shelters for Amtrak patrons (Get your souvenir bricks now!). The CZ arrived at 9:58, moving slowly toward the depot in a section flagged for the construction. The engineer could really play the horn on his new loco - perhaps they've changed back to hand operated valves instead of those nasty push-buttons? In today's train:
We got onto highway 34 and went east behind Amtrak. At Lucas at 10:30, we met an empty coal train of AEPX gons behind BN 9700, OWY 9072, BN 7092 and BN 5139. We stopped for a few minutes in Chariton and checked out the Johnson Machine Works spur, where a pair of TTTX flats separated by IHB 2202 were waiting, loaded with long sheets of steel.
From the radio, we'd learned of westbound traffic at Albia, and figured that we could just about catch them halfway by going into Melrose. Among other attractions (like Aunt Jack's Bait Shop) in this Irish, once coal mining community, is FD&W caboose 182, set out in a small park. The caboose is accompanied by what appear to be six inch to the foot scale model lamp posts. Our train, a coal empty of CEPX gons with BN 9568 and 9493 on the point, showed up at 11:46 and paid a very short visit to the tiny town.
We rolled into Ottumwa and went straight to the CP diamond, but were just a couple of minutes too late to catch the first half of a train doubling up the hill to Rutledge at12:20. The BNSF was to be very busy this afternoon, and it would be more than four hours before the second half would join it. By now, the temperature had risen to 13 degrees. We got lunch and returned to the diamond.
The parade started at 1:20 with eastbound train 168 behind BN 7938, and cabless 4059. This train had a wide load just behind the power, and was to meet another wide load, walking the two cars by each other, on down the line. The CP/BNSF diamond had piles of what looked like ballast clear up to the pilot level on each of the BNSF mains. Upon closer inspection, however, it turned out to be ice that had been knocked off of the trucks - a pile on the westbound just west of the diamond, and a pile on the eastbound just east of that diamond.
At 2:06, westbound intermodal train 65 reached the diamond, with BN 7255, 7878 and 8014 in charge.
Next, at 2:22, was westbound 447, with plenty of power - BN 2101, BN 2341, SF 2300, BN 3520 and BN 6842. They had 10 cars today.
Within a few minutes, two more BNSF trains arrived. The first, at 2:45, was an eastbound coal load of DEEX and DETX cars, behind BNSF 9736 and BN 9578. They were met in downtown Ottumwa by a westbound empty, with BN 9505, UP 9405 and UP 9136 pulling HLMX and JE cars.
At 3:15, an eastbound manifest came across the junction behind BN 1524 and 1403. Immediately following this move, the CP slipped a westbound down the hill and into the yard. On the point were CPRail 5960 and SOO 6036.
As the last few cars of the CP train were crossing the BNSF tracks, I noticed a brake rod hanging down on the third from the last car. It was down in front (direction of travel of the train), and caught on each rail of the BNSF and snapped up to one side or the other as the train gradually stopped to change crews in the CP yard. We noted the car number (UP 78364 - a covered hopper), and as soon as the train cleared the road crossing south of the diamond, we drove to the Amtrak depot and placed a call to CP's 800 number.
"Hi, I'm in Ottumwa, and just watched a westbound CP train cross the BN diamond. It has some dragging brake gear on the third car from the rear that was snagging on the BN tracks. The engine is 5960 and the car is UP 78364".
"The train was westbound?"
"Okay, I'll have them stop and inspect at the top of the hill"
"Um, no, they just came down the hill - it's a westbound train"
(The problem here is that something going geographically west from the diamond is really going eastward on the railroad - the dispatcher assumed I didn't know that)
After the dispatcher figured out that I actually knew which way was which on his railroad, he thanked me and we hung up. By the time I got back to the Jeep, he was on the radio to CP 5960. The outbound crew had already started to pull, but did not have the rear of the train out of the yard yet, so they stopped, inspected and set the car out. They were underway again by 4:15.
I came out of the depot just in time (3:47) to catch a coal load going by behind SD-70 MACs BN 9513 and 9608. This train was made up of WFAX gondolas. Before it had cleared the depot, it was met by westbound train 491, with BN 2768 and SF 2826 in charge.
We drove back over to the diamond just in time to see an empty BN coal train come down the hill on the CP tracks, cross the BNSF and go into the CP yard at 4:15. The cars were LRDX and WRDX, and the power was BN 9208, 8049, and 5123. Fifteen minutes passed before the next train came by on the BNSF. This was a coal empty, BN gons behind BN 5109, 5512, and OWY 9005.
The CP got a chance to use the diamond, and took the second half of a freight up the hill. At 4:41, CPRail 5412, 5413, and SOO 2057, in rusty orange and black, came across the BNSF and made a run for the hill up to Rutledge.
By this time, a BN coal load that had been waiting for some time on the eastbound main to enter the CP yard had a chance and came slowly around the interchange track. BN 5574, 5000, and KCS 736 pulled UNSX (Jan called them "unisex cars") black and green gondolas. The BNSF traffic on the CP goes to a power plant at Fruitland, near Muscatine.
It was getting pretty dark by this time, but we waited long enough to catch a westbound freight with BN 7804, cabless silver and red SF 328, LMX 8592 and 8501 at 5:20 and another coal train at 5:30, PRBX cars behind BN 5580, 5113 and 5002. We paced 7804 back to the west along highway 34, and watched it at Chariton and Lucas before heading north to home.