Wreck at Melrose
February 12, 1999


Thursday night as we were heading for bed, I overheard a discussion on the scanner of a derailment. It was just after 11:00 p.m. BN 9633 had derailed, 15 cars deep, near Melrose. The dispatcher was discussing with them and the following train just how they were going to pull the cars still on the rails away from the wreck.

I'd heard the eastbound California Zephyr, No. 6, come through very late in the afternoon, delayed by snowstorms in Nevada and running about 9 hours down. The derailed train had to be one of the first eastbounds let go behind Amtrak. This evening's No. 5 was late too, and was now stranded east of the derailment, which blocked both mainlines. As I lay in bed listening to the radio, the BNSF made plans to get the passenger train rolling again.

Number 5, with GEnesis unit 80 on the point, backed to the CTC at Halpin and up Albia hill on Main 2, normally used by eastbound traffic. Once at the top of the hill, they dropped their mail cars into the eastbound passing track at Maxon. The power was cut off and run back down the hill to the crossovers at Halpin. A warrant was obtained to run a short distance west of the CTC, and the units ran back up the hill and around their train on Main 1. Another warrant permitted them to run east of the crossovers at Maxon and then back onto the east end of their train.

By now, it was nearly 2:00 a.m. Friday, and I drifted off to sleep. The last plan discussed on the radio was to run the passenger train back east to Ottumwa and take the connection onto the IMRL. From there the train would go to Kansas City and then back on to the BNSF St. Joe line to go north to Pacific Jct.

Jan and I decided to try to get a look at the derailment on Friday afternoon. We left Indianola about 2:15 and followed the UP "Spine" line south toward Chariton. We caught up with a southbound merchandise train at Williamson, which had stopped because the signal at the south end of the Williamson siding was pumping back and forth between green and red. On the point were UP 3539, CNW 8806, GATX 7373 and UP 670.

We drove east out of Chariton, out to the Melrose turnoff and into the small Irish community. The town was full of trucks - many BNSF vehicles, plus the flatbeds of Hulcher Services. From the truck traffic running along the south side of the mains, we could tell that the derailment must be east of town. Welders were working on Main 2 a short distance west of the town's grade crossing, but I don't know if their work had anything to do with the derailment or not.

We decided to see if we could get a look at the site from any of the gravel roads to the east. We went all the way to the next grade crossing on the north side of the tracks, crossed to the south and started back west on a "Level B" (dirt/mud) road. I'd popped the 4WD on and we were cruising along very nicely when we came under attack by a herd of steers, who were on the road with us and who'd apparently mistaken us for the source of their evening meal.

With help from a farmer on an ATV chasing the livestock away, we got turned around and retraced our route back toward Melrose. I pulled off about a mile from town, grabbed the camera and walkie-talkie and hiked into a farm field to see what I could find over the hill. The wreck was about a half mile south of the gravel road we were on. I managed to get a couple of pictures, but the angle and light were poor. It appeared that about ten or so AEPX coal cars were on their sides and had been moved to the south side of the mains. The roadbed was being rebuilt with endloaders, and a work train was shoving flatcars of panel rail in from the west end of the accident. BN 2824 and 2271 were on the west end of the work train. A second train, with BN 6177, was working the east end of the derailment.

After another quick look around Melrose, we drove into Albia to see what we could find there. In the yard by Main 1, a huge rail-grinding outfit was just tying down for the day. This beast, RG 311 "LORAM", looks like something out of Return of Road Warrior. I hope I can catch it in use sometime.

We drove on out to Maxon and found the head end of the derailed train, BN 9633, 9546 and BNSF 9939, in the east passing track with 14 of the AEPX loads. Tucked in the west end of the same track were the cars from No. 5, five box cars and an express baggage. BN GeeP 2298 was also parked out at Maxon. I believe, from snatches of scanner conversation, that it had been derailed there recently.

We started back west, stopping to have a look around Chariton. Jan spotted what she thought to be a dimmed headlight out to the west, and when we went to the "HyVee" crossing, sure enough, there was a coal load parked and waiting for the line to open again. On the point of some long, low coal gons were BNSF 9909 and BN 9541. I thought it was too dark for a picture, but the QuickTake flash picked up the reflective lettering on 9909 just right and this one turned out to be another nice "wallpaper shot".

Around 11:15 Friday evening, I heard Number 5 (of 2-12, with ATK 25) get a warrant from Halpin to Creston on Main 1. By the time we got up Saturday morning (around 6:45) eastbounds were rolling through the derailment site on Main 2.


Just for a short diversion, Jan and I went to Osceola to catch Number 5 on Monday night (2-8-99). They were right on time and made a 4 minute stop. In the train:

GEnesis units 32 and 61
"Pepsi Can" 500
Material 1413
Baggage 1208
Transition Sleeper 39026
Sleeping Cars 32013 and 32076
Dining Car 38023
Sightseer Lounge 33043
Coaches 31522 (Smoking), 34043, 34054 and 34038
Baggage 1006

That's It!