Spring Break on the BNSF

Monday, March 8



I decided to take the first day of Simpson's spring break checking out dispatcher Kevin Schelen's assertion that there were 60+ trains a day on the BNSF mainlines.  I got out of Indianola around 6:50 on a clear and cool morning, the temperature was 27 degrees.  I drove south on Hwy. 65, keeping an ear on the scanner, which was rather quiet today.  I'd called 1-800-USA-RAIL to check on Amtrak before leaving home, and "Julie" said that No. 6 was 2 hours and 45 minutes down this morning.

I got to Chariton around 7:30 and parked east of the depot at Auburn St.  A group of men was standing on the north side of the rails across from the depot working on a downed power line.  KRS was on the Ottumwa desk and at 7:50 I heard him tell someone that he would have the first of four westbounds in Ottumwa in about an hour.

I could hear distributed power EOT noises on the scanner and from other clues, concluded that a load was coming up Whitebreast Hill.  Before long they called the K.C. line dispatcher to report encountering a yellow signal at MP 344 and then a red signal at 341.8 as they approached the bottom of the hill.  Their next signal was clear.

The DP coal train finally appeared and passed the depot at 8:30.  BNSF 8819 led the AEPX cars into the mainline's "ESS" curve in Chariton.  Bringing up the rear of the train was BNSF 9656.  While they were passing, I heard the Osceola detector report a train on Main 2.  The Russell detector recorded 532 axles for the AEPX load.

Track Inspector Hamilton had already contacted the dispatcher about riding track to the east, but the dispatcher asked if he could go west on Main 1 to check on the signal problem.  After some discussion about the mains being separated, Hamilton suggested that a Signal Maintainer be called instead, so Rick McKinley was called out.  Interestingly, when warrants are given these days to HiRail vehicles, the dispatcher inquires if they are "GPS Equipped", and if so gets a number from the driver.

I moved to the west end of the yard to get a picture of a work train loco, BN 1523, and to await the next eastbound.  They came up the hill and into town at 9:07 with two units leading WFAX hoppers.  On the point were BNSF 9826 and 8899.

Signal Maintainer McKinley had watched things at the bottom of the hill, and this train did not have any problems.  He then got a warrant to ride up Main 2 and before long reported a broken rail at MP 340.3, an "impassable" break in an old weld.  A call was put out to the Osceola section, but their truck was broken down, so a crew from Albia was to come over and make the repair instead.

Amtrak was the next eastbound, so Switch Tender Tom Leyhart was called to assist in crossing the Zephyr over to Main 1.  I relocated to the bottom of Whitebreast to wait on the passenger train.  The signal man was just setting off the rails and leaving for Chariton when I got there.  For a while I considered hiking up the right of way to check out the break, but that figured to be about an hour roundtrip.  I didn't want to miss No. 6 (which would be on a separated right of way) and I wasn't sure how much time I would have before the welders showed up at the break, so I decided to just hang out at the bottom of the hill.

The switch tender arrived well ahead of Amtrak and waited for a call on the radio.  About ten 'til eleven they tried to call but for some reason, after using the KC frequency at Osceola, had switched back to the Omaha line channel.  After someone aboard pointed out that they needed to switch to "six-six", they notified the switch tender and he lined the crossovers just as they were coming through Lucas.

After making the required five minute pause after dropping the signals on the westbound main, Amtrak proceeded.  Speaking of signals, the one on Main 2 was still green in spite of the broken rail.  This railroad may have narrowly missed having a derailment today.  In No. 6's sixty-axle consist today:

AMTK 156 and 182
Baggage 1222
Transition Sleeper 39034
Coaches 34006, 34022 and 31504
Sightseer Lounge 33003
Diner 38062
Sleepers 32066 and 32068
Three boxcars and one Roadrailer
The day had become warmer but overcast.  On the radio I could hear KRS squeezing four trains into the CTC at Albia on Main 1 to wait for the passenger train.  Before long all had warrants to take them on to the west and were just waiting bumper-to-bumper for the Zephyr to cross back to Main 2 at Halpin.

I drove west, alert for any traffic that might have been let out of Creston following the Zephyr.  At 11:15 I heard an eastbound on the detector east of Osceola and made a U-turn.  The train was told on the radio that they would be holding while repairs were completed on Whitebreast.  They reminded the dispatcher that they'd been delayed at Creston after a 7:20 call this morning.  I drove south on a gravel road to a grade crossing and waited for them.

For a short time I could hear the train's dynamic brakes, then things got quiet.  As a few sprinkles of rain started hitting the windshield I moved west, staying as close to the tracks as I could.  Signals were lit behind me, so I knew I was getting close.  I found them killing time near MP 347, a DTCX load with BNSF 9606 and 8278 (still in warbonnet paint) in charge.  They would wait for about an hour and a half before Main 2 opened up again.

Knowing that several westbounds would be released at Halpin when the Zephyr arrived, I went to Osceola, got some lunch, and parked at the depot.  These trains were still closely packed, right on each other's "taillight", when they came through town.  Sunlight was returning and the detector east of town reported 53 degrees by now.

12:48 - BNSF 8924 and 9875 with 121 OGSX cars, probably from the electric plant near Chillicothe, known as "ISU" on the railroad.
1:01 - BNSF 8803 and 8989 with 127 MPWX hoppers.
1:13 - BNSF 9426, 9894 and 6355 with 109 GCCX tub gondolas.
1:30 - BNSF 8810 with 130 UCEX hoppers and BN 9657 in the rear.

Although by now I knew that a couple of eastbounds had been released at Creston, I decided not to wait on them and headed for home.

That's It!