Union Pacific

Remote Control at Short Line

Story City Derailment

March 11 and 12


Monday, March 11

I made a morning visit to my in-laws in Des Moines to help them prepare their income tax return and then paid a short visit to Hobby Haven.   On the way back toward home, I decided to go across Park Avenue and see if the UP was doing any training with their remote control units out on the Hollingsworth spur today.  Units UP Y103 and Y104 were parked north of the road, but there didn't seem to be any activity around.

I'd tried before to catch the remotes working at Short Line, but only on a Saturday.  Since it was Spring Break at Simpson, I was free to have a look on a weekday instead.  From the yardmaster's talk on the scanner I could tell that there might be at least two crews using the remotes today, so I got some lunch and headed for the junction.

The yardmaster referred on the air to "RC 1" and "RC 2", and I could occasionally see the units' strobe lights moving around near the yard office.  At 12:19 Job 1 brought the NS interchange traffic east on the Interstate line and into the yard.  They had UP 903 and UP 410.  About a half an hour later a "Hull Drag" (Job 63) came south and around the northeast leg into the yard with UP Y1394 and Y652.

The next thing on the Spine Line was a grain empty, at 1:18, pulled by a pair of SP units, 359 and 115.  A short time later the M-DMDM (a.k.a. the "dum dum") came down the Ft. Dodge line and went west before backing into the yard via the Iowa Interstate rails.  Two units powered the DMDM, UP 3040 and 3037.

By this time it was apparent from radio conversations that at least one remote control outfit was working at the east end of the yard, so I drove out to East 34th Street to see what I could observe.  One of the three units in the remote consist was smoking so badly that it had been easy to observe its location as it moved around the yard.  I suppose the smoke might help when operating it remotely as well?

The remote setup included UP 670, UP Y1391 and the control unit, UP Y101Y1391 was handling the smoking duties.  I watched for 45 minutes or so while some switching was being done by a crew of two men using the remote control power.  Without seat-of-the-pants feedback, throttle control seemed to be challenging and there was some rough train handling while I was there.

The two men at times rode the cars they were switching, dropping off to cut cars and to throw switches and then getting back aboard. Both individuals had control boxes and were apparently able to pass control of the locos back and forth as needed.  I watched as the crew worked the remotes back and forth between the grade crossing and the turnouts on the east yard leads, working both with light power and with a couple of cuts of cars.

I heard horns at back at the west end of the yard and drove back there around 2:45 to catch the last move of a long set of locos being turned on the wye.  As it turned out, this was being done under remote control as well!  One controller was riding the lead unit, HLCX 8162, as they entered the yard.  The set of locomotives included UP 3452, 2997, 3127, 398, 2952 and 3016.  Bringing up the rear was remote control CANAC 7101, a poor little ugly duckling locomotive with telltale strobe lights and antennas identifying it as an RC unit.

7101 was dropping off cuts of the seven other locos on a couple of yard tracks as I headed home for the rest of Monday afternoon.


Tuesday, March 12

My mom's had a cousin visiting for a couple of weeks and 8:30 Tuesday morning was time for the load-out and their trip to the Des Moines airport.  My part of this project is just getting cousin Janie's bags down the stairs and into mom's Escort wagon.  As I was at work on that project, Janie asked if I'd heard that there was a train wreck in Story City this morning.  I'd not, but the news was definitely interesting to me.  As soon as I got back home I put Lester out with a bowl of Friskies, grabbed the camera and started north.  Along the way I rang up Amtrak engineer Rich Fertig and we arranged to meet later in Ames for lunch.

It took just under an hour to get from Indianola to Story City, and I rolled into the small town about 9:50.  The local fire department had the streets blocked and were keeping people back about 1/2 block from the right-of-way.  I parked well away from the tracks, took my camera, scanner and tape recorder and walked toward the elevator.  The first fireman I met opened with, "You must be with the railroad?"  (Get a longer than normal "duckie" for your scanner and crank it up in such situations - oh, and wear serious shoes and your Operation Lifesaver stuff).

I was honest and said that I was just taking pictures for a railroad web site.  We negotiated a reasonable distance and I was starting to get some shots when a fellow with a hard hat and a vest saying "POLICE" came by.  He and the fireman were talking with the "talent" and a cameraman from Channel 17.  As soon as there was an opening, I cornered the railroad cop and said that I wanted to get pictures and if I would stay off of the right-of-way did he care where else I went.  No problem!

I walked to a spot between the elevator and some grain bins, where a car had come to rest and the train had separated.  (The Ch. 17 cameraman in the picture had been chased out of this spot and lectured, "Y'know, you people only make this situation worse.", by the fireman before we got carte blanche from the railroad police.)

By the time I arrived, Hulcher Emergency Services people were working to rerail a couple of the trailing locomotives.  Two were already pulled to the north a short distance.  The power on the derailed M-DMEA, from the front, was CNW 6877, UP 2954, 2023, 2091 and 2033.  All of the derailed cars were empty grain hoppers.

I decided to have a look at the west side of the mess, which required a several mile drive out to the west, south and then back.  There were no fire personnel guarding this side of the derailment so access for pictures was much simpler.  Here are a few shots from this side:

Hopper on its side - looking east.
Looking northeast toward grain bins.
Truck frame.
Looking southeast.
CRDX car resting against elevator - same car as above.
Looks north from blocked grade crossing.

Several men were inspecting and measuring the rails just south of the grade crossing where it appeared that the train had first left the tracks.  They seemed to suspect that the east rail had bowed outward or perhaps "rolled over", allowing the wheels to go between the rails.  There was considerable damage to the grade crossing itself.  Pieces of it can be seen lying on the grass in the last picture in the set above.

I drove back to the east side where, by 10:50, Hulcher had all of the locos and one box car back on the tracks.  After getting the above telephoto, I found another path into the site and got a broadside of 6877 and another shot of the locomotives.  The gear on the ground in the image reminds me, it sounded like a relief crew was arriving at the site about the same time I did.  There was also quite a bit of discussion and some disagreement about what van was going to take the original crew away and what van was going to take a crew to Ames Yard to bring power up the Jewell sub. behind the derailment.

Before I left Story City for Ames, I got a few more pictures of the people examining the place where the train left the rails and of the scene on the southeast side where one of the hoppers had a close encounter with the Co-op's gas station.

Once down in Ames I went to that I call the "Ames Railfan Park", a spot just south across the mainlines from the junction with the Jewell sub.  On the radio, a crew on some light power at Ames yard was trying their darndest to get up behind the wreck, but there seemed to be too much traffic on the mainlines.  At 12:15 a coal load appeared behind the University.  This turned out to be MARX tub gondolas pulled by UP 7250, SP 305 and UP 6563.

Next up, at 12:45, was a westbound manifest with UP 4278, NS 8883 and UP 4233.  As soon as this train cleared at West Ames Yard the dispatcher decided to hold the next eastbound, another coal load, and bring the light power over to go up to Story City.

At 1:09 the light power, UP 7202, UP 7149, SP 351 and UP 6791, came into Ames and went north.  As soon as they cleared, the waiting coal train got the high green and accelerated by.  This train had NCUX cars with UP 6643 and 7086 on the point.  After this train and a brief visit with another railfan who'd recognized the Jeep, I met up with Rich and his companion Amy for pizza in campus town.

By mid-afternoon I was headed back down I-35 toward home and monitoring the North (Mason City) Dispatcher and the EOT channel.  It was evident that there would soon be a couple of southbound trains on the Spine Line, so I turned off and started looking for a point where I could intercept them.  After turning and driving back north a bit, I settled on a grade crossing south of the Hwy. 210 overpass and the siding at Cambridge, MP 93.37.

This didn't appear to be the safest location on the railroad, since mud doesn't hold spikes well, but I decided to chance it this afternoon.  At 3:35 a headlight popped into view to the north.  This turned out to be today's "dum dum", a train that makes a round trip, turning at Marshalltown.  On the head end were UP 3037 and 3040, same as Monday though in the opposite order because on that day they backed into Short Line Yard.  The DMDM trundled off around the curve while I stayed to wait for the next southbounder.

Another train (ITDM, perhaps?) was close behind at 3:45.  Power on this manifest was UP 6283 and 2308.  After the short train (37 cars) passed me, I chased it to the south.  They were well ahead at first, but from the slow progress they'd made out of Cambridge, I was pretty sure that they would drag way down on the hill into Elkhart.  Sure enough, I caught and passed them before they were over the detector, which reported a pleasant "six zero degrees" this afternoon.

I set up for another picture at Enterprise and caught the whole train in my lens before it approached and passed the elevator there at 4:15.

Spring Break was off to a good start!  On Wednesday morning my plan was to head east along the BNSF and spend some time along the Mississippi River.

That's It!