Virtual Train Watching in Illinois
March 18 and 20


March 18, 1999

I was to attend meetings in Lisle, Illinois, on Friday, so Jan and I set out about 8:00 on Thursday morning and headed down to Hwy. 34 to follow the BNSF. From the radio we could hear congestion developing around Albia. Maintenance of way people were at work on the crossovers at Halpin when we stopped to check on traffic.

We knew that there were at least a couple of coal empties on the east side of the CTC, and found one of them, with BNSF 9870 and 9961, waiting on traffic east of Maxon.

We followed the gravel past Chillicothe and into Ottumwa. In the IMRL yard we found BN 5000 and KCS 739. These units had apparently already run around their coal load, and were ready to double (or triple) their load up the hill once the EOT got moved to the rear of the train. We spotted one ex-IC unit, 2038, back in the yard to the north.

We tried to keep track of train locations by the radio as we continued eastward. We knew that a couple of westbounds were headed our way and that an eastbound, No. 664 off of the Des Moines branch, was behind. Alerted by a talking detector, we went a short distance down to an overpass on Hwy. 16 between Agency and Batavia. At 10:50, BN 2112 and 7040 came through with a short train - just 17 cars.

Again using detectors to monitor train locations, we stopped just nine miles further along the route at station sign Bernhart to intercept another train at 11:10. This was a coal empty, with CEPX and WIAX cars, behind BNSF 7906, BN 7084 and KCS 740. I'd never heard of Bernhart, a grade crossing just east of a wooden overpass.

Amtrak No. 6 was behind us by about an hour, so we drove to Mt. Pleasant and had our lunch in the parking lot across from the depot. The Zephyr, with ATK 70, 4, and 259 arrived at 12:13 (scheduled for 11:38). There were quite a few passengers on hand and plenty of autos in the station parking lot. They were on their way again at 12:21. In the CZ today:

Baggage Car 1702
Transition Sleeper 39030
Sleepers 32029 and 32073
Dining Car 38000
Sightseer Lounge 33047
Coaches 31509 (Smoking), 34004, 34084 and 34055
Material Car 1420
Box Cars 71195 and 7116
Baggage Car 1272
Our next stop was New London, where an eastbound train was parked in the siding. On the point were BNSF 3204, BN 6928, BNSF 6340 and BN 5015.

664 was catching up with us and we stopped at a grade crossing near Danville to wait for it. They showed up at 1:03 with just three tankcars and EMD 756 and BNSF 3174 for power. We knew that the DENGAL was somewhere not too far behind, but figured we could beat them into Burlington.

We heard a westbound coal empty cross the Missippippi and start up Burlington Hill toward us, so we took up a position in West Burlington near the shops and waited. We expected to see the DENGAL first, but BN 7261, SF 8162 and BN 5500 came by first with PRBX and AEPX empties.

We saw another coal empty, led by 9012, working through downtown Burlington as we came down the hill. At the depot we found BN 2171 in the yard, and the 664 train that we'd seen earlier. At 2:10 the DENGAL arrived, having crossed over behind the empty to Main 1. On the point were BN 6822, 3550, and 4080.

Out of Burlington, we continued on 34 to Monmouth and then took a route straight east, parallel to the tracks, into Cameron. Things were fairly quiet at the connection between the BN and SF routes. After entering the south side of Galesburg, we stopped on the overpass of the BNSF yard to check out the engine terminal. While in town we saw an intermodal pass on the SF line, and just east of Princeton, at the Hwy. 34 overpass, we met ATK No. 5 at 5:00 p.m.

Our next stop was Mendota, where we had supper. We cruised around the town, remembering trips to this location long ago when there was an interlocking tower with long metal rods reaching out to all of the switches. BN 2775 and a caboose were parked on the east side of the mains. At 5:30, a westbound freight with BNSF 8701 and LMX 8599 came around the curve from the northeast and through town. We'd just picked out a place to eat within sight of the tracks when the Southwest Chief (No. 3) with GEnesis units 33, 54, 89 and 21 came into Mendota, made a very brief whistle stop and was on its way again.


March 20, 1999

We started our return trip around 7:00, determined to "stair-step" our way along the BN. This refers to our routine of following whatever roads are available in order to stay as close to the rails as possible. Jan navigates while reading the DeLorme atlas, "...Okay, now you'll go about a mile and a half, then turn west again and you'll cross the tracks almost right away. Then take the next left and there should be a bridge over the tracks and then the road will turn west again and follow them pretty closely into..." She also takes notes and helps monitor the scanner. "...we're at milepost 112. The detector just went off for Main 2 at milepost 119.5, so we'd better stop at the next crossing and wait for a train." Using this approach, we managed to take 15 hours making the trip home!

We were staying in Naperville, so we went first to the Metra Station, "Kiss and Ride Dropoff Zone". It was nice and quiet compared to our brief look at the same station on Friday evening. A push-pull outfit arrived at 7:35 in front of Engine 195

We'd had a look at Eola yard on Friday evening, so we drove straight to downtown Aurora next. Aurora's a terminal for Metra, and on a Saturday morning, a large percentage of their equipment was in the yard. The Metra station there is part of the Walter Payton Complex, housed in an old stone roundhouse. While we were driving around looking for an approach to the interlocking, a stack train led by BNSF 4868 came through on the elevated right of way.

Next on our meandering path toward home was Plano where, at 9:17, we encountered ATK 28 with train 348. Its consist was three bi-level cars, 31006 Coach Baggage, 34016 Coach and 35004 Coach Cafe. One passenger disembarked, having taken the train from Monmouth this morning. I got a chance to talk to her since, having been put off the train on the "wrong" side of the tracks, she was wondering where the depot was.

Around 10:00 near Earlville we spotted at stacker with an interesting set of units - SP, 2 UP, SF and SP.

Back in Mendota we stopped to check out their Railroad Museum, which did not open until noon. Next to the museum are CB&Q steamer 4978 and caboose 14451. BN 2775 and caboose 10744 were parked across the tracks from the museum, and another caboose, BN 12155 was sitting to the south. At 10:35, an eastbound coal load came into Mendota behind BN 7240, 5101 and 5574. They had a variety of reporting marks in their train, DETX, DEEX, GCCX and BN.

We stopped in Princeton for lunch. The depot there is under reconstruction, with a new roof and all new windows already in place. There's a captive caboose in Princeton, CB&Q 13593.

The next town down the line was Buda, where there were a pair of crossovers and in interesting old depot. We stopped just west of town at 12:30 to intercept another coal load, this one pulled by BNSF 9762, 9837, BN 9691, BNSF 9712, BN 5550 and 7147. (There seemed to be quite a bit of power moving east today - we saw another EB train later at the Cameron connection with eight units.) Again, there was a variety of reporting marks, DETX, GCCX, UP, DEEX, CTRN, BN and ALMX.

At 1:10, just at the west edge of Kewanee, we intercepted an eastbound freight behind SF 5047 and GT 5922. At Galva we waited for a westbound to catch up to us. This train was almost entirely autoracks and was pulled by CN 5666 and KCS 6633. I stopped west of Galva to get a picture of an interesting old wooden bridge.

Back in Galesburg we found SRS 145 at the Amtrak depot and intercepted the eastbound Southwest Chief, arriving at 2:43. On the head end were GEnesis units 42, 39, 69 and 13. In the consist:

Baggage 1215
Transition Sleeper 39012
Coaches 34080 and 31533 (Smoking)
Sightseer Lounge 33019
Dining Car 38056
Sleepers 32052, 32093 (Missouri) and 32083 (Iowa)
Material 1472
Nine AMTK Boxcars
Two Roadrailers
As soon as Amtrak was out of town a freight, with units BNSF 993 and 4789, followed out of the yard. We went into the Amtrak station to inquire about No. 6 and learned that there'd been a derailment at Emerson, Iowa, and that the CZ would arrive between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. Before leaving town, we checked out a coal load parked on the "passenger line" with BN 9220, 5579, 9215 and 5507. We also took another look at the engine terminal and yard from the overpass.

At the Cameron connection we found another railfan on the dirt road between the BN and SF lines, running back and forth in his pickup as trains passed on each line. We stopped long enough to get another picture of the westbound we'd seen at Galva. They'd added a unit at Galesburg - BN 2112, which we'd seen on Thursday eastbound near Danville. The train took the connection onto the SF line at 3:30.

An eastbound on the BN line with eight units came in on the BN line as soon as the CN-powered auto racks cleared.

Our next stop was Burlington, where some empty intermodal cars were being rerailed at the west end of the yard. At 5:00, Jan put in a call to 1-800-USA-RAIL and inquired about No. 6. She was told that it would arrive at 5:15, so we waited. A passenger and another railfan were around, and by 5:30, having heard nothing on the radio and no horns, we put in another call. This time Jan was told that the passenger train was detouring and would not even be in Burlington today!

About this time, an interesting loco showed up on the tracks just north and east of the BN yard. I got a couple of pictures of it, MH 701, as it switched what might be an interchange track on the east side (toward the river) of the BN yard.

A note from Brian Carlson informs me that the above Alco, MH 701, is an ex-Mt Hood railroad unit, formerly serving on a dinner train. Thanks, Brian!

We stopped for supper in Burlington and then spotted an industrial loco, BJRY 9, on the way out of town just south of old Hwy 34. I took a picture of it, but it didn't turn out very well. I guess I'm still on the upward slope of the learning curve with the new camera.

We picked up a little radio traffic on the way home, but things were pretty quiet on account of the derailment in western Iowa. We heard 664 hit the detector at MP 213 as they were going into Burlington, and caught a glimpse of a car or two as they passed by to the north of the highway around 6:45. We went into town at Albia and out to Maxon where, at 8:45, we met an eastbound on Main 1 behind BNSF 3024, BN 6928, 6851, 8090 and 7841. Lots of power headed east again! We got back to Indianola around 10:00 p.m.

That's It!