Council Bluffs
March 28, 1998


On this Saturday, Jan and I had a general objective of visiting Council Bluffs and making it to the NARP Region 10 meeting, and perhaps seeing the Western Heritage Museum. It was warm but cloudy as we drove down to highway 34 to follow the BNSF line west across Iowa.

We got to the east end of the Creston yard just in time to see the CZ pulling out at 8:41. On the point were ATK 17, 65 and 78. This spot would be the location of a rear-ender in just a couple of hours. Unfortunately for us, we would be many miles to the west by then.

The normal routine for westbound trains approaching this division point is to make a call to the yardmaster from Afton, about 10 miles to the east, for instructions regarding whether there is room to pull down and so forth. This is TWC territory with block signals, and trains are given warrants to the "east yard limits, Creston". According to a brief story in Sunday morning's Des Moines Register, the conductor jumped from the train and received minor injuries, and the engineer stayed aboard and was not injured. Several cars of the struck train derailed, and some hit the power (SD-70 MACs) of an eastbound on the adjacent main, derailing it as well.

My son happened through Creston about 2:00 in the afternoon and got pictures, which I'll post as soon as he gets them developed.

An empty, with DEEX cars, was just pulling into Creston when we got there - I'm not sure if it was the one that was struck later in the morning, but it was being tied down on the westbound main when I got a picture of its power, EMD 9032 and BN 7262. There were also a load (with no power) of CEEX cars in the yard, and another empty, also CEEX, that left as soon as Amtrak was out of the way.

The yard was quite full. There was a westbound manifest with BN 7042, SF 8146 (Kodachrome) and BN 6828 parked in the yard. Caboose 12526 and units BN 2896 and 2130 were on adjacent tracks. A single GE unit, BN 5082, was set aside on the north side of the yard.

By 9:00, we were on our way westward again. We knew from radio traffic that we were trailing a coal empty, and "Okay on the north side", tipped us off that a train was headed our way. Soon, we spotted the headlight coming around a distant southern Iowa hill, and we took to the gravel (extra gooey from the recent snow melt) and circled back in to the tiny community of Brooks to get a picture. At 9:35, MACs 9463 and 9573 came by us with aging UNTX hoppers. 9463 would soon be in the wrong place at the wrong time and be run into by hoppers bumped from an adjacent track.

By Red Oak, we'd caught up to another empty and we finally got close enough to get the numbers as we drove into Glenwood. On the head end were BN 9608 and 9536.

We made a short stop in Glenwood and then drove on over to Pacific Junction, where the BNSF has reconnected the northwest leg of the wye in order to better serve a power plant to the north. They've also blocked off one railfan access to the center of the wye with a chain and a Stop sign! Entry is still possible from the north.

From P-Junct., we went north on I-29 to check out the NARP meeting at a motel in south Council Bluffs. When I arrived, John Hey, Transportation planner for the Iowa DOT and Iowa representative of the Midwest Passenger Rail Initiative was speaking.

Iowa railfans are "blessed" with a certain individual who attends many of our meetings and who harrasses speakers and disrupts presentations. Anyone who has attended a meeting in the area has heard this person grind his particular axes too many times, yours truly included. He was present for the NARP meeting and started in on the speaker just a few minutes after I arrived. I thought, "It's a beautiful spring day and there are plenty of trains out there to chase, do I need to listen to this again?" Rhetorical question! We were out of there.

We wandered around southeast Council Bluffs, checking out various yards and getting some pictures of trains. At 11:50, a stacker started north toward Missouri Valley with UP 9503, GECX O591 and UP 3967. We would see this train again almost four hours later as they slowly worked their way east on the congested mainlines. They were followed by light power, UP 3207 and 3807. We also took a short run into the UP's Fox Park to have a look at the executive train cars parked there, Idaho, Overland, Walter Dean, Wyoming, Green River, Little Rock and Portola, along with car 207.

We visited the IAIS yard and finding nothing new there, went north to the CNW (now UP, of course) and IC terminals. At the UP, we found switcher 1252 and CNW 4202 and 6584. At the IC engine service area were 8415, 8418 and 8411 in black, along with 1788, still in ICG colors. We also spotted a snowplow in ICG orange with a good growth of weeds coming up out of it. Before leaving Council Bluffs, we stopped to watch the UP do some switching in their yard with 9327 and 6036.

We decided to come back east along the UP today, so we drove north out of Council Bluffs on Highway 183 to Missouri Valley. Just south of California Jct., a freight was waiting to head toward Council Bluffs. In town at 2:15, a westbound stacker's crew was on the ground with their grips ready to be picked up by the Cimmaron crew hauler. This train had CNW 8553, UP 3776 and UP 6086 on the head end. The UP had lots of track work going on in "Mo Valley", with concrete ties laid out beside the southwest leg of the wye there.

Just east of town we started running into the UP's parking lot. We caught up to a stopped eastbound coal load at 2:22 with UP 6572 and SP 186 pulling NSPX cars. They started moving slowly eastward and met the next parked westbound, a stacker behind UP 6188, SP 8131 and SP 9189. The load moved slowly, waiting for block signals ahead of it to go to flashing yellow before pulling. In a couple of miles, we met the next stacker, stopped behind UP 9543, MK 9034, UP 6010 and CNW 6900. The eastbound (moving) train was on track 2 and the stopped westbounds were on track 1, opposite to old CNW practice on this line.

West of Woodbine, we could see two more trains at a distance, another parked westbound - this one a manifest, and an eastbound stacker leading the coal load we'd passed earlier. We stopped east of Woodbine to get a picture of the stacker and were rewarded with two trains. The IC and UP mains closely parallel one another from Missouri Valley to Denison, and an IC train, making much better time than the UP ones, had caught up to us. The IC train was a BNSF coal load, with MACs BN 9517 and BNSF 9776, led by cab-signal-equipped "guide dog" IC 2004.

By 3:30 we'd reached West Denison, where a CWEX coal empty was waiting to go west behind UP 6736 and 6782. When the IC/BNSF coal load came through, on the radio we heard, "at least something's moving out here...". Around 3:40, the stacker we'd seen in the distance appeared and met the coal empty. It turned out to be the train we'd seen leaving Council Bluffs at 11:50. That's 60 miles at around 16 miles per hour. No wonder there were constant questions on the radio about whether a given crew was in the "long pool". At this rate, you're definitely not going to get to Clinton in 12 hours!

East of Denison highway 30 is torn up, so we were slowed considerably between there and Carroll. We caught an eastbound pig train right at the old CNW depot at 4:47. This train had UP 6289 and 6043 in charge. In Jefferson, we stopped to catch a westbound empty with UP 9058 and 9141 on the point of a miscellaneous collection of old hoppers.

The last train I took a picture of was a westbound stacker near Beaver with CNW 8664, SP 9276 and UP 6202 in the lead. After this it got too dark for pictures.

In the Boone yard we saw these units: UP 3058, 3383, 9350, 2956 and 2030, SP 8688 and CNW 4107. Switching at the east end of the yard: CNW 4604 and 4610. From the radio we learned that if you have your car parked at the yard office after the fifteenth, it will be towed!

East of Boone we found a westbound autorack train parked behind UP 3083 and B4267. Just east of Jordan, a westbound manifest (mostly autos) with UP 7095 and SP 8653 on the point had cut its train so as to not block a county road crossing. This was around 6:30. We got back on highway 30, but could see third train parked behind those two and a fourth westbound working its way around them.

That's It!