NARP in Grinnell


Amtrak in Osceola

April 7

I'd  come down with a cold virus in the middle of the week and actually felt poor enough to stay home from my classes on Friday - unusual for yours truly.  I got the taxes done and some papers graded during the quiet day indoors.  I had been looking forward to an excursion to take in the National Association of Railroad Passengers Region 10 meeting in Grinnell on Saturday, but had just about given up on it by Friday night.  Early Saturday, as I lay in bed listening to the wind, Simpson President LaGree's flags popping, some window in the place whistling, and whatever-that-was rolling down the street, I thought "No Way!".  But the day, though very windy, came up shiny and warm and by the time I was awake, fed and showered, I couldn't resist venturing out.  By 8:45 I was in my favorite place on earth, just behind the windshield, wheel in hand.

I cruised through Carlisle, finding a freight train in the UP siding, crossing cut and no power anywhere in sight.  I got back on the bypass and took the Pleasant Hill road in toward Des Moines.  It looked like the BNSF had an LMX unit and a couple of BN green things in Glake Yard this morning.  When I got to Short Line Junction, there were cars rolling slowly west across the diamond, so I went looking for the head end.  East 18th was blocked, so I went over the East 14th viaduct and could see some headlights coming down the old CGW line that heads to the remains of Bell Avenue Yard.  The move turned out to to be nothing more than a long cut being worked in Short Line yard, but the power made it clear down to the public water taps in the Southeast bottoms.  I caught the power shoving back east at East 18th Street - UP 368 and UPY 626.

North of the junction, at Walnut Street, the UP was replacing a crossing gate.  I'd heard the BNSF working on the same problem this morning, with gates down both in Chariton and in Osceola.  We'd had a very windy night in Iowa, and it hadn't yet let up very much.  Before long, light power came down the old Fort Dodge line past the signal maintainer.  UPY 542 crossed Dean Ave. at 9:40 and went west, only to return a few minutes later.  I'm not sure what their mission was this morning.  Engines crossing Walnut had to stop so the brakeman could flag the crossing, leading the yardmaster to remark that, "You'd better put some ballast in so-and-so's pockets today, the wind's picked up out there."  The yardmaster's radio was being answered, "Tower", this morning, reminding me of the good old days with Ray Brandt in charge at Short Line Junction.

At 9:45 Job 62 (I think) came north out of the yard with UP 1645.  The Walnut crossing was properly flagged, with the brakeman leaning into the wind, and they were off past the elevator and headed for Hull Avenue Yard.  I found I had to brace myself against the Jeep just to hold still when taking pictures.  On the radio I heard one of the crew vans asking for a "piece of rope".  Seems they needed to tie a van door closed, since it had gotten away from someone in the wind and one van taillight and the door were now broken.

Back at the junction at 10:00, power was turning and was now running north across the diamond.  There were four units, which I photographed as they backed into the yard on the northeast leg - UP 5964 (check the mis-matched number boards), UP 3039, SP 8556 and UP 9486.  In case you hadn't noticed, Iowa was having some very fine-looking skies this morning!

I stuck around Short Line long enough to catch the DMPR, which was doing some terminal switching of a bad-order car before leaving town.  Here they are on the northeast leg at 10:20 with winged 4043 leading 3167.  It was time to start moving eastward toward my noon meeting with the NARP.

I took the interstate for the first leg of the trip and got off in Newton to follow old Hwy. 6 into Grinnell.  In Newton I drove out to the IAIS yard and intermodal facility to see what was around - just IAIS 466 switching a long cut of covered hoppers this morning.

The NARP regional meet was planned for the Depot Crossing restaurant, a refurbished and expanded structure that once served as a union station for the Rock Island and the Minneapolis and St. Louis railroads.  Today the east-west line is operated by Iowa Interstate and the north-south by Union Pacific.  Amtrak engineer Rich Fertig and I had planned to meet up at the NARP event today and we arrived at the same time.

The meeting was in a basement room, where the rails going by the old depot were not visible.  Some of the people attending the meeting were coming on Amtrak to Ottumwa and would be brought by bus to Grinnell.  The program for the meet called for lunch at 12:30, followed by a series of talks and presentations.  Ironically, No. 6 was late, so things were getting off to a slow start.  A UP southbound rolled by while we waited for lunch, cruel and unusual punishment for a railfan.  Lunch was served beginning at 1:20.  The group off of the Zephyr finally did arrive at 2:30, making the number present for the meeting about 50 persons.

The first presentation was a welcome and some history of the depot by the Mayor of Grinnell, Gordon Canfield.  Canfield stated that railroad passenger service to Grinnell (by the Rock Island) ended in 1968.  At 2:00 a westbound Iowa Interstate train passed the restaurant.  We had a short greeting from Barbara Grassley, wife of Iowa Senator Charles.  President of the Iowa Interstate Railroad Jon Roy spoke next.  Roy described several potential passenger-hauling initiatives under consideration on the IAIS (former Rock Island) route.

The main event of the afternoon was a talk by Brian Rosenwald, General Manager for Amtrak's Intercity Western Region.  Specifically, Rosenwald is in charge of three long-haul passenger trains, the Empire Builder, California Zephyr and Southwest Chief.  (I have three printed documents regarding the meeting before me as I type this, and each has a different last name for this guy - I'm going to go with "Rosenwald".)    Mr. Rosenwald formerly supervised Amtrak's "Coast Starlight" and managed to increase ridership 40% and revenues 50% on that train.

Rosenwald's statements about the future of long-haul passenger trains were not rosy.  He said he has worked for Amtrak for 27 years and the situation now is the "worst ever".  He used the phrase "life-threatening" in reference to the fiscal deadline set by congress for Amtrak to be self-supporting.  Rosenwald said that he has only 3 Superliner sleepers left for the California Zephyr.  Twenty cars are at Beech Grove awaiting repair and there are no funds available, making it impossible to grow service or even to accomodate peak traffic seasons.

Amtrak has recently instituted a service guarantee and Rosenwald said that about 4 out of 1000 passengers on the California Zephyr file under the guarantee.  He feels that the main problem is inconsistency of service, particularly in the dining cars, where 85% of complaints originate.  While some passengers may find a great customer service experience on a particular run of the train, others encounter "anger, hostility and aloofness".

About 3:30 we were given an opportunity to take a break before the official NARP reports portion of the meeting.  Since it was getting late in the afternoon, I decided to take advantage of the break to start toward home.  I said good afternoon to Rich and his companion Amy.  Rich said he was going to "dog-catch" No. 5 at Osceola tonight, and I told him that I'd try to make it down there to see him off.

I went back to Newton and, at 3:45, caught up with the westbound that had passed while I was in the restaurant's basement.  They were just making their last switching move and about to pull to the end of the siding, "down to the trailer court", for a crew change.  They headed on west at about 4:00 with IAIS 625, 800 and 495.

I went south out of Newton to see what Lake Red Rock looked like on this windy afternoon.  It was full, and very muddy.  By ten 'til five the Jeep's thermometer read 75 degrees.

After supper and a break at home to catch up on mail and phone calls, I left for Osceola around 8:15.  A full moon was just coming up over the city and showed itself briefly through a break in the clouds.  The winds had come around to the northwest in the evening, and by the time I reached Osceola the sky had cleared.  I tried a few shots of the depot with the moon overhead - 1/2 second exposure with available light.

There was eastbound traffic almost immediately after I arrived.  At 9:00, we had an AEPX coal load with distributed power, BNSF 9951 in the lead.  I missed the trailing unit.  I went inside the depot and had a visit with one of the station attendants, Pat Green.  While we were talking another load came through.  This was BN/BNSF cars, DP again, 9854 and 9714.  While I waited by the passenger shelter for a third eastbound that Pat had alerted me to, Rich appeared and came over to visit and share the peanut butter brownies he'd made.  Yum!

No. 5 and the third load arrived at about the same time.  Often, eastbounds will hold out of the station when Amtrak is due, since passengers have to cross to the far side of the double track to board.  This train came on through and cleared just as the Zephyr's headlights were showing east of us.  The coal train had BN 9608 and 9476 on the point and was pulling PSTX and ESCX cars.  They came through at 9:44.

The passengers crossed after the coal load and the Zephyr pulled down and stopped the locos in front of the depot for the change of engineers.  In No. 5 tonight:

AMTK 154 and 153
Material 1562
Baggage 1003
Transition Sleeper 39023
Sleepers 32012 and 32021
Diner 38038
Sightseer Lounge 33045
Coaches 31539, 34090 and 34005
Three boxcars and two roadrailers
The crew change was made, with Rich (flash) taking over for Bill (available light). The train pulled down and stopped for the sleeper and for the coach passengers.  Rich reported to the dispatcher with ":48 and ":53", and all that was left was to take that shiny thing out into this bright moonlit night.  Godspeed, folks!

That's It!