I'd been hoping to catch the BNSF using helpers on Albia hill, and had heard dispatcher "KRS" talking to the pusher motors early Thursday morning. The railroad has a project underway to shore up a problem spot part way down the south hill, around MP 307. After my dentist appointment and a quick lunch, Jan and I headed south toward Hwy. 34 and the BNSF mains. From the radio, it was apparent that several Form B's were in effect and that trains were being handled by a switch tender at Shannon (Lucas, IA).
We got to the crossing right at the bottom of Whitebreast Hill in time to see a coal empty stop and wait for an eastbound work train to cross back over to Main 1. The work train had EMD 748 and three ballast cars. The headlights were not working on the end of the long hood of 748. After they were headed up the hill on the eastbound main, the coal empty, powered by BN 9646 and BNSF 9939, rolled westward at 1:40
We drove on eastward ahead of the work train. We spotted a coal load stopped just east of Chariton, and inferred from conversation on the radio that trains were stacked up waiting to get through the CTC at Albia. We heard two westbounds get a warrants from Halpin, so we ducked down into Melrose to intercept them. Trackwork was going on just east of town on the eastbound main. The first westbound appeared at 2:12, with UCEX empties, and EMD (Oakway) 9082 and BN 9241. Another empty was just 10 minutes behind, with BNSF 9736, 9625 and DETX, DEEX, AIMX, COAX, etc. cars.
We headed for Albia next, and went to the yard area. Power for the local, BN 6246 and 1877, and a few cars were sitting in the yard. 6246 had "interesting" paint, with white panels below the walkways. On the radio, we heard the helpers head down the hill to pick up the next coal load and push them up the "north way". They called for a warrant to move onto Main 1 west of Halpin, clearing the way for the load to cross over in front of them for the shove up Albia hill.
Things were pretty congested around the CTC, with trains waiting at both ends to use Main 1 to get through the area. As we waited by the yard, a maintenance of way person called the dispatcher and said that the pile driver had broken down, so they'd be clearing up on the south hill. The dispatcher immediately called the load at the bottom of the hill, already rolling toward the crossover at Halpin, and asked if she could take the signal away. They replied that they would try to get stopped and then call her back. She also called a westbound and took away their signal. The load got stopped in time, and was lined for the south way, where the helpers would not be necessary.
Having failed to catch the helpers in action, we decided to go out to Old Maxon, where the mains converge after coming up the hill. Out there, we caught two more eastbounds before going back to the yard. The first, a coal load, arrrived at 3:38 with CIPX gons, BNSF 9746, BN 9427 and BN 7106. At 4:07, a manifest came up the hill behind BNSF 4933, BN 6331 and BN 7835.
We returned to the yard to see the pusher engines, BN 7903 and 8033, come back light and tie up at 4:40.
By this time, the crew on the work train was getting worried about running out of time, so they were hustled to the top of the hill on Main 1. With the helper crew jockeying the head end of the local, the work train picked up a couple of ballast cars from its consist and high-balled the rest of its work at Albia. In the meantime, the dispatcher sent one of the waiting westbounds, a coal empty, down Main 2 out of the way of the work train.
We drove westward, crossing over the above empty on the Hwy 34 overpass. We ducked back down into Melrose again, and stopped at the tracks just as the gates were going down for it at 5:40. In charge of the CWEX cars were BN 9670 and 9599.
We knew there was another westbound coming down the hill behind 9670, so we parked and waited. Almost immediately we heard, "Okay on the north side" from the scanner. 9670 was barely out of sight before the headlights of an eastbound appeared. This was another coal load, CWEX gondolas behind BNSF 9822 and BN 9418.
While we waited, I took a look at a section of rail near the crossover at Melrose. It was painted white and stenciled with "132 1/4 LOSS" on one end and "136" on the other. The second westbound, an AEPX empty, arrived at 5:55 pulled by BNSF 9732, BNSF 8843 and CN 5602. Just seven minutes later we were treated to another loaded coal train, CEPX cars with BNSF 9941 and 9740.